Thousands of files released Monday by the FBI reveal decades of threats against the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and breathe new life into the myth of the Kennedy brothers, whose status as American royalty was cemented through hard political work — and reports of even harder play.
The bulk of the 2,234 pages have less to do with the Massachusetts Democrat than with those who obsessed over him and his famous family; the documents include hundreds of threats of violence or extortion against Kennedy from groups as diverse as the Mafia, the Ku Klux Klan, Minutemen, Black Panthers and Nazis.
But there are also salacious allegations that Kennedy — along with his brothers President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy — engaged in “sex parties” with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Sammy Davis Jr.
A wealthy woman named Jacqueline Hammond, identified as one-time wife to former Ambassador to Spain Ogden Hammond, alleged that the Kennedys and the stars engaged in trysts at a New York City hotel. The files provide no evidence that the FBI found any merit to the allegation.
Another source told the bureau in July 1965 about an alleged “character assassination” scheme organized by the Italian Mafia, or La Cosa Nostra, although the source had no connection to the group. Sinatra’s associates, according to the confidential source, “would arrange for their women to be placed in compromising situations in the presence of” Robert and Edward Kennedy or Peter Lawford, an actor and the Kennedys’ brother-in-law. It’s unclear whether the two claims are related.
Several threats against Edward Kennedy were reported through notable conduits such as William F. Buckley, Justice William Rehnquist and the New York Times.
But FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was clearly keeping a close eye on Kennedy, too. The files include numerous examples of news clippings on Kennedy’s career that Hoover had ordered be sent to his office immediately after publication. In a January 1969 memo, agents described how news stories made their way to Hoover, who was upset after an assistant received a wire story before him.
In August of that year, Hoover directed his office to “nail this lie” after United Press International and the Village Voice reported that Hoover had begun investigating the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, according to documents released Monday.
The FBI’s files on the Kopechne incident at Chappaquiddick, Mass., provide a revealing glimpse into Hoover’s and the nation’s often unhealthy obsession with the Kennedy clan. Hoover was inundated with demands from the public that the FBI investigate Chappaquiddick, often including questions about Kennedy’s moral competency based on his Irish ethnicity. One citizen, whose name was redacted, wrote in a long, scathing letter questioning why Kennedy had attended a “wild, whore-mongering party” with Kopechne.
Hoover frequently wrote back to the citizens telling them that the accident didn’t violate federal law, so the FBI wouldn’t investigate.
Although Hoover kept the bureau officially out of the investigation, he did allow agency resources to be used by others looking into the death, most notably then-Associate Deputy Attorney General John Dean.
In 1969, Dean, who would ultimately play a key role in the Watergate scandal, asked the FBI for help to “discreetly find out if [Kopechne] had visited Greece in August, 1968,” and asked for any files the FBI had on her. The FBI ultimately provided Dean not only with information on her trip to Greece, but also her role in a check-kiting scheme operated by Kopechne’s short-term boyfriend.
Still, other files reveal a government sector that revered Kennedy.
“Please make certain that Ted Kennedy gets all the protection he needs. We are down to one Kennedy,” read a June 1968 telegram addressed to Hoover from “Mr. DeLoach,” identified as a representative of Rapid City, S.D., radio and TV transmitter company Tepco Corp., but likely an FBI agent, as the name comes up several times in the documents.
That same month, James J. Rowley, then-director of the Secret Service, asks for additional protection, warning that, “The kind of mind that thinks about political assassinations is likely to find … the last Kennedy son … particularly alluring.”
Sirhan Sirhan, Robert Kennedy’s assassin, allegedly plotted to kill Edward Kennedy, too. A man told the FBI that while in prison, Sirhan offered him $1 million and a car to kill the younger Kennedy.
The files also reveal the political landscape of the time. In 1967, when Edward Kennedy chaired the Subcommittee on Refugees and Escapees, the FBI received a tip that he planned to bring 100 Vietnamese children badly burned by napalm during the Vietnam War to the United States. The tipster, whose name has been redacted, “suspected but could not prove that [Kennedy was] plotting to use these children by touring them through the country for political purposes to embarrass” President Lyndon B. Johnson.
After Sen. J. William Fulbright passed along to Hoover a threatening letter he received that was addressed to Kennedy, a note was placed in the FBI file claiming that the Arkansas Democrat “has been critical of the Bureau. He is on the list of persons not to be contacted without Bureau approval.”