Remembering the “Lion of the Senate” Who Left a Woman to Die


“I’ve answered all the questions.” ~ Edward Kennedy, July 8, 1994 on the tragedy at Chappaquiddick

Ted Kennedy was a shameless cad, an exploiter of women, an utter drunk, and he left a woman at the bottom of a river to die, a crime for which he paid no price.

When I worked for Pan American Airways, I was at one point tagging baggage. One day I worked alongside the brother of one of the diver’s who brought Mary Jo Kopechne up from Ted Kennedy’s car off Chappaquiddick Island on July 18, 1969.

I was, as were much of America, smitten with the Kennedys. What he told me that day changed my view of the Kennedys forever and I was never able to get the vision of Camelot back after that.

He said that when his brother pulled up the 28-year-old Mary Jo, three months pregnant as we would later find out, her lips were pursed in death. It looked as if she was sucking in her last breath. Angrily, he said, “Ted Kennedy killed her.”

That account was later confirmed many times.

There was no autopsy

Hours after her death, Kennedy aide Dun Gifford flew into Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, with orders to get Mary Jo’s body off the island.

Before an autopsy could take place, what was left of the beautiful young woman was in Pennsylvania.

Mary Jo died in the car after Kennedy extricated himself and conferred with his attorneys…and…sobered up in all likelihood.

Fire Department diver, Captain John Farrar said she did not drown nor did she die quickly. She survived for an undetermined amount of time — it could have been hours — until she suffocated from lack of oxygen.

Her body was pulled out at 8:45 a.m. and Kennedy reported the accident at 9:45 a.m.

While Kennedy said he left the party at 11:15 p.m. and the accident happened minutes later, the sheriff said he saw Kennedy’s Olds traveling towards Dike Bridge at 12:45 a.m.

Kennedy said the “strong and murky current” kept seeping him away. There was no current at 11:15 but at 12:45, the current was strong.

Kennedy said he didn’t report it because he was in shock and defined his behavior as “irrational, indefensible, inexcusable and inexplicable.” He said, “I was overcome by a jumble of emotions — grief, fear, doubt, torture, panic, confusion, exhaustion, and shock.”

In his speech after the incident, he pushed off a big share of the guilt onto his friends Joe Gargan and Paul Markham. he told the world in his TV speech of the shared responsibility for the failure to report the accident.

In his state, the miracle of miracles, he returned to the barbecue, walked past emergency workers, and grabbed his lawyer friend Joe Gargan and Paul Markham. He made 16 long-distance phone calls to aides and advisers.

No one got help for Mary Jo

Kennedy, in a strange state of shock that did not disable him, went to his hotel complained to the manager about a lour party, slept and chatted with a friend that morning about a boat race. Then he ordered two newspapers, met with his lawyers, went back to Chappaquiddick to speak with another lawyer. Finally, he called the police.

Captain Farrar – you remember the diver who pulled Mary Jo up — was barred from speaking during the inquest.

Kennedy pleaded guilty and within three days was sentenced to two months suspended sentence.

After the January inquest, District Judge James Boule found “probable cause” that Kennedy drove “negligently” and engaged in “criminal conduct” that “contributed to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne”.

Equal justice under the law didn’t exist in 1969 as it doesn’t exist now.

Kennedy’s character was markedly poor from the outset. he was expelled from Harvard for persuading another undergraduate to take his Spanish exams for him. He joined the Army to get himself back into Harvard, and it worked.

Kennedy was partying the evening Mary Jo died and it was the eve of the moon landing. Kennedy hosted a party for Mary Jo and five other women, veterans of his brother Robert’s 1968 campaign.

When Kennedy drove into the pond that night as he was driving back to the inn with Mary Jo, he was traveling 34 mph.

After he went into the river, he said he dove down to get her and failed in his attempt.

Hard to believe he or someone couldn’t get to Mary Jo.
Unequal Justice

One of the stories he told was that he went to the ferry slip and dove to save Mary Jo. After failing, he claims he swam a mile back to Edgartown.

The hotel workers do not remember him being wet when he returned to the hotel. When he returned to his room at the Shiretown Inn, he changed his clothes, stepped out to speak to the innkeeper, possibly to establish a motive. He did not call the police.

The truth about Chappaquiddick was quickly buried and most media never reported on it.

On July 25, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, received a two-month suspended sentence, and had his license suspended for a year. That evening, in a televised statement, he called the delayed reporting of the accident “indefensible” but vehemently denied that he been involved in any improprieties with Kopechne.

There are unexplained facts in the case.

In Leo Damore’s Senatorial Privilege–the Chappaquiddick Cover-up (1988), the author recounts an interview with Joe Gargan in which Gargan claimed that Kennedy had plotted to make Kopechne the driver and sole occupant of the automobile.

At 9 a.m., Kennedy joined Gargan and Markham on the ferry back to Chappaquiddick Island. Steve Ewing, the ferry operator, reported Kennedy in a jovial mood. It was only when Kennedy reached the island that he phoned the authorities about the accident that had taken place the previous night.

That was roughly 9 or 10 hours after the accident.

She drowned or suffocated

There were doubts about the way Kopechne died. Dr. Donald Mills of Edgartown wrote on the death certificate: “death by drowning”. However, Gene Frieh, the undertaker, told reporters that death “was due to suffocation rather than drowning”.

John Farrar, the diver who removed Kopechne from the car, claimed she was “too buoyant to be full of water”. There was no doubt in his mind that she suffocated.

Mary Jo’s parents filed a petition preventing an autopsy. They were afraid people would find out she was pregnant.

Other questions were asked about Kennedy’s decision to swim back to Edgartown. The 150-meter channel had strong currents and only the strongest of swimmers would have been able to make the journey safely. Also, no one saw Kennedy arrive back at the Shiretown Inn in wet clothes. Ross Richards, who had a conversation with Kennedy the following morning at the hotel described him as casual and at ease.

Some said he was drunk that night.

At the height of the scandal, Kennedy went on TV to explain himself in an extraordinary 13-minute address in which he denied driving drunk and rejected rumors of
‘immoral conduct’ with Kopechne.

Kennedy lawyers arranged for him to pay tens of thousands to the Kopechne family from his own pocket with additional tens of thousands from his insurance. Mary Jo’s mother later said: “I don’t think he ever said he was sorry.”

Friends said he liked to joke about Chappaquiddick.

Kennedy went on to become the Democrat “Lion of the Senate”. He was, after all, a Kennedy.


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