Power  /  Vignette

Bad Shot, Mary

The mistress of JFK, there was a lot more than wealth, whiteness, and femininity to make Mary Pinchot Meyer a target of murder.

Shortly after her death, somebody phoned Mary’s brother-in-law—Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. They told Bradlee that Mary had a secret diary, and in the case of an emergency, her friends needed to retrieve it.

Ben and his wife, who lived less than a ten-minute walk from Mary’s home, arrived at the converted brick garage studio on the night of the murder. There, they ran into one of the most powerful CIA officials in the agency’s history: James Jesus Angleton. Angleton was accompanied by his wife, and brought some lock-picking tools.

Angleton’s presence here is understandable in that he was a mentor to Cord Meyer, and godfather to Mary and Cord’s children. One of the most intense counterintelligence agents of the Cold War was a family friend—the kind of buddy who openly admits to tapping your wife’s phone and bugging her bedroom.

James Jesus Angleton was one of the most paranoid and criminal CIA men to have ever graced the halls—one of the OG spooks who was so deluded by Cold War paranoia that the Kremlin considered Angleton an unwitting asset—a man so psychotically anticommunist that he interfered with the efficiency of the CIA. Our problem is that James, and many of these CIA guys, spent most of their lives smashed on martinis, lying to journalists for fun.

We know that after this group of Meyer family friends located the diary in Mary’s studio, they read the contents, and handed it over to Angleton for safe keeping. Ben Bradlee said he objected to this, and clashed with Angleton at the scene, but others have claimed Bradlee was a spook himself, and collaborated.

Mary’s Georgetown friends made a pact not to discuss her death because they didn’t believe the public had a right to know this private person’s diary. Angleton said he burned the book at CIA headquarters, along with Mary’s personal correspondence, but he didn’t, because Angleton is a liar. The diary was probably a great piece of blackmail, and it reemerged years later, only to be (reportedly) burned by Tony Bradlee and Anne Truitt. Even then, “some parts of the diary may have been preserved and passed around for a short period,” notes Burleigh.

Theories of decoy diaries abound, but all of this speaks to Mary’s deep lore inside the world of intelligence and the press.

While her death mirrors the Kennedy assassination, it came to mean much more for paranoids in the counterculture. Especially after Timothy Leary published his memoir, Flashbacks.