Mary Pinchot Meyer: American socialite and painter (1920 - 1964) | Biography
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Mary Pinchot Meyer
American socialite and painter

Mary Pinchot Meyer

Mary Pinchot Meyer
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American socialite and painter
A.K.A. Mary Meyer, Mary Eno Pinchot
Was Painter Socialite
From United States of America
Field Arts
Gender female
Birth 14 October 1920, New York City
Death 12 October 1964, Washington, D.C. (aged 44 years)
Father: Amos Pinchot
Spouse: Cord Meyer
Mary Pinchot Meyer
The details (from wikipedia)


Mary Eno Pinchot Meyer (October 14, 1920 – October 12, 1964) was an American painter living in Washington D.C. At the time of her death, her work was considered part of the Washington Color School and was selected for the Pan American Union Art Exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in Buenos Aires. She was married to Central Intelligence Agency official Cord Meyer from 1945-1958, and she was linked romantically to the late President John F. Kennedy after her marriage to Meyer. Rumors and tabloid press reports of her affair with Kennedy were confirmed by her late brother-in-law, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, in his 1995 autobiography A Good Life. A love letter Kennedy wrote to Pinchot Meyer one month before his assassination surfaced in June 2016 and was auctioned for just under $89,000.
Meyer was shot to death on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath on October 12, 1964, three weeks after the release of the Warren Commission Report, whose conclusions Meyer allegedly challenged. Meyer’s long history of criticism of the CIA, the timing of her killing, the CIA’s wiretapping of her phone, and the effort by CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton to retrieve Meyer’s diary immediately after her death have prompted investigation of possible CIA involvement in her murder. Additionally, Army personnel records for prosecution witness Lt. William L. Mitchell, released in 2015 and 2016 under the Freedom of Information Act, corroborate his ties to the intelligence community. CIA involvement has also been suggested by the phone call that was placed by top Agency official Wistar Janney to Ben Bradlee, hours before the police had identified Meyer’s body. The man accused of the murder, Ray Crump, Jr., was acquitted at trial in July, 1965. The murder remains officially unsolved.

Early life

Pinchot was the elder of two daughters born to Amos and Ruth (née Pickering) Pinchot. Amos Pinchot was a wealthy lawyer and a key figure in the Progressive Party who had helped fund the socialist magazine The Masses. Her mother Ruth was Pinchot's second wife and was a journalist who wrote for such magazines as The Nation and The New Republic. She was also the niece of Gifford Pinchot, a noted conservationist and two-time Governor of Pennsylvania. Pinchot and her younger sister Antoinette (nicknamed "Tony") were raised at the family's Grey Towers home in Milford, Pennsylvania. As a child, Pinchot met such left-wing intellectuals as Mabel Dodge, Louis Brandeis, Robert M. La Follette, Sr., and Harold L. Ickes. She attended Brearley School and Vassar College, where she became interested in Communism. She started dating William Attwood in 1935 and, while with him at a dance held at Choate, first met John F. Kennedy in 1936.

After her graduation from Vassar in 1942, Meyer became a journalist, writing for the United Press and Mademoiselle. As a pacifist and member of the American Labor Party she came under scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Pinchot met Cord Meyer in 1944 when he was a Marine Corps lieutenant who had lost his left eye because of shrapnel injuries received in combat. The two had similar pacifist views and beliefs in world government and married on April 19, 1945. That spring they both attended the UN Conference on International Organization in San Francisco, during which the United Nations was founded, Cord as an aide of Harold Stassen and Pinchot as a reporter for a newspaper syndication service. She later worked for a time as an editor for Atlantic Monthly. Their eldest child Quentin was born in November 1945, followed by Michael in 1947, after which Pinchot became a homemaker, although she attended classes at the Art Students League of New York.

Cord Meyer became president of the United World Federalists in May 1947 and its membership doubled. Mary Meyer wrote for the organization's journal. In 1950, their third child, Mark, was born and they moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Meanwhile, her husband began to re-evaluate his notions of world government as members of the Communist Party USA infiltrated the international organizations he had founded. It is unknown when he first began secretly working with the Central Intelligence Agency, but in 1951 Allen Dulles approached Cord Meyer; he became an employee of the CIA and was soon a "principal operative" of Operation Mockingbird, a covert operation meant to sway American print and broadcast media toward the CIA line.

With her husband's CIA appointment, they moved to Washington D.C. and became highly visible members of Georgetown society. Their acquaintances included Joseph Alsop, Katharine Graham, Clark Clifford, and Washington Post reporter James Truitt and his wife, noted artist Anne Truitt. Their social circle also included CIA-affiliated people such as Richard M. Bissell, Jr., high-ranking counter-intelligence official James Angleton, and Mary and Frank Wisner, Meyer's boss at CIA. During her time as a CIA wife, Pinchot Meyer was openly critical of the Agency and its programs, likening CIA Director Allen Dulles to Machiavelli.

In 1953, Senator Joseph McCarthy publicly accused Cord Meyer of being a Communist and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was reported to have looked into Mary's political past. Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner aggressively defended Meyer and he remained with the CIA. However, by early 1954, Cord Meyer had become unhappy with his CIA career. He used contacts from his covert operations in Operation Mockingbird to approach several New York publishers for a job but was rebuffed.

During the summer of 1954, John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie Kennedy bought the house next door to the Meyers'; Pinchot Meyer and Jackie Kennedy became acquainted and "they went on walks together." By the end of 1954, Cord Meyer was still with the CIA and often in Europe, running Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and managing millions of dollars of U.S. government funds worldwide to support progressive-seeming foundations and organizations opposing the Soviet Union.

One of Pinchot Meyer's close friends was her Vassar chum, Cicely d'Autremont, who married James Angleton. In 1955, Meyer's sister Antoinette (Toni) married Ben Bradlee who was then Washington bureau chief of Newsweek. On December 18, 1956, the Meyers' middle son Michael, aged nine, was hit by a car near their house and killed. Although this tragedy briefly brought Pinchot Meyer and Cord Meyer closer for a time, Mary filed for divorce in 1958.

Relationship with Kennedy

After the divorce, Pinchot Meyer and her two surviving sons moved to Georgetown. She began painting again in a converted garage studio at the home of her sister Toni and her husband, Ben Bradlee. She also started a close relationship with abstract-minimalist painter Kenneth Noland and became friendly with Robert Kennedy, who had purchased his brother's house, Hickory Hill, in 1957. Nina Burleigh, in her book A Very Private Woman, writes that after the divorce Meyer became "a well-bred ingenue out looking for fun and getting in trouble along the way." "Mary was bad," a friend recalled.

Angleton told CIA wife Joan Bross that he had begun tapping Mary Meyer's telephone after she left her husband. Angleton often visited the family home and took her sons on fishing outings. Pinchot Meyer visited John F. Kennedy at the White House in October 1961 and their relationship became intimate. Pinchot Meyer told Ann and James Truitt she was keeping a diary.

Timothy Leary later claimed Pinchot Meyer influenced Kennedy's "views on nuclear disarmament and rapprochement with Cuba." In an interview with Nina Burleigh, Kennedy aide Myer Feldman said, "I think he might have thought more of her than some of the other women and discussed things that were on his mind, not just social gossip." Burleigh wrote, "Mary might actually have been a force for peace during some of the most frightening years of the cold war..."

In a 2008 interview with author Peter Janney for his book Mary's Mosaic, journalist and Kennedy intimate Charles Bartlett emphasized the serious nature of Pinchot Meyer's romance with the late president, stating, "That was a dangerous relationship. Jack was in love with Mary Meyer. He was certainly smitten with her, he was heavily smitten. He was very frank with me about it."

In October 1963, one month before his assassination, Kennedy wrote a letter to Mary Meyer, imploring her to join him for a tryst. The unsent letter, written on White House stationery and retained by Kennedy's personal secretary Evelyn Lincoln, sold in June 2016 at auction for just under $89,000. The letter reads: "Why don’t you leave suburbia for once – come and see me – either here – or at the Cape next week or in Boston the 19th. I know it is unwise, irrational, and that you may hate it – on the other hand you may not – and I will love it. You say that it is good for me not to get what I want. After all of these years – you should give me a more loving answer than that. Why don’t you just say yes." The letter is signed "J."


C & O Canal from Chain Bridge at the base of the Palisades

On October 12, 1964, Pinchot Meyer finished a painting and went for her customary daily walk along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath in Georgetown. Mechanic Henry Wiggins was trying to fix a car on Canal Road and heard a woman cry out, "Someone help me, someone help me." Wiggins heard two gunshots and ran to a low wall looking upon the path where he saw "a black man in a light jacket, dark slacks, and a dark cap standing over the body of a white woman."

Pinchot Meyer's body had two bullet wounds, one in the left temple and one in the back. An FBI forensic expert later said "dark haloes on the skin around both entry wounds suggested they had been fired at close-range, possibly point-blank".

Approximately forty minutes after the murder, Washington D.C. Police Detective John Warner spotted a soaking-wet African American man named Ray Crump about a quarter of a mile from the murder scene. Crump wasn’t running; "he was walking," Detective Warner testified at the murder trial. Crump was arrested at 1:15 pm at the murder scene based on car mechanic Wiggins’ statement to police that Crump was the man he had seen standing over the victim’s body. The day after the murder, a second witness, Army Lt. William L. Mitchell, came forward and told police he had been jogging on the towpath the preceding day and seen a black man trailing a white woman he believed was Mary Meyer. Mitchell’s description of the man’s clothing was similar to the clothing Crump had been wearing that day. On the strength of the statements of these two witnesses, Crump was indicted without a preliminary hearing. However, no gun was ever found, and Crump was never linked to any gun of the type used to murder Mary Pinchot Meyer. The FBI Crime Report, withheld from the defense during the trial and published by Peter Janney in his book Mary's Mosaic, documented that there was no forensic evidence linking Crump to the victim or murder scene. Despite the fact that Pinchot Meyer bled profusely from her head wound, no trace of her blood was found on Crump's person or clothing. On the afternoon of the murder, hours before police had identified the body, CIA official Wistar Janney first placed a call to Meyer’s brother-in-law Ben Bradlee, and then subsequently to Cord Meyer, notifying them both of Meyer’s death.

When Crump came to trial, Judge Howard Corcoran ruled Mary Pinchot Meyer's private life could not be disclosed in the courtroom. Pinchot Meyer's background was also kept from Dovey Johnson Roundtree, Crump's lawyer, who later recalled she could find out almost nothing about the murder victim: "It was as if she existed only on the towpath on the day she was murdered." At trial, Roundtree demonstrated the porousness of the police dragnet and showed that the black man described by the two witnesses was approximately 50 pounds heavier and five inches taller than Crump. Crump was acquitted of all charges on July 29, 1965, and the murder remains unsolved. Crump went on to what has been described as a "horrific life of crime." Post-trial revelations, however, appear to further corroborate his innocence in the Meyer murder, notably the likely presence of another black man at the scene after his arrest and the fact that the police search for his jacket was dispatched 15 minutes before his arrest. Crump's attorney Dovey Roundtree, in her autobiography Justice Older than the Law, stated that Crump had an alibi witness but that she disappeared before trial.

Cord Meyer left the CIA in 1977. In his 1982 autobiography Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA he wrote, "I was satisfied by the conclusions of the police investigation that Mary had been the victim of a sexually motivated assault by a single individual and that she had been killed in her struggle to escape." He stated he rejected "journalistic speculation" that said he believed his former wife's death had some other explanation.

Posthumous allegations

James Truitt and the National Enquirer

The March 2, 1976 issue of the National Enquirer quoted James Truitt as stating Meyer had a two-year affair with John F. Kennedy and that they smoked marijuana in a White House bedroom. According to Truitt, their first rendezvous occurred after Meyer was chauffeured to the White House in a limousine driven by a Secret Service agent where she was met by Kennedy and taken to a bedroom. He stated that Meyer and Kennedy regularly met in that manner, sometimes two or three times each week, until his assassination. Truitt said the two would "usually have drinks or dinner alone or sometimes with one of the aides", and claimed that Meyer offered marijuana cigarettes to Kennedy after one such meeting on April 16, 1962. He said after they smoked three joints she commented, "This isn't like cocaine. I'll get you some of that." According to the Enquirer, Meyer also kept a diary of the affair. The paper quoted Toni Bradlee — Meyer's sister — as confirming the existence of the affair and the diary, stating that Bradlee found the diary in Meyer's studio after her death, then turned it over to James Jesus Angleton who subsequently burned it at CIA headquarters.

In an interview with a correspondent from The Washington Post, Truitt confirmed the Enquirer's account, stated that Meyer had told him of the affair, and that he had kept notes about what he had been told. According to Truitt, Meyer and Kennedy met approximately 30 times — frequently when Jackie Kennedy was out of town — from January 1962 until the time of the President's death in November 1963. Truitt stated that the two would occasionally have drinks or dinner with one of Kennedy's aides, whom he identified as David Powers and Timothy J. Reardon Jr.. Contradicting his earlier account with the Enquirer, Truitt said Kennedy gave the marijuana to Meyer. Truitt acknowledged that he received payment from the Enquirer, but did not disclose the amount of payment.

Truitt's allegations were denied by Kennedy aides Kenneth O'Donnell and Timothy Reardon, Jr., and Powers was unavailable for comment. Pinchot Meyer's sister Tony stated that the Enquirer had quoted her out of context to create the impression that she agreed with Truitt's allegations. The Washington Post, AP and UPI printed a follow-up story which cited assertions by Truitt's physician and his former wife that his judgment was impaired by mental illness. However, Truitt's allegations regarding Pinchot Meyer's affair with the late President Kennedy and the existence of a diary in which she recorded the affair were confirmed in 1995 by her brother-in-law Ben Bradlee in his memoir A Good Life. Kenneth O’Donnell also confirmed the affair in his 1977 interviews with the late author Leo Damore.


Ben Bradlee states in his 1995 memoir A Good Life that he and his wife Tony received a phone call on the night of the murder from Pinchot Meyer's friend Anne Truitt in Japan, who was looking for James Jesus Angleton at the Bradlee house. Truitt advised all of them, including Angleton, of the existence of the Pinchot Meyer diary and the urgent need to retrieve it, given its details of her affair with President Kennedy during the last two years of his life. A decision was then quickly made by Bradlee, his wife, James Angleton and his wife Cicely, and another friend present at the scene, to keep the diary's existence from authorities.

According to Bradlee's 1995 account – one of at least four conflicting versions of the events surrounding the diary – the search at Pinchot Meyer's art studio behind the Bradlee house began the day after the murder. Bradlee says he and his wife arrived at the studio with tools to obtain entry, since they had no key, and upon arriving they found Angleton in the process of picking the lock with special tools he had for that purpose. "The fact that the CIA's most controversial counterintelligence specialist had been caught in the act of breaking and entering, and looking for her diary," Bradlee said, was not something he considered appropriate for public disclosure. With respect to the diary itself, he added, he and his wife, upon reading it and seeing that it revealed Pinchot Meyer's affair with the late President Kennedy, "concluded this was in no sense a public document, despite the braying of the knee jerks about some public right to know."

Bradlee Testimony at Murder Trial

Bradlee's 1995 memoir account conflicted with the testimony he gave at the July 1965 trial of Ray Crump, the African-American laborer accused of Pinchot Meyer's murder, where he was asked by prosecuting attorney Alfred Hantman whether he had made any effort to gain entrance to his sister-in-law's art studio on the evening of the murder. Bradlee answered in the affirmative, but gave no indication of any difficulty in entering the padlocked premises, nor of the presence of anyone else accompanying him in this endeavor. Asked by Hantman, "Now besides the usual articles of Mrs. Meyer's avocation, did you find there any other articles of her personal property?" Bradlee replied, "There was a pocketbook there," adding that it contained keys, a wallet, cosmetics, and pencils. He made no mention of the diary.

Upon learning years later of the existence, contents and alleged burning of the diary, prosecutor Alfred Hantman and defense attorney Dovey Johnson Roundtree, as well as D.C. Police Detective Bernie Crooke, stated that knowledge of that information at the time of the trial would have materially affected the proceedings. "I’d have been very upset at the time if I’d known that the deceased's diary had been destroyed," Crooke told author Ron Rosenbaum in 1976. In a 1991 interview with the late author Leo Damore, Hantman said that he had been "totally unaware of who Mary Meyer was or what her connections were," and that having that knowledge "could have changed everything." In her 2009 autobiography, Justice Older than the Law, defense counsel Dovey Johnson Roundtree expressed shock at learning of the diary's significance from Bradlee's book. "How differently my line of cross-examination would have run had I been aware, on July 20, 1965, of the story Mr. Bradlee told thirty years later in his autobiography . . . James Angleton's awareness of the diary's existence and his interest in finding it, reading it, and destroying it – all of that unsettled me deeply when I read Mr. Bradlee's 1995 account, as did his insistence that the diary was a private document…Had I been aware of it, I would have felt compelled to pursue it."

Pinchot Meyer biographers Peter Janney and Nina Burleigh have both criticized Bradlee's omission of key information under oath. "Bradlee had excoriated Cord Meyer [Pinchot Meyer's ex-husband] for his ‘derisive scorn’ for the people's right to know in the 1960s, but the rules changed when the subject of a story was his sister-in-law," Burleigh says. "The First Amendment champion of the Watergate investigation admitted in his memoir that he gave Mary Meyer's diary to the CIA because it was ‘a family document.’"

Timothy Leary

In 1983, former Harvard University psychology lecturer Timothy Leary claimed that in the spring of 1962, Pinchot Meyer, who, according to her biographer Nina Burleigh "wore manners and charm like a second skin", told Leary she was taking part in a plan to avert worldwide nuclear war by convincing powerful male members of the Washington establishment to take mind-altering drugs, which would presumably lead them to conclude that the Cold War was meaningless.

According to Leary, Meyer had sought him out for the purpose of learning how to conduct LSD sessions with these powerful men, including, she strongly implied, President John F. Kennedy, who was then her lover. Leary alleged that Pinchot Meyer told him she had shared in this plan with at least seven other Washington socialite friends who held similar political views and were trying to supply LSD to a small circle of high-ranking government officials. Leary also claimed that Pinchot Meyer had asked him for help while in a state of fear for her own life after the assassination of President Kennedy.

In his biography Flashbacks (1983), Leary claimed he had a call from Pinchot Meyer soon after the Kennedy assassination during which she sobbed and said, "They couldn't control him any more. He was changing too fast...They've covered everything up. I gotta come see you. I'm afraid. Be careful."

Burleigh does not draw a conclusion as to whether Meyer participated in LSD sessions with President Kennedy or other powerful figures, but also does not dismiss Leary's claims out of hand. Burleigh confirms Pinchot Meyer's own use of LSD, her involvement with Leary during his tenure at Harvard, and that this involvement occurred at the same time as Pinchot Meyer's intimate association with President Kennedy. Burleigh also states that the timing of Pinchot Meyer's visits to Leary coincided with the dates of Meyer's known private meetings with Kennedy. Burleigh writes:

Mary's visits to Timothy Leary during the time she was also Kennedy's lover suggest that Kennedy knew more about hallucinogenic drugs than the CIA might have been telling him. No one has ever confirmed that Kennedy tried LSD with Mary. But the timing of her visits to Timothy Leary do coincide with her known private meetings with the president.

Citing interviews with the late author Leo Damore, Peter Janney asserts in his book Mary's Mosaic that Kennedy and Meyer did have a mild psychedelic experience together, probably LSD or Psilocybin, in May 1963 at the Georgetown home of journalist Joseph Alsop. According to Janney, Meyer's friend, journalist Anne Chamberlin, confided to Damore that this event did take place. Chamberlin was also allegedly part of Meyer's LSD group in Washington.

LSD was then legal in the US, and its use to facilitate artistic endeavors was common in some of Pinchot Meyer's social circles.

In popular culture

In the 2009 film An American Affair Gretchen Mol starred as a character based on Mary Pinchot Meyer.

In the Canadian-American miniseries The Kennedys (2011) Meyer was portrayed by Canadian actress Nahanni Johnstone.

Hardcover Mysteries: "The Mary Pinchot Meyer Murder", narrated by David Baldacci. Produced by Digital Ranch Productions for Investigation Discovery (ID), Discovery Communications. Original U.S. air date: October 11, 2010.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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