Anatomy of a CIA Assassination: How it Went Down


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Was Mary Pinchot Meyer killed in an intricate, CIA-conducted operation like something out of the old television show, Mission Impossible?

Did Meyer, who was President John F. Kennedy’s mistress, know too much about his assassination, and about the organization she believed was involved? Her own husband, Cord Meyer, was in charge of a CIA division that was involved in, among other things, assassinations, according to Peter Janney.

Janney, who has spent nearly a lifetime researching the murder of this woman, came upon the most intriguing stories from alleged witnesses, and these stories create a plausible picture of not only why she was murdered — but how. The excerpt below is about the how.

We don’t not know if this is what really happened to Meyer, but we think it possibly could have, and that is grimly fascinating.

Much has been written about the kinds of chicanery US intelligence agencies have been up to, so I see no need to elaborate here. But I do want to share with you one of the more bizarre tricks they planned, but never had the occasion to execute: Operation Dirty Trick — which was revealed by declassified documents in 1997. As described by the Washington Post,

the idea was ‘to provide irrevocable proof that, should the MERCURY manned orbit flight fail, the fault lies with the Communists et al Cuba.’ This could be accomplished, the planners suggested in a Feb. 2, 1962, memo, ‘by manufacturing various pieces of evidence which would prove electronic interference on the part of the Cubans.’

If the Agency had been able to manufacture “irrevocable proof” that Castro caused the space flight to fail — then it’s not so hard to believe they could manufacture “proof” that a poor black laborer murdered Mary Meyer, a troublesome woman who was asking too many questions about the Kennedy assassination.

The excerpt below is from Chapter 12 of Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, Third Edition (Skyhorse Publishing, 2016). (To see Part 1 of chapter 12, please go here. To see excerpts from Chapter 2 which we posted earlier, please go here, here, and here.)

-WhoWhatWhy Introduction by Milicent Cranor

Anatomy of a CIA Assassination

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“An operation… standard CIA procedure” was what the person professing to be [William L.] Mitchell called the murder of Mary Meyer.36

[Leo] Damore’s notes asserted that “Mitchell” had been assigned sometime in September 1964 to a surveillance team that was monitoring Mary Meyer. At some point — the precise date is unknown — the order was given to “terminate” her.

It was to be done in a public place, then made to look like something it wasn’t.

From their surveillance, the team knew Mary’s routine of taking walks around noon on the C&O Canal towpath, that she would typically walk out to Fletcher’s Boat House and then return, a distance of about four miles in total. Within that venue, a designated kill zone had to be selected where Mary would be accessible.

By choosing an outside location, rather than her home, the planners wanted to create the impression of a wanton, random act of violence, unrelated to Mary’s identity or political connections. It had to be skillfully executed with Mission Impossible precision beyond the intersection of where Canal Road intersected the busier Foxhall Road.

The ideal time for such an operation was determined to be a weekday, when the towpath was less frequented. The operation’s planners very likely were prepared to carry out their mission on any number of days, depending on certain variables — including the availability of an appropriate patsy. These were the kind of painstaking calculations and details that were involved in the extensive planning of professional assassinations.

There were any number of challenging factors to control and overcome; any significant mistake or oversight could be disastrous. As little as possible could be left to chance — including the whereabouts that day of Mary’s ex husband, Cord Meyer. Was it just coincidence Cord would conveniently be out of town in New York on CIA business on the day of his ex-wife’s murder?

The team put into place to conduct this operation likely consisted of at least five operatives, not including the actual architects of the plan itself, or the ancillary adjacent personnel dispatched to monitor and control other important operational details. In addition, in order to execute an operation of this nature, there had to be some kind of “command center” around the C&O Canal area to coordinate logistics, which would have included radio communication capacity.

The operational plan of “standard CIA procedure,” similar in design to what had taken place in Dallas, albeit on a much smaller scale and within a shorter time sequence, called for a patsy — someone who could be unknowingly and immediately easily framed. Such an operation required the use of disguises and/or costumes, an absolute necessity. No other entity on earth had resources like the CIA’s Technical Services Division (TSD) under the direction of Dr. Sidney Gottlieb. They could do almost anything, and quickly — from preparing lethal poisons that left no trace, to procuring articles of clothing and undetectable disguises on short notice.37

Ray Crump Jr. had been picked up by his girlfriend, Vivian, in her car “very early that morning,” shortly after eight.38 Crump was playing hooky from work. That morning, Crump and Vivian didn’t have enough money for a motel room. Crump had likely been spotted by the CIA team early that morning, as he and Vivian began walking out from the Georgetown entry point of the towpath to some predetermined area he was familiar with from earlier fishing trips to the area.

It was still probably two to three hours before the murder would take place. There may have been more than one candidate for patsy the team was monitoring that morning before a decision was made. Eventually, someone was assigned — with a radio — to keep tabs on Crump and his whereabouts. Whoever the designated patsy, the operation would have immediately had to procure clothing similar to what he was wearing. In Crump’s case, that meant generic dark shoes, dark pants, a light beige-colored Windbreaker and a dark-plaid golf cap — easily and quickly obtainable from the CIA’s Technical Services Division (TSD) personnel, who were likely standing by as support personnel.

A specialized team from the CIA’s TSD had the capability of transforming almost anyone into whatever was called for, including changing someone’s race from white to black if necessary. But there was a problem not even the elite TSD could overcome on such short notice: immediately finding someone on the operational team that day who had a build and stature as slight as Ray Crump’s. So they had to make do with what was available — the man they used for the stand-in, the Ray Crump look-alike, was larger than Crump.

That discrepancy would, in the end, create enough reasonable doubt to enable a masterful attorney, Dovey Roundtree, to thwart one of the key elements of the mission: railroading Ray Crump into being convicted for Mary Meyer’s murder, thereby enabling the cover-up.39 And so the man Henry Wiggins witnessed — the Ray Crump look-alike standing over Mary’s body after the second fatal gunshot — was significantly taller and heavier than Ray Crump.

Until Mary exited her studio that morning and started walking toward the canal, the CIA operation to eliminate her would not have been “green-lighted” to begin positioning themselves. A member of this operation, someone with a radio, had to be assigned to monitor her whereabouts from the moment she left her house and arrived at her studio earlier that morning.

When it was clear around twelve noon that she was headed for her daily walk on the canal towpath, all operational parameters would have been initiated. The mysterious, stalled Nash Rambler had likely already been placed adjacent to the designated kill zone on the canal. The Rambler could have been set up earlier that morning — or several mornings in a row — before the operation was finally given green-lighted-to-go status. At some point the key(s) to the stalled vehicle would be delivered to the Key Bridge Esso station with a request for someone to fix the vehicle.

Henry Wiggins was operating the station’s tow truck that morning. “I was sent from the station where I normally work,” testified Henry Wiggins, “to the other Esso station [at Key Bridge] owned by my employer to pick up a man there and go start a disabled vehicle on Canal Road, approximately seven blocks” away.40

Mary’s surveillance likely began three weeks before her death, maybe even longer. The team already would have had a good idea how fast she walked, and approximately how long it would take her to reach the wooden footbridge, a place where the vegetation around the towpath area became denser. Her assassination would eventually take place exactly 637.5 feet west of the footbridge.

There were two sets of spotters, according to Damore’s 1993 caller, “a couple walking together” and another runner wearing Bermuda shorts, both of whom were tracking Mary’s whereabouts on the towpath and likely communicating by radio to a concealed command center in the area. Immediately prior to the murder, the entire team was in place.

The assassin, whoever he was, and the dressed-up Ray Crump look-alike were likely positioning themselves on a stand-by status — waiting for the arrival of whoever was going to be servicing the stalled Nash Rambler to show up (and unknowingly play the role of “witness”), and waiting for Mary Meyer to approach the designated “kill zone.”

Meanwhile, another member of the operational team had to be monitoring the whereabouts of the real Ray Crump and reporting his activity to the command center. The team had to know where Crump was situated and when he and Vivian reached the spot on the Potomac where their tryst would take place. Even if Crump and Vivian had arrived at the towpath entrance in Georgetown as late as 10:30 a.m., that still gave the team close to two hours to set up, orchestrate, and carry out the assassination of Mary Meyer. It had likely been rehearsed many times.

The story Ray Crump told attorney Dovey Roundtree was that he and Vivian had gone to a particular spot on the bank of the Potomac that he was familiar with, having fished there before. They did some drinking, he said, then “fooled around a little,” at which point Ray passed out on some rocks at the water’s edge.41 Disoriented, perhaps a bit intoxicated, Ray slipped into the river, quickly coming to his senses as the cold water engulfed him. He couldn’t swim; he panicked and struggled to climb out, likely tearing his trousers and cutting his hand in the process.

Vivian had disappeared, however, while Ray was passed out from intoxication. Why she had just abandoned Ray was mysterious. Had she been deliberately lured away after Ray had passed out? If Ray was being monitored and set up as a patsy, then Vivian’s mere presence — an alibi for Ray — was an obstacle the operation had to surmount. Was it just serendipity that Vivian decided on her own to walk away when she did? Or had she, in some way, been forced to move out of the area shortly before, or immediately after, the murder — before Ray awoke from his stupor? The terrified Vivian would never testify, even with Ray’s life hanging in the balance. She told Roundtree she feared “being killed by her husband,” should he discover her affair.42 Whether Vivian was more forcibly threatened by something else will probably never be known.

C&O Canal, map

C&O Canal at intersection of Canal Road and Foxhall Road. Photo credit: Google Maps

As soon as Henry Wiggins and Bill Branch arrived at approximately 12:20 p.m., the operation to terminate Mary Meyer would have been fully green-lighted by radio communication. Mitchell would have been signaled by radio that the “witnesses” — Wiggins and Branch — were in place. According to Wiggins’s trial testimony, “less than a minute” after his arrival, he heard what “sounded like a woman screaming.” Mary’s screams from the canal lasted “about twenty seconds,” Wiggins said, before the first gunshot rang out.

As Mary walked westward into the predetermined “kill zone,” coordinated with the location of the stalled Nash Rambler, the killer would emerge from the embankment area and approach Mary from behind. In a full embrace, pinning Mary’s arms at her side, he now needed Mary to scream in order to attract the attention of whoever was servicing the Rambler.

As a highly trained, skilled assassin, he could have easily, and very quickly, shot Mary before she was even aware of what was occurring. Or, he could have picked her off with a high- powered rifle from behind an adjacent tree as she walked by. Why didn’t he? Because Mary’s screaming, her cries for help, were essential to drawing in any bystander to observe the so-called “random, senseless murder” that had quickly taken place — thereby motivating whoever was attending the stalled vehicle to run across Canal Road and witness the Ray Crump look-alike standing over her body.

Whether the assassin underestimated Mary’s strength and lost his grip, or whether he let go of her because he expected she would just fall to the ground, fatally wounded, after his first shot, isn’t known. But Mary managed to break away, and moved toward an escape over the embankment, grabbing a birch tree limb with her saturated, blood-soaked glove in order to steady herself.

That wouldn’t do for the gunman, or the operational intent of the mission. Mary had to be positioned close, or right next to, the canal itself where the murder scene would be clearly visible to someone looking across from the Canal Road wall.

So he quickly grabbed Mary again and dragged her some twenty-five feet from the embankment to the canal’s edge, where, with a perfectly placed shot under her right shoulder blade angled slightly to the left, he killed her instantly. Also executed with extreme precision was the murderer’s escape, quickly and easily accomplished by slipping into the woods, as the Ray Crump look-alike rapidly assumed his position, standing over the now slain body of Mary Pinchot Meyer.

Almost immediately after hearing the first gunshot, Wiggins started moving toward the wall of the canal across the street from the stalled vehicle that he and his partner had come to fix. While he was running “diagonally [to the right] across the [Canal] road,” he then recounted, “I heard another shot just as I was reaching the wall of the canal.”43

Peering over the wall and looking to his right on an angle,44 he witnessed the Ray Crump look-alike standing over Mary’s body, dressed as Crump himself had been dressed that day — dark shoes, dark pants, a light-colored windbreaker, and a dark-plaid brimmed golf cap — someone Wiggins would repeatedly describe as having a “medium build” who was about “5 feet 8 inches” and weighed “185 pounds.”

While the assassin had no trouble eluding police, the reader will recall that a man thought to be a “Negro male,” very possibly the Ray Crump look-alike, had been momentarily spotted by officer Roderick Sylvis west of the murder scene more than an hour after the murder had occurred. This “Negro male,” as Sylvis described him during the trial, would also elude capture, disappearing and staying hidden, as he had no doubt been trained to do.

By all accounts, Ray Crump was arrested sometime between 1:15 and 1:30 p.m.45 Yet when he was first spotted by Detective Warner at least ten to fifteen minutes — approximately 1:00 p.m.— before his actual arrest by Detective Crooke, Crump wasn’t wearing a light-colored beige jacket or any cap.

Only after Crump was under arrest — now approaching 1:30 p.m. — did Wiggins remark to Detective Crooke that Crump looked like the man he saw standing over the body, but he wasn’t wearing any hat or jacket.46

Indeed, if Crump wasn’t in possession of his jacket or cap when first spotted by Detective Warner, nor at the time of his arrest sometime around 1:15 p.m. or a few minutes later, how could Harbor Precinct policeman Frederick Byers have received a radio call at “about one o’clock” to look for a “light colored beige jacket?”47

Who made the call to Harbor Precinct to initiate the jacket search? How did they know that Crump wasn’t wearing a jacket or a golf cap at the time? How did they know he’d had one on before then? Why was it so important?

The answer, of course, was that the CIA operation was in control of everything. Once Crump had become the designated patsy, the team knew where he was and what he was doing at all times, and especially what he was wearing. They had gone to great lengths to duplicate his clothing for the man standing over the body, who was to be seen by Wiggins. They also knew, from their surveillance of Crump, that he had jettisoned his jacket and cap, or perhaps lost them when he had inadvertently slipped into the Potomac. It had taken Byers less than forty-five minutes to locate Crump’s jacket. How did he know where to look along the Potomac River shoreline?

Likely because he was given enough direction by the CIA’s operating team. Ultimately, without these two critical pieces of Crump’s clothing — the jacket and the cap — there would be no circumstantial evidence against Ray Crump. But with their recovery, there was enough to begin framing Crump for the murder.

By 2:00 that afternoon, Deputy Coroner Linwood Rayford had arrived at the murder scene, and he pronounced Mary Meyer dead at 2:05 p.m. Meanwhile, Crump was in handcuffs and still at the murder scene. He didn’t leave the scene immediately after he was arrested because too many police cars were blocking the exit at the Foundry Underpass. Crump was finally escorted away from the area sometime between 2:00 and 2:15 p.m. and taken to police headquarters.48 His jacket would be delivered to Detective Crooke “around 3:00 p.m.”

In handcuffs, wearing a white T-shirt, Ray would be photographed and paraded around police headquarters. Before the end of the day, the media would begin drilling Crump’s guilt into the public psyche. The “trial by newspaper” had begun.

The only thing left to do was to establish Mary’s identity for police, but in a controlled manner. A detail such as this was critically important and would be carefully managed; it was part of the CIA’s “operation.”

Here, I must interject an episode that took place in the course of my own exploration of this mystery. By 2006, after several years of painstaking research, I had not yet fully grasped how comprehensive an “operation” Mary’s murder had been. There were still too many unanswered questions, too many lingering details I wasn’t able to resolve, and I had nowhere to go for answers.

Early one morning, hours before dawn in February 2006, I awoke disoriented, soaking wet as if sick with a fever in a night sweat. With darkness all around, I struggled to make sense of my current disposition. Had I been dreaming?

No, not exactly. I felt as if I’d been talking to someone in another dimension, almost sensing some lingering presence in my bedroom with me. But I could see no one. Increasingly anxious, I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing. Like a waterfall, rainbows of cascading images and thoughts from months of intensive study and research tumbled through my awareness. And then it happened. A horrid insight suddenly gripped me, though not yet fully comprehended or understood.

A veiled form of the clue had actually been in public view for years, since 1980 in fact, but I hadn’t noticed it then, or even when it appeared more dramatically in 1995. That February morning, I realized the “master key” was in Ben Bradlee’s 1995 memoir, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures.

Book Covers

A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures by Ben Bradlee. Facing reality: From world federalism to the CIA by Cord Meyer. Photo credit: Simon & Schuster and Harper & Row

There, having waited more than thirty years, Bradlee revealed that the person who had first alerted him to his sister-in-law’s demise on the day of her murder had been none other than my father, Wistar Janney: “My friend Wistar Janney called to ask if I had been listening to the radio. It was just after lunch, and of course I had not. Next he asked if I knew where Mary was, and of course I didn’t. Someone had been murdered on the towpath, he said, and from the radio description it sounded like Mary.”49

The reader may recall in an earlier chapter the mention of the telephone call that Ben Bradlee received “just after lunch” from his CIA friend. The truth was, Bradlee never revealed that his “friend” Wistar Janney was a high level career CIA officer in this passage.50 This had been the very first moment, Bradlee claimed, when he had learned that something might have happened to his sister-in-law, Mary Meyer. His next sentence reads: “I raced home.”

My father, the reader will also recall, had been a career officer of the CIA since 1949, almost from the Agency’s inception. While not officially titled in clandestine services or the Agency’s covert Directorate of Plans, his responsibilities had moved him through any number of different directorates in the Agency during the 1950s and 1960s, including the Office of Current Intelligence (OCI), as it was named at the time, and then the newer directorate Science and Technology (S&T).

What time of day did “just after lunch” actually represent? “Probably sometime after two o’clock, two-thirty, somewhere in that region or so,” Bradlee said, in an interview for this book in 2007. That, of course, was the time frame when the coroner had arrived (2:00 p.m.) at the murder scene and had pronounced the victim dead (2:05 p.m.). Her identity was still unknown. Ray Crump, it will be remembered, was just leaving the murder scene in handcuffs on his way to police homicide headquarters.52 The only thing left to do for the “operation” was to establish the victim’s identity. The terrible, lingering question, its stench still as foul today as it was on the afternoon of Mary’s murder, was how much did Ben Bradlee really know about what was actually taking place? And when did he first know it?

How uncannily convenient that Wistar Janney just happened to be “listening to the radio” in his CIA office, where he allegedly heard a “radio description” about a murder that had just taken place on the canal. And of course the very first thought that popped into his mind was that it had to be Mary Meyer. For what possible reason would Wistar Janney think that an unidentified murder victim was Mary Meyer?

Furthermore, Mary’s outspoken, disapproving comments against the CIA not only drew resentment and outright hostility from other CIA wives, it also infuriated men like my father, whose blood boiled at the slightest criticism of his beloved CIA from anyone. Why would Wistar Janney, a trusted friend of Cord Meyer’s, have been thinking about Mary Meyer that day (or any other day)? Was it possible that his call to Ben Bradlee “just after lunch” was designed not only to notify him of the event, but begin the final piece of the “operation” — establish the identity of the murder victim?

Everything else had been completed. Mary Meyer had been successfully assassinated. The patsy, Ray Crump, had been arrested and was in custody. A conveniently placed eyewitness had identified Crump, standing over the victim just seconds after the fatal second gunshot. The media would soon proclaim him guilty in the public mind.

“William L. Mitchell” would show up at police headquarters the next day to reinforce the Wiggins eyewitness account. Crump was about to be convicted in the media in a matter of hours. Game, set, and match.

Frederick Wistar Morris Janney

Peter Janney’s father, Frederick Wistar Morris Janney. Photo credit: Peter Janney / Wikimedia

At the Janney family home during the evening of Mary’s murder, a bit of veiled intrigue was occurring. Away at boarding school that fall, I was unaware of what took place. However, my younger brother, Christopher, fourteen at the time, was living at home. During the course of my research, I asked him to recollect what happened that evening. Christopher recalled that during dinner there had been absolutely no mention of Mary Meyer’s murder. But sometime after dinner, “it had to be quarter to eight, if not eight, Dad was sitting at his desk in the den paying bills,” he said, “listening to music, when the phone rang on his desk.”

Christopher was in his bedroom nearby with his door open doing homework. Our mother, he remembered, was in the master bedroom, most likely either reading or working at her desk.

“Dad picked up the phone in the den,” said Christopher. The next thing he remembered was hearing our mother, hysterically crying out, “Oh no! Oh no!” He rushed into the den, wanting to know what happened. “Mary Meyer has been shot,” he remembered our father saying.

Christopher further recollected it had been “the police” who had called our father “because they couldn’t reach Cord, so Dad was next on the list, something like that.” Both parents were upset, Christopher recalled. “Dad was more calm. Mom was more hysterical, but that was the first they’d heard about it.”53

During the seven-year period I worked on this book, my mother volunteered on two separate occasions — and with no prompting from me — her own recollections of that evening. I made a point of not leading her in any direction; I just listened and let her talk. On both occasions, she distinctly remembered the phone call that evening. “That was the first we’d heard about it,” she said repeatedly.

Shortly after “the police” phone call that evening, my father and Steuart Pittman — who had been married to Mary’s sister, Tony, before Ben Bradlee, and who remained close to Mary’s ex-husband, Cord Meyer — drove to National Airport to pick up Cord upon his return from New York.

Had the telephone call to Wistar Janney that evening come from “the police,” or from someone from CIA coordinating the operation? Since Wistar answered the call, it was his assertion alone.

What was clear was that it was time to create another illusion: the grieving ex-husband, Cord Meyer, needed the appearance of being comforted.

Recall another extremely critical detail: Sometime during the afternoon of Mary’s murder, after calling Ben Bradlee, Wistar Janney had called Cord Meyer in New York, informing him of what had occurred. Feigning surprise and incredulity in his 1980 book, Facing Reality, Cord acknowledged it had indeed been his friend Wistar who had called him that afternoon:

In October of 1964, I was in New York City attending a meeting when I received a call from an old friend, Wistar Janney. As gently as he could, he broke the news that Mary had been found dead on the towpath along the canal that borders the Potomac, apparently murdered that afternoon by an unknown assailant. To my incredulous questions, he assured me that there could be no mistake. I flew back to Washington immediately to learn all that there was to know… Mary’s friends had identified her body.”54

Once again, “the cat was out of the bag” — as early as 1980: Wistar Janney had known, during the afternoon of the murder, the identity of the ‘unidentified’ murder victim. Yet he had played ignorant when he arrived home to his family, and said nothing until the mystery phone call took place. Cord Meyer, like Bradlee fifteen years later, would conveniently omit the fact in the previous description that his “old friend, Wistar Janney,” was, like himself, a high-level CIA official.

How could my father have known anything whatsoever about Mary Meyer’s death that day, unless, of course, he had been involved? How had he been able to inform both Ben Bradlee and Cord Meyer about it hours before the police had identified the victim? Recall that Mary’s identity hadn’t been established officially until Ben Bradlee identified her in the D.C. morgue, “sometime after six o’clock in the evening,” in the company of Sergeant Sam Wallace of the Metropolitan Police Department. Given the facts established, the only logical explanation was that Wistar Janney was part of the CIA operation to “terminate” Mary Pinchot Meyer, as was Cord Meyer himself, although peripherally and indirectly.

But why would Cord Meyer risk identifying Wistar Janney in 1980 as the “old friend” who had called him on the day of the murder? The same question might be asked of Ben Bradlee, especially considering the incriminating time frame of the Janney phone call (“just after lunch”) in Bradlee’s account. There are several possible reasons for their statements. First, neither Cord Meyer nor Ben Bradlee wanted to be accused of withholding critical information in their respective memoirs as to how they had first learned of Mary’s death. Since Cord had, it seemed, safely revealed this fact in 1980 with no repercussions, Bradlee may have thought in 1995 that it was safe for him to do so, given the longer span of time that had elapsed.

Yet Bradlee’s 1995 revelation of the phone call from Wistar Janney was, and still is, potentially more damaging because his entire memoir account contradicts his 1965 trial testimony. Furthermore, had it been revealed at the trial that CIA official Wistar Janney had called Bradlee to inform him of Mary’s death “just after lunch” — in other words, less than two hours after the murder took place, with Mary’s identity still unknown to police — attorney Dovey Roundtree might have nailed Bradlee as a possible accessory to murder. The trial would have been over as soon as it had begun.

Still another lingering question was whether the prosecution at any time knew about either of Wistar Janney’s calls — to Cord Meyer or to Ben Bradlee. If prosecuting attorney Alfred Hantman knew and withheld that information, he could have been disbarred for suborning perjury. The courtroom proceedings would have been exposed as nothing but a sham (as some believed they had been all along), engineered to convict Ray Crump as part of a greater cover-up, not only of Mary Meyer’s assassination, but of President Kennedy’s as well.

Finally, a more obvious reason that both Cord Meyer and Ben Bradlee felt it safe to reveal their respective calls from Wistar Janney was simply this: By 1980, Wistar Janney was dead; he died suddenly in January 1979 of a heart attack while playing squash with his friend Jack Oliver, just after lunch at the Metropolitan Club in Washington.

And so, on the evening of Mary’s murder, Wistar Janney feigned his entire reaction to his wife and youngest son. Six weeks later, home from boarding school for Thanksgiving, I would sit at our family dinner table and listen to my mother reveal the murder of Mary Meyer earlier that fall. During her explanation, some part of me would also observe my father vacantly staring off into space. It would take more than forty years to finally realize that it had been his ghostly, eerie silence that evening that had so deeply haunted my psyche.

In the post-Watergate era of the late 1970s, the CIA had experienced a slow walk through hell. The Agency was in tatters, its reputation in shambles. As it was, the CIA feared annihilation in the Church Committee hearings, though ultimately, thanks to the machinations of Richard Helms, it had managed to fend off the ultimate, well-deserved verdict for having instigated America’s first and only coup d’état: President Kennedy’s assassination and its subsequent cover-up.

To make matters worse for Wistar Janney, investigative reporting was fast becoming a career choice for talented young journalists. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, under the ironic tutelage of Ben Bradlee and Washington Post owner Katharine Graham, had raised the bar. The Post’s Watergate exposés had made the prospect of journalism glamorous again. Revealing “deep politics” and “secret history” was becoming a national obsession.

Cord Meyer’s 1980 memoir, Facing Reality, would reveal Wistar’s knowledge of Mary’s identity long before the police knew. How long would it take before some hotshot journalist would actually read and study the Crump trial transcript, only to then connect the dots buried in Ben Bradlee’s testimony, and possibly persuade Bradlee to reveal Wistar’s call to him that day before Mary’s body was even cold?

Or would it be Seymour Hersh himself — already having sacked the venerable CIA sacred cow James Jesus Angleton in 1975 — who would finally bring down the hammer on Wistar’s head? Perhaps Wistar thought a graceful, grand exit from the play of life would spare everyone — never realizing that eventually, one way or another, the sins of the father would be visited upon the son.

During the last two years of his life, Wistar Janney was living his own private version of hell. His beloved Agency had fallen into disrepute, and with it the reputation of many of those who had been there at the beginning. Retirement at age sixty loomed ominously on the horizon, and he wasn’t at all happy about it, nor did he have any substantive plans as to how he might occupy himself.

Even a doctoral graduate student in clinical psychology such as myself could see he was intermittently agitated, still drinking heavily, sneaking cigarettes whenever he could. His depression, coupled with an ongoing heart condition and no regular exercise, created an ideal prescription for an acute, made-to-order coronary event.

What, indeed, had Wistar Janney been thinking that dreary winter day in January 1979 at the Metropolitan Club? After eating his typical high-caloric, saturated-fat lunch, accompanied by a generous side order of martinis, Wistar went upstairs and played his predictably aggressive game of squash. It was, as the Beatles song lyric echoed, “a ticket to ride,” but one with no return.

Endnotes

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36. Smith, interview. See also pages 4–6 in Appendix 3.

37. Joseph J. Trento, The Secret History of the CIA (Roseville, CA: Prima, 2001), p. 89. Nowhere is the capacity of the CIA’s Technical Services Division better explained than in H. P. Albarelli Jr.’s book,  A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments (Walterville, OR: Trine Day, 2009).

38. McCabe and Roundtree, Justice Older Than the Law, p. 195. See also trial transcript, p. 493. Crump’s neighbor, Elsie Perkins, testified that she saw Crump leave his house that morning “between five minutes of eight and eight o’clock.”

39. Trial transcript, p. 140.

40. Ibid., pp. 129–130.

41. McCabe and Roundtree, Justice Older Than the Law, p. 195.

42. Ibid., pp. 195–196.

43. Trial transcript, p. 134.

44. Ibid., p. 259.

45. Ibid., p. 425.

46. Ibid., p. 569.

47. Ibid., pp. 407–408.

48. Ibid., p. 608, p. 649.

49. Benjamin C. Bradlee, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), p. 266.

50. In passing, Bradlee did reference Wistar Janney earlier in his memoir (p. 118), but the page reference was not part of Wistar Janney’s heading in the index of the Bradlee memoir. The passage read as follows: “Socially our crowd consisted of young couples, around thirty years old, with young kids, being raised without help by their mothers, and without many financial resources. The Janneys — Mary and Wistar, who worked for the CIA; the Winships — Leibe and Tom who worked for Senator Lev Saltonstall of Massachusetts…”

51. Ben Bradlee, interview by the author, Washington, D.C. January 31, 2007.

52. Trial transcript, p. 608, p. 649.

53. Christopher Janney, interview by the author, February 20, 2010.

54. Cord Meyer, Jr., Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), p. 143.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from canal tow path (NPS).

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