Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Lonesome Death of Dorothy Kilgallen

“In five more days I’m going to bust this case wide open.”  Dorothy Kilgallen

(Re-posting of an earlier article with new links and info.  Done here as I can't get the formatting right on the original, posted in 2008.)

When her hairdresser found her she was propped up in bed, makeup still on, hairpiece still on, fake eyelashes still on, and dead to this world.

Dorothy Kilgallen’s name will go unrecognized by today’s generation but she was at one time one of the first of a new bread of celebrity journalists.  By the mid-50s, she was the most famous journalist in America, made even more apparent by her 15-year stint as a panelist on the popular CBS show, What’s My Line.  The events surrounding her untimely and mysterious death are intertwined with the lore of the Kennedy assassination.

She started her career in journalism at the age of 17 covering crime stories and earned a reputation of good, thorough reporter--someone that left no stone unturned.   As her father said, “She had an unerring instinct for news. She had a brilliant style of writing. She was accurate and had a flair for the apt phrase. She had an uncanny ability to produce scoops and an inordinate speed in turning out copy.”

By 1950 her column was running in 146 papers, and reaping 20 million readers.  Kilgallen’s style was a mixture of gossip, movie star news, and politics.

As time went on her reporting got closer to heart of power in this country.  She was one of the first reporters to imply, which we now know to be true, that the CIA was working with the mob to assassinate Fidel Castro.  This does not go unnoticed in the halls of power and declassified documents show that Kilgallen’s activities were being monitored by the FBI since the 1930s (they have a fondness for blackmail material), while her travels overseas were closely watched by the CIA.  

The JFK Assassination
Devastated by the news of John Kennedy’s death (of whom she met on a White House tour with her son), Kilgallen increasingly turned her attention, and her impressive crime investigation skills, to the assassination of the president. Dorothy Kilgallen quickly made a name for herself as one of the first (and few) people in the mainstream press to question the Warren Commission report. Kilgallen pulled no punches as she wrote the first article on the FBI’s intimidation of witnesses, interviewed Acquilla Clemons a witness to the shooting of Officer J. D. Tippit whom the Warren Commission never questioned (Clemons claimed to see two men at the scene of the murder—none matching Oswald’s description), and was successful in interviewing key figures such as Jack Ruby.

A major and controversial scoop was when Kilgallen got a transcript of Earl Warren’s interview with Jack Ruby, which showcased Warren’s ineptness as an interviewer.  It proved to be an embarrassment to the government.  The FBI showed up at her townhouse enquiring her sources.  Kilgallen told them she would prefer to die than to reveal any names.  In the September 30, 1964 issue of Journal-American Kilgallen opined that the FBI "might have been more profitably employed in probing the facts of the case rather than how I got them, which does seem a waste of time to me."

She approached one of Jack Ruby's lawyers, Joe Tonahill, seeking an interview.  It was granted. Tonahill, as an observer, later stated that Ruby "cooperated with her in every way that he could, and told her the truth as he understood it. It was just a very agreeable conversation between them..."  Dorothy Kilgallen never published the Ruby interview, instead saving it for a book she hoped to publish on the Kennedy assassination called, Murder One.  It went into her JFK file, which upon her death would disappear along with her Ruby interview notes.

Shortly thereafter, she stated she has enough to blow the case “wide open.”

There is not enough space there to go into the comings and goings of Kilgallen before her death.  Her life was spent making deadlines, appearing on a popular TV quiz show, having clandestine meetings with sources, and hanging out with the rich and famous.  She had the usual amount of death threats as someone does in her position and strange events that would have led her to believe that somebody knew the intimate details of her life and people she associated with.

Enter one, Marc Sinclaire.  Sinclaire was Kilgallen’s hairdresser and close friend.  He would be the first person to discover Kilgallen’s body at 8:30 a.m., on the morning of November 8, 1965.  He has only recently started talking about the events of that morning and was never questioned by police investigators in regards to Kilgallen’s death.

Here are the basic points of Sinclaire’s discovery of that morning:

  • Dorothy Kilgallen’s body was discovered in the third floor bedroom of the townhouse.  She always slept in the fifth floor bedroom.
  • She was found sitting up in bed, still wearing her make-up, false eye lashes, false hairpiece, and earrings.  Normally, she would never go to bed all “made up” for going out. 
  • She was not wearing her regular pajamas, but instead a blue matching peignoir and robe.
  • A book was on her bed, but upside down.  It was also a book she finished reading two weeks earlier.  Her reading glasses were nowhere nearby.
  • The air conditioning was on though there was no need for it. Sinclaire says she was cold natured and would have preferred the heat on.
  • Sinclaire sees a piece of paper on the floor but never examined it.
  • Upon leaving the townhouse, Sinclaire sees a police cruiser with two officers sitting in it.  They ignore him.  Oddly, Sinclaire does not approach them to tell them of his discovery of Dorothy Kilgallen’s body.  Police detectives do not show up till later in the day after an announcement is made by Douglas Edwards on CBS News.

Kilgallen’s death has many mysterious elements to it.  The autopsy showed her to be in overall good health, but tests found her to be over the legal limit for alcohol consumption.  The cause of death would be ruled as "acute ethanol and barbiturate intoxication, circumstances undetermined." In an odd turn of events, Dr. James Luke, a New York City medical examiner that did the autopsy, did not sign the death certificate.  It was signed by another physician, Dr. Dominick DiMaio, who when questioned, did not know why is name was appeared on the certificate, nor was he working out of Manhattan at the time.  If what he says is true, then his name was forged on the death certificate.

In 1968 a test using a new process determined from saved tissue samples, proved that Dorothy Kilgallen died of fatal mix of three barbiturates: secobarbital, amobarbital, and pentobarbital.  Kilgallen was not known as a drug user.  She was spotted at the Regency hotel, chatting with a stranger in a booth.  Perhaps a source?  Did this man slip a mickey in her drink?  Her favorite drink included the ingredient, quinine, which can be used to mask the taste of barbiturates.  The Regency was seven blocks from her home and it is unknown how she got to the townhouse or what transpired during this time.  She apparently was not among friends in her final hours.

Her husband, Richard Kollmar was slept in the fourth story of the townhouse.  He gave inconsistent accounts of what happened that night.  He claimed that Dorothy arrived home at 11:30 p.m., in good spirits, and went off to write her column.  But those who saw her in the Regency lounge reported her being there far past midnight 2 a.m.  Later, when asked by friends about Dorothy’s JFK investigation, he replied, “I'm afraid that will have to go to the grave with me."  And it did when Kollmar died of a drug overdose in 1971.

Other Related Events
Mary Brannum, managing editor of a several movie magazines receives an anonymous call telling her that Dorothy Kilgallen is dead.  She has no idea why she was called or who the caller was.

In 1975, Dorothy's son Dickie, was contacted by the FBI concerning his mother's JFK research papers.  He told them the notes were still missing.  Notice that the FBI was interested in the papers at this late date, after they had long decided that Oswald was the murderer of the president.  Why would they be so interested now?  After all, they are law enforcement organization that claims to have solved the case.

The NYPD failed to ask pro forma questions of any of the witnesses that were around Kilgallen before her death. That includes as mentioned above, Marc Sinclaire who discovered the body.

When those who go to murder, and desire to make the victim’s death appear as a suicide, drug overdose or accident, they all have one thing working against them.  They can never know enough about the intended victim’s personal habits.  In this case, if Dorothy Kilgallen’s death was a murder, the killers were not aware of her favorite bedroom, her sleep attire, her need for reading glasses, or for that matter, the book that she had already read.  They must have been men, as no woman goes to bed with her make-up on.  Think of the mess on the sheets and pillowcases!  

On the other hand, Kilgallen may have been so inebriated that she did all of these out of character things.  But she was not known to be a heavy drug abuser.  Maybe she was, but no one testifies to that.  There was enough here for a thorough investigation if one had been done.  But that was brushed under the rug, like a lot of things are.

It’s often said that keeping a high profile keeps one safe.  This apparently did help not Dorothy.  If there is a motive for the murder it was her information she had collected on the Kennedy assassination and the fact that she was a thorn in the side of government’s powerful elites.  She was not a shill.  Imagine somebody like her in the mainstream press today.

In another curious episode, Kilgallen had given a backup chapter of book to her friend Florence Pritchett.  She suddenly died a day after Kilgallen.  The backup chapter was never found.

Hit List, p.140., Richard Belzer and David Wayne.


Town House pictures