Mary Pinchot Meyer (14 October 1920, Eastern Shore of Maryland - 12 October 1964, Georgetown, Washington, D.C.) was a Washington DC socialite, painter, former wife of CIA official Cord Meyer and close friend of US president John F. Kennedy who was noted for her great beauty and social skills. Meyer's murder, two days before her 44th birthday, in the Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington D.C. during the fall of 1964, would later stir speculation relating to Kennedy's presidency and assassination. Nina Burleigh in her 1998 biography wrote, "Mary Meyer was an enigmatic woman in life, and in death her real personality lurks just out of view."
Mary Pinchot was the daughter of Amos Pinchot, a wealthy lawyer and a key figure in the Progressive party who had helped fund the socialist magazine The Masses. Her mother was Pinchot's second wife Ruth, a journalist who worked for magazines such as The Nation and The New Republic. Mary was raised at the family's Grey Towers home in Milford, Pennsylvania where as a child she met left-wing intellectuals such as Mabel Dodge, Louis Brandeis, Robert M. La Follette, Sr. and Harold L. Ickes. Mary attended Brearley School and Vassar College, where she became interested in communism. She dated William Attwood in 1938 and while with him at a dance held at Choate Rosemary Hall she first met John F. Kennedy.
She left Vassar and 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 US 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 19 April 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 late 1945, followed by Michael in 1947, after which Pinchot became a housewife 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. Albert Einstein was an enthusiastic supporter and fundraiser. 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 American Communist Party 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 the print and broadcast media. Mary may also have done some work for the CIA during this time but her tendency towards spur-of-the-moment love affairs reportedly made the agency wary of her.
With her husband's CIA appointment they moved to Washington D.C. and became highly visible members of Georgetown society. Their friends and acquaintances included Joseph Alsop, Katharine Graham, Clark Clifford and Washington Post reporter James Truitt along with 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. In 1953 Senator Joseph McCarthy publicly accused Cord Meyer of being a communist and the FBI 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 Mary's husband became unhappy with his CIA career and 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 a house not far from where the Meyers lived, Mary and Jackie became friends 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 US government funds worldwide to support progressive-seeming foundations and organizations.
One of Mary's close friends and classmates from Vassar was Cicely d'Autremont, who married James Angleton. In 1955 Meyer's sister Antoinette (Tony) married Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post. On 18 December 1956 the Meyers' middle son Michael was hit by a car near their house and killed at the age of nine. Although this tragedy brought Mary and Cord closer together for a time, Mary filed for divorce in 1958. Her divorce petition alleged "extreme cruelty, mental in nature, which seriously injured her health, destroyed her happiness, rendered further cohabitation unendurable and compelled the parties to separate."
Mary and her two surviving sons remained in the family home. She began painting again in a converted garage studio at the home of her sister Tony 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.
Burleigh claims James Angleton tapped Mary Meyer's telephone after she left her husband. Meanwhile Angleton often visited the family home and took her sons on fishing outings. Mary visited John F. Kennedy at the White House in October 1961 and their relationship became intimate. Mary told Ann and James Truitt she was keeping a diary.
Mary Meyer and John F Kennedy reportedly had "about 30 trysts" and at least one author has claimed she brought marijuana or LSD to almost all of these meetings. In January 1963 Philip Graham disclosed the Kennedy-Meyer affair to a meeting of newspaper editors but his claim was not reported by the news media. Timothy Leary later claimed Mary influenced Kennedy's "views on nuclear disarmament and rapprochement with Cuba." In an interview with Nina Burleigh, Kennedy aide Meyer 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 1983 former Harvard University psychology professor Timothy Leary claimed that in the spring of 1962 Meyer, who according to her biographer Nina Burleigh "wore manners and charm like a second skin", told him 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 at that time her lover. According to Leary, Meyer said 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 Meyer had asked him for help while in a state of fear for her own life after the assassination of President Kennedy. (See sections below on Meyer's murder and diary.)
In his biography Flashbacks Leary claimed he had a call from Mary 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." During the summer of 1964 Meyer reportedly told friends she thought someone had gotten into her house while she was not there and later told a friend from Vassar, historian Elizabeth Eisenstein, "she thought she had seen somebody leaving as she walked in."
Meyer's biographer, journalist Nina Burleigh, is the author of articles for The Washington Post, Time Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and New York Magazine as well several other critically acclaimed books. Although Burleigh does not draw a conclusion as to whether Meyer participated in LSD sessions with President Kennedy or other powerful figures, she also does not dismiss Leary's claims out of hand. Burleigh confirms Meyer's own use of LSD, her involvement with Leary during Leary's tenure at Harvard, and that this involvement occurred at the same time as Meyer's intimate association with President Kennedy. Burleigh also states that the timing of Meyer's visits to Leary coincided with the dates of Meyer's known private meetings with Kennedy. Burleigh writes:
It should be noted that LSD was not illegal in the U.S. at that time and that its use to facilitate psychotherapy and artistic endeavors was not uncommon in some of Meyer's social circles.
On 12 October 1964, eleven months after John F. Kennedy's assassination and two weeks after the Warren Commission report was made public, Mary finished a painting and went for a 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."
Meyer's body had two bullet wounds, one at the back of the head and another in her heart. 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".
Minutes later a disheveled, soaking wet African-American man named Raymond Crump was arrested near the murder scene. No gun was ever found and Crump was never linked to any gun of the type used to murder Mary Meyer. Newspaper reports described her former husband only as either an author or government official and did not mention Kennedy, although many journalists apparently were aware of Meyer's past marriage to a high ranking CIA official and her friendship with Kennedy.
When Crump came to trial, judge Howard Corcoran ruled Mary Meyer's private life could not be disclosed in the courtroom. Corcoran had recently been appointed by president Lyndon Baines Johnson. Mary’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." Crump was acquitted of all charges on 29 July 1965 and the murder remains unsolved (Crump went on to what has been described as an "horrific" life of crime).
In March 1976 James Truitt told the National Enquirer Meyer was having an affair with Kennedy when he was assassinated. Truitt said Meyer had told his wife Ann she was keeping a diary (which some sources have described as a sketchbook with some written text) and had asked her to retrieve it "if anything ever happened" to her. Ann Truitt, who was living in Tokyo when Meyer was murdered, called both James Angleton and Mary's brother in law Ben Bradlee at home and asked him if he had found the diary. Bradlee later said, "We didn't start looking until the next morning, when Tony [Mary's sister] and I walked around the corner a few blocks to Mary's house. It was locked, as we had expected, but when we got inside, we found James Angleton, and to our complete surprise he told us he, too, was looking for Mary's diary."
Angleton said he knew about Mary's intimate friendship with Kennedy and was looking for the diary and anything else which might have information about the affair. Later at Mary's art studio by the Bradlee home Ben and Antoinette again found Angleton, trying to pick a padlock. After he left, Antoinette found the diary and many letters in a metal box. These were given to Angleton, who later claimed he burned the diary, in which he said Mary Meyer wrote she and Kennedy had taken LSD before "they made love." However, Bradlee wrote they later learned Angleton had not burned the diary: Bradlee's wife Tony got it back from Angleton and burned the document herself while Ann Truitt watched. Those who did read the diary reportedly said it confirmed Meyer's intimate friendship with Kennedy but gave no suggestion it contained any information about his assassination.
Cord Meyer left the CIA in 1977. In his 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." However his former personal assistant Carol Delaney later claimed, "Mr. Meyer didn't for a minute think that Ray Crump had murdered his wife or that it had been an attempted rape. But, being an Agency man, he couldn't very well accuse the CIA of the crime, although the murder had all the markings of an in-house rubout."
In February 2001 writer C. David Heymann asked Cord Meyer about Mary Pinchot Meyer's murder and he replied, "My father died of a heart attack the same year Mary was killed. It was a bad time." When asked who had murdered Mary Pinchot Meyer the retired CIA official, six weeks before his own death from lymphoma, reportedly "hissed" back, "The same sons of bitches that killed John F. Kennedy."