Mary Jo Kopechne, left a party on Chappaquiddick Island, off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts She did not tell her close friends at the party that she was leaving, and she left her purse and keys behind. Senator Ted Kennedy drove the 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont off a bridge, which was without guardrails and was not on the route to Edgartown, where Kennedy claimed he was taking her so she could catch the last ferry home. The Oldsmobile landed in Poucha Pond and overturned in the water; Kennedy escaped the vehicle and fled the scene (with an expired drivers license and drunk), but Kopechne was left to drowned. Kennedy failed to report the incident to the authorities until the car and Kopechne’s body were discovered the next morning. No negligent homicide or manslaughter charges were filed even though it was typically automatic for the prosecutor to do so. Kennedy was only charged with leaving the scene of an accident.
Chappaquiddick has been called “the most brilliant cover-up ever achieved in a nation where investigative procedures are well developed and where the principles of equal justice prevail, at least during some of those moments where people are watching.” ~ The Last Kennedy by Robert Sherrill
The mysteries of the case continue to haunt Ted Kennedy as well as the authorities who investigated them. Charges of ineptitude and lack of diligence abounded, as did insinuations that the machinery of justice crumbled beneath the power and prestige of the Kennedy family. George Killen, former State Police Detective-Lieutenant, and chief of a never-revealed investigation, lamented that the failure to bring the case to a satisfactory conclusion was “the biggest mistake” of a long and distinguished police career. Senator Kennedy, he said, “killed that girl the same as if he put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger.” ~ Senatorial Privilege by Leo Damore
Cape Cod with Martha’s Vineyard and Chappaquiddick
Regatta Weekend – July 1969 ( excerpts from Senatorial Privilege by Leo Damore ) – Every summer, the Edgartown Yacht Club sponsored the Edgartown Regatta off Martha’s Vineyard. The Kennedys had been attending the regatta for years, and their celebrations were the stuff of legend. Their 1966 regatta party had been “riotous,” and 1967 equally festive, leaving a rented cottage in shambles. The assassination of Robert Kennedy had kept the family away in 1968, but in the spring of 1969 plans were under way to resume the festivities.
The Lawrence Cottage ~ Chappaquiddick – Two Kennedy boats, the Resolute and the Victura, were entered in the 1969 races, and Ted Kennedy felt that the weekend’s festivities provided the perfect situation to reunite the members of Bobby’s campaign staff, affectionately known as the “Boiler Room Girls” because of the tough back room work they did.
Joseph A. Gargan – Joseph Gargan, Ted Kennedy’s cousin and lawyer, agreed to make the arrangements. He reserved rooms for the women at the Katama Shores Inn near Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. Teddy and the other men would be put up at the Shiretown Inn. Gargan also searched for a cottage on the water which would serve as the site for their cookout and party after the races. – When he discovered that all suitable accommodations on the water in Edgartown had already been taken, Gargan settled on the Lawrence Cottage on the nearby island of Chappaquiddick. This cottage was near the beach, and allowed the party-goers to stay through Sunday. “That’s the main reason I rented the place”, Gargan said.
The island, separated from Martha’s Vineyard by a narrow channel, was accessible only a ferry which operated between the hours of 7:30 AM and midnight. Gargan’s choice of Chappaquiddick as the site for the party would ultimately lead to disaster.
Beginning in 1940, a young Joey Gargan had been sent to spend summers in Hyannis Port with his cousin Ted Kennedy. An overweight, good natured 8-year-old, Teddy was delighted with his new playmate. Muscular and athletic, Joey Gargan could take care of himself and, it turned out, Teddy too. – Used to doing chores, Gargan was handy with tools, something alien to his cousin who couldn’t change a tire on a bicycle or use a screwdriver. So resourceful was his cousin, that Teddy came to rely on him, confident that whatever the problem, “Joey’ll fix it.”
– This relationship would continue into their adult years, and was put to the ultimate test after the accident at Chappaquiddick. For nearly 20 years, Gargan suffered in silence from the wounds inflicted on him by the tragedy that killed Mary Jo Kopechne.
At the Party:
- Ted Kennedy: US Senator from Massachusetts and co-host of the party at Chappaquiddick
- Joseph A. Gargan: Lawyer, Ted Kennedy’s cousin, and co-host of the party
- Paul Markham: Lawyer and former US Attorney for Massachusetts
- Ray LaRosa: Former fireman and Kennedy campaign worker
- Charles Tretter: Lawyer, head of the Boston Redevelopment Commission, and a Kennedy campaign aide
- John Crimmins: Senator Kennedy’s part-time chauffeur
The Boiler Room Girls: Members of Bobby Kennedy’s campaign staff: Mary Jo Kopechne Rosemary Keough Esther Newberg Susan Tannenbaum Nance Lyons Mary Ellen Lyons
* Note: – Senator Kennedy would later explain that his wife Joan did not attend the Regatta weekend because of “health reasons” ( she was pregnant)
Following his brother Bobby’s death, “a general discouragement with Ted’s off-hour antics” was being privately expressed within the Kennedy circle. ~ The Education of Edward Kennedy by Burton Hersh
Time reported that Ted had been drinking more heavily since his brother’s death, and “he has been a different and deeply-troubled man”. Those close to Kennedy saw signs of a recklessness at odds with his expanding presidential prospects. Accepting an assignment from Life to cover Ted Kennedy after his brother’s assassination, writer Brock Brower concluded that the insecurities, fatalism and fast-living showed Ted was seeking to escape the inevitable candidacy for President. “Some thought his drinking had got beyond the strains it was supposed to relieve,” he said. ~ Senatorial Privilege by Leo Damore
John Lindsay of Newsweek saw “an all too-familiar pattern emerging.” Kennedy was slipping out of control toward some unavoidable crackup.
Senator Kennedy’s Driver’s License had Expired
Senator Kennedy’s driver’s license had expired on February 22, 1969 (nearly 5 months before the accident) and had not been renewed. – Although driving with an expired license was only a misdemeanor, it did provide the evidence of negligence needed to prove a manslaughter charge in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. – The license problem was “fixed” by officials at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, under the direction of Registrar Richard McLaughlin, before the legal proceedings began.
Ted Kennedy’s Driving Record:
Ted Kennedy had a record of serious traffic violations. Their nature formed a pattern of deliberate and repeated negligent operation. Particularly bothersome was a June, 1958 conviction for “reckless driving.”
On March 14, 1958, Deputy Sheriff Thomas Whitten had been on routine highway patrol outside Charlottesville, Virginia, when an Oldsmobile convertible ran a red light, sped off, then cut its tail lights to elude pursuit. A license check revealed the car belonged to Edward M. Kennedy, a 26-year-old law student attending the University of Virginia. Kennedy had previously been fined $15 for speeding in March 1957. – Whitten was on patrol at the same intersection a week later, he testified, “And here comes the same car. And to my surprise, he did exactly the same thing. He raced through the same red light, cut his lights when he got to the corner and made the right turn.” Whitten gave chase. He found the car in a driveway, apparently unoccupied. Looking inside, he discovered the driver, Teddy Kennedy, stretched out on the front seat and hiding. Whitten issued a ticket for “reckless driving; racing with an officer to avoid arrest; and operating a motor vehicle without an operator’s license (Mass. registration.)” – Kennedy’s attorneys were able to win numerous postponements, but eventually he was convicted on all charges and paid a $35 fine. Court officials never filed the mandatory notice of the case in the public docket, however, and Kennedy’s name had not appeared on any arrest blotter. Instead, a local reporter discovered the case when he spotted 5 warrants in Kennedy’s name in a court cash drawer.
Three weeks after his trial, Ted Kennedy was caught speeding again, and still operating without a valid license.
In December 1959, Kennedy was stopped again for running a red light and fined $10 and costs. In Whitten’s view, “That boy had a heavy foot and a mental block against the color red. He was a careless, reckless driver who didn’t seem to have any regard for speed limits or traffic ordinances.”
The offenses in Virginia had occurred on Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts driver’s license, but mysteriously neither the Registry of Motor Vehicles nor the office of probation in Cambridge had any record of the out-of-state convictions. Had it been revealed at the inquest, the Senator’s history of negligence and reckless driving would have been further evidence to support a charge of manslaughter in the Chappaquiddick accident.
~ Senatorial Privilege by Leo Damore
Manslaughter in Massachusetts:
“Any person who wantonly or in a reckless or grossly negligent manner did that which resulted in the death of a human being was guilty of manslaughter, although he did not contemplate such a result.” In other words, negligence in exposing another to injury by doing an act, supplied all the intention the law required to make a defendant responsible for the consequences.
“It’s automatic in Massachusetts when a person is killed in an accident for the prosecutor to bring an action for criminal manslaughter.” ~ Joseph Gargan
Less than a week after the accident at Chappaquiddick, the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon ~ 7-24-69 ) reported an accident in Salem, Oregon, in which a car crashed through the chain on a ferry while crossing the Willamette River. A passenger riding in the car had drowned, but the driver escaped from the car and swam to shore. The driver was charged with negligent homicide.