On October 12, 1964, Mary Pinchot Meyer, a Washington socialite, went for her usual jog along the Potomac River in a fairly deserted section of Washington DC and, for no apparent reason, she was shot twice at close range. She was neither raped nor robbed.
A witness, who heard screaming and shots ran to an embankment overlooking the scene, arrived in time to see a black man standing over Meyer’s body. He said the man stared at the woman for a bit, then put a dark object in his pocket, presumably a gun, and calmly walked away.
The witness, Henry Wiggins Jr., saw the gunman from a distance of 128.6 feet, and described him as a “negro” who was 5 feet 8 to 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing about 185 pounds.
Not long afterward, the police arrested a “negro” and Wiggins positively identified him — even though he was only 5 feet 3.5 inches, and weighed 130 pounds.
And there were many other problems with the case. The man, Ray Crump, Jr., was put on trial, and acquitted, though many still think he was guilty. Others have a much darker explanation for Meyer’s murder: It was a CIA operation. Some background:
Meyer was the late John F. Kennedy’s lover. Her closest friends believe she was responsible for Kennedy’s desire to make peace — which was dangerously unpopular with the military industrial complex. She was under surveillance, and even found signs that strangers had been in her home while she was out. She seemed to know too much about the assassination. She most likely expressed what she knew in her diary. Immediately after her death, there was a frantic search for it.
Her sister found the diary and gave it to her husband, Ben Bradlee, who soon thereafter became the managing editor of the Washington Post. He turned it over to his friend, “spook of spooks,” CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton.
In his 1995 memoir A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures, Bradlee revealed that Meyer had described her affair with JFK in detail. And he confessed that he conspired with Angleton to destroy the diary. At the trial of the accused, Bradlee described finding only a pocket book which contained the usual items, her wallet, keys, cosmetics, pencils — and not a word about the diary. (United States District Court for the District of Columbia: United States of America vs. Ray Crump, Jr. Defendant; Criminal Case No. 930-64. Washington, D.C., July 20, 1965, pp.46-47.)
Meyer’s life was steeped in the CIA. She married Cord Meyer, who was recruited by Allen Dulles of the CIA and put in charge of the agency’s International Organizations Division. That division’s work involved assassinations, and propaganda activities, including “Operation Mockingbird,” which planted disinformation in major US publications. Her roommate in college was married to Frederick Wistar Janney, a CIA career officer. The Meyers and Janneys were very close. Their son Peter played with Mary’s son.
Peter Janney was very fond of Mary and he was devastated by her death. He has made it his mission in life to track down her real killer. The result is 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).
In the third edition of his book, Janney describes how he finally tracks down and interviews an elusive “second witness” in the case, a man who came forward soon after the alleged assailant was arrested. And he proves to be one more connection to the CIA.
Below, we present Part 1 of a three-part series that focuses on the crime itself — that is, what was known about it at first.
Introduction by Milicent Cranor
Murder on the Towpath
Henry Wiggins Jr. thought he heard “a whole lot of hollerin” coming from the canal.1 An employee of University Esso Service Station at Pennsylvania Avenue and 21st Street in Georgetown, Wiggins had been dispatched to pick up Bill Branch, the mechanic at the employer’s other Esso Service Station at the north end of Key Bridge. Together, they were to service a stalled Nash Rambler sedan abandoned somewhere in the 4300 block on the north side of Canal Road. They had just arrived and Wiggins was taking out his toolbox when he heard screams coming from the canal.
At first, he explained to police, he didn’t pay too much attention: “… you know, that area down there — it could have been some kids playing, or a bunch of winos fighting.” But then, he said, both he and Branch had thought they heard a woman screaming. The screams lasted for twenty seconds or more, they estimated, with the woman pleading, “Help me!… Help me!… Somebody help me!”2
A gunshot rang out from the same direction as the shouting.
Henry Wiggins was a heavy-set, twenty-four-year-old black man who had served in the Army in a Military Police unit in Korea, and he was still fast on his feet. On hearing the shot, he had dashed across Canal Road toward a stone wall at the edge of the embankment overlooking the canal. Seconds before he got there, he heard a second shot.
When he peered over the wall and down across the canal, Wiggins saw a man, “a Negro male,” standing over a woman who lay motionless and curled on her side. Minutes later, Wiggins would give the police a description of the man, recorded on the department’s Police Form PD-251.
The “Negro male” was listed as having a “medium build, 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches, 185 pounds.”3 Also listed were the clothes Wiggins said the man was wearing: a dark plaid golf cap; a light, beige-colored, waist-length zippered jacket; dark trousers; and dark shoes.4
Police would later measure the distance from where Wiggins stood at the wall to the murder scene to be 128.6 feet. It was close enough to make out specific details, certainly close enough to see that the woman was white, that the man standing over her was black, and that he stood with his hands down at his sides.
“He was facing toward me but his head was bent down. He was looking at the body lying on the ground. Then, he looked up toward the wall where I was standing. He saw me. I was looking right at him,” Wiggins recalled.5
Wiggins ducked behind the wall, but when he peeked back over it, he saw that the man held some kind of a dark object in his right hand. From the considerable distance of 128.6 feet, he couldn’t say with certainty what the object was, but given the gunshots he had just heard, he assumed that it was a gun.
“He just shoved something in his jacket pocket, looked at me a couple of seconds… turned away from the victim and walked [author’s emphasis] down over the embankment there,” he said. Wiggins couldn’t say which way the man went after he disappeared over the embankment.6
But nowhere in Wiggins’s initial description to police, or in his testimony nine months later at the trial, did he ever mention seeing any stains, blood or anything else, on the fully zipped light-colored beige jacket the man had been wearing.
Indeed, the “Negro male” and his clothes, which Wiggins had described, appeared to be neatly in place; nothing was disheveled.
Racing back across Canal Road to the tow truck, Wiggins yelled to his assistant, Bill Branch, “A guy just shot a lady over there!” He hopped into the truck, started the ignition, made a U-turn, and sped back to the Key Bridge Esso Station, six-tenths of a mile away. Once there, he told station manager Joe Cameron what he had just seen. “It wasn’t any long conversation,” Wiggins said. “I just told him what happened.” Wiggins immediately phoned the Seventh Precinct of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department. Before he had finished talking with the dispatcher, a police cruiser, already responding to the radio alert about the incident, pulled into the Esso station, sirens wailing. The alert had been broadcast at 12:26 p.m.
Wiggins climbed into the back seat of the cruiser, which took off in the direction of the Foundry Underpass, a distance of about four-tenths of a mile, to access the C & O Canal towpath. Reaching the Foundry’s arched stone tunnel, which was as narrow as its roadway was rutted, “we dismounted from the police car,” Wiggins recalled. “We ran down the tracks, the railroad tracks, down towards the scene and up the embankment to the [murder] scene.”7
Together, police officers Robert Decker and James Scouloukas approached the fallen woman with Wiggins. Blood saturated her blonde hair and soaked her sweater and gloves. There was a bullet wound near her left eye, and blood covered her face. Her body would still have been warm. A pair of smashed sunglasses lay near her feet. The scuffed ground indicated that there had been a struggle, and parallel tracks in the dirt from the towpath to the embankment indicated that the woman had been dragged to the spot where she lay. Surmising that the killer might still be in the vicinity, police officer Scouloukas returned with Wiggins to the cruiser to broadcast the description of the man Wiggins had seen.8
Meanwhile, police officers Roderick Sylvis and Frank Bignotti, who were on patrol in Scout 72, had also responded to the broadcast alarm. They pulled up on Canal Road, directly across from the murder scene, and climbed out of their cruiser. At that point, Decker motioned to them to drive to Fletcher’s Boat House, which was just over a mile and a half to the west, in order to block off one of the canal’s four marked entrances. Arriving at the boathouse area, Sylvis and Bignotti drove through the tight underpass tunnel below the canal and parked facing the canal from the south. From that vantage point, they would be able to see anyone leaving the towpath to access Canal Road, and they would have a full view of the canal itself, particularly the point where visitors could use an old, leaky skiff attached to a rope and pulley to pull themselves across the seventy-foot canal.
“We sat in the cruiser about four or five minutes and observed no one walking out from the towpath,” Sylvis recalled. The two officers then settled on a new strategy. “We decided that it would be best if my partner went through the woods and myself proceeding along the towpath.”9
As the officers began to position themselves, they saw a young white couple, thirtyish, walking westward on the railroad tracks, just below and parallel to the towpath. The two officers approached the couple for questioning. “I asked if they had seen anyone going out of the area before I got there,” Sylvis said. “But they hadn’t seen anybody, or heard any gunshots, screams, or any disturbance.” After several minutes, the two officers made their way east in the hope that they might yet encounter the assailant.
Perhaps, acting in haste, they let the couple go without requesting identification or contact information. It was an oversight, a lapse of protocol that would remain a cloud over the case for decades to come.10 At that point, Bignotti entered the woods adjacent to the railroad tracks and Sylvis took the towpath, walking east toward the murder scene.
Officer Sylvis continued on the towpath “for about a mile” in the direction of the murder scene, slowly and vigilantly scouring the area for other people. After a while, a man poked his head out of some woods to the right and ahead of where Sylvis was walking. “He was looking up toward me by the railroad tracks at the edge of the woods about 150 feet away,” Sylvis recalled. “Just his head is all I saw for a second.” Sylvis saw the man only long enough to discern that he was a “Negro male.”11
Slowly, and with caution, the young officer approached the area where he had seen the man. The tangle of underbrush, vines, tree roots, and rocks that covered the embankment made it difficult to penetrate. Sylvis saw no one. Nothing disturbed the stillness of the woods but the breeze that rustled the fallen leaves. Hoping that his partner, Bignotti, was in the woods to his right, Sylvis yelled for him a number of times. “I was thinking maybe he could get behind the individual I’d seen, but Bignotti was not answering my call,” said Sylvis.
Coming out of the underbrush on the tracks, he finally spotted Bignotti crossing the tracks and caught up with him. But Bignotti had seen no one during his search of the woods. He had seen no evidence of the “Negro male” that his partner had seen.12
In the meantime, Henry Wiggins was beginning to lose patience. More than a half hour had passed since he and Officer Scouloukas had called in the report. Police cruisers had converged on the scene. Sergeant Pasquale D’Ambrosio of the Seventh Precinct Criminal Investigations Division arrived to escort Wiggins back to the towpath and to secure the scene. It was Wiggins’s opinion that D’Ambrosio was the only officer doing anything proactive, not just standing around the dead woman’s body, talking.13