Ted Kennedy and Mary Jo’s purse.

Charon tells Ted Kennedy that a woman is waiting for him

I’ve always been curious about the Ted Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne drowning, so of course that’s where my mind went last night when I read about his death.

What? Is that bad, or is that normal!? I’ve only been following the news closely this last year, remember; it’s like a crash course of the history of the world. Excuse me when I don’t know everything about every politician in the White House. I read that he did a lot of good with health care, and did some other great things, too.  CNN seems to have a balanced story about him here, including all his positives, which are legion; they are also honest enough to at least mention Chappaquidick (unlike the spurious writeup the LA Times did on him last month, with not.one.mention of the drowning. And the Times website STILL totally sucks, after their new “updo”, as it won’t show me that link now)  Anyway, back to the mystery.

So last night I spent a couple of hours reading all the links I could find on what really happened  with Teddy and the tragic story of Mary Jo. Briefly, there was a party of a bunch of married men and single women who had worked on the Robert Kennedy campaign. This isn’t necessarily scurrilous, as Wash DC has the highest number of single women – read the stats.

Edward Kennedy was going to drive Mary Jo home from the party, drank too much, and the car tipped over, upside down, into the pond. He got out, presumably through the open window on the driver’s side, but poor Mary Jo drowned. He reported the incident the next morning, about 9 hours later. The obvious explanation is that he was drunk, didn’t want the police to test him, and so he delayed reporting it until after he had talked with his lawyer, etc. But there were a lot of questions raised in the many sites I read: Was she pregnant? Why did he delay? Why was he seen at this time in dry clothes? Did he really try to save her, as he claimed, and was he then able to swim the channel, as he claimed,  back to town?  

Here are some facts which have recently come to light, or were in books about the tragic incident:

* The water was only 7′ deep. I am a poor swimmer, so even that shallow sounds scary to me, but we’re not talking deep here.

* Mary Jo was found in the back seat of the car.

* They never did an autopsy on Mary Jo Kopechne! Apparently her parents didn’t allow it or permit it – but isn’t that the law in an unexplained death? Maybe not back then. Her parents did get a new house soon afterwards, however… Not that they didn’t deserve to get paid for the death of their daughter. Just…suspicious.

* Mary Jo’s purse was not in the car, but another woman’s handbag, belonging to Rosemary Keough, was found in there. Okay, antenna at full alert now. Full disclosure: I collect purses, and have an entire bureau of beaded, plastic, 50’s and all sorts of beautiful handbags. I also know quite a lot about them, can date them, and I notice this first on a woman. NO WOMAN would mistake her purse for someone else’s or go anywhere, especially home from a party, without a purse in her hand!

* One account says all the windows were blown out – another says just the driver’s was down. In this photo of the car, from the same article – thank you, Chief Arena – we can see that the driver’s window was down or gone. Senator Kennedy said he can’t remember how he got out, but the door is closed here, so I guess it was the window.

* Mary Jo was found in a pocket of air at the floor of the car. (Remember, the car was upside down.) The police chief called John N. Farrar, a scuba diver with the Edgartown Rescue Squad, when the crime was reported, 9 hours later, and his summary was that she survived for at least 25 minutes in that air, and could have been saved if the accident had been reported immediately. Some accounts had her living for hours, but that doesn’t sound realistic. Still…what a shocking horrible way to die.

* Deputy Sheriff Look got off work at midnight and actually saw the car tooling around, hours after Kennedy said the accident happened. He thought the people were lost and actually got out of his car to go back to them, but they sped away. He saw 2 people in the front seat.

7-19-69-chief_dominick_arena1I found a great analysis and a very possible answer to the puzzle in a Cape Cod paper: Cape Cod Today.  It’s titled something like the anniversary of Mary Jo Kopechne’s death. I really don’t know what the point is of making an anniversary of a death, but in any case, the author, Mary Wentworth, did a lot of great research. I got several of my newfound facts from her.

Her theory is that Mary Jo was just asleep in the back seat, and Senator Kennedy and Rosemary Keough were going to go skinny-dipping. They didn’t know Mary Jo was in the back. Kennedy crashed the car, the 2 in front got out, and since they didn’t know Mary Jo was in the car at all, they didn’t try to save her. Her theory is that this is why Ted Kennedy delayed so long in reporting it – because why just report a car that went into the drink? (Hey, they’re rich, remember?)

It’s not clear when they found out Mary Jo was missing, or even suspected she was in the car. (Why suspect someone fell asleep in the back of a car anyway? Did people do that a lot back then? You can see the car is huge, but still…Say, I wonder how tall she was. I’m 5’8″ and no way would I do that unless I had room.) And the reason Ted Kennedy’s story is so weak is that they made it up at the very last minute when they found she had died (although how they knew she was in the car…hmm, unless they looked underwater.)

Here are some of the points from the article:

The accident at Chappaquiddick has cast a long shadow over Kennedy’s political life, crippling his quest, for example, for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1980.

Many questions about this case have never been satisfactorily resolved. At what time did Kennedy actually leave the party? Was his turn on to Dyke Road a mistake as he claimed in his statement to the police and in his television address to the nation? Or was it intentional? After the accident, why didn’t he seek help from people in nearby cottages? If he had been, in fact, too traumatized to ask for assistance as he claimed in his television talk, why didn’t his friends immediately contact authorities when they were told of the accident? The lack of credible explanations to these questions touched off speculation that the truth about Mary Jo’s death was more shocking than Kennedy’s statements about it.

Kennedy maintained in his statement to the police (NYT 7/26/69) as well as in his address to the nation (NYT 7/26/69) that he and Kopechne left the party at 11:15 p.m. to catch the ferry to Edgartown before its last scheduled crossing at midnight. This claim is not plausible for several reasons. If Mary Jo had decided to return to her motel in Edgartown she did so without bothering to retrieve her purse from the cottage or ask her roommate for the keys to their room. When she stretched out on the back seat of the Olds, however, she had no need for these items because she was not going anywhere. Or so she thought (DHG 4/14/1980). [DB- have to disagree. Do women really just toss their purses somewhere at a party? Like coats? I don’t think so. She would have had her purse with her.]

Kennedy maintains that he does not know how he got out but a possible exit for him and his companion, most likely Rosemary Keough since it was her purse that was later found in the car, would have been the almost completely withdrawn window on the driver’s side. Then, too, a door could have been pushed open when enough water had gushed into the car to match the inside pressure with the outside (NYT 7/26/79).

Putting on his equipment on the way to the scene, Farrar quickly entered the water and saw Mary Jo Kopechne’s feet through the rear window of the overturned automobile. He swam around to the right side window and found her with her head cocked back and pressed up into the foot well with her hands gripping the edge of the rear seat. He thought that the position of her body indicated that she had found an air bubble in her struggle to stay alive. Even though the car was upside down with the open windows allowing the seawater to rush through, it was possible, he thought, for an air lock to form. Air bubbles that emanated from the car when it was hauled out and the lack of water in the trunk were further indications of an air lock. Farrar felt that it would have been extremely difficult for Mary Jo to extricate herself from this situation without help (NYT 7/22/69, USN & WR 11/3/69).

Read the rest here. I’d love to hear what your conclusion is!

This certainly is an interesting theory, but it comes out of nowhere, and I have questions. Yet the Case of the Wrong Purses is the strongest evidence for me that this could be true, and that there was another woman in the car. There are some interesting, and some very stupid comments at the link. But one local says 2 lifeguards tried to swim across the channel at the same time, same tide, as TK claimed he swam that night, and couldn’t do it. That doesn’t surprise me at all. Those Cape Cod ponds look placid, but they have rip tides and currents that are very strong. I remember getting pulled in a scary way while I rowed a rowboat around one of the ponds, and I never rowed that far from the cottage again.

I wonder if Mary Jo could swim? Remember, it was pitch black, but wouldn’t the car headlights still be on? The doors would have been too heavy for her to open against the water pressure on that old car, but so sad she couldn’t find that open window. If Rosemary was in the car, did she just follow Teddy out the window? And wouldn’t Mary Jo have woken up if she was sleeping, or passed out, and screamed as they crashed? Or was it more of a splash?

I know the Cape. The Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port was too big, that much I remember. My grandparents had a house on the Cape year round, so I spent part of every summer there. But we would drive miles and miles past the Kennedy place because they were so selfish they controlled the entire area, the road, the beaches. Which it’s illegal to block off, btw.  The Boston Globe has a nice little suck-up story about the compound today, but doesn’t say how big it is:

But the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who for decades has been the glue that held the family together, closes a chapter of a storybook Camelot tale that has flourished at the end of Marchant Avenue.

Much of the Kennedy compound will probably be turned over to a national nonprofit group, possibly to be opened up as a museum or retreat center.

The National Park Service (why do they care about the private property owned by the Kennedys?) says it’s 6 acres. Anyway, they have no legal right to block off all their beaches, etc, and yet they do. Disgusting.

Cartoon caption: Charon tells Ted Kennedy she’s looking for him…at the river Styx. Charon: She’s waiting for you, Ted…Your sister, Eunice. For those who need a little nudge to their mythology trivia: I did my research on this, so the names check out!

I’m not sure Mr. Kennedy is as guilty as I thought before. Sure, she still died, but IF it happened the way the writer suggests above, it was much more of an accident. So I certainly didn’t want to send him to hell – and I’m not that judgmental, anyway. Charon is king of the underworld, NOT hell. Hades is not hell. It is just where souls go when they have passed on. He requires payment for the trip across the river Styx to the undead, and that is why pennies were placed over people’s eyes – to pay him for the journey.

However, even though it’s not hell, it certainly sounds unpleasant. I don’t know why the Greeks didn’t make it a happier place. I hope Mr. Kennedy is okay.

About the drawing: Cheron is like a lobster fisherman! He has waders, but his hands are bones… The Kennedys have weird mouths. Not sure I got that right. The figures here don’t look directly at each other, like 19th or 18th century paintings. That’s okay. And, of course, my little joke is that the woman waiting for him isn’t Mary Jo,; many commenters and haters on the websites I visited said things like She’ll get you, you’ll get yours, Ted. But I switched it to his sister, Eunice Shriver, who passed away just last month.  RIP, everyone.

4 thoughts on “Ted Kennedy and Mary Jo’s purse.”

  1. I was an FBI agent in the Boston office during the 80’s and early 90’s and heard this theory (Mary Jo sleeping in the back seat, unknown to Teddy and a second women) early in my career. It really doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny.

    Apart from there being no evidence to support it-

    How could Ted and the other women drive any distance without discovering that there was a third person in the car?

    Why would Mary Jo not wake up during the drive?

    Why would Ted fabricate a story that makes himself look infinitely more guilty than the simple truth would?

    1. Mustang51, thanks so much for your input!

      I was thinking Mary Jo drank too much and passed out, so she wouldn’t wake up while they were driving.
      I just don’t know about those old cars. It looks huge. But why would they care if she was in the car? Maybe they thought it was funny. Maybe Rosemary tossed her bag in the back seat w/Mary Jo, and they decided to shock her by going skinny dipping even w/her there. (Although I don’t know why the author decided they would go “skinny dipping” anyway.) You’re right, there’s no proof…except for Rosemary’s Bag!

      Wouldn’t any story he came up with look bad? He was guilty, no matter what happened.

      One thing I’m sure of now: he didn’t swim across that channel! No one in their right mind would be in a car accident, almost drown, and even though the shore was just a couple feet away, decide that the best thing to do was take a midnight swim, still clothed, in a dark lake with a strong tide and current! I’m not sure why that was part of the story anyway…

      If you think of any other details, Mustang, would LOVE to hear them!

  2. Or she was drugged and he picked up the wrong purse and threw it in his car thinking it was hers. And she came to after the accident. And too disoriented to find her way out.

    1. Hmm, good idea that he could have put the purse in the car. But back then I doubt she was drugged – more likely drunk. However, that’s assuming that she had put her purse somewhere with other purses. Also, Det. Look did see 2 people in the front seat, so if she was drunk she was still sitting up far enough to be seen.

      And it’s still suspicious that he delayed in reporting it. I wonder if he tried to save her – although it was pitch black, so he probly couldn’t find her.

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