Who Killed Mary Pinchot Meyer?

JFK had a thing for blondes. Everyone knows about his affair with Marilyn Monroe; yet not as many know about Mary Pinchot Meyer, another beautiful, curvy blonde who gave JFK pause.

Like Monroe, Meyer too died young, murdered on a towpath in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. in broad daylight on October 12m 1964. More than 50 years later, her murder remains unsolved — but the holes in the story, her close CIA ties, and her affair with JFK have led many to believe that Meyer’s life ended with a professional hit. A curiously involved, ornate, and clumsy hit — but a hit nonetheless.

Who was Mary Pinchot Meyer? What did she know? Why was she killed? And whose finger pulled the trigger — if there was really a gun involved at all?

Who Was Mary Pinchot Meyer?

Mary Pinchot Meyer 1942

Vassar CollegeMary Pinchot Meyer.

Most women in 1960s Georgetown were more Jackie than Marilyn: white-gloved, tea-drinking, Pall Mall-smoking housewives whose Mad Men era coifs could always be seen at a PTA meeting.

Mary Pinchot Meyer existed outside of those appearances and expectations. An artist, she regularly carried a pouch of pot and acid with her, never ceasing to inspire fascination among the Georgetown elite.

Nevertheless, she’d married Cord Meyer — a CIA operative — in 1945. The two of them had three boys together and lived in Washington, D.C. where Cord, like many CIA agents, had a series of covers and aliases provided to him by places like Georgetown University and other safe houses. At home, Meyer painted and raised their boys.

A few key faces made regular appearances at the Meyers’ home. First came Meyer’s sister, Antoinette (or Tony, as she was called), and their friend, Anne Truitt. Tony’s husband — former CIA affiliate, journalist, and eventual executive editor of The Washington Post Ben Bradlee — was also a fixture at the Meyers’ Georgetown home.

Given Cord’s involvement in the CIA, they also entertained fellow agents, including a man named James Angleton, chief of CIA counterintelligence. All of these people come to play an important role in the solving — and in some ways maintaining — the mystery of Mary Pinchot Meyer’s demise.

But before her own, it was another Meyer death that really charted the course of her family’s life – and the life of the man who would go on to write one of the only definitive accounts of Mary Pinchot Meyer’s life.

Just before Christmas 1956, the Meyers’ two eldest sons, Quenty and Michael, had departed from school-sanctioned holiday activities to go to a friend’s house to watch television — something that Meyer strictly prohibited in her house.

Afraid they would be late for dinner, the brothers ran home that evening, crossing a busy street in Georgetown. Quenty made the cross but Michael was hit by a car, killing him instantly. The death shook not just the Meyers, but a man named Peter Janney, Michael’s best friend. Janney, who knew the Meyers very well, would be one of the key players in unraveling the details following Meyer’s murder eight years later.

Michael’s death unhinged the Meyers’ marriage, and by the early 1960s, the couple had divorced. Meyer then had custody of her two remaining sons with whom she lived in a house owned by Bradlee. It was during these next few years that Mary Pinchot Meyer, through the friends she’d made in the CIA, would be introduced to President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie.

Abby Norman
Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a writer based in New England. She's currently writing a memoir for Nation Books. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Independent, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Hippocampus Magazine, The Atlantic, The Mary Sue, and Quartz.
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