Who Killed Dorothy Kilgallen – the reporter investigating President Kennedy assassination?
by Bill Hughes
On November 24, 1963, two days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, in Dallas, Texas, his supposed killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was under arrest. He was held at the city’s police headquarters under very heavy guard. He kept on telling the cops, “I’m just a patsy!”
For some reason, they decided to transfer him to another room within the building. I was watching this happen on live television. I couldn’t believe that they were going to make that risky move.
They didn’t get far. Oswald was shot dead by Jack Ruby, a shady character with Mob connections. He also owned a sleazy night club in town, frequented by the local police.
The American people were stunned. They were demanding answers. Little did they know that powerful shadowy forces in this country were already planning a massive cover-up.
There was, at least, however, one gutsy investigative reporter who had made up her mind to get to the bottom of it, no matter what. You might remember her from the popular CBS national TV panel show, “What’s My Line?” – Dorothy Kilgallen. She was on that program from 1950 until her death in 1965.
First, some background on the Irish-Catholic Kilgallen:
In 1931, at the age of 17, she was a cub reporter for the “New York Evening Journal.” At age 23, she was the first woman “to fly around the world on commercial airlines.” In 1937, she wrote the screenplay for the film, “Fly Away Baby.” She had a cameo role in the Hollywood flick, “Sinner Take All,” and her moniker is enshrined on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Kilgallen also broke the glass ceiling for women in her chosen profession, journalism.
Kilgallen was born on July 3, 1913, in Chicago, Illinois. Her dad, James, was a highly-respected reporter for the Hearst newspaper chain. From her earliest days “she yearned to be a reporter like her father.”
In his book, “The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen,” author Mark Shaw tells her compelling story. He focuses on her work as a first class investigative reporter and more particularly on her highly suspicious death, on November 8, 1965, at her townhouse in Manhattan.
Kilgallen was very fond of President John F. Kennedy (JFK). She boosted him whenever she could in her “Journal-American” column. In 1962, thanks to “JFK’s aide Pierre Salinger,” she and her youngest son, Kerry, then eight years old, visited the White House and met the president. The meeting left a deep impression on Kilgallen.
Kilgallen refused to accept the party line put out by the FBI’s Director, J. Edgar Hoover also insisted Oswald had “acted alone.” When Oswald was killed by Ruby, his agency then took over all the files of the Dallas Police Department. Kilgallen made it her business to attend his trial.
Author Shaw details Kilgallen’s extensive journalism background. Her “Voice of Broadway” column, where she also covered Hollywood and politics, was syndicated in close to 200 papers. She attended and wrote about some of the biggest trials of her era: Bruno Hauptmann, Dr. Sam Sheppard, Dr. Bernard Finch, Wayne Lonergan, Anna Antonio and John Profumo.
Investigating JFK’s death became a passion for Kilgallen. She asked a lot of questions. Given that Ruby was the owner of a “strip tease honky tonk,” she asked: How was he allowed to “stroll in and out of police headquarters in Dallas as if it were a health club?” She let Hoover and his cronies know that she was on the job. On November 29, 1963, she filed a column entitled, “Oswald File Must Not Close.”
Not only did Kilgallen cover Ruby’s trial, she got to interview him twice. She started to believe that he, like Oswald, might have been a “patsy.” Kilgallen also made a trip to New Orleans to talk with sources. She was zeroing in on what Mob boss Ruby may have been working for at the time of the hit on the president. She began building an investigatory file on the case that she intended to turn into a book that would be the “scoop of the century.”
The book, sorry to say, never happened. Kilgallen was found dead in her townhouse. The police went along with the Medical Examiner’s report that she most likely died from an “accidental” drug overdose of a prescription sleeping pills mixed with alcohol. There was no investigation of foul play.
Author Shaw rips that scenario apart. He states the death scene was “staged.” The body was found in “the wrong bed” and in “the wrong bedroom.” In addition, Kilgallen’s “makeup, false eyelashes and hairpiece” were still on her. She was found in a blue bathrobe with nothing underneath. According to her hairdresser, she always wore “her favorite pajamas and old socks to bed.”
Kilgallen had a prescription for the sleeping pills, “Seconal.” A different drug, “Tuninal,” however, was also found in her system. She had no prescription for that one. Was she slipped a “mickey?”
On top of all that, Kilgallen’s file on the Ruby case was missing and it has never been found. My Bible, by the way, on the killing of Kennedy, and Ruby’s hit job on Oswald, is “Deep Politics and the Death of JFK,” by Peter Dale Scott.
If you want a quick overview on that complicated subject, with supposed who-done-it theories tossed in, check out, for educational purposes, the History Channel’s You Tube videos, particularly this episode, #9, “The Guilty Men (2003)”, which is my favorite – see it below.
To his credit, author Shaw has been trying to get the current District Attorney, in NYC, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. to reopen the investigation into Kilgallen’s death. Even though it has been fifty years, there is no statute of limitation with respect to murder.
Kilgallen was one of the finest journalists of her generation. Justice demands that the truth finally comes out about how this fearless reporter really died. It is long past the time for the stain on Kilgallen’s memory to be removed.
Bill Hughes is a Baltimore-based author, actor and photojournalist. His ancestral roots run deep in Mayo, near the shores of Loch Conn, in the village of Tavanaghmore.