By John Simkin
Florence Pritchett (1) was born in 1920. After leaving school she worked as a model for John Robert Powers and appeared in Life Magazine. In 1940 she met and married Richard Canning. Soon afterwards she became fashion editor of New York Journal American, a newspaper owned by William Randolph Hearst. While working for the newspaper she met Dorothy Kilgallen (2). At the time Kilgallen had her own column, The Voice of Broadway. Kilgallen also worked as a crime reporter and occasional wrote political pieces for the newspaper.
In 1943 Florence divorced Canning. The following year, on the 5th February, she met John F. Kennedy (3). The couple spent a lot of time together. Betty Spalding said that for Kennedy, “Over a long period of time, it was probably the closest relationship with a woman I know of.” However, because Kennedy was a Roman Catholic, marriage was out of the question.
In 1947 Florence married Earl E. T. Smith (4), a member of the New York Stock Exchange. The couple had three children. In June, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Smith as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Cuba. FBI files reveal that over the next two years Kennedy made more than a dozen visits to Cuba in order to meet Florence. Florence also met Kennedy in Miami and Palm Beach, where their homes were conveniently adjoined.
According to John J. Johnson (5)
FBI files allege that during 1957-1958 Jack Kennedy made several trips to Havana, Cuba, to visit Flo Pritchett who was then married to millionaire American Ambassador Earl E. T. Smith and a strong supporter of Cuban dictator Batista. Other meetings took place in Miami and Palm Beach during Flo’s visits to the States. Kennedy made more than a dozen trips to Cuba to see them and stayed at the Smith home. Seymour Hersh states that on one of these trips, the U.S. Embassy was told by Cuban police and military intelligence officials that Senator Kennedy was of concern to them “for security reasons.” The Cubans reported that Kennedy was going to bed with the wife of the Italian ambassador and they would hate to have the young senator shot while on a visit to Havana. “You know those Italians,” they said. An embassy official was assigned to tell Kennedy “to cut it out.”
In The Dark Side of Camelot, Seymour Hersh, claims that Commander Lionel Krisel, a American naval attaché in Havana, provided information that suggests that Kennedy was having an affair with the ambassador’s wife (6) . However, Hersh does not appear to be aware of the significance of this and does not follow the story up.
Florence Pritchett remained close to Dorothy Kilgallen and supplied her with important news stories. It was probably Pritchett who gave Kilgallen the story on the CIA/Mafia plots to kill Fidel Castro. In July, 1959, Kilgallen became the first journalist to break the story (7):
If our state department heads in Washington deny they’re gravely worried over the explosive situation in Cuba and nearby Latin American countries, they’re either giving out false information for reasons of their own or playing ostrich, which might prove to be a dangerous game. US intelligence is virtually nonexistent if the government isn’t aware that Russia already has bases in Cuba, and Russian pilots in uniform are strutting openly in Havana… Fidel Castro is the target for so many assassins they’re apt to fall over each other in their efforts to get him. The Mafia want to knock him off. So do the Batista sympathizers, of course, and then there are his own disillusioned rebels, just for starters. He has machine guns and other ammunition mounted on every key rooftop near his base of operations, but the smart money doubts if any amount of precaution can change his status as a clay pigeon.
This story was more likely to have come from Pritchett’s husband, than Kennedy. At this time Earl Smith was the American ambassador in Cuba. Later it was revealed that Smith was involved in these various plots against Castro. He wrote about his experiences in the book, The Fourth Floor (8). He also gave evidence to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary (9) on the situation in Cuba. Smith, who had been a close friend of Cuba’s dictator, General Fulgencio Batista (10) . He claimed that the CIA had played an important role in the overthrow of Batista:
F. W. Sourwine: It was true that Batista’s government was corrupt, wasn’t it?
Earl E. Smith: It is true that Batista’s government was corrupt. Batista was the power behind the Government in Cuba off and on for 25 years. The year 1957 was the best economic year that Cuba had ever had.
However, the Batista regime was disintegrating from within. It was becoming more corrupt, and as a result, was losing strength. The Castro forces themselves never won a military victory. The best military victory they ever won was through capturing Cuban guardhouses and military skirmishes, but they never actually won a military victory.
The Batista government was overthrown because of the corruption, disintegration from within, and because of the United States and the various agencies of the United States who directly and indirectly aided the overthrow of the Batista government and brought into power Fidel Castro.
F. W. Sourwine: What were those, agencies, Mr. Smith?
Earl E. Smith: The US Government agencies – may I say something off the record?
(Discussion off the record.)
F. W. Sourwine: Mr. Smith, the pending question before you read your statement was: What agencies of the US Government had a hand in bringing pressure to overthrow the Batista government, and how did they do it?
Earl E. Smith: Well, the agencies, certain influential people, influential sources in the State Department, lower down echelons in the CIA. I would say representatives of the majority of the US Government agencies which have anything to do with the Embassy.
Later Smith was cross-examined by James Eastland (11):
James Eastland: Let me ask you this question. As a matter of fact, isn’t it your judgment that the State Department of the United States is primarily responsible for bringing Castro to power in Cuba?
Earl E. Smith: No, sir, I can’t say that the State Department in itself is primarily responsible. The State Department played a large part in bringing Castro to power. The press, other Government agencies, Members of Congress are responsible…
James Eastland: You had been warning the State Department that Castro was a Marxist?
Earl E. Smith: Yes, sir.
James Eastland: And that Batista’s government was a friendly government. That is what had been your advice as to the State Department?
Earl E. Smith: Let me answer that this way, which will make it very clear. When I went to Cuba, I left here with the definite feeling according to my briefings which I had received, that the U.S. Government was too close to the Batista regime, and that we were being accused of intervening in the affairs of Cuba by trying to perpetuate the Batista dictatorship.
After I had been in Cuba for approximately 2 months, and had made a study of Fidel Castro and the revolutionaries, it was perfectly obvious to me as it would be to any other reasonable man that Castro was not the answer; that if Castro came to power, it would not be in the best interests of Cuba or in the best interests of the United States….
In my own Embassy there were certain ones of influence who were pro-26th of July, pro-Castro, and anti-Batista.
James Eastland: Who were they?
Earl E. Smith: Do I have to answer that question, Senator?
James Eastland: Yes, I think you have to. We are not going into it unnecessarily.
Earl E. Smith: I don’t want to harm anybody. That is the reason I asked.
I would say the Chief of the Political Section, John Topping, and the Chief of the CIA Section. It was revealed that the No. 2 CIA man in the embassy had given unwarranted and undue encouragement to the revolutionaries. This came out in the trials of naval officers after the Cienfuegos revolution of September I957.
Smith later became associated with right-wing political figures based in Florida. He was also a director of the United States Sugar Corporation.
Pritchett continued her affair with Kennedy after he became president. According to John J. Johnson (12) :
The Smiths also spent much time in Palm Beach, where their home conveniently adjoined the Kennedy house, and Kennedy saw considerably more of Florence. Several books have suggested that JFK wanted to send Earl Smith to Switzerland so he could have Flo to himself. This seems unlikely since Earl would undoubtedly have taken his wife with him. According to Earl, Kennedy wanted to appoint him ambassador to Switzerland, but Fidel Castro objected because the U.S. and Cuba no longer maintained diplomatic relations and Switzerland represented the U.S. in Cuba. Since Earl had been ambassador to Cuba under Eisenhower, Castro claimed his appointment to Switzerland represented a conflict of interest. So Earl’s name was withdrawn, which was just as well because he didn’t see eye-to-eye with JFK politically.
Lem Billings says, “Later there were stories of secret interludes between Jack and Flo, feverish encounters on the stretch of sand connecting their respective homes. Although I never personally witnessed any of these meetings, I don’t for a second doubt that they occurred.”
JFK would elude the Secret Service on occasion in order to have trysts with women. He did this in Palm Beach when he hopped a fence to swim with Flo Smith. The Secret Service agents couldn’t find him and called in the FBI. They finally turned to Palm Beach Police Chief Homer Large, a trusted Kennedy family associate. The Police Chief knew exactly where to find Jack – next door in Earl E. T. Smith’s swimming pool. Jack and Flo were alone, and as Homer put it, “They weren’t doing the Australian crawl.”
Pritchett introduced Dorothy Kilgallen to Kennedy. As Pritchett was now one of America’s most famous gossip columnists this was a dangerous thing to do. One day she was gossiping about Kennedy with her friend Allen Stokes. He asked her why she did not write about it in her column. She replied “I couldn’t possibly”. It would have been a great scoop. But she decided to protect him (13).
However, Kilgallen broke this rule when on the 3rd August, 1962, she became the first journalist to refer to Kennedy’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe (14).
Marilyn Monroe’s health must be improving. She’s been attending select Hollywood parties and has become the talk of the town again. In California, they’re circulating a photograph of her that certainly isn’t as bare as he famous calendar, but is very interesting… And she’s cooking in the sex-appeal department, too; she’s proved vastly alluring to a handsome gentleman who is a bigger name than Joe DiMaggio in his heyday. So don’t write off Marilyn as finished.
(2) Yves Montand, Marilyn Monroe and Dorothy Kilgallen
Kilgallen did not actually name him but some insiders assumed she was identifying Kennedy as the secret man in Monroe’s life (later Kilgallen told friends she was actually referring to Robert Kennedy). Did someone ask her to publish this story? According to Sarah Churchwell (15) a close friend of Kennedy, George Smathers (16) was spreading stories about Kennedy and Monroe at this time. Smathers was the senator from Florida, where Earl Smith and Florence Pritchett were living at this time.
The following day, Monroe was found dead. Kilgallen must have realized that she had been set her up to smear the Kennedy brothers. Rumours soon began circulating that Robert Kennedy had arranged Monroe’s death to protect his brother’s reputation.
It is not known how Florence Pritchett reacted to the death of her long-time lover. What we do know is that Kilgallen took a keen interest in the case? Was she provided with information by Pritchett? Did her husband know who had conspired to kill Kennedy.
Kilgallen soon became convinced that Kennedy had not been killed by Lee Harvey Oswald (17). A week after the assassination Kilgallen wrote (18):
President Lyndon Johnson has been elevated so swiftly to his new high post that in one sense, he has been snatched up into an ivory tower.
As Chief Executive, he is no longer in a position to hear the voices of ordinary people talking candidly.
If he could walk invisible along the streets of the nation and listen to ordinary people talking he would realize that he must make sure that the mystery of Lee Harvey Oswald is solved and laid before the nation down to the smallest shred of evidence.
If Oswald was President Kennedy’s assassin, he was the most important prisoner the police of this country had in custody in 100 years, and no blithe announcement in Dallas is going to satisfy the American public that the case is closed.”
President Johnson has directed the FBI to look into every aspect of the case, but he must go a giant step further.
He must satisfy the public’s uneasy mind about this peculiar assassination of the assassin or he will start his term in office by making a dire political mistake that could cost him the 1964 election.
The case is closed is it? Well I’d like to know how in a big smart town like Dallas, a man like Jack Ruby – operator of a striptease honky tonk -could stroll in and out of police headquarters as if it were a health club at a time when a small army of law enforcers was keeping a “tight security guard” on Oswald.
Security! What a word for it.
I wouldn’t try to speak for the people of Dallas, but around here, the people I talk to really believe that a man has the right to be tried in court.
When that right is taken away from any man by the incredible combination of Jack Ruby and insufficient security, we feel chilled.
Justice is a big rug. When you pull it out from under one man, a lot of others fall too.
That is why so many people are saying there is “something queer” about the killing of Oswald, something strange about the way his case was handled, and a great deal missing in the official account of his crime.
The American people have just lost a beloved President.
It is a dark chapter in our history, but we have the right to read every word of it. It cannot be kept locked in a file in Dallas.
Kilgallen had a good contact within the Dallas Police Department. He gave her a copy of the original police log that chronicled the minute-by-minute activities of the department on the day of the assassination, as reflected in the radio communications. This enabled her to report that the first reaction of Chief Jesse Curry (19) to the shots in Dealey Plaza was: “Get a man on top of the overpass and see what happened up there”. Kilgallen pointed out that he lied when he told reporters the next day that he initially thought the shots were fired from the Texas Book Depository. (20)
Kilgallen also had a source within the Warren Commission. This person gave her an 102 page segment dealing with Jack Ruby (21) before it was published. She published details of this leak and so therefore ensuring that this section appeared in the final version of the report. The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the leak and on 30th September, 1964, Kilgallen reported in the New York Journal American that the FBI “might have been more profitably employed in probing the facts of the case rather than how I got them”.
In another of her stories, Kilgallen claimed that Marina Oswald knew a great deal about the assassination of Kennedy (22):
Those close to the scene realize that if the widow of Lee Harvey Oswald (now married to another chap) ever gave out the “whole story” of her life with President Kennedy’s alleged assassin, it would split open the front pages of newspapers all over the world.
Even if Marina explained why her late husband looked so different in an official police photo and the widely-printed full-length picture featured on the cover of Life magazine, it would cause a sensation. This story isn’t going to die as long as there’s a real reporter alive – and there are a lot of them. This story (the Kennedy assassination) isn’t going to die as long as there’s a real reporter alive – and there are a lot of them.
Kilgallen’s reporting brought her into contact with Mark Lane who had himself received an amazing story from the journalist Thayer Waldo (23). He had discovered that Jack Ruby, J. D. Tippet (24) and Bernard Weismann (25) had a meeting at the Carousel Club eight days before the assassination. Waldo, who worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, was too scared to publish the story. He had other information about the assassination. However, he believed that if he told Lane or Kilgallen he would be killed. Kilgallen’s article on the Tippit, Ruby and Weissman meeting appeared on the front page of the Journal American. Later she was to reveal that the Warren Commission were also tipped off about this gathering. However, their informant added that there was a fourth man at the meeting, an important figure in the Texas oil industry.
Kilgallen published several articles about how important witnesses had been threatened by the Dallas Police or the FBI. On 25th September, 1964, Kilgallen published an interview with Acquilla Clemons, one of the witnesses to the shooting of J. D. Tippet. In the interview Clemons told Kilgallen that she saw two men running from the scene, neither of whom fitted Oswald’s description. Clemons added: “I’m not supposed to be talking to anybody, might get killed on the way to work.”
Kilgallen was keen to interview Jack Ruby. She went to see Ruby’s lawyer Joe Tonahill and claimed she had a message for his client from a mutual friend. It was only after this message was delivered that Ruby agreed to be interviewed by Kilgallen. (26) Tonahill remembers that the mutual friend was from San Francisco and that he was involved in the music industry. Kennedy researcher, Greg Parker, has suggested that the man was Mike Shore, co-founder of Reprise Records. (27)
The interview with Ruby lasted eight minutes. No one else was there. Even the guards agreed to wait outside. Officially, Kilgallen never told anyone about what Ruby said to her during this interview. Nor did she publish any information she obtained from the interview. There is a reason for this.
Kilgallen was in financial difficulties in 1964. This was partly due to some poor business decisions made by her husband, Richard Kollmar (28). The couple had also lost the lucrative contract for their radio show Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick.. Kilgallen also was facing an expensive libel case concerning an article she wrote about Elaine Shepard. Her financial situation was so bad she fully expected to lose her beloved house in New York City.
Kilgallen was a staff member of Journal American. Any article about the Jack Ruby interview in her newspaper would not have helped her serious financial situation. Therefore she decided to include what she knew about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Murder One. She fully expected that this book would earn her a fortune. This is why she refused to tell anyone, including Mark Lane, about what Ruby told her in the interview arranged by Tonahill. In October, 1965, told Lane that she had a new important informant in New Orleans.
Kilgallen began to tell friends that she was close to discovering who assassinated Kennedy. According to David Welsh of Ramparts Magazine Kilgallen “vowed she would ‘crack this case.’ (29) And another New York show biz friend said Dorothy told him in the last days of her life: “In five more days I’m going to bust this case wide open.” Aware of what had happened to Bill Hunter (30) and Jim Koethe (31), Kilgallen apparently handed a draft copy of her chapter on the assassination to her friend, Florence Pritchett.
On 8th November, 1965, Kilgallen, was found dead in her New York apartment. She was fully dressed and sitting upright in her bed. The police reported that she had died from taking a cocktail of alcohol and barbiturates. The notes for the chapter she was writing on the case had disappeared.
Some of her friends believed Kilgallen had been murdered. Marc Sinclaire was Kilgallen’s personal hairdresser. He often woke Kilgallen in the morning. Kilgallen was usually out to the early hours of the morning and like her husband always slept late. When he found her body he immediately concluded she had been murdered (32).
(1) Kilgallen was not sleeping in her normal bedroom. Instead she was in the master bedroom, a room she had not occupied for several years.
(2) Kilgallen was wearing false eyelashes. According to Sinclaire she always took her eyelashes off before she went to bed.
(3) She was found sitting up with the book, The Honey Badger, by Robert Ruark, on her lap. Sinclaire claims that she had finished reading the book several weeks earlier (she had discussed the book with Sinclaire at the time).
(4) Kilgallen had poor eyesight and could only read with the aid of glasses. Her glasses were not found in the bedroom where she died.
(5) Kilgallen was found wearing a bolero-type blouse over a nightgown. Sinclaire claimed that this was the kind of thing “she would never wear to go to bed”.
Kilgallen was not the only one to die that week. Florence Pritchett died two days after Kilgallen. The copy of Kilgallen’s chapter on the Kennedy assassination was never found. According to William Penn Jones (33):
At the Ruby trial in Dallas during March of 1964, Dorothy Kilgallen had a private interview during one of the noon recesses with Judge Joe B. Brown. This was immediately followed by a thirty minute private interview with Jack Ruby in Judge Brown’s chambers. Even Ruby’s bodyguards were kept outside the Judge’s chambers. Joe Tonahill and others thought the meeting room in the jail was “bugged,” but it is doubtful if the Judge’s own chambers would be bugged. Judges have the power of contempt of court for such irregularities.
This then, was the second person Ruby had talked to who could know for whom Ruby was acting; therefore Miss Kilgallen had to be silenced along with Tom Howard.
Shortly before her death, Miss Kilgallen told a friend in New York that she was going to New Orleans in 5 days and break the case wide open. Miss Kilgallen 52, died November 8, 1965, under questionable circumstances in her New York home. Eight days after her death, a ruling was made that she died of barbiturates and drink with no quantities of either ingredient being given.
Also strangely, Miss Kilgallen’s close friend, Mrs. Earl E.T. Smith, died two days after Miss Kilgallen. Mrs. Smith’s autopsy read that the cause of death was unknown.
Many skeptical newsmen have asked: “If Miss Kilgallen knew anything, surely as a journalist wouldn’t she have left some notes?” This is a legitimate question.
Possibly Mrs. Smith was the trusted friend with the notes. No one will ever know now.
Mark Lane (34) also believed that Kilgallen had been murdered. He said that “I would bet you a thousand-to-one that the CIA surrounded her (Kilgallen) as soon as she started writing those stories.” The only new person who became close to Kilgallen during the last few months was her new secret lover. In her book, Kilgallen, Lee Israel calls him the “Out-of-Towner” (35).
According to Israel she met him in Carrara in June, 1964, during a press junket for journalists working in the film industry. The trip was paid for by Twentieth Century-Fox who used it to publicize three of its films: The Sound of Music, The Agony and the Ecstasy and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. Israel claims that the “Out-of-Towner” went up to Kilgallen and asked her if she was Clare Booth Luce (36). This is in itself an interesting introduction. Kilgallen and Luce did not look like each other.
Luce and her husband (Henry Luce) however were to play an important role in the events surrounding the assassination. Luce owned Life Magazine and arranged to buy up the Zapruder Film. Clare Booth Luce had also funded covert operations against Fidel Castro (1961-63).
It has been suggested that Kilgallen suspected that “Out-of-Towner” was a CIA spy. She therefore told her friends this is what he said so that if anything happened to her, a future investigator would realize that he was a CIA agent with links to Clare Booth Luce.
(3) Dorothy Kilgallen
(4) Clare Booth Luce
Lee Israel has always refused to identify the “Out-of-Towner”. In 1993 the investigative reporter, David B. Henschel, discovered that his real name was Ron Pataky (37). In 1965 he had been a journalist working for the Columbus Citizen-Journal. He admitted that he was the “Out-of-Towner” and that he worked on articles about the assassination of Kennedy with Kilgallen. Pataky also confessed to meeting Kilgallen several times in the Regency Hotel. However, he denied Lee Israel’s claim that he was with her on the night of her death. (38)
(5) Ron Pataky
There has been no investigation into the death of Florence Pritchett. Officially she died of a cerebral haemorrhage. Is it possible that she was murdered? Maybe it was because she had Kilgallen’s notes for her article on the Kennedy assassination. However, I think if she was murdered it might have been more about what she knew rather than what property she had in her possession.
I believe that Florence Pritchett had been her main source of information on political issues connected to Kennedy. Not only because she was had been having an affair with Kennedy for nearly 20 years, but because she was the wife of Earl Smith, a leading figure in the anti-Castro community in Florida. Pritchett was ideally placed to know what had been going on during 1963. The greatest puzzle of all is why she was allowed to live as long as she did.
(1) Florence Pritchett http://www.spartacus…k/JFKsmithF.htm
(2) Dorothy Kilgallen http://www.spartacus…FKkilgallen.htm
(3) Nigel Hamilton, JFK’s Reckless Youth (1992) page 641
(4) Earl Smith: http://www.spartacus…/JFKsmithET.htm
(5) John Johnson, email to author (28th July, 2004)
(6) Seymour Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot (1998) page 156
(7) Dorothy Kilgallen, New York Journal American (15th July, 1959)
(8) Earl E. T. Smith, Fourth Floor (1962)
(9) Senate Committee on the Judiciary (27th August, 1960)
(10) Fulgencio Batista: http://www.spartacus…COLDbatista.htm
(11) James Eastland: http://www.spartacus…USAeastland.htm
(12) John Johnson, email to author (28th July, 2004)
(13) Lee Israel, Kilgallen (1979) page 334
(14) Dorothy Kilgallen, New York Journal American (3rd August, 1962)
(15) Sarah Churchwell, The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe (2004) page 293
(16) George Smathers: http://www.spartacus…JFKsmathers.htm
(17) Lee Harvey Oswald: http://www.spartacus…k/JFKoswald.htm
(18) Dorothy Kilgallen, New York Journal American (29th November, 1963)
(19) Jesse Curry: http://www.spartacus…k/JFKcurryJ.htm
(20) Dorothy Kilgallen, New York Journal American (23rd August, 1963)
(21) Jack Ruby: http://www.spartacus….uk/JFKruby.htm
(22) Dorothy Kilgallen, New York Journal American (29th November, 1963)
(23) Thayer Waldo: http://www.spartacus…uk/JFKwaldo.htm
(24) J. D. Tippet: http://www.spartacus…k/JFKtippet.htm
(25) Bernard Weismann: http://www.spartacus…FKweissmanB.htm
(26) Lee Israel, Kilgallen (1979) page 354-56
(27) Greg Parker: http://educationforu…?showtopic=1615
(28) Richard Kollmar: http://www.spartacus…/JFKkollmar.htm
(29) David Welsh, Ramparts Magazine (November, 1966)
(30) Bill Hunter: http://www.spartacus…/JFKhunterB.htm
(31) Jim Koethe: http://www.spartacus…k/JFKkoethe.htm
(32) Lee Israel, Kilgallen (1979) page 404-05
(33) William Penn Jones, Volume II: Forgive My Grief (1967)
(34) Mark Lane: http://www.spartacus…uk/JFKlaneM.htm
(35) Lee Israel, Kilgallen (1979) pages 357, 370-373, 382-392, 415-422
(36) Clare Booth Luce: http://www.spartacus…uk/JFKluceC.htm
(37) David B. Henschel, http://www.netsys.co…/1993/1296.html
(37) Ron Pataky: http://www.spartacus…k/JFKpataky.htm