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JFK and the Mysterious Death of Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen

SClemmons is a retired emergency management director, a paramedic, and a published author. He continues to write about true crime.

Dorothy Kilgallen and President John F. Kennedy

Dorothy Kilgallen and President John F. Kennedy

Who Was Dorothy Kilgallen?

Gossip columnists and fierce rivals Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons were well-known as the Hollywood movie star gossip queens of newspaper and radio fame, achieving their heydays in the late 1930s, '40s, and '50s. They became the first tabloid-style reporters before the days of papers such as The National Enquirer, Globe, and Star.

Another well-known columnist who earned her fame in the 1950s and '60s and even earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was Dorothy Kilgallen. She too was a nationally syndicated columnist and worked for the New York Journal-American, a William Randolph Hearst newspaper. In 1945, her column, "Voice of Broadway," eventually evolved into a successful CBS radio show by the same name.

Kilgallen's Fame and Accolades

Where Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons were more focused on the dirt and rumors of Hollywood film stars, Dorothy Kilgallen wrote about the theatrical side of the entertainment industry and also focused on more serious issues, such as politics and crime. The New York Post called her "The most powerful female voice in America," and famed CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow and author Ernest Hemingway both referred to her as "One of the greatest woman writers in the world."

While continuing her column and radio show, Dorothy also became a panelist on the CBS television game show What's My Line? from 1950 up to her untimely death in 1965. It was a good extra income for her, paying (in 2020 USD) about $3,600 a week.

Left photo: Dorothy is on the right. Right photo: Dorothy is seated on the far left.

Left photo: Dorothy is on the right. Right photo: Dorothy is seated on the far left.

Controversial Writing and the Beginnings of Trouble

Dorothy Kilgallen was known to be an outspoken "go-getter," and once she focused on a particular topic, she saw it through to the end. Her father, also a journalist, later said, "She had a brilliant style of writing. She was accurate and had a flair for the apt phrase. She had an uncanny ability to produce scoops and an inordinate speed in turning out copy."

She began focusing on crime and famous murder cases, such as the Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932, the Z. Smith Reynolds murder (son of RJ Reynolds, tobacco magnate) of 1932 in Winston-Salem, NC, and the Dr. Sam Sheppard case in 1954. Sam Sheppard was a surgeon that had been convicted of murdering his pregnant wife. Dorothy Kilgallen, who had evolved into a crack investigative reporter, conducted some investigating on her own and uncovered information that was instrumental in getting Sheppard a retrial.

Sheppard was acquitted of murder, and DNA results later confirmed the findings. This case was the inspiration for the TV series The Fugitive (1963–67) starring David Jansen, and later the 1993 film The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford.

Kilgallen at work

Kilgallen at work

Dorothy Kilgallen first got put on the US government radar when she suggested in a 1959 article that then-CIA director Allen Dulles had contracted with the Mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro—which, according to released previously classified CIA documents in 2007, appears to be true.

Dorothy had become close friends with Florence (Flo) Pritchett, the wife of Earl E. T. Smith, a well-known member of the New York Stock Exchange. President Eisenhower appointed Smith Ambassador to Cuba, and both before and during her marriage to Smith, Flo had been involved in an intimate relationship with then-Senator John F. Kennedy. According to since-released files, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was aware of the relationship and had Kennedy under surveillance, assigning agents to track him on his many trips to Cuba and Florida to see Flo.

With Flo Smith living in Cuba and having direct access and knowledge of inside political information from her Ambassador husband, it's been surmised that she was the source of information to her good friend Dorothy Kilgallen, who was always looking for a good news story.

More Sensational Trial Coverage

In 1960, Dorothy Kilgallen began covering yet another high-profile murder case involving a wealthy 42-year-old California physician, Dr. Bernard Finch, accused along with his 22-year-old receptionist/mistress, Carole Tregoff, of murdering his wife. After two mistrials due to hung juries, a third trial ended in the conviction of both Dr. Finch and Carole Tregoff on April 2, 1961.

Tregoff and Finch were given life sentences but were both paroled 10 and 12 years later, respectively. Finch actually went back to practicing medicine in a small town in Missouri, but he never saw Carole Tregoff again.

In Dorothy's column dated August 3, 1962, she became the first journalist to refer publicly to Marilyn Monroe's affair with President Kennedy.

The JFK Assassination and the Jack Ruby Interview

Dorothy Kilgallen was particularly upset at the assassination of President Kennedy. Once, when she was on a special White House tour with her youngest son, Kerry, JFK took the time to chat with Kerry and look at some artwork created by his third grade class. The president even gave Kerry a PT-109 lapel pin.

This impressed Dorothy and created a special fondness for the president, giving her all the more reason to use her criminal investigative skills to look at what facts were being released about the assassination. Far from being an obsessed conspiracy theorist, she wasn't buying the information being released by the government.

Ms. Acquilla Clemons

Ms. Acquilla Clemons

Acquilla Clemons' Statement

As mentioned previously, Dorothy had already ruffled some government feathers with her 1959 article suggesting the CIA/mafia collaboration with the failed Castro assassination attempts. Her first article describing doubts with the Warren Commission investigation concerned possible FBI coercing and intimidation of witnesses.

She wrote in her column about witness Acquilla Clemons. Ms. Clemons was an African-American woman who witnessed the shooting of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippet from the front porch of the house where she was employed. Ms. Clemons told FBI investigators that two men, neither of whom came close to matching Oswald's description, were involved in the altercation and shooting of Tippet.

She described the gunman as being a “short guy and kind of heavy, and the other man [with him] was tall and thin in khaki trousers and a white shirt." She said that after Tippet was shot and fell to the ground, the two men immediately ran in opposite directions.

Ms. Clemons stated that later she received an intimidating visit from Dallas authorities warning her not to ever repeat what she had seen to anyone or she "might get hurt." Her statement to FBI investigators was never mentioned in the final Warren Commission report, and she was never contacted by any Warren Commission investigators.

The FBI and CIA Take Notice

After printing this information, both the FBI and the CIA were keeping tabs on Dorothy Kilgallen's activities. In later years, the Freedom of Information Act revealed a large dossier that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had running on Dorothy. After all, she was one of the very few members of the media who had begun to question the Warren Commission findings.

The more she investigated, the more she learned, and that just made her all the more diligent in her search for answers. She told friends that it had become apparent to her that Lee Harvey Oswald was definitely not the "lone gunman" in the assassination. She said she was going to see it through to the end.

Lee Harvey Oswald's Death and Jack Ruby's Trial

After Oswald was fatally shot, Dorothy wrote in her column (Nov. 29, 1963):

"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—owner of a strip tease honky tonk—can just stroll in and out of police headquarters as if it were a health club at a time when a small army of law enforcers are keeping such tight security on Oswald."

Dorothy covered the Jack Ruby Trial in March of 1964. Known to have had mob ties, Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, had killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy. Millions of Americans witnessed the shooting live on network television on November 24,1963, two days after the president was assassinated as Oswald was being transferred out of Dallas Police headquarters to an armored car that was to take him to the county jail.

Ruby simply walked up to him while pointing a .38 revolver, said, "Hey, Oswald!" and fired a single shot into Oswald's gut, piercing his abdominal aorta and vena cava. He was pronounced dead on arrival at 1:07 PM CST at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

In Ruby's first trial, he was found guilty of "murder with malice" for killing Oswald and sentenced to death by the electric chair. This was the first courtroom verdict to be televised in U.S. history. Always wanting the scoop directly from the source, Dorothy miraculously managed, through Jack Ruby's attorney Joe Tonahill, to arrange a private interview with Ruby himself from his cell. The two met one-on-one in completely private surroundings, including no guards in the immediate area that could hear the two of them speaking.

Its unknown as to what exactly transpired in their conversation, but Dorothy was exhilarated as to what she had learned.

Questions About the Assassination

Kilgallen wrote the following in her April 19,1964 column (excerpt):

A mysterious and significant aspect of the events following the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas has never been explored publicly, although it must have occurred to crack reporters covering the case as well as authorities investigating the tragedies. The important question—why would Lee Harvey Oswald, presumably fleeing from the police after the assassination, approach Patrolman J.D. Tippet's car—in broad daylight with witnesses standing by—and shoot the policeman three times, although he had not said a word to Oswald?

Oswald had managed to slip away from the scene and was up to that point not a reckless one. A man who knows he is wanted by the authorities after a spectacular crime does not seek out a policeman usually, unless he has decided to give himself up, and certainly Oswald was not doing that. By shooting Tippet instead of trying to make himself inconspicuous, Oswald put himself in double jeopardy. His act almost guaranteed his arrest. Why? A who-dun-it fan would infer that the policeman knew something about Oswald that was so dangerous [the policeman] had to be silenced at any cost, even Oswald’s chance at escape and freedom.

Left: Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the Dallas Police station. Right: Ruby's mug shot.

Left: Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the Dallas Police station. Right: Ruby's mug shot.

Reporting on Ruby's Testimony

One of the biggest "scoops" of Dorothy's career came when she obtained the entire 102-page transcript of Jack Ruby's testimony to the Warren Commission. She received it from "an inside source" on the commission and wrote about it in her column before the Warren Commission completed their investigation and before they had a chance to "clean up" the testimony. It gave the public an inside look at how weak and subtle the commission's questions were to Ruby (particularly Chief Justice Earl Warren's questions) and how they didn't seem too interested in pertinent information Ruby was trying to give them.

Shortly after Dorothy's column was published, she had FBI agents banging on her door. She was interrogated at length by the agents, who wanted to know how she obtained the transcript of Ruby's testimony. In a memo to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover discovered through the Freedom of Information Act, the agents that interrogated Dorothy wrote, "she said she was the only person that knew the identity of the source and said 'she would die rather than reveal his identity'." This was a good example of true Dorothy Kilgallen style.

After the FBI interrogation, she wrote in her Journal-American column dated Sept. 30,1964, "The FBI might have been more profitably employed probing the facts of the case rather than how I got them."

What Did Jack Ruby Tell Her During the Interview?

Dorothy was very careful not to reveal the details of her Jack Ruby interview with anyone, including those most close to her. She did tell friends that she had discovered that Oswald was not the lone shooter and that she was close to discovering the names of the others that were involved. Ruby's attorney, Joe Tonahill, asked her what Ruby had said in the interview, and all she told him was that she had a new informant in New Orleans.

She was happy and excited, yet cautious and a bit fearful. She told her close friend and hairdresser, Marc Sinclair, “If the wrong people knew what I know, it would cost me my life,” and she started carrying a handgun. At one point, she told Sinclair, "In five more days I'm going to bust this case wide open."

Kilgallen's Investigation Continues

Dorothy continued putting all her effort into her 18-month-long JFK investigation and somehow managed to continue producing her articles for the paper and appearing as a panelist on the weekly live broadcasts of the game show What's My Line?

In one of her articles, she stated that Marina Oswald knew a lot more about the truth than she led investigators to believe. She said, "If Marina would come clean and give investigators the truth, it would split open the front pages of newspapers all over the world.”

Dorothy received information from a source and wrote in her column about the "Carousel Club meeting" that present-day conspiracy theorists often like to talk about. It references an alleged witnessed meeting at a nightclub eight days before the JFK assassination between Jack Ruby, Dallas police officer J.D. Tippet, Bernard Wiessman, a known anti-Kennedy protest leader, and a "rich Texas oilman" thought to have been Joe Grinnan, coordinator of the Dallas John Birch Society.

This alleged meeting took place on November 14, 1963. The conspiracy theorists say that, if true, this insinuates that Officer Tippet was part of the conspiracy—maybe even one of the JFK shooters, considering he was a highly trained sniper and an excellent marksman. The conspiracy theorists contend that Oswald may have been ordered to kill Tippet to keep him from cutting a deal with prosecutors if he were arrested as one of the shooters.

New Orleans crime family mob boss Carlos Marcello

New Orleans crime family mob boss Carlos Marcello

Kilgallen Investigates the Mafia Connection

Beginning in the mid 1940s, crime boss Carlos Marcello had established himself and had complete control of Louisiana's illegal gambling network. He had also joined forces with New York Mob associate Meyer Lansky in order to skim money from some of the most profitable casinos in the greater New Orleans area.

Marcello was selected by the National Crime Syndicate to be boss of the organized crime operations in the city of New Orleans. His predecessor, Sylvestro "Silver Dollar Sam" Carolla, had been deported back to Sicily.

In the spring of 1959, Marcello was subpoenaed to appear before the United States Senate's McClellan Committee. Organized by Senator John McClellan (D-Arkansas), it first began hearings in February of 1957 to investigate corruption, criminal infiltration, and illegal activities in the nation's labor unions.

Chaired by Senator McClellan, the committee included John F. Kennedy and Barry Goldwater, along with Robert Kennedy as chief counsel. In response to the committee's questioning, Marcello consistently invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer any questions relating to his background, activities, and his associates. After both Kennedy brothers made accusations and relentlessly pounded him with question after question, Marcello considered the Kennedys to be his sworn enemies.

Who Was the New Orleans Informant?

Several Dorothy Kilgallen author/researchers have speculated that Dorothy's "New Orleans informant" that she mentioned to Jack Ruby's attorney may have actually been New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (portrayed by Kevin Costner in the 1991 film JFK). This may or may not be true; there's no known connection or association between Jack Ruby and Jim Garrison.

Garrison was 100% convinced that the CIA were the master plotters and executors of the JFK assassination due to wanting the Cold War to continue. He reiterated his feelings on this during a 1988 radio talk show. Garrison may have considered mob assistance to the CIA (Marcello's crime family), but he was more focused on the JFK assassination conspiracy originating in New Orleans with persons he believed to be CIA contractors, such as Clay Shaw, Guy Bannister, David Ferry, Kerry Wendall Thornley, Lee Harvey Oswald, and others.

However, it doesn't seem to make sense that Ruby would direct Kilgallen to District Attorney Garrison. How would that benefit him? Ruby was well aware that in talking to Dorothy he was talking to a newspaper. What does make sense is that he would direct her to New Orleans to meet with a Marcello informant. Ruby would want to somehow show the nation that his killing Oswald was justifiable and that a well-planned conspiracy did, in fact, exist.

Kilgallen at the Jack Ruby trial (1964), seen with one of Ruby's attorneys, Melvin Belli.

Kilgallen at the Jack Ruby trial (1964), seen with one of Ruby's attorneys, Melvin Belli.

Dorothy's Marriage, Affairs, and Death

After 20 years of marriage to Richard Kollmar, a musical comedy actor and singer, the relationship between the two began to fizzle out. They had three children together, but both led busy professional lives, and Richard was as extensively involved in his career as Dorothy was with hers. Dorothy's work included extensive traveling, researching, writing her column, and fulfilling her panelist position on What's My Line?—not to mention raising three children.

Richard's Infidelity

Dorothy had reportedly come home one day and caught Richard in bed with a girlfriend in one of the bedrooms of their multilevel Manhattan townhouse. They continued to live together (up to the time of her death) but slept in separate bedrooms.

According to friend, confidante, and hairdresser Marc Sinclair, Dorothy and Richard had no plans for divorce. This could have been due in part to their youngest child still living at home and a divorce generating bad publicity for Dorothy and Richard's careers. A revealed memo that was passed to J. Edgar Hoover's desk from an informant stated that Richard had a (secret) separate apartment and had numerous affairs at that location with men and women both.

Dorothy's Infidelity

Dorothy had her share of friends as well, some on an intimate level. She was known to go out after a completed broadcast of What's My Line? and meet friends for cocktails after the show. She seemed to have a flair for younger men. Dorothy met 1950s–'60s pop singer Johnny Ray (14 years her junior) when he appeared as a guest on What's My Line? Despite Ray being openly gay, they began a very close friendship that evolved into a full-blown romance, according to Dorothy's friends.

Meeting Ron Pataky

In June of 1964 on a press junket trip at the movie set for The Sound of Music in Salzburg, Austria, Dorothy met Adam Ronald (Ron) Pataky. Pataky was a fellow newspaper columnist, a film and drama critic for the Ohio-based Columbus Citizen-Journal, and 23 years her junior. Pataky had a reputation for being a ladies' man among Hollywood starlets.

In an interview in later years, Pataky said that Dorothy was flirtatious with him and quite the romanticist. They traveled all over Europe together, and while Pataky maintained that their relationship was strictly platonic, Dorothy's friend/hairdresser Marc Sinclair said he knows for a fact that their relationship was on the intimate level.

Dorothy Kilgallen with her husband Richard Kollmar and their son Kerry (1964)

Dorothy Kilgallen with her husband Richard Kollmar and their son Kerry (1964)

Dorothy Kilgallen with Ron Pataky (1965)

Dorothy Kilgallen with Ron Pataky (1965)

Alarm During a New Orleans Trip

In October of 1965, Dorothy called Sinclair and told him she wanted to hire him to go with her to New Orleans for her investigative trip. She gave him a plane ticket, arranged a hotel for him, and said she'd contact him when she got down there. She called Sinclair from her hotel and they met for dinner. She told him she wanted him to come to her hotel room the next morning to do her hair and makeup.

Sinclair stated that the next morning Kilgallen called him and said, "I want you to immediately go to the airport and fly back to New York; I've left a ticket for you. Do not tell anyone that you came down here to New Orleans with me." Dorothy had apparently gotten spooked over something but never revealed what it was.

If she were talking to someone close to the Marcello crime family in New Orleans, she was well aware of the dangers that existed. She was tampering with some extremely dangerous people.

Ruby's Fears

Ruby himself was afraid; he repeatedly asked for a meeting from his cell in Dallas with Chief Justice Earl Warren. Warren finally agreed and took some other members of the commission with him, including then-US House Representative Gerald Ford (R. Michigan). Ruby requested a change of venue, specifically Washington DC.

He told Warren and the other commissioners that they had no idea what was going on with the assassination or the immense scale of it. He said that he wanted to tell the truth, but he was unable to do it in Dallas out of fear that he would be silenced. Warren replied that they did not have law enforcement powers and were unable to comply with his request.

Was Ron Pataky a CIA Agent?

Dorothy told those close to her that she had been receiving death threats. She also confided in friends that Ron Pataky seemed to know an awful lot about the JFK assassination and was extremely curious as to what information she had obtained in her months of investigation and interviewing. Although she was still seeing him, she expressed a concern to her friends that Pataky might be a CIA operative.

Kilgallen discovered that Pataky was friends with Henry and Clair Booth Luce. Luce owned Life Magazine and had purchased the Abraham Zapruder film of the assassination from the family. Clair Booth Luce personally funded covert operations against Fidel Castro from 1961 to 1963. She told her friends this and said that if anything happened to her, a future investigator would realize that he was a CIA agent.

Dorothy's Final Episode of What's My Line?

On Sunday November 7, 1965, Dorothy appeared as scheduled as a panelist for the live broadcast of What's My Line? The show was broadcast at 10:30 PM EST from CBS Television Studios in New York City, which later became the renowned disco, Studio 54, and is now in use as a Broadway theater.

Her hairdresser Marc Sinclair said that while he was doing her hair for the show, she was upset with Pataky, whom she called "Bo." She was suspicious of him and thought information that she had obtained through her investigation of the assassination was leaking out—and he was the only one she had confided in about what she learned. She told Sinclair that she was convinced that Pataky was CIA.

After the show, Dorothy was seen getting into her limousine in front of the studio. She arrived at the club P.J. Clarke's and met with the show's producer, Bob Bach, for a drink; this was her usual post-show routine.

This studio promo photo of Dorothy Kilgallen was taken just hours before she died.

This studio promo photo of Dorothy Kilgallen was taken just hours before she died.

Meeting With an Unidentified Man

Being good friends and on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis with each other, Kilgallen confided in Bach that she had a late date with a man. Bach assumed she was meeting Ron Pataky, but Pataky later claimed he wasn't in New York that night. After she left P.J. Clarke's, she went to the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, a favorite watering hole for the show's staff.

The staff and a show contestant, Katherine Stone, who had been invited to join them, confirmed that Dorothy was there. She said she observed Dorothy sitting in a booth with a man away from the crowd. Stone later remarked that they didn't appear to be two lovers wanting to be alone, but more like a business meeting of sorts. She said neither Dorothy nor the man she was with were smiling or laughing, and they appeared to be engaged in a serious conversation.

When the lounge closed after 2 AM, the piano player stated that Dorothy appeared to be her normal self, in good spirits, polite, and calm. He said she didn't appear or sound to be the least bit intoxicated. At 2:30 AM, Western Union received a call from Dorothy requesting a courier to come to her house and pick up her column to take to the Journal-American for the morning paper, as was her usual routine. She would leave it between the screen door and the front door of her house. It's unknown as to where she placed that call from, her house or somewhere else.

Kilgallen Is Found Dead, and the Mystery Begins

The next morning, Mark Sinclair arrived at Dorothy's townhouse around 8:45 AM for a scheduled appointment to do her hair. Using a key she had given him, he let himself in the door. He went to a room designated as her hair and makeup room, but she wasn't there. He thought it was unusual that the air conditioning was on in the house when it was cold outside, and he said Dorothy was always complaining about being cold at night.

He stated that he went into an adjacent bedroom that was never used and was surprised to see Dorothy in the bed sitting upright against the headboard. Sinclair said he walked over and touched her and knew right away she was dead. He said that the bed looked unusual; it was perfect without a wrinkle on it—almost as if she had been placed there.

He also noticed she was wearing an odd outfit that he insisted she would never normally wear to bed. He said she always wore pajamas and socks to bed. She still had her hairpiece on, false eyelashes, earrings, and her necklace. He further stated that she was still wearing makeup, which she always removed before going to bed.

Sinclair said there was a book in her lap as if she were reading, but it was upside-down. Furthermore, he said she had to have her reading glasses to see to read, and they weren't even in the room. He also stated that Dorothy had already read the book found in her lap about a month prior, and she didn't even like it. Her husband Richard confirmed this.

Did Ron Pataky have anything to do with Dorothy Kilgallen's death?

Did Ron Pataky have anything to do with Dorothy Kilgallen's death?

The Autopsy Results

The autopsy showed that a combination of barbiturates and alcohol caused the death of Dorothy Kilgallen. Her blood alcohol content was .15; for her size and weight, that equates to approximately 4–6 drinks. Legally, she was intoxicated despite the last people seeing her stating that she didn't appear to be. It was discovered later that she had a combination of three different barbiturates in her system. The official cause of death was listed as: "Acute Ethanol and Barbiturate Intoxication."

Even though this insinuates that no foul play was suspected, the medical examiner wrote in under the cause of death: “Circumstances Undetermined.” The medical examiner estimated that the time of death was between 2 AM and 4 AM. We know it was after 2:30 AM because she had called Western Union for the courier pickup, and they logged the time of the call.

When news got out about Dorothy's death, and particularly the cause of death, people speculated that it was a suicide. Her many friends, associates, and family refused to believe it. Everyone close to her during her final days claimed that her mood was good and that she acted no differently then she usually did. They said she even had plans for the next day with appointments.

Strange Circumstances and Missing Evidence

Outside of the bizarre and unusual way her body was discovered, there were no signs of a struggle, although the autopsy did reveal a bruise to her right shoulder. Her husband, 11-year-old son, and her son's tutor, who also stayed at the house, claimed they heard nothing unusual between 2:30 AM and when her body was discovered.

Dorothy's JFK investigation file that she always kept close to her was not found in the house and is still missing to this day. Marc Sinclair stated later that he thought that Ron Pataky had something to do with her death. He stated that she never would have gone to bed in the manner he found her, and especially not in that bedroom. It was apparently the bedroom where she discovered her husband cheating on her, and he said she never went into that room.

Dorothy Kilgallen

Dorothy Kilgallen

Left: News clippings after Kilgallen's death. Right: Dorothy's grave marker.

Left: News clippings after Kilgallen's death. Right: Dorothy's grave marker.

So How Did Dorothy Kilgallen Die?

Three options exist as to the cause of Dorothy Kilgallen's death. It was an accidental overdose, it was a suicide, or she was murdered.

Was It an Accidental Overdose?

Accidental overdoses of this type have certainly occurred; alcohol and barbiturates just plain don't mix. Beginning in the early 1980s, barbiturates were largely replaced by benzodiazepines such as Valium, Ativan, Xanax, etc. Like barbiturates, benzodiazepines are also prescribed as sleep aids and for anxiety, but they're much safer than barbiturates. Many people have died from an accidental mix of alcohol and barbiturates.

She did have a prescription for Seconal, and she took two pills each night at bedtime as a sleep aid. But was it accidental? Toxicology results performed during the autopsy revealed that the amount of Seconal found in her bloodstream was equal to 15–20 tablets. Even with a blood alcohol level of .15, it's difficult to see someone accidentally taking 15–20 tablets; that's an entire handful.

The other barbiturate found in her system was Tuinal, which she didn't have a prescription for. Eli Lilly Inc., who manufactured Tuinal in the US, discontinued the drug in the late '70s due to the declining use of barbiturates as they were replaced by benzodiazepines. There are extreme dangers associated with Tuinal, especially to people that regularly consume alcohol.

Was It Suicide?

Dorothy really didn't fit the common profile for someone that was planning suicide. She reportedly didn't have any mood changes, bouts of depression, etc. Those close to her said she had been acting completely normal prior to her death. People that plan suicide typically finalize things like insurance policies, bank accounts, wills, etc., and they often show extra kindness to loved ones, especially children, as if saying goodbye.

Dorothy was actively investigating her JFK work and was looking forward to releasing the information, and, as mentioned previously, she had plans for the next day. She was just days away from a planned second investigative trip to New Orleans to meet her unnamed source, and she had already established an arrangement with Random House for publishing a tell-all book about the JFK assassination.

Or Was It Murder?

As far as her being murdered, she had been dabbing into some sensitive issues with some dangerous characters during her JFK assassination investigation. She seemed to suspect that the actual killers of Kennedy were members of the mob, most likely affiliated with the New Orleans-based Marcello crime family.

According to Ron Pataky, she was convinced that Oswald and Ruby both had ties to the Marcello family. Who's to say that she wasn't silenced before her information was released in print? Author Mark Shaw, who has written books about Kilgallen, speculates that barbiturates could have been slipped into one her drinks earlier in the evening.

The circumstances of where her body was discovered and how she appeared when found do seem odd, considering her usual routine of preparing for bed. It leads one to consider the possibility that the scene was staged, possibly by someone who didn't know her well enough to know that she never slept in that bedroom and never went to bed still wearing her makeup, hairpiece, and that particular outfit.

Playing devil's advocate to the murder theory, one also has to consider the following: Being intoxicated as she was, the possibility exists that maybe she didn't care about where or how she slept that particular night, which explains why she was in that particular bedroom appearing as she did.

Dated January 1977, 12 years after Dorothy Kilgallen's death, this was the front page of the tabloid paper "Midnight," which later became the "Globe."

Dated January 1977, 12 years after Dorothy Kilgallen's death, this was the front page of the tabloid paper "Midnight," which later became the "Globe."

Left: Photo of Dorothy Kilgallen dressed for an evening out. Right: Ron Pataky in later years.

Left: Photo of Dorothy Kilgallen dressed for an evening out. Right: Ron Pataky in later years.

Unanswered Questions

There are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding Dorothy Kilgallen's death.

How Did She Get Home the Night She Died?

She was seen leaving the CBS Television Studios in a limousine that took her to P.J. Clarke's lounge. Did that limo take her over to the Regency as well and then wait until 2–2:30 AM to bring her home? Why didn't someone investigate and interview the limo driver? Did she take a taxi home or maybe get a ride from the "stranger" she had been talking to at the Regency?

Some people presume the stranger was, in fact, Ron Pataky. So, why didn't someone show Rebecca Stone, who is still alive as of this writing, photos of Ron Pataky and ask her if he was the man that Dorothy was in such deep conversation with at the Regency? Did anyone ask the bartender or piano player who she left the lounge with that evening? Ron Pataky claimed he wasn't in New York the evening she died, but did anyone verify his whereabouts?

Why Stage the Scene at Her House?

If someone did slip barbiturates in her cocktail earlier, why not just let her die wherever? Why go to all the trouble of staging the scene at her house and risk being caught by one of the three people already in the house, or risk being seen by someone going in or out of the house?

Marc Sinclair said he had the impression that she had died/been killed somewhere else. If true, it seems pretty risky for someone to carry her body into the house and up the stairs to the bedroom without being seen or heard. If she died at home and the scene was staged, that would mean that either someone was with her in the house waiting for her to die or someone broke into the house later, after she died, to stage the scene. Both of those just seem like unlikely scenarios.

Where Was She When She Made the Western Union Call?

Additionally, where was she at 2:30 AM when she called Western Union for the courier pickup at her house? If she wasn't at home, that means she would have left the column inside her door much earlier in the evening when she left for the What's My Line? studio. It would seem that would pose the risk of her son or husband opening the front door after she left, causing the column to fall out of the door.

With something that important, why not call for the pickup as she was leaving for the studio or have her husband call the courier for her later in the evening—why wait until 2:30 AM to call? Unless maybe she was home at 2:30 in the morning, got the column packaged up, and then called for the pickup.

Could It Have Been Suicide After All?

One cannot ignore that fact that the amount of barbiturates found in her bloodstream do strongly suggest a suicide. As mentioned, it would seem unlikely for her to take an entire handful of pills accidentally, even if she was intoxicated. She had a history of alcohol consumption, and she must have previously performed this nightly routine of being intoxicated while taking two Seconals before she turned in.

There were no signs of a struggle where she was found, which indicates that it's unlikely she was forced to ingest that amount of pills at home. Maybe it was a spur of the moment decision resulting from the conversation she had with the unidentified man at the Regency lounge earlier. Maybe she discovered that her family's lives had been threatened, and she thought she could save them by taking her own life.

No Homicide Investigation, No Answers

Unfortunately, since the police and the medical examiner didn't see any signs of foul play the morning her body was discovered and after the initial autopsy was performed, no official homicide investigation was ever conducted.

Mark Shaw, author of "The Reporter That Knew Too Much" and "Denial of Justice"

Mark Shaw, author of "The Reporter That Knew Too Much" and "Denial of Justice"

Left: Book by Lee Israel. Right: Book by Mark Shaw.

Left: Book by Lee Israel. Right: Book by Mark Shaw.

Epilogue and Updates

The non-conspiracy groups have speculated that Dorothy Kilgallen's JFK file most likely contained nothing of real importance or information that was already known. But it is interesting that, 10 years after her death in 1975, the FBI showed up at her son Dickie's house inquiring as to whether or not he had Dorothy's JFK investigation files or if he knew where they were. That indicates that they must have thought there was something of importance in the file.

Publication of Kilgallen

In 1980, Dorothy Kilgallen's story came alive once again with author Lee Israel's book titled Kilgallen, which made the New York Times Best Seller List. Israel conducted a lot of research in the writing of the book, despite Dorothy's husband and two of her three children refusing to participate in interviews or provide any information. Fortunately, youngest son Kerry did give what information he could to Israel.

Publication of The Reporter Who Knew Too Much

Thirty-six years later, in 2016, the book titled The Reporter Who Knew Too Much came out from former criminal defense attorney, criminal investigative reporter, and author Mark Shaw. This is the most in-depth book ever written about Dorothy Killgallen.

Shaw's extensive research included interviews with Dorothy's confidante and hairdresser (Sinclair) that she often shared personal information with, a former What's My Line? guest that was in the nightclub with Dorothy the night she died, and many others that knew her. He uncovered many new details and information regarding her death that he actually turned over to the Manhattan District Attorney's office hoping to prompt an investigation—successfully.

2017 Investigation

On September 2, 2017, this article appeared in the New York Post:

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced: "We've found no evidence” that newspaper reporter and TV star Dorothy Kilgallen was murdered as she dug deep into the JFK assassination. A thorough, eight-month-long investigation could not conclude that it was a homicide. The Office thanked Kilgallen's supporters, and promised to review any new evidence that emerges. They also refused to discuss their findings.

The following is an excerpt from an article published four days after the DA's office announced its findings on the case (by the Daily Post, Palo Alto, CA).

Article by Emily Mibach, Daily Post Staff Writer (September 6, 2017)

During the eight month investigation, [Mark Shaw, author of The Reporter Who Knew Too Much] said he gave DA investigator Detective Richard Ramos and the DA’s office “everything but the kitchen sink” in order to prove that Kilgallen was murdered. Shaw gave them witness contact information and a 22-page document laying out his theory, all based on interviews he did for his book.

“I didn’t care if they solved it or not. If they had been thorough … they would have said she had been silenced and killed,” Shaw said.

Shaw said that while he sent the DA investigation contact information for many witnesses, only one of them had been contacted, causing Shaw to believe the investigation was not thorough.

Shaw said if the New York Attorney General does not take up the case, he will go to the governor’s office and the U.S. Justice Department if necessary.

“Three times now Dorothy Kilgallen, a true patriot who was killed for pursuing the truth regarding the JFK assassination, has been denied justice,” Shaw wrote in an email to the Post.

“This has been an affront to Dorothy and all victims. They all deserve a fair shake,” Shaw said.

Publication of Denial of Justice

In November of 2018, author Mark Shaw published a follow-up book to The Reporter That Knew Too Much, titled Denial of Justice. Shaw provides new information he came across regarding Dorothy Kilgallen that supports his theory of her being murdered.

In his recent book, Shaw also accuses Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. (who re-opened the Killgallen case in 2017) of a cover-up. Shaw claims "a reliable source close to the DA’s office” told him that Vance’s staff found Kilgallen’s missing JFK files and “buried them.” In response to Shaw's accusation, a Vance spokeswoman said, “We will decline comment.”

Shaw's Suspicions

In August of 2019, Shaw petitioned the Westchester Supreme Court in New York, requesting to have Dorothy Killgallen's body exhumed for a follow-up autopsy and DNA sampling.

Shaw feels that Ron Pataky, now 84, had involvement in Dorothy's death. He's hoping to obtain DNA samples from Pataky as well for comparison. Shaw claims that Pataky was working for either the FBI (not CIA as Dorothy thought) or the mob and had been ordered to spy on her to find out how much she knew. He thinks Pataky was possibly ordered to silence her.

What Really Happened to the JFK Files?

Shaw claims that he's obtained witness accounts (including from Dorothy's family members) that saw men moving boxes of files from Kilgallen's townhouse after her body was discovered, but prior to police arrival. Could these have been her now-missing JFK investigation files? But, if those were in fact Dorothy's JFK files, then why did the FBI revisit her son Kerry 10 years later, still looking for them?


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© 2017 SClemmons