Chappaquidick and the Kennedy Curse

220px-ChappaquiddickmapsThe famous and tragic  Chappaquiddick Incident occurred on July 18, 1969, wherein Mary Jo Kopechne, a female passenger of U.S. Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy, was killed when he accidentally drove his car off a bridge  and into a tidal channel on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. Kennedy was the youngest brother of John and Robert Kennedy. Kennedy swam free and left the scene, not reporting the accident within nine hours even though Kopechne died in the vehicle. In the early hours of July 19, Kopechne’s body and the car were recovered. Kennedy pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury and received a two-month suspended jail sentence. Two months for killing a woman, whether intentional or not and a suspended jail sentence.  A suspended sentence means Kennedy never saw the inside of a cell. The incident became a national scandal and may have influenced Kennedy’s decision not to campaign for President of the United States in 1972 and 1976. Oh, I don’t know.  At least Chappaquidick demonstrates Kennedy’s willingness to avoid responsibility, kill innocent people, lie, then run the other way.  We’ve seen those qualities in a prez before have we not?

The Kennedy Curse doesn’t quite describe Kopechne’s fatality but the umbrella of premature and violent death has always dogged the Kennedy family. The Kennedy tragedies,commonly known as the Kennedy Curse describes events involving members of the Kennedy family, many of which involve death. The notion of a curse is superstitious of course and was created by the news media. It would seem people love a good, tragic superstition. The following is a very edited list chronicling the Kennedy Curse.

August 12, 1944Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. died when his plane exploded over East Suffolk, England as part of Project Anvil. Joseph Jr. was the favourite son of Joseph Sr. Kennedy, the latter was also the father of Jack and Bobby Kennedy. Joe Sr. initially groomed his eldest son to run for president but after his death the mantle was passed to Jack.

kenedy1DM2011_693x800August 23, 1956Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy gave birth to a stillborn daughter, Arabella. She is buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to her parents with a marker reading “Daughter.”

August 9, 1963Patrick Bouvier Kennedy died two days after his premature birth. He would have been JFK’s youngest son.

November 22, 1963U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

June 19, 1964U.S. Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy was involved in a plane crash in which one of his aides and the pilot were killed. He escaped death on this occasion and later in Chappaquidick.  Years later, he lost a leg to cancer but the amputation saved his life. He must have descended from the feline faction of the Kennedy family.

June 5, 1968 – U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan in Los Angeles immediately following his victory in the California Democratic presidential primary.

E018_KopechneBodyJuly 18, 1969 – In the Chappaquiddick incident, Ted Kennedy accidentally drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, killing passenger Mary Jo Kopechne.  In his July 25 televised statement Kennedy speculated on “whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys,” a poetic way of avoiding responsibility and excusing his role in Kopechne’s death.

October 30, 1975 – 16-year-old Michael Skakel, a Kennedy cousin, murdered his neighbor, 15-year-old Martha Moxley with a golf club. Protected by his ties to the Kennedy clan, it took 29 years to bring him to justice.

July 16, 1999John F. Kennedy, Jr. died when the Piper Saratoga light aircraft he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard due to pilot error. His wife and sister-in-law were also killed.

May 16, 2012Mary Richardson Kennedy, beautiful wife of Robert Kennedy Jr,  hanged herself on the grounds of her home in Bedford, Westchester County, New York. She may have had a mental illness. She was estranged from her husband and in the process of a divorce.

There are many more dark incidents involving members of the Kennedy clan, and close Mary_Jo_Kopechnecousins. According to Kennedy’s testimony at the inquest into Kopechne’s death, he and Kopechne left a party at “approximately 11:15 p.m.”He said that when he announced that he was about to leave, Kopechne told him “that she was desirous of leaving, if I would be kind enough to drop her back at her hotel.” Kennedy  took the keys to his mother’s car from his chauffeur, Crimmins. Asked why he did not have his chauffeur drive them both, Kennedy explained that Crimmins “was concluding his meal, enjoying the fellowship and it didn’t appear to me necessary to require him to bring me back to Edgartown“. Odd. The possibly drunk Kennedy may have anticipated a sexual encounter with Ms. Kopechne, who told no one that she was leaving with Kennedy. She left her purse and hotel key at the party.

Kennedy testified that between 12:30 and 12:45 a.m. he approached the intersection with Dike Road. The car first went onto the private Cemetery Road and stopped there.  carSuddenly he headed eastward (right) towards the ocean along Dike Road. He should have turned left (westward) away from the ocean and not along Dike Road. Dike Road was unpaved but Kennedy, driving at “approximately twenty miles an hour” took “no particular notice” and did not realize he was no longer headed toward the ferry landing. Away from a ferry landing and instead onto a bridge, a move that would prove to be a colossal blunder. A fraction of a second before he reached the bridge Kennedy applied his brakes. He was too late and the car drove over the side of the bridge, plunging into tide-swept Poucha Pond, coming to rest upside-down underwater. Kennedy was able to swim free of the vehicle but Kopechne was not. Kennedy tried to swim down to reach her seven or eight times then rested on the bank for around fifteen minutes before returning on foot to Lawrence Cottage where the party was situated.

One of the tragedies in this event is that Kennedy passed by four houses from which he maryjokopechne-kennedy_7-600x513could have summoned help although he insisted he didn’t see them. According to Kennedy’s testimony, party host Gargan and party co-host Paul Markham returned to the waterway with Kennedy to try to rescue Kopechne. Both of the other men also dived into the water attempting to rescue Kopechne. When their efforts failed Gargan and Markham drove with Kennedy to the ferry landing and according to Kennedy insisted  that the accident had to be reported to authorities. Kennedy was sobbing and on the verge of becoming crazed. Kennedy went on to testify that “[I] had full intention of reporting it. And I mentioned to Gargan and Markham something like, ‘You take care of the other girls [at the party]; I will take care of the accident!’that is what I said and I dove into the water.” The true tragedy of this development is that, protected by an air bubble, Ms. Kopechne was still alive inside the car for 2 hours after it submerged into the water. Can you imagine her terror at being trapped, living and possibly conscious, inside a car in pitch black cold water, waiting for a rescue? Sadly, this wasn’t to happen. Kennedy and Kopechne had one thing in common in that regard: she was suspended yet protected inside a vehicle waiting for rescue; Kennedy’s sentence was suspended as he worked hard to save his career. If he’d worked as hard on rescuing Mary Jo Kopechne, she would have lived and grown to old age.

Kennedy swam across the 500-foot channel to Edgartown and returned to his hotel maryroom. This is particularly odd. Since he was obviously an adept swimmer why couldn’t he have rescued Kopechne from the car? And why swim to a hotel rather than being driven?Kennedy put on dry clothes and stated it was something like 2:30 a.m…. I almost tossed and turned and walked around that room … I had not given up hope all night long that, by some miracle, Mary Jo would have escaped from the car.” Kennedy complained at 2:55 a.m. to the hotel owner that he was awoken by, of all things, a party. Perhaps that was his conscience prodding him in his sleep. By 7:30 a.m. the next morning a witness insisted he was talking “casually” to the winner of the previous day’s sailing race. .At 8 a.m. Gargan and Markham joined Kennedy at his hotel. The three men crossed back to Chappaquiddick Island on the ferry where Kennedy made a series of telephone calls from a pay telephone near the crossing. The telephone calls were to his friends for advice.

Earlier that morning two fishermen had seen the submerged car in the water and notified carthe inhabitants of the cottage nearest to the scene, who called the authorities at about 8:20 a.m. The diver John Farrar, arrived at 8:45 fully suited in scuba gear, discovered Kopechne’s body and extricated it from the vehicle within ten minutes.When Kennedy heard the body had been discovered he crossed back to Edgartown and went to the police station.Kennedy wasn’t given a blood alcohol level test. On July 25, seven days after the incident Kennedy arrived at court with his second wife, Victoria, a former beauty queen and model who was seven months pregnant. He must have thought she would lend him a “family man” look to boost his moral character. The couple worked at making it seem that Mary Jo Kopechne had indeed been only a friend of Ted’s and that no immoral act (“hanky-panky“) was happening between the Senator and the secretary. Kennedy pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury. Kennedy’s attorneys suggested that any jail sentence should be suspended and the prosecutors agreed to this citing Kennedy’s age, character and prior reputation. Judge James Boyle sentenced Kennedy to two months’ incarceration which he suspended. Boyle concluded some aspects of Kennedy’s story of that night were not true and that negligent driving “appears to have contributed to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne“. Yet in announcing the sentence Boyle referred to Kennedy’s “unblemished record” and said that he “has already been, and will continue to be punished far beyond anything this court can impose.”  Oh I don’t know.  Boyle at least could have tried. Nice to be a Kennedy and nice to have Kennedy cash in one’s pocket.

Kennedy, wearing what appeared to be a whiplash support for his neck, attended Mary Jo’s funeral with his wife. He didn’t comment on his supposedly injured neck to reporters. funeralHe probably hoped they would inquire. In an address to the public Kennedy denied any immoral conduct between him and Kopechne. Riiight. Perhaps he is forgetting that he allowed Kopechne to remain submerged in a lake for a chilly, long night. Just as disturbing: Kopechne wasn’t autopsied. She was buried one day after her death. He offered to resign from the Senate should the voters request it however later he declined to resign and returned to work among hundreds of onlookers. About his refusal to resign he stated simply “I’m a very different person than prior to that tragedy … the way I’m a different person is probably reflected in my own view about sort of life and people and faith in God,” whatever that meant.

tedQuestions about the Chappaquiddick incident generated a large number of articles and books over the next several years. In the end, Kennedy, a strong, dedicated politician and a very influential man, paid a meagre price for the accidental death of his mistress. He was re-elected for the Senate by the good people of Massachusetts for seven more terms. This speaks to his excellent political record and his performance in office. He died in 2009 of brain cancer. He was 77 years old.

n.b. It seems to me Edward Moore Kennedy should have taken a page from Matthew Cordle’s book. He certainly accepted guilt for leaving the accident but what about the crime of manslaughter?

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One Response to Chappaquidick and the Kennedy Curse

  1. j.ann says:

    There are a number of factual errors here including the fact that Ted Kennedy did not lose a leg to cancer, his son did. In 1969, when the Chappaquidick tragedy occurred, he was married to his first wife, Virginia Joan (who went by her middle name). He divorced Joan in 1982 and married Victoria in 1992. Furthermore, Ted and Joan had 3 children the youngest of whom was born in 1967 so Joan could not have been pregnant at Kopechne’s funeral in 1969.

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