On October 12, 1964, Mary Pinchot Meyer, a Washington socialite, went for her usual jog along the Potomac River in a fairly deserted section of Washington DC and, for no apparent reason, she was shot twice at close range. She was neither raped nor robbed.
A witness, who heard screaming and shots ran to an embankment overlooking the scene, arrived in time to see a black man standing over Meyer’s body. He said the man stared at the woman for a bit, then put a dark object in his pocket, presumably a gun, and calmly walked away.
The witness, Henry Wiggins Jr., saw the gunman from a distance of 128.6 feet, and described him as a “negro” who was 5 feet 8 to 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing about 185 pounds.
Not long afterward, the police arrested a “negro” and Wiggins positively identified him — even though he was only 5 feet 3.5 inches, and weighed 130 pounds.
And there were many other problems with the case. The man, Ray Crump, Jr., was put on trial, and acquitted, though many still think he was guilty. Others have a much darker explanation for Meyer’s murder: It was a CIA operation. Some background:
Meyer was the late John F. Kennedy’s lover. Her closest friends believe she was responsible for Kennedy’s desire to make peace — which was dangerously unpopular with the military industrial complex. She was under surveillance, and even found signs that strangers had been in her home while she was out. She seemed to know too much about the assassination. She most likely expressed what she knew in her diary. Immediately after her death, there was a frantic search for it.
Her sister found the diary and gave it to her husband, Ben Bradlee, who soon thereafter became the managing editor of the Washington Post. He turned it over to his friend, “spook of spooks,” CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton.
In his 1995 memoir A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures, Bradlee revealed that Meyer had described her affair with JFK in detail. And he confessed that he conspired with Angleton to destroy the diary. At the trial of the accused, Bradlee described finding only a pocket book which contained the usual items, her wallet, keys, cosmetics, pencils — and not a word about the diary. (United States District Court for the District of Columbia: United States of America vs. Ray Crump, Jr. Defendant; Criminal Case No. 930-64. Washington, D.C., July 20, 1965, pp.46-47.)
Meyer’s life was steeped in the CIA. She married Cord Meyer, who was recruited by Allen Dulles of the CIA and put in charge of the agency’s International Organizations Division. That division’s work involved assassinations, and propaganda activities, including “Operation Mockingbird,” which planted disinformation in major US publications. Her roommate in college was married to Frederick Wistar Janney, a CIA career officer. The Meyers and Janneys were very close. Their son Peter played with Mary’s son.
Peter Janney was very fond of Mary and he was devastated by her death. He has made it his mission in life to track down her real killer. The result is Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace: Third Edition (Skyhorse Publishing, 2016).
In the third edition of his book, Janney describes how he finally tracks down and interviews an elusive “second witness” in the case, a man who came forward soon after the alleged assailant was arrested. And he proves to be one more connection to the CIA.
Below, we present Part 1 (see here for Part 2) of a three-part series that focuses on the crime itself — that is, what was known about it at first.
Introduction by Milicent Cranor
Murder on the Towpath
Henry Wiggins Jr. thought he heard “a whole lot of hollerin” coming from the canal.1 An employee of University Esso Service Station at Pennsylvania Avenue and 21st Street in Georgetown, Wiggins had been dispatched to pick up Bill Branch, the mechanic at the employer’s other Esso Service Station at the north end of Key Bridge. Together, they were to service a stalled Nash Rambler sedan abandoned somewhere in the 4300 block on the north side of Canal Road. They had just arrived and Wiggins was taking out his toolbox when he heard screams coming from the canal.
At first, he explained to police, he didn’t pay too much attention: “… you know, that area down there — it could have been some kids playing, or a bunch of winos fighting.” But then, he said, both he and Branch had thought they heard a woman screaming. The screams lasted for twenty seconds or more, they estimated, with the woman pleading, “Help me!… Help me!… Somebody help me!”2
A gunshot rang out from the same direction as the shouting.
Henry Wiggins was a heavy-set, twenty-four-year-old black man who had served in the Army in a Military Police unit in Korea, and he was still fast on his feet. On hearing the shot, he had dashed across Canal Road toward a stone wall at the edge of the embankment overlooking the canal. Seconds before he got there, he heard a second shot.
When he peered over the wall and down across the canal, Wiggins saw a man, “a Negro male,” standing over a woman who lay motionless and curled on her side. Minutes later, Wiggins would give the police a description of the man, recorded on the department’s Police Form PD-251.
The “Negro male” was listed as having a “medium build, 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches, 185 pounds.”3 Also listed were the clothes Wiggins said the man was wearing: a dark plaid golf cap; a light, beige-colored, waist-length zippered jacket; dark trousers; and dark shoes.4
Police would later measure the distance from where Wiggins stood at the wall to the murder scene to be 128.6 feet. It was close enough to make out specific details, certainly close enough to see that the woman was white, that the man standing over her was black, and that he stood with his hands down at his sides.
“He was facing toward me but his head was bent down. He was looking at the body lying on the ground. Then, he looked up toward the wall where I was standing. He saw me. I was looking right at him,” Wiggins recalled.5
Wiggins ducked behind the wall, but when he peeked back over it, he saw that the man held some kind of a dark object in his right hand. From the considerable distance of 128.6 feet, he couldn’t say with certainty what the object was, but given the gunshots he had just heard, he assumed that it was a gun.
“He just shoved something in his jacket pocket, looked at me a couple of seconds… turned away from the victim and walked [author’s emphasis] down over the embankment there,” he said. Wiggins couldn’t say which way the man went after he disappeared over the embankment.6
But nowhere in Wiggins’s initial description to police, or in his testimony nine months later at the trial, did he ever mention seeing any stains, blood or anything else, on the fully zipped light-colored beige jacket the man had been wearing.
Indeed, the “Negro male” and his clothes, which Wiggins had described, appeared to be neatly in place; nothing was disheveled.
Racing back across Canal Road to the tow truck, Wiggins yelled to his assistant, Bill Branch, “A guy just shot a lady over there!” He hopped into the truck, started the ignition, made a U-turn, and sped back to the Key Bridge Esso Station, six-tenths of a mile away. Once there, he told station manager Joe Cameron what he had just seen. “It wasn’t any long conversation,” Wiggins said. “I just told him what happened.” Wiggins immediately phoned the Seventh Precinct of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department. Before he had finished talking with the dispatcher, a police cruiser, already responding to the radio alert about the incident, pulled into the Esso station, sirens wailing. The alert had been broadcast at 12:26 p.m.
Wiggins climbed into the back seat of the cruiser, which took off in the direction of the Foundry Underpass, a distance of about four-tenths of a mile, to access the C & O Canal towpath. Reaching the Foundry’s arched stone tunnel, which was as narrow as its roadway was rutted, “we dismounted from the police car,” Wiggins recalled. “We ran down the tracks, the railroad tracks, down towards the scene and up the embankment to the [murder] scene.”7
Together, police officers Robert Decker and James Scouloukas approached the fallen woman with Wiggins. Blood saturated her blonde hair and soaked her sweater and gloves. There was a bullet wound near her left eye, and blood covered her face. Her body would still have been warm. A pair of smashed sunglasses lay near her feet. The scuffed ground indicated that there had been a struggle, and parallel tracks in the dirt from the towpath to the embankment indicated that the woman had been dragged to the spot where she lay. Surmising that the killer might still be in the vicinity, police officer Scouloukas returned with Wiggins to the cruiser to broadcast the description of the man Wiggins had seen.8
Meanwhile, police officers Roderick Sylvis and Frank Bignotti, who were on patrol in Scout 72, had also responded to the broadcast alarm. They pulled up on Canal Road, directly across from the murder scene, and climbed out of their cruiser. At that point, Decker motioned to them to drive to Fletcher’s Boat House, which was just over a mile and a half to the west, in order to block off one of the canal’s four marked entrances. Arriving at the boathouse area, Sylvis and Bignotti drove through the tight underpass tunnel below the canal and parked facing the canal from the south. From that vantage point, they would be able to see anyone leaving the towpath to access Canal Road, and they would have a full view of the canal itself, particularly the point where visitors could use an old, leaky skiff attached to a rope and pulley to pull themselves across the seventy-foot canal.
“We sat in the cruiser about four or five minutes and observed no one walking out from the towpath,” Sylvis recalled. The two officers then settled on a new strategy. “We decided that it would be best if my partner went through the woods and myself proceeding along the towpath.”9
As the officers began to position themselves, they saw a young white couple, thirtyish, walking westward on the railroad tracks, just below and parallel to the towpath. The two officers approached the couple for questioning. “I asked if they had seen anyone going out of the area before I got there,” Sylvis said. “But they hadn’t seen anybody, or heard any gunshots, screams, or any disturbance.” After several minutes, the two officers made their way east in the hope that they might yet encounter the assailant.
Perhaps, acting in haste, they let the couple go without requesting identification or contact information. It was an oversight, a lapse of protocol that would remain a cloud over the case for decades to come.10 At that point, Bignotti entered the woods adjacent to the railroad tracks and Sylvis took the towpath, walking east toward the murder scene.
Officer Sylvis continued on the towpath “for about a mile” in the direction of the murder scene, slowly and vigilantly scouring the area for other people. After a while, a man poked his head out of some woods to the right and ahead of where Sylvis was walking. “He was looking up toward me by the railroad tracks at the edge of the woods about 150 feet away,” Sylvis recalled. “Just his head is all I saw for a second.” Sylvis saw the man only long enough to discern that he was a “Negro male.”11
Slowly, and with caution, the young officer approached the area where he had seen the man. The tangle of underbrush, vines, tree roots, and rocks that covered the embankment made it difficult to penetrate. Sylvis saw no one. Nothing disturbed the stillness of the woods but the breeze that rustled the fallen leaves. Hoping that his partner, Bignotti, was in the woods to his right, Sylvis yelled for him a number of times. “I was thinking maybe he could get behind the individual I’d seen, but Bignotti was not answering my call,” said Sylvis.
Coming out of the underbrush on the tracks, he finally spotted Bignotti crossing the tracks and caught up with him. But Bignotti had seen no one during his search of the woods. He had seen no evidence of the “Negro male” that his partner had seen.12
In the meantime, Henry Wiggins was beginning to lose patience. More than a half hour had passed since he and Officer Scouloukas had called in the report. Police cruisers had converged on the scene. Sergeant Pasquale D’Ambrosio of the Seventh Precinct Criminal Investigations Division arrived to escort Wiggins back to the towpath and to secure the scene. It was Wiggins’s opinion that D’Ambrosio was the only officer doing anything proactive, not just standing around the dead woman’s body, talking.13
The Homicide Squad arrived a few minutes before 1:00 p.m., just after the arrival of Chief Detective Art Weber, a twenty-three-year veteran of the police force, and three men wearing trench raincoats. “The description I got was for a Negro male wearing a dark hat and a light-colored jacket,” Weber recalled. “I remember from the lookout — one of my ways of doing this — I had a picture in my mind of a stocky individual.” He later confirmed that based on the description of the man sought by the police, he expected the man to be between “five feet eight or ten inches” tall.14
Twenty-nine-year-old detective Bernie Crooke was the youngest member of the Homicide Squad and had been on the job for only eighteen months. Even so, he had already seen a number of murdered women, “but none who looked beautiful when dead,” he recalled years later upon first seeing the dead Mary Meyer.15
Crooke surveyed the scene and detected what appeared to be drag marks. He also found a blue button with two frayed threads in the grass by a birch tree at the edge of the embankment, twenty-two feet from the body. Blood on the tree suggested that the victim might have grasped it from a sitting or a kneeling position. Detective Crooke joined Detective Weber, who was questioning Henry Wiggins at a spot approximately thirty feet from the body.
Wiggins explained that he had arrived at the 4300 block of Canal Road at approximately 12:20 p.m. to service a stalled Nash Rambler sedan. Laying out the sequence of events— the woman’s screams, the sound of one gunshot and then a second — Wiggins told Crooke and Weber that he had ducked behind the stone wall because he didn’t want the man he’d seen standing over the victim to see him.
As he later testified, “I thought that would frighten him and cause him to act more quickly. But he’s not afraid. He doesn’t appear worried he’s been caught in the act. He saw me and I guess he was excited, but he wasn’t hasty or anything. He went over the embankment down into the woods. He took his time, but he was moving.”16
Weber then ordered police officers to search both sides of the canal and to sweep the woods all the way to the Potomac River. But if the Wiggins time chronology was correct, approximately forty-five minutes had elapsed since the murder. The assailant would have had plenty of time to flee the scene.
In Police Cruiser 203, Detective John Warner and his partner Henry Schultheis of the Third Precinct were waiting at a red light at Twenty-First Street and K Streets when they heard the initial broadcast at 12:26 p.m. Warner recalled that the broadcast description was for a Negro male in his forties, approximately five feet ten inches tall, wearing a light jacket and a dark hat, and armed with a gun.17
In response to the bulletin, Warner and Schultheis turned right onto K Street and drove down the Key Bridge underpass to the woods’ edge, where the towpath began. From there, they could look down on the set of railroad tracks that ran parallel to both the canal and the towpath. They saw no one. They waited in their cruiser until approximately 12:40 p.m., whereupon Warner decided he would walk westward on the railroad bed toward Fletcher’s Boat House, while Schultheis would “cover the area to the left of the railroad tracks to the [Potomac] river bank.”18
Taking intermittent detours to search the woods between the railroad tracks and the high embankment to the towpath, Henry Warner soon discovered that some of the underbrush was so thick he couldn’t get through it. After walking approximately half a mile, he came upon a five-foot-tall concrete culvert, large enough to conceal a man inside. Peering into it, he saw only water. He continued to explore the nearby underbrush, and looked under the tunnel where the spillway flowed into the Potomac. He found no one.
But as Warner walked back to the railroad bed and continued westward, he saw a young black man walking on the tracks. He was short, and he was soaking wet. “That indicated to me he’d either worked up a lot of perspiration from running, or else he had just come out of the river,” Warner recalled.19
The man was wearing a yellow sweatshirt over a white T-shirt, navy-blue corduroy trousers that were torn six inches below the left pocket, and black wingtip shoes. The zipper fly on his pants was unzipped. He shivered as Detective Warner approached him to ask his name. “Ray Crump Jr.” he said, wide-eyed and diffident. Water dripped from the wallet Crump took from his pocket before he handed over his driver’s license. Warner looked at the name and photograph to confirm his identity.
According to his driver’s license, Crump was 5 feet 3½ inches tall and weighed 130 pounds. Warner had to have observed that he didn’t fit the description given in the police broadcast alert. He asked Crump if he had heard gunshots. Crump said he hadn’t.
“How did you get so wet?” Warner asked. Crump said he’d been fishing off some rocks upriver. He’d gone to sleep and fallen in the water.
“Where’s your fishing equipment?” Warner asked.
“It went into the river, too.” Crump said.
“Your rod and everything?” “Yes, sir.” said Crump.20
Crump had an abrasion over his right eye. A fresh scrape on his right hand was bleeding. He told Warner that he had cut his hand on a rock as he fell into the river, before attempting to climb out.
Warner then asked Crump to show him where he’d been fishing. “I would help him see if I could retrieve his fishing gear for him,” Warner later said. Motioning in a westerly direction from where the two were presently standing, Crump indicated that he had been fishing “around a bend over there.” He and Warner then walked a little more than a tenth of a mile along the railroad bed toward the area where Crump said he had been fishing earlier that day.
Voices and commotion then drew Detective Warner’s attention to the fifty-foot embankment to his right. Sergeant D’Ambrosio, standing at the edge of the towpath, descended the embankment to join Warner and Crump. D’Ambrosio viewed Crump’s slight stature and wet, disheveled appearance, and noticed his open fly.
Detective Bernie Crooke and Henry Wiggins were standing at the top of the embankment adjacent to the towpath when they heard D’Ambrosio shouting, “We got him! We got him!” As Wiggins looked down the embankment, he told the young detective that Crump looked like the man he’d seen. That was a good-enough identification for Crooke to confront the suspect. He identified himself as a detective assigned to the Homicide Squad and placed an incredulous Ray Crump under arrest.
“What did I do?” Crump asked. Detective Crooke warned him that he didn’t have to talk or make a statement, but that if he did, it could be used against him at a trial. Even so, Crump seemed eager to talk.
He had left his house in Southeast Washington that morning, he told the detective, with a fishing rod and some chicken innards as bait, and he had taken the bus to Wisconsin Avenue and M Street. He’d walked down the towpath and through the woods to the river to go fishing.
Crooke wanted to know what Crump was wearing when he left home — had he been wearing a jacket and a cap? Crump told the detective that he had been wearing what he had on, and nothing else. Detective Crooke then asked Ray why his fly was unzipped. Crump hesitated, looked down at his trousers, and replied that Crooke had caused it to unzip when he grabbed his belt. Crooke took offense at Crump’s reply. He was standing in front of the suspect and hadn’t touched him. Crump appeared to Crooke to be disoriented as he patted him down, and Crooke thought he smelled alcohol on his breath. Handcuffed, Ray Crump was led up the embankment to the towpath and past Chief Detective Art Weber.
Like Detective Warner, Chief Detective Weber would later admit, under cross-examination at trial, that the man they had taken into custody that day didn’t match the description that had gone out on the police radio bulletin.
In spite of this, Weber instructed Crooke to take Crump to Homicide and book him for murder. Ray Crump was put under arrest at approximately 1:15 p.m., and he waited quietly in handcuffs at the murder scene for almost a full hour before being taken downtown to Homicide for booking. He still didn’t appear to understand what was happening, or what was about to occur.
With a suspect now in custody, Sergeant Pasquale D’Ambrosio walked down to the Potomac riverfront where Ray Crump said he had been fishing. There were no rocks or fishing gear in sight. Homicide Detective Ronald Banta, who was overseeing a search for a jacket, a cap, and a murder weapon, joined D’Ambrosio.
Meanwhile, someone who was never identified had already radioed River Patrolman police officer Frederick Byers of the Harbor Precinct “at about one o’clock or a little after” to instruct him to look for a “light-colored” jacket in connection with the shooting on the C & O Canal.21 In response, Byers slowly navigated his police patrol boat through the Georgetown channel of the Potomac River.
Close to 45 minutes later, three hundred yards upstream from Three Sisters Island — an outcrop of rocks covered with sparse vegetation — Byers observed a jacket floating in the water two feet from the shoreline. He maneuvered his boat as close as he could to the jacket and used a boathook to fish it out of the river. Returning downstream, he handed the jacket over to Detective Banta, who delivered it to Detective Crooke at Homicide about an hour later.22 Inspecting the jacket, Crooke removed a sodden pack of Pall Mall cigarettes from the right-hand pocket.
Deputy Coroner Dr. Linwood L. Rayford arrived at the murder scene by 2:00 p.m. and pronounced the unknown victim dead at 2:05.23 Dr. Rayford observed that rigor mortis had not yet set in, which meant that she couldn’t have been dead for more than two hours. He also noted that the dead woman had been shot twice — once in the left temple anterior to her ear and once in the back.
A tear in her corduroy slacks revealed an abraded knee, suggesting that the woman had been dragged or had crawled through brush. There were superficial lacerations and abrasions on her forehead, left knee, and ankle, indicating that she had fought her assailant.24 Dr. Rayford ordered the body removed to the morgue by a D.C. Fire Department ambulance that had been parked at the Foundry Underpass. Police informed the coroner that a suspect, identified by an eyewitness, was now in custody.
Before going downtown to police headquarters, Henry Wiggins returned with Detective Edwin Coppage and U.S. Park Police detective Charles Stebbins to the exact spot from which he had seen the man standing over the dead woman.
Wiggins noticed something peculiar: The stalled Nash Rambler that he and Bill Branch had been called to fix that morning was gone. The work order to service “a broken down car” on Canal Road had originated at the Key Bridge Esso Station.
A trip ticket should have existed, but station manager Joe Cameron wasn’t able to produce any record of the service call for the Nash Rambler. There was no sales slip, no receipt of payment, no indication that repairs had even been attempted.
The vehicle’s owner and registration were unknown. “I don’t know the disposition of the vehicle because I didn’t finish servicing the vehicle,” Wiggins later said. “It was a stalled vehicle, but I don’t even know that.”
His partner, Bill Branch, hadn’t repaired the car, either, he later said. In the swirl of commotion that surrounded the murder scene, the Nash Rambler had disappeared.25
See here for Part 2.
1. Henry Wiggins Jr., interview by Leo Damore, Washington, D.C., April 2, 1992.
2. Trial transcript, United States of America v. Ray Crump, Jr., Defendant, Criminal Case No. 930-64, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C., July 20. 1965, pp. 132–133, 293.
3. Ibid., p. 240–241.
4. Ibid., p. 240–241, p. 246.
5. Ibid., pp. 133–137; Henry Wiggins Jr., interview by Leo Damore, Washington, D.C., April 2, 1992.
6. Trial transcript, pp. 262, p. 264.
7. Ibid., p. 218.
8. Ibid., p. 240, p. 248.
9. Ibid., p. 343; p. 345.
10. Ibid., p. 352; Roderick Sylvis, interview by the author, Wake Forest, North Carolina, July 23, 2008.
11. Trial transcript, p. 354.
12. Ibid., pp. 348–349.
13. Wiggins interview.
14. Trial transcript, p. 452.
15. Rosenbaum, Ron and Phillip Nobile, “The Curious Aftermath of JFK’s Best and Brightest Affair,” New Times, July 9, 1976, p. 24.
16. Trial transcript, pp. 232–265. Henry Wiggins reiterated his account several times throughout the trial.
17. Ibid., p. 359.
18. Ibid., p. 361.
19. Ibid., p. 381.
20. Ibid., p. 370.
21. Ibid., p. 407, p. 413. Byers told prosecuting attorney Alfred Hantman that it had been “[a]bout 1:00 o’clock or a little after” when he got the radio request to look for the jacket and cap (407). Under cross-examination by defense attorney Dovey Roundtree, he reiterated that it was “approximately 1:00 o’clock” when he received his instructions to look for the jacket (p. 413).
22. Ibid., p. 419.
23. Ibid., p. 67.
24. Ibid., p. 710.
25. Ibid., p. 254.
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from news clipping (Google News Archive), tunnel (C&O Canal National Historical Park), JFK (National Archives / Wikimedia) and Let’s Roll Forums.