The highly anticipated release of long-withheld US government documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is scheduled for this Thursday, October 26. In the runup to this event, the media has devoted more attention to this history-altering political murder than at any time since the Oliver Stone film “JFK” came out in 1991.
On Saturday, President Trump tweeted: “Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened.” Although it remains to be seen whether some files will continue to be withheld by the president, this sounds like good news.
As one of the outlets digging deep into the tragedy, WhoWhatWhy has pointed out that many questions remain unanswered and many key issues are yet unresolved. Accordingly, we are dedicating more articles to the topic leading up to the highly-anticipated data dump, and have put together a crack team to analyze the documents once they are released.
— WhoWhatWhy Staff
In Part 3 of this mystery, the case against the black laborer, Ray Crump, for the murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer continues to build, despite the lack of physical evidence, and despite the lack of an obvious motive. She was neither robbed nor raped.
To make matters worse for Crump, a new witness comes forward — William L. Mitchell, an Army lieutenant stationed at the Pentagon. He claimed that, shortly before the murder, he passed a “negro male” who was following the victim “about two hundred yards” behind her. His description of the man’s clothes matches what Crump had been wearing when arrested.
This clean-cut white man seemed like an ideal witness. At the time of the 1965 trial, a Washington Star reporter wrote that Mitchell, by then no longer on active duty with the Army, was now a mathematics instructor at Georgetown University,
But in subsequent chapters of the Peter Janney book — Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace: Third Edition — the author reveals a number of things that are wrong with Mitchell’s story. And what Janney found out about the man himself is even more disturbing:
His address happens to have been that of a CIA safe house.
Georgetown University had no record of such a person.
In the 1960s, CIA operatives frequently used faculty positions at that university as covers.
“Any trail of Mitchell’s identity or subsequent whereabouts, however, appeared to have vaporized,” wrote Janney after spending years trying to locate him. The rest of the book vividly details his quest to find this man — and what happens when that day comes.
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). To see Part 1, go here; for Part 2, go here.
Below, we present the last of this three-part series.
—Introduction by Milicent Cranor
And the Killer Walked Calmly Away
Crooke took possession of the two bullets and the victim’s clothing. He would deliver them to the FBI Crime Lab for testing the next day, but first he inspected the clothes for some kind of mark that might identify the victim. He found one. On the silk lining next to the fraying Mark Cross label inside one of the blood-soaked gloves, the name “Meyer” had been written in blue ink. By telephone from the morgue, Crooke instructed the desk officer at the Seventh Precinct at Volta Place in Georgetown to call all the Meyers in the Washington telephone directory. The dead woman could well be visiting from another city, he remembered thinking, but it was more likely that she was a local resident on an afternoon stroll not far from her home.51
Crooke left the morgue and drove to Southeast Washington to retrace the bus route that Ray Crump said he had taken that morning, supposedly to go fishing on the Potomac. Anacostia was another Washington, a world apart from Georgetown. It was a crime-ridden ghetto of dilapidated houses where the majority of residents were black. Crooke knocked on the door of 2109 Stanton Terrace, S.E., and was invited into a tidy, spare living room by Helena Crump, a slender young woman who held the youngest of her five children, a baby, in her arms. Her eyes instantly reflected fear and anger, and with good reason. To the black community, the police represented both a threat and indifference. Crime festered in poor neighborhoods like Anacostia, mainly because law enforcement officials allowed it to do so.
Helena Crump had learned about her husband’s arrest from a neighbor who had heard it on the radio. Ray Crump had been working as a day laborer at the Brown Construction Company’s building site at Southeast Hospital. Construction was the best-paid job that an unskilled worker could get. It was better than hustling trash or the other menial work available to uneducated black men. The work was seasonal, and strenuous: unloading heavy bags of cement, mixing mortar, and pushing loaded wheelbarrows. It was backbreaking work for someone as slight as Crump. He had recently told his coworker Robert Woolright that he didn’t think he’d be able to keep it up.
Woolright had driven to Crump’s house to give him a ride to work on the morning of the murder. “Most of the time off and on, I pick him up whenever we was on a job together,” Woolright had recalled.52 He parked in front of Crump’s house at 7:25 a.m. and waited for him to come out. Instead, his wife came out. She had been arguing with her husband, who’d said he was too tired to go to work that day and was “tired of hearing all that shit” about money. Helena handed Woolright a set of keys to the work shed at the construction site and returned to the house. Woolright drove away.
A half-hour later, Crump announced that he was going out. Helena didn’t know where he was going, but, she told Detective Crooke, he wasn’t going fishing. She opened a closet door to show Crooke a fishing rod and tackle box packed in the corner. She also identified the damp Windbreaker that Crooke had brought with him in an evidence bag. It had been a Father’s Day present from her and the children the preceding June.53
Ray Crump also smoked Pall Mall cigarettes, “the same as I do,” said Elsie Perkins, Crump’s neighbor. “I open mine from the bottom; he opens his from the top. That’s how we can tell the difference in our cigarettes,” she told Crooke, who had knocked on her door after leaving Helena Crump. Good-humored and garrulous, Perkins told Crooke that she was close with the Crumps and that she and Helena Crump maintained an informal security system. “It’s just habit. She watched who came in my house and who went out. And I would look out to see who was coming out or coming in her house.” That’s how she happened to see Ray Jr. leaving his house around eight in the morning. “I just wanted to see who was coming out of the house.”54
Crump got as far as the tree at the end of the sidewalk, then turned around, Perkins said. “That’s how I happened to see the front of him, when he walked back to the house for something.” Crump had been wearing a yellow sweatshirt, a half-zipped beige jacket, dark trousers, and dark shoes, she said. “He had on a white T-shirt because you could see it from the neck of his sweat shirt. And he had on a kind of plaid cap with a bill over it.” When the Crumps’ door closed again, Perkins had looked out “to see whether or not that was him coming out or his wife.” She had watched Ray Jr. until he got halfway down to the bend that led over to Stanton Road. Crump wasn’t carrying any fishing gear, although on previous occasions she had seen him with a fishing pole, “and he’d carry a dark little box with his fishing tools.”55
Might Crump have been carrying a gun with him when he left the house? Perkins didn’t think so. “I didn’t see his pockets bulge like he was carrying a weapon,” she told Crooke. She had never seen Ray Jr. with a gun in his possession, or known him to have one. Nor had anyone else in Crump’s family or the community.56
A motive for the murder was proving elusive. Had Ray Crump gone to Georgetown intending to commit a robbery? An emerging version of events went like this: Crump accosted a well-dressed white woman walking along on the C & O Canal towpath. When she resisted, he panicked and shot her in the head without killing her. Still conscious, she had broken free and made it to the other side of the towpath at the top of the embankment, where Crump grabbed her, dragged her some twenty-five feet back to the edge of the canal, and pressed a gun to her back, this time issuing a fatal shot.
But had it been Crump that Henry Wiggins had seen standing over the dead woman, or was it someone dressed like him? The police maintained that it was Crump, who, they alleged, had fled the murder scene by descending the embankment to the Potomac, where he disposed of the murder weapon, as well as the hat and the jacket on the basis of which Wiggins had identified him. Because of their quick response in getting to the scene and cutting off all of the park’s exits, the police believed they had trapped the assailant — who they now believed was Crump.
The police claimed that Crump had tried to swim away since the river had been the only means of escape, but that the river’s dangerous current had stopped him. Several people had, indeed, drowned there over the years. So, the police speculated that Crump had taken to the woods, trying to avoid capture. Discovering the exit at Fletcher’s Boat House blocked by police, then momentarily being spotted by police officer Roderick Sylvis, he had made his way back eastward toward Key Bridge, where he was finally encountered by Detective Warner.
Police suspicions were bolstered by the fact that Crump had lied about going fishing. And he had lied about what he was wearing on the morning of the murder. The circumstantial evidence, the police believe, was mounting against him. What they didn’t know was that Ray Crump couldn’t swim. In fact, he was terrified of being in water over his head.
But what wasn’t clear was how a panicked mugger, in the wake of a botched holdup, could have killed a woman with the cool dispatch of a professional assassin. According to Henry Wiggins, it had been a quick kill: Two shots were fired, the second of which came about eight to ten seconds after the first.
Yet Wiggins had not witnessed the murder; he had only heard the shots and observed a man standing over the victim in the aftermath. And he had watched that man walk calmly away from the scene. The viciousness of the attack and the calm of the assailant were hard to square with the demeanor of the frightened, meek Raymond Crump Jr. By the end of the day, the murder weapon had not been recovered; and in its absence, the police had only Henry Wiggins’s inconclusive account to link Crump to the murder.
October 12, 1964, had finally unfolded into an Indian summer gem with a temperature that rose into the low sixties. By the time the late afternoon sun had begun to set, every Meyer in the Washington telephone directory, save one, had been contacted. The one remaining Meyer lived in a modest two-story house, 1523 Thirty-Fourth Street, N.W., in Georgetown. Homicide Detective Sergeant Sam Wallace located number 1523, wedged into a narrow lot amid a cluster of houses. There were no lights on when he pulled up out front at about 5:30 p.m. A locked car was parked in the driveway. A hand-lettered sign at the door advertised “Free Kittens. Ring bell or call.”
Neighbors identified the house as belonging to Mary Pinchot Meyer. They also disclosed that Mary’s sister, Tony, and her husband, Ben Bradlee, lived around the corner at 3321 N Street, N.W. The block was familiar territory to the Seventh Precinct police because they had assisted the Secret Service in protecting President-elect John F. Kennedy until he moved from the neighborhood into the White House in 1960. Ben Bradlee had been close to the senator from Massachusetts, who lived in a red brick, three-story townhouse several doors down from his own.
Detective Wallace knocked on Bradlee’s door and identified himself. Increasingly certain by process of elimination that the victim was Bradlee’s sister-in- law, Wallace asked him if he would come identify the woman murdered earlier that day on the C & O Canal towpath. “Sometime after six o’clock in the evening,” according to Bradlee, he identified Mary Meyer “with a bullet hole in her head” at the D.C. morgue. He would repeat the process for Deputy Coroner Rayford the following morning in the presence of his friend and pharmacist, Harry Dalinsky.57
The Evening Star ran a front-page, one-column story that evening: “Woman Shot Dead on Canal Tow Path.” The article identified neither Mary Meyer nor the lead murder suspect, Ray Crump Jr. The article did note, however, that “police found a white jacket, possibly worn by the slayer, on the bank of the canal some distance from the scene about an hour later.”58 In fact, the jacket had been found along the Potomac River shoreline, not the canal. The inaccuracy aside, it wasn’t known how or from whom the press acquired the detail about the jacket. Its inclusion in the article, however, seemed to support the emerging narrative that had Crump ditching his jacket before trying to flee the scene by swimming away from it.
By the following morning, Tuesday, October 13, the national print and television media had latched onto the story. In Washington, both the Evening Star and the Washington Post ran front-page stories that featured photographs of Mary Pinchot Meyer and Ray Crump, the latter shown in handcuffs at police headquarters.
Shock waves reverberated throughout the tiny Georgetown enclave in which Mary had been so vivid a presence. With Bradlee’s confirmation of her identity, the newspapers informed their readers that Meyer was the niece of former two-term Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot, as well as “a Georgetown artist with a hundred thousand friends.”59
Her ex-husband, Cord Meyer, was identified either as “an author and government employee” or “presently employed by the Federal Government.”60 Neither paper mentioned his real work as a high-level operative within the CIA’s Directorate of Plans, though in Mary’s obituary in the New York Times the following day, Cord was said to be employed in New York by the Central Intelligence Agency.61
With no murder weapon found, Chief Detective Art Weber returned to the towpath to direct a search that would become unprecedented in its scope and manpower. Weber led forty Metropolitan Police officers, assisted by members of the U.S. Park Police, on a foot-by-foot search of the towpath area. Park Service police also closed a canal lock upstream from the murder scene. As the waters receded, two U.S. Navy scuba divers entered the canal. Six more Navy divers entered the Potomac River adjacent to the shoreline where Crump’s jacket had been found the day before. Harbor police probed the river with grappling hooks and dragged the bottom with magnets in an area near the site of Crump’s capture.
They found a brimmed golf cap at the water’s edge in the area where Crump had said he’d been fishing. The FBI Crime Lab would later link a single hair found on the cap to Crump. Detective Weber was buoyed by the find and felt certain that Ray Crump must have also disposed of the gun in that vicinity. The searches ended at dusk and resumed the following morning, “when we returned with more men,” Weber recalled. “We had mine detectors sweep over and around the forest in the woods.” But two days of intense searching still did not produce the .38-caliber pistol that had ended the life of Mary Meyer. Nevertheless, Weber remained confident: “If the gun’s here, we’ll find it.”62 In fact, the gun would never be found.
In the absence of a murder weapon and with the attempted robbery theory seeming less likely, the police next considered sexual assault as the motive. Hadn’t Ray Crump’s zipper been undone when he was apprehended? But forensic evidence didn’t support this theory, either. Four days after the murder, on October 16, 1964, the FBI Crime Laboratory delivered its forensic report to Chief Robert V. Murray at the Metropolitan Police Department (see appendix 1). This report, illegally withheld from Crump’s defense attorneys for nearly nine months, was finally produced for the defense at the time of the trial in July 1965. Had it been available subsequent to October 16, when it was first delivered to police, Ray Crump Jr. would likely have been released for lack of evidence. The FBI Crime Lab report documented that
1. there was no evidence that any “recently discharged firearm had been placed into one of these [Crump’s alleged jacket] pockets”;
2. “no semen was identified on the clothing of the victim [Mary Meyer] and suspect [Ray Crump]”;
3. “no fibers were found on the suspect’s [Crump’s] clothing that could be associated with victim’s [Mary Meyer’s] clothing”;
4. “no Negroid hairs were found in the debris removed from specimens Q5 through Q9 [clothes Mary Meyer was wearing]. No Caucasian hairs were found in the debris removed from specimens Q12, Q13, and Q14 [Crump’s beige jacket recovered after the murder, his yellow sweatshirt, and his T-shirt]”; and, finally,
5. “the examination of specimens Q13 and Q14 [Crump’s yellow sweat shirt, and T-shirt] disclosed no indication of the presence of blood on these specimens.” There had been two small “faint red smears” on the back of Crump’s alleged jacket, which the FBI Crime Lab report had analyzed as having “a wax like appearance when viewed microscopically” and therefore concluded they were not blood stains, but possible “lipstick smears.”63
In fact, the police had no real evidence against Ray Crump at all, other than his being in the vicinity of the crime. There was no blood, hair, semen, saliva, urine, or fibers from Ray Crump’s clothing — no forensic evidence whatsoever — that linked Crump to Mary Meyer or the murder scene. Given the quantity of blood found at the scene and on the victim, it seemed unlikely that Crump — had he administered the gunshots that killed her — would have escaped without a single drop of her blood on his skin or clothing. It also seemed unlikely that Ray Crump, shorter than Mary Meyer and weighing not much more than she, would have been able to drag her twenty-five feet across the towpath in the midst of an intense struggle.
If not robbery or sexual assault, what had been the motive behind the murder of Mary Meyer? Why, in possession of only limited circumstantial evidence against Crump, had D.C. law enforcement officials not looked for other suspects? To be sure, Crump had denied wearing the Windbreaker and golf cap, and he had lied about going fishing the morning of the murder — both of which had severely damaged his credibility. But without a murder weapon and any forensic evidence linking him to the crime, police lacked sufficient evidence to hold him. Nonetheless, despite this evidentiary void, it seemed as if Crump’s fate was being quickly sealed.
A New Witness
The morning after the murder — October 13 — the case against Ray Crump received an unexpected boost. While Detective Crooke was delivering evidence to the FBI Crime Lab, a U.S. Army lieutenant named William L. Mitchell arrived at police headquarters. Introducing himself to Captain George R. Donahue of the Homicide Squad, Mitchell said that he had read about the woman’s murder that morning and believed that he had passed her while running on the towpath the day before. Stationed nearby at the Pentagon, Mitchell explained, he ran on the towpath most days at lunchtime.
According to police, Mitchell “described in detail the clothes worn by Mrs. Meyer.” He said she was crossing the narrow wooden footbridge, walking west “away from Key Bridge,” when he had come to a complete stop to allow her to cross before him.
About two hundred yards later, he said, he passed “a Negro male” wearing a dark cap and a light-colored Windbreaker jacket with dark trousers and dark shoes. The clothing description was almost identical to that given by Henry Wiggins in his recollection of the man he had seen standing over the dead body at the murder scene, noted the Evening Star two days after the murder.64
“Today’s surprise witness impressed homicide detectives with the detail of his description of both Mrs. Meyer’s apparel and that of the man he saw following her,” said a reporter for the Washington Daily News.65 In the public mind, the gallows for Ray Crump was already being prepared.
Mitchell’s account, however, left a few details unexplained, and the police didn’t seem to want to consider them. If Mitchell’s timing was correct, could he really have run the distance to Key Bridge without hearing gunshots?
And if Ray Crump had been “two hundred yards” behind Mary only a few minutes before the crime was committed more than a tenth of a mile away, after Mitchell passed him, he would have had to run with the strongest of intention to subdue Mary by the time Henry Wiggins claimed to have seen him standing over the body.
However foreboding, Mitchell’s intrusion into the landscape boded ill for the poor, black day laborer Ray Crump. His account was enough to convict Crump in the minds of police, the public, and the media. The archetypical racial subtext of a downtrodden black man sexually assaulting an aristocratic white woman had immediately ignited the subliminal racial bigotry of Washington’s elite corridors of power.
The Army lieutenant, Mitchell, presented himself as a model citizen: He was a military officer, serving his country at the Pentagon. He was also white, and like it or not, his statement — and credibility — carried more weight than that of a black tow truck driver named Henry Wiggins Jr., though it further legitimized Wiggins’s account as well. With no other leads, and certainly no other suspects, Mitchell’s and Wiggins’s statements taken together were enough to support a murder charge against Ray Crump, regardless of the dearth of real evidence.
51. Although Detective Edwin Coppage testified at the trial that the gloves were removed at the murder scene by Detective Bernie Crooke, Dr. Rayford testified that he remembered the victim had been wearing the gloves at the murder scene. Trial transcript, p. 67, p. 79, p. 81, p. 90, p. 669. Crooke had already left the murder scene with Ray Crump before Rayford arrived at approximately 2:00 p.m. Rayford, interview. Rayford specifically remembered that the gloves were removed at the autopsy and given to Crooke after 3:45 p.m on the day of the murder.
52. Dovey Roundtree, interviews by Leo Damore, 1990–1993. During these interviews, Dovey Roundtree shared numerous documents relating to her defense of Ray Crump, including the account given to her by Robert Woolright the morning he came to pick up Crump for work.
53. Ibid. In a discussion with Leo Damore regarding the testimony of Elsie Perkins, Dovey Roundtree mentioned that Crump’s jacket had been a Father’s Day present given to him by his wife, Helena, and their children the preceding June. See also the testimony of Elsie Perkins, trial transcript, pp. 485–507.
54. Trial transcript, p. 468, pp. 485–507.
55. Ibid., p. 486.
56. Ibid., pp. 467–505. Also, Dovey Roundtree told Leo Damore during several interviews that no one in Ray Crump’s family, church community, or anyone she interviewed ever recalled Ray Crump with a firearm of any kind. Ray’s brother, Jimmy Crump, had at one time years earlier owned a .22-caliber rifle, but that was the extent of any firearm noted in Crump’s immediate and extended family.
57. Trial transcript, pp. 43–47.
58. “Woman Shot Dead on Tow Path,” Evening Star, Washington, D.C., October 12, 1964, p. A-1.
59. Alfred E. Lewis and Richard Corrigan, “Suspect Seized in Canal Slaying; Woman Dies in Robbery on Towpath,” Washington Post, October 13, 1964, p. A-1.
60. “Laborer Is Charged,” p. A-1.
61. Ben A. Franklin, “Woman Painter Shot and Killed on Canal Towpath in Capital,” New York Times, October 14, 1964.
62. Trial transcript, pp. 438–449.
63. Report of the FBI Laboratory, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, D.C., October 16, 1964, addressed to Mr. Robert V. Murray, Chief, Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, D.C., DB 72000, HO.64.2623, pp. 1–4. See Appendix 1.
64. “Rape Weighed as Motive in Death of Mrs. Meyer,” Evening Star, October 14, 1964, Metro sec., p. B-1.
65. “Meyer Slaying—Police Have ‘Mystery’ Witness,” Washington Daily News, October 14, 1964.
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from crime scene (MU.EDU).