Dorothy Kilgallen and the JFK Rabbit Hole
Dorothy Kilgallen was certain she was close to cracking the conspiracy to murder JFK. She repeatedly told her closest confidants that she was going to “break the story of the century.” She never did. Despite dropping tantalizing hints again and again in her column, Dorothy Kilgallen never broke a major story that exposed a conspiracy to kill JFK.
I often speak about the Kennedy assassination. Audiences are always fascinated by conspiracy theories. The supposedly mysterious deaths of witnesses is usually raised during the question-and-answer sessions. Often I am asked about Dorothy Kilgallen. She was an occasionally brilliant investigative reporter. Sometimes her reporting bordered on the ludicrous. Her column was an odd mix of celebrity fluff, personal feuds, serious reporting, and musings about UFOs. Ms. Kilgallen spent the last several years of her life convinced that she was going to expose “the truth” about the Kennedy assassination. Dorothy Kilgallen’s role in chasing the confidential cabal that killed Kennedy is illustrative of what I call the JFK assassination rabbit hole.
Over the years, many historians, researchers, investigators, authors, and documentarians have attempted to prove that somebody, anybody, other than Lee Harvey Oswald
was responsible for the murder of the president. I’ve known people who have chased one thread of the story for decades, always believing they were inches away from the truth. Their work proved futile. Dorothy Kilgallen died believing she was very close to breaking open the true story of the conspiracy to kill JFK. What we now know is that Dorothy Kilgallen was never close at all despite several years of hard work and an enormous amount of energy and effort.
Like many Americans, she could never accept the notion that an insignificant loser like Lee Harvey Oswald could single-handedly kill Pres. Kennedy. After all, what had Oswald ever accomplished in his life? A high school dropout who was constantly getting into fights, Oswald was, in the words of Stephen King, “a semi-educated hillbilly” with delusions of grandeur, a half-baked philosophy, a propensity for savagely beating his wife on a regular basis, and a long string of jobs from which he was fired.
On one level, Dorothy Kilgallen is to be applauded for being the first more or less mainstream national reporter to openly question the Warren Commission. In the early days of her reporting on the assassination, she did break several very interesting stories. She had a source within the Dallas Police Department that fed her some interesting information. She managed a scoop by seeming to get a leak from inside the Warren Commission itself. However, her “biggest” stories turned out to be much ado about nothing. Dorothy Kilgallen claimed an exclusive interview with Jack Ruby. The truth seems to be a whispered conversation in the courtroom while surrounded by many people. And she broke a “blockbuster” claim that officer J. D. Tippitt – later murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald in front of witnesses – had met with Jack Ruby in the Carousel Club. This story is totally false.
I have read the only major biography of Dorothy Kilgallen. There is much about her to respect. However, when it comes to the Kennedy assassination, her contributions to serious reporting are few and vastly overblown. They take on an ominous significance with the fact that Dorothy Kilgallen died under “mysterious circumstances.” While there are unanswered questions about Kilgallen’s death, they appeared to have nothing to do with JFK’s assassination. They would appear to have to do with her adulterous and messy private life.
In the end, Dorothy Kilgallen did not come close to breaking “the story of the century.” For all the hints she dropped and all of the posts she made, she never published any real information about a conspiracy. Instead, she claimed to be withholding breaking news for the eventual publication of a book in which the Kennedy assassination would comprise a single chapter. Think logically. Would Woodward & Bernstein have refused to break news about Watergate and sit on it for several years hoping to publish it as a chapter in a book about other scandals? The fact is that Dorothy Kilgallen didn’t have anything. She was chasing down a rabbit hole. And those who pursue endless questions about her involvement are doing the same thing.