Dorothy Kilgallen and the JFK Rabbit Hole

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.

Dorothy Kilgallen And The JFK Rabbit Hole

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

Lee Harvey Oswald

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. Dorothy Kilgallen And The JFK Rabbit Hole

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.

8 thoughts on “Dorothy Kilgallen and the JFK Rabbit Hole

    • Jackie,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I have found that when talking about the assassination of JFK, there is a great deal of “knowledge” that people have which simply isn’t true. That is not to say that there aren’t unanswered questions. There are unanswered questions about every historical event. But the assassination of Pres. Kennedy created a cottage industry of misinformation. Dorothy Kilgallen was not murdered to shut her up about a conspiracy to kill the president. In fact, the FBI had already decided to back off of investigating her. Her death was tragic, but given her long history of alcohol and substance abuse, and her proclivity for extramarital affairs, she certainly put herself at great risk. There is only one major biography that has been written about her and the author likewise came to the conclusion that Kilgallen’s role in challenging the Warren Commission was not the cause of her death.

  1. I don’t understand what any alleged affairs have to do with her death.

    Also do you know if it’s true whether or not she had nicotine in her system when she died?

    • Hi – thanks for reading my blog!

      First, it’s not correct to say that her affairs were “alleged.” Johnny Ray, most prominently, has confirmed his long running affair with Dorothy Jilgallen. so why are they significant in discussing her death? Because one plausible theory for why she was found in bed wearing a beautiful nightgown and her full makeup on was that she had died during the night after being with one of her lovers and that her husband helped cover up the crime. Secondarily, if one of her lovers was present when she died. there is a potential witness that might have explained what happened that night.

      Also, there are more conspiratorial theories that explain why she might have died in the presence of a man not her husband. While I don’t believe the latter theories are correct, because of her affairs, they have at least an air of plausibility.

      As a historian, we have to report all the facts surrounding a historic event.

  2. Mr. Bradford, how much significance do you place in an item that Dorothy Kilgallen’s column included in the New York Journal-American edition of Friday afternoon / evening, September 3, 1965? Anyone can find it in the newspaper’s microfilm at a library, using interlibrary loan if necessary, and below here I’m pasting the entire item.

    quote on

    Those close to the scene realize that if the widow of Lee Harvey Oswald (now married to another chap) ever gave out the whole story of her life with President Kennedy’s alleged assassin, it would split open the front pages of newspapers all over the world. Even if Marina explained why her late husband looked so different in an official police photo and the widely-printed full-length picture featured on the cover of Life magazine, it would cause a sensation. That story isn’t going to die as long as there’s a real reporter alive–and there are a lot of them alive.

    quote off — The only facts we can ascertain are:

    — the passing of a year and a half between the Life magazine edition with Oswald on the cover and Kilgallen typing her item about him “looking so different” in various photos. February 21, 1964 was the date of that Life edition.

    — the passing of three months between the wedding of Marina Oswald / Kenneth Jess Porter and Kilgallen typing that item. Wedding took place on Tuesday, June 1, 1965 according to a newspaper profile of Marina by Robert E. Ford of the Associated Press. Google News Archive has the Ford article as it appeared in Eugene, Oregon on June 6.

    Oh, and we know for a fact that Dorothy Kilgallen died two months after she typed the short item about the possible secret knowledge held by Marina, “now married to another chap.”

    Granted, Dorothy never published what we could consider to be the solution to the mystery surrounding Oswald and Jack Ruby. (Her scoop of Ruby’s testimony to the Warren Commission did indicate to many thousands of people that he was loquacious and mentally troubled.)

    What do you think about the implications of Dorothy remaining so interested in all the Dallas events until two months before she died? My take is that her actions fit a pattern of someone with obsessions (including Sinatra) as opposed to someone with a long-term addiction to alcohol or drugs, and What’s My Line videos don’t prove anything about the latter. (They don’t prove why she appears the way she appears or why she slurs her words.)

    Thanks for reading so much, Mr. Bradford.

    • Vanessa,

      Thank you for your fascinating question!

      I absolutely believe Dorothy Kilgallen was completely sincere and totally convinced that she was on to the truth.

      However, a close examination of the details of her articles indicate that her sources were questionable at best and several of her more important stories were just not true.

      She was definitely obsessed. And the fact that she had drug/alcohol problems has been well documented. Both easily may exist independently of one another.

      Logic (and profit) dictate that an investigative reporter will not sit on a bombshell story for years in hopes of writing a book. Imagine Woodward and Bernstein refusing to publish important details about Watergate because they hoped to write a book after Nixon left office.

      Let me finish by making it clear I am a fan of Dorothy Kilgallen. She was smart and talented. Her troubled years don’t erase her groundbreaking career.

      Thanks for reading my blog and for sending such a great question!


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