John F. Kennedy had first had an affair with Marilyn Monroe some time in the 1950s. Senior Kennedy aide Peter Summers later revealed that the relationship was so obvious by the 1960s that advisers seriously cautioned both Jack and Marilyn about its possible political implications. (Summers personally saw the two emerge from the same shower.)
But the warnings went unheeded. Kennedy and the actress saw each other on several occasions during the Thousand Days of his presidency in different parts of the country--never, apparently, at the White House, where the risk was too great--and the actress shared the news of her visits with friends.
Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy first met Monroe in early February, 1962, and was soon sharing her favors. By the early summer, the actress was telling friends that he would marry her. Perhaps Kennedy had used a well-worn family ploy on her, or perhaps Monroe merely hoped or fantasized that he would take that step. She and the attorney general were together at the home of actor Peter Lawford in late June and at her home the next evening. Then, suddenly, the Kennedys cut her off, and she was told not to contact either Kennedy again.
Monroe began trying, without success, to reach Bobby by telephone. She slumped into a deep depression, survived a drug overdose and told friends she had had an abortion. A close friend later recalled that "she looked like death."
Marilyn was now a problem not only to herself but to the Kennedy Administration. She possessed handwritten notes from Bobby and had kept a diary, reportedly containing references to things Bobby told her. She was privy to numerous secrets about the Kennedys and their underworld connections. Moreover, she was unstable and might talk at any time. A world-famous celebrity, the actress had the power to do incalculable damage to the Kennedy image.
On Aug. 3, Bobby, Ethel and four of their children arrived for the weekend at the ranch of a friend in Gilroy, Calif., about 350 miles north of Los Angeles. In the early hours of Aug. 5, police found Marilyn Monroe dead in her Los Angeles home, the apparent victim of a drug overdose.
The events surrounding the actress' death have been painstakingly probed on several occasions. Some evidence remains controversial. The story contains evidence of lying, theft, official incompetence and cover-up, along with allegations of murder.
Bobby's name entered the picture immediately. Monroe's ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, privately blamed him for the death. So many insiders were soon linking the attorney general's name with Monroe that Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker treated the case as a top-secret national-security matter. His successor, then-Deputy Chief Tom Reddin, said later, "The Kennedy connection was a matter of common knowledge at the Police Department level I was at. The Kennedy--I should say Kennedys'--relationship with Marilyn Monroe was pretty generally accepted."
As the story may now be reconstructed with a somewhat reasonable measure of confidence, on Aug. 4, Bobby secretly traveled by helicopter to Lawford's home in Santa Monica. During the afternoon, he had a stormy meeting with Monroe at her home. Bobby now felt obligated to tell the actress to her face that the affair was over and that marriage was out of the question.
After Bobby left, Monroe called her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, sounding drugged and severely depressed. She made other calls that evening, including one to the White House. Jack was at Hyannis Port, and she failed to reach him. At about 10 p.m., she telephoned Lawford, expressing fear that she had taken too many sleeping pills. Monroe died soon afterward.
On someone's orders, the body was placed on the bed, nude, lying face down. A telephone was placed in Marilyn's hand, making it appear that she had died in mid-conversation. Lawford went through Monroe's house, destroying a note that mentioned the Kennedys, and proceeded to tidy up the place. One or perhaps two other friends were on hand. Lawford placed a call to Washington.
He also contacted Hollywood private detective Fred Otash, telling him that Marilyn was dead, that Bobby had been in her house earlier and that they had gotten him out of the city and back to Northern California. Lawford told Otash that he had destroyed what he could find at Monroe's but would feel better if a professional looked around for anything incriminating the Kennedys. Before an Otash agent reached the scene at 9 a.m., someone had broken open a file cabinet. Monroe's diary and personal notes were never found.
At about 3:30 a.m., Monroe's housekeeper, Eunice Murray, telephoned Greenson. He broke into the locked room and found the body. Another physician who had treated the actress arrived 15 minutes later. He and Greenson spent some time discussing the sources of the pill bottles littering Marilyn's bedroom, no doubt worrying that they might be implicated in the death. At 4:25 a.m. Murray called the police.