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"We Can't Find Mary Jo" - Kennedy at Chappaquiddick

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A witness further undermines the Senator's story. Deputy Sheriff Christopher Look got off duty at the Edgartown Yacht Club at midnight, crossed the channel to Chappaquiddick in the club's launch, got into his waiting car, and drove up the Main Road toward his summer home. His claim that he saw the Kennedy Oldsmobile at the intersection of this road and Dyke Road at about 12:45 a.m. has been regarded as reliable.

The Deputy Sheriff got a good look at the car because it crossed the path of his headlights at the sharp curve where the Main Road goes to the right. Entry into Dyke Road for someone coming in the opposite direction also requires a right. The driver was unable to negotiate this very tight turn and ended up on Cemetery Road, a narrow dirt lane that runs perpendicular to Dyke Road. Look continued around the curve at the intersection and braked his car on the shoulder. He got out and started back toward the other car, thinking that the driver must be lost. As he called out, the car backed up with the rear lights revealing the license plate and then completed the turn, proceeding down the unpaved, bumpy Dyke Road.

Look stated that his first impression of the car was that there was something or someone in the rear seat - an article of clothing, a large handbag, or possibly a person. Perhaps Look caught sight of Kopechne's white blouse. Look thought there were two people in the front seat (NYT 7/22/69).

The Dyke Bridge goes off at a left angle as it crosses Poucha Pond. Since it is narrow, hump-backed, and roughly constructed, it is normally traversed on foot or in a jeep or beach buggy. At its end are dunes and a beach. Several members of the party, including Kennedy, had been driven to the beach that day to go swimming (DHG 4/14/1980). The marks on the bridge indicated that the car was driven straight off it with the undercarriage scraping the four-inch high planks along the sides as the right front wheel went over. The car turned, hitting the water on its right side, denting the doors and blowing out the windows. It landed in about seven feet of tidal water, resting on its hood ornament and brow of the windshield so that the rear of the car was slightly more elevated than the front (BG 7/20/69).

Kennedy maintains that he does not know how he got out but a possible exit for him and his companion, most likely Rosemary Keough since it was her purse that was later found in the car, would have been the almost completely withdrawn window on the driver's side. Then, too, a door could have been pushed open when enough water had gushed into the car to match the inside pressure with the outside (NYT 7/26/79).

The walk to the cottage from Poucha Pond, a distance of one and a quarter miles, would have taken about twenty-five or thirty minutes. This would have brought the twosome, dripping wet if they were fully clothed, back to the cottage shortly before one-thirty. Foster Silva, the neighbor whose cottage was nearest the party house, reported that the rather noisy gathering that had disturbed his family abruptly quieted down at just about that time (NYT 7/24/69).

It is not hard to imagine that Kennedy, consulting with the two people at the party who were closest to him, Joseph Gargan and Paul Markham, decided that it would be imperative for him to get off the island as quickly as possible in order that he suffer no damaging political repercussions in connection with his presence at the party and with what appeared to be an accident involving only his car.

The night was clear and warm with the moon shining brightly. Since it was Regatta weekend, there was much activity around the Edgartown harbor. People were strolling about, fishing from the pier, or visiting back and forth amongst the boats moored there. Two hotel employees on the Edgartown pier saw the lights of a car being driven onto the Chappaquiddick landing around one or one-thirty, they thought (LAT 7/29/69).

Car lights are a signal to Jared Grant, operator of the ferry, that someone needs to make a crossing. But these lights were quickly turned off. Since the plan was to give the impression that the Senator had spent the night in Edgartown, Markham and Gargan, after driving Kennedy to the landing in the rented Valiant, would not have wanted to reveal the Senator's presence on Chappaquiddick by calling out the ferry at that hour.

But there remained the problem of the Senator finding another means to cross the five-hundred-foot wide channel. He later claimed that after making valiant efforts to save Mary Jo he was in such a state of shock that he impulsively plunged in and swam the distance (NYT 7/26/69). However, it is not at all unusual - in fact, it is customary - for a person in need of getting to Edgartown to borrow a dinghy if it is promptly returned (NYT 7/24/69). In a Jack Anderson column that appeared a couple of weeks after the accident, confirmation of such a crossing came from a group on a yacht who identified Kennedy as one of three men on a boat docking at the Edgartown pier about this time.
The Senator then appeared, dry and calm, before the co-owner of the Shiretown Inn where he was staying, ostensibly to complain about a noisy party, but really to ask the time, establishing his presence in Edgartown at 2:25 a.m. (NYT 7/27/69). Markham and Gargan recrossed the channel in the borrowed dinghy and drove back to the cottage. Esther Newberg confirmed that the two men had left the party at some point but was not sure about the exact time or how long they were gone (NYT 7/24/69).

What about Mary Jo Kopechne? Did she wake up at any point during the short trip from the cottage to the bridge, but decide not to make her presence known? When the car went into the water, was she momentarily knocked unconscious, only coming to as the others were escaping?

At any point did Mary Jo's friends begin to wonder where she was? Given the atmosphere of the party, its setting, and the activities of party goers, reminiscing, singing, dancing, going in and out of the cottage, and taking walks there was probably no time when someone specifically thought to ask about her whereabouts. There was no way for someone who was inclined to check with the motel to see if she had quietly returned to Edgartown to do so since there was no telephone in the cottage (NYT 7/24/69),

As the night wore on, the accident went unreported. The plan obviously called for someone other than Kennedy to claim responsibility for the car's being in Poucha Pond. It would be better, too--it must have been argued--for that person to wait until morning and face charges of leaving the scene of an accident than to report it promptly, submit to a Breathalyzer test, and risk a drunk driving charge.

The two-car "On Time" ferry began daily operations at 7:30 a.m. Several members of the party, Markham and Gargan and two of the women, Tannenbaum and Keough, made an early crossing that would have taken less than four minutes (NYT 7/24/69). It is likely that the women were driven to The Dunes, their motel, which was not in the center of town, to shower and change before eating breakfast. In the process, it would have been discovered that Mary Jo had not returned there the previous night.

This sobering and unsettling fact was the first indication that something may have happened that was more serious than a car submerged in Poucha Pond.

No doubt alarmed by this news about Mary Jo, Markham and Gargan found Kennedy chatting with Ross Richards, a Regatta winner and old friend, on the inn's deck about eight o'clock. The three immediately went to Kennedy's room for a conference to try to figure out where Mary Jo might be since her body had not yet been discovered in the Oldsmobile.

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Mary Wentworth Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Now retired and a writer, I am a feminist and political activist, a radical Democrat (have come to dislike the term "progressive"), and a blogger. Have done political tours of Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, West and East (way back when)Germany, (more...)

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