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

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The game plan might have to be changed. At one point, Kennedy came to the front desk, ordered newspapers, and borrowed a dime from the clerk to make a phone call, which he was unable to complete, to Burke Marshall, his lawyer and longtime friend of the family (NYT 7/14/74). Surely, they were all hoping that Mary Jo, wherever she was, was safe and sound.

At just about this time, two young men knocked on the door of Mrs. Pierre Malm's cottage near Dyke Bridge to tell her that they could see the wheels of a car submerged in Poucha Pond. Later, she would tell reporters that she read past one o'clock the night before but that no one came to her house seeking help (NYT 7/27/69).

Edgartown Police Chief Dominick J. Arena was notified and left Edgartown at 8:20 a.m. to cross to Chappaquiddick to the scene of the accident. Putting on trunks, borrowed at the scene, he dove into the water, which was less than six feet deep by this time, but the strong current prevented him from getting deep enough to determine if anyone were in the car. He then called John N. Farrar, a scuba diver with the Edgartown Rescue Squad, to come help out (BG 7/22/69).

Putting on his equipment on the way to the scene, Farrar quickly entered the water and saw Mary Jo Kopechne's feet through the rear window of the overturned automobile. He swam around to the right side window and found her with her head cocked back and pressed up into the foot well with her hands gripping the edge of the rear seat. He thought that the position of her body indicated that she had found an air bubble in her struggle to stay alive. Even though the car was upside down with the open windows allowing the seawater to rush through, it was possible, he thought, for an air lock to form. Air bubbles that emanated from the car when it was hauled out and the lack of water in the trunk were further indications of an air lock. Farrar felt that it would have been extremely difficult for Mary Jo to extricate herself from this situation without help (NYT 7/22/69, USN & WR 11/3/69).

If Mary Jo had been one of the two people that Deputy Sheriff Look saw in the front seat, how would she have gotten to the rear of the overturned car? Even in its quest to disprove Kennedy's rendition of the accident the press did not expend ink on examining this mystery. Given the manner in which the car had overturned, it is unlikely that someone would have been thrown from the front to the rear. It is even more unlikely that a passenger could have crawled from the front to the rear once the car was submerged. Mary Jo's body was found in the car's rear section because that is where she was when the accident happened.

By now, the area was buzzing with news of the car accident and the commotion that it had caused. A wrecker had been contacted to come pull the Oldsmobile out of the water. Assistant Medical Examiner Donald Mills had been called to the scene to determine the cause of death and a local undertaker had also made the trip over. It would take almost half an hour to remove the body from the car.

While these activities were taking place, Kennedy, Markham, and Gargan caught the ferry to Chappaquiddick. Kennedy claimed at the inquest, probably truthfully, that he returned to Chappaquiddick in order to have more privacy in calling Burke Marshall (NYT 5/1/70). Then, too, they may also have been intent on locating Mary Jo.

After waiting around for twenty minutes, hoping maybe that his phone call would be returned, Kennedy and his entourage left the shelter of the landing house on the Chappaquiddick side just about nine o'clock. When a ferry operator asked them if they knew about the accident, one of them replied that they had just learned of it. Upon getting back to Edgartown, Kennedy, accompanied by Markham, went directly to the police station (LAT 7/22/69).

It is not clear exactly when the three learned that Mary Jo's body was in the car. It might well have been that Kennedy and Markham had it confirmed for them at the police station. In any case, Gargan, after leaving the landing house, got into his Valiant and driving up Main Road found Newberg and the Lyons sisters heading for the ferry landing. He drove them back to the cottage, where he told them, "We can't find Mary Jo." Perhaps he did not want to be the person to break the news of Mary Jo's death to her friends at that time or perhaps he really didn't know that she was dead. Later, after depositing them at their motel, he telephoned to tell all five that Mary Jo had drowned in the car and that Senator Kennedy had tried to save her (NYT 7/24/69). At least one of the group would have known that this last bit of information was not true.

The car had been quickly identified as belonging to the Senator. Look, who was at the scene, recognized two "L"s and a "7" as being on the plate of the car he had seen hours earlier at the intersection. After Farrar's discovery, Arena called the police station to ask that Kennedy be contacted although he did not know then that Kennedy had been the driver. He immediately left the accident scene when he was told that the Senator was at the station and wished to see him. Since Arena assumed that the purse that had been found in the car after it was pulled from the pond belonged to the dead woman, when he arrived at the station he asked Kennedy if Rosemary Keough's relatives had been notified of her death (DHG 4/18/80).

The discovery that Mary Jo Kopechne had drowned in his Oldsmobile changed everything. Kennedy now had to acknowledge responsibility for the accident since it was out of the question for someone else--that someone else most likely would have been his cousin, Joseph Gargan--to claim to be the driver.

The effort that had been made to show that Kennedy had been in Edgartown for the night--his conversation with the motel owner at 2:25 a.m.--now became a major sticking point in preparing a new version of events. How could it be explained that Kennedy was in Edgartown at that hour when a young woman had met her death in a car he acknowledged he had been driving in an accident that he had not reported?

Kennedy and Markham sat in the Edgartown police station, cobbling together a story that would incorporate an improbable answer to this question, generate some amount of sympathy for the Senator, and provide him with a defense--"I don't remember" and "I can't explain this"--in the event that criminal charges were brought against him.

Later, an added feature of his television statement was its attempt to cast him in a hero's role through his valiant but imaginary efforts to rescue this young woman.

Kennedy also claimed in his television address that he had alerted Gargan and Markham concerning the accident and they, too, had tried to rescue Mary Jo. This may have been an effort to explain their absence from the party. But the claim that they undertook rescue efforts are just as ludicrous as Kennedy's, since none of them knew at that time that Kopechne was in the car.

Even if they had known that Kopechne was in the car and Kennedy had been incapacitated as he claimed, it is inconceivable that one of them would not have alerted the authorities. After all, the firehouse with its alarm was across the street from the cottage. Clearer heads than Kennedy's would have understood that, come morning, the body would not have disappeared from the car.

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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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