Dangerous liaisons

In 1991, a book came out with no credited author. It is titled Scandal: Inside Stories of Power, Intrigue and Corruption. Among the many subjects of the book, it builds a good case about Marilyn Monroe being possibly murdered. Her second husband, Joe DiMaggio, was possessive and jealous. After their divorce in 1954, he could never really let go of her. He hired private detectives to follow Marilyn and her friends. He was obsessive enough that he never married again. French artist Jean Cocteau hinted that her death should serve as a terrible lesson to those whose chief occupation consists of spying on and tormenting film stars. Monroe’s funeral on August 8, 1962 was organized by Joe DiMaggio. For a guy who was that devoted, he refused to talk about her publicly. At Christmas 1961, Joe came to stay with Marilyn Monroe in Los Angeles. They were said to be happy enough for a few days, but he did not stay. After the holidays were over, he flew back to New York.

At the end of January 1962, Marilyn went from living in an apartment on Doheny to a single-story bungalow in Brentwood. However, Marilyn had every right to be fearful of the mafia than Joe DiMaggio. She had turned 21 before acting in her debut film, Dangerous Years, in July 1947. When she began her screen career, organized crime had gained widespread influence in Hollywood. By the time that the `50s rolled on in, Monroe and a number of other actresses were victims of an extortion racket run by a L.A. gangster named Mickey Cohen. The women would be seduced while a recording was made. Copies of the tape would then be sold at high prices unless the victims paid to keep matters quiet. In 1959, the L.A. District Attorney was keeping Cohen under surveillance when his agents saw Marilyn several times in the company of Cohen’s henchmen. One of those agents, Gary Wean, had listened to one blackmail-worthy tape of Marilyn.

In August 1960, Frank Sinatra invited the cast of The Misfits to hear him sing at the Cal-Neva Lodge overlooking Lake Tahoe. This casino and resort complex, which Sinatra was in the process of buying, was to bring into question his reported association with one of the most powerful underworld figures in America – Sam Giancana – head of the Chicago Mafia. Giancana owned a part of the Cal-Neva. On Election Day (November 5), he used his influence to help John Kennedy win Chicago and, with it, the state of Illinois. With these votes, Kennedy won election to the White House by a narrow margin over his Republican rival, Richard Nixon. Marilyn and the president continued to see each other before and after his inauguration in January 1961. With her marriage to Arthur Miller ending, she had also been having an affair with Sinatra. What could have been a love triangle was complicated by the fact that John Kennedy’s brother, Robert, had a fling with her.

In 1961, John had made enemies in both the CIA and the Mafia through the failure of an invasion of Cuba that was financed and directed by the U.S. government. The Mafia were particularly angered by the failure since Fidel Castro had shut down their lucrative Havana casinos and drug trafficking. Marilyn Monroe died a year before John did. She died on August 4, 1962. Starting in the spring of that year, she began making numerous calls to Robert Kennedy’s office at the Justice Department in Washington. He always lent a sympathetic ear despite the Mafia wanting to find ways to discredit the administration. As Attorney General, Robert launched a crackdown against the Mafia, subjecting many of its leaders to harassment and prosecution. Many leading underworld figures had supported his brother’s campaign for the presidency because of their acquaintance with his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, who had made a fortune through illicit sales of whiskey during the Prohibition era of the 1920s.

A man named Carmine DeSapio, a corrupt New York politician, had links to the Mafia and Jimmy Hoffa: the head of America’s largest labour union – the Teamsters. Plans were underway to bug Marilyn’s house in 1962. If Hoffa masterminded this, the purpose would have been to gather incriminating evidence against the man who tried to destroy him – Robert Kennedy. Hoffa had enlisted the support of the Mafia in gaining control of the union and turning its pension fund into a cash source for organized crime. Kennedy had been pursuing Hoffa long before he began his drive against organized crime in 1961. On May 18, 1962, Hoffa was indicted by a Federal grand jury in Nashville on a charge of accepting $1 million from a trucking company to insure labour peace. Later that summer, his henchman, Edward Partin, became a government informant when he heard Hoffa discuss a plan to have Robert murdered. This was during a time when Marilyn was still alive.

Confirmation that Marilyn’s house was actually bugged in the early summer of 1962 had come from several people who were close to the operation. Hoffa had regularly employed an expert in electronic eavesdropping named Bernard Spindel, whose assistant, Earl Jaycox, says that Spindel had told him of the existence of two reels of tape which together could hold 12 hours of recordings. Jaycox was told that the tapes contained private conversations between Marilyn and the two Kennedy brothers. Marilyn started making important phone calls from public telephone booths instead of her home, and she began carrying a heavy purse of coins around with her for that purpose. She also confided in a friend that she had her neighbours checked out. Marilyn Monroe was born on June 1, 1926, so it’s symbolic that the last two digits switched represent her death year. In May 1962, she began filming Something’s Got to Give with Dean Martin – who belonged to Sinatra’s Rat Pack.

Her sense of dread was evident from the outset of filming. She was sent the script with a request that she put “XX” by any line which she strongly objected. Marilyn interpreted this as a sign that she was soon to be double-crossed, but this could also represent the death of cartoon characters…and Marilyn was as outlandishly iconic as any of them. The film’s main producer, Henry Weinstein, described her as very paranoid and very ill. During a total of 35 shooting days, she only turned up for a dozen of them. The producers couldn’t even prevent her from attending President Kennedy’s birthday party in New York on May 19. Her 36th birthday on June 1 was celebrated with the film crew of Something’s Got to Give. When the producers and director George Cukor looked at the rushes a few days later, it became apparent that something indeed had to give. On June 8, executives fired Marilyn, who was sued for half a million dollars by Twentieth Century Fox.

When Dean Martin announced that he would not work with any other actress, he too was sued. The movie was ultimately cancelled. Uncharacteristic of Marilyn Monroe, she turned down an opportunity to visit Robert Kennedy and his wife. On June 26, Robert visited Marilyn alone in Brentwood for about an hour. Her housekeeper, Eunice Murray, claimed that Marilyn didn’t seem excited by his visit. For a long time, it was the last time that anyone claimed to have seen Marilyn with this other Kennedy. Lena Pepitone, a married Italian with two sons, was Marilyn’s New York cook during the last five years of her life. In July, Marilyn told her that she personally renegotiated her contract with the studio, and Something’s Got to Give is going to be great (although that calls into question the caption of the photo showing Marilyn alongside Paula Strasberg). Marilyn went on to explain to Lena that she was now totally in control of her life and wanted to throw a huge party for her friends. Lena began the preparations while feeling relieved that Marilyn was getting better.

In “early August” as Lena puts it, she was called by the L.A. Police Department where they informed her about Marilyn’s death. When Lena went to Marilyn’s New York apartment to collect her own personal possessions, the police wouldn’t let her in. By the late eighties, they had not been returned. This was beyond their jurisdiction, and their involvement suggests that this has something to do with the Kennedy brothers. In July, Marilyn had hinted to some friends that she was impregnated by one of the Kennedys but had miscarried after a few weeks. She was reportedly depressed by the fact that neither Kennedy was interested in talking to her. Despite being cold-shouldered, Marilyn should have paid attention to her friend and neighbour Jeanne Carmen, who remembered Robert Kennedy looking concerned as Marilyn wrote one of his jokes in a private notebook. He wanted her to literally scrap that note, but Marilyn wanted something to remember him by.

On Monday, July 30, she rang the Justice Department for the last time, and on this occasion, may have spoken to him. The call lasted for 8 minutes. She had already infuriated him by phoning his home in Virginia. During her last week of life, Marilyn called Anna Karger – the mother of former lover Fred Karger. Anna claimed that Marilyn announced she was going to marry Robert, who was due in California that first weekend in August. Marilyn rang Peter Lawford, who gave her the telephone number of his wife, Pat, the sister of the Kennedys. She was visiting the Kennedy clan in Massachusetts, and Lawford thought that Marilyn could find out from her how to contact Robert when he came West. Adding to the confusion is that Marilyn had a publicity friend named Pat Newcomb. Robert flew to California with his wife, Ethel, and four of his children on the afternoon of Friday, August 3. He was due to make a speech to the American Bar Association on Monday, August 6.

Although the Association provided a suite at San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel, the Kennedys stayed 60 miles south of the city at a ranch owned by attorney John Bates. That same Friday, Marilyn dined with Pat Newcomb at a Santa Monica restaurant. However, Marilyn ordered large quantities of expensive food from a delicatessen, and that night had food brought in from the exclusive La Scala restaurant. The proprietor of La Scala, Jean Leon, had worked at the Villa Capri restaurant frequented by Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio. Jean accompanied the delivery on that Friday evening. He observed that Marilyn and Newcomb had a house guest but he refused to disclose who it was to the English-speaking world. Years later, Jean Leon was more forthright to Sebastián Moreno (a journalist and author of a 2002 book titled El Rey de Beverly Hills). Jean claimed that the mystery guest was Robert Kennedy.

There is no reliable timeline of what happened at Marilyn’s house in Brentwood between the food delivery from La Scala and the dawn of Saturday, August 4 when she rang her neighbour Jeanne Carmen in a state of fear. Some woman had been calling all night and harassing before hanging up. The caller had called her a tramp and told her to leave “Bobby” alone. At 8 in the morning, housekeeper Eunice Murray arrived to learn that Pat Newcomb had stayed overnight. An hour later, Marilyn was still wracked with insomnia as she was sipping some grapefruit juice. Eunice’s son-in-law, Norman Jeffries, used to help with heavier household tasks. He thought that Marilyn was scared out of her mind. She retreated to her bedroom and telephone where she received her usual weekend call from Hollywood writer Sidney Skolsky. He knew of her dramas with the Kennedys, so he wanted his daughter Steffi to be his witness by listening on an extension. Marilyn told Sidney that she expected to see Robert Kennedy at Peter Lawford’s house. Peter was an actor who was a member of The Rat Pack.

She also told him that Pat Newcomb was jealous of her, for she was also deeply in love with Robert. Throughout the day, Marilyn seemed furious at Pat. Perhaps the previous night was when Robert decided to destroy Marilyn’s obsession with him by having sex with Pat, and thus breaking her heart along with what any illusion that she had for a romantic reunion. This might explain what Dr. Ralph Greenson meant when he told of how he drove to Marilyn’s house to find her furious that Pat had slept until midday. Soon, he learnt that Monroe’s meeting with one of the “very important people” – her terms for the Kennedys – was off. A couple of hours before midnight, Marilyn called Jeanne Carmen, begging her to come round with sleeping pills. Jeanne did not go. Housemaid Eunice Murray has been inconsistent about how she knew Marilyn was using the phone at midnight. It’s either light was under Marilyn’s door or the new carpet was too thick to allow for that.

Eunice claimed that Marilyn seemed disturbed by the final call despite an earlier account that she had last seen her at 20:00. Eunice seems unsure about whether she first became worried for Monroe at midnight or at 3:30 when she woke up with a sixth sense that something was wrong. Peter Lawford told a neighbour that he was the last person to speak to Marilyn. Skipping to when Joe DiMaggio had learned of her death. His side of the story was that he left San Francisco for Los Angeles to arrange the funeral. As he sat in his hotel room, he began to weep as he raged against Sinatra and his friends, the President and, above all, Robert Kennedy. The deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles, John Miner, attended the autopsy and later had a long professional interview with Dr. Greenson. Neither man had commented on this publicly, but Miner wrote a memorandum in August 1962 where he declared that her death was definitely not a suicide.

In Goddess, the 1985 biography of Marilyn, British author Anthony Summers discovered that Marilyn almost certainly died well before midnight on the Saturday night of August 4. He cites evidence that Marilyn made an appearance early that evening at the home of Peter Lawford. Natalie Jacobs, the wife of Marilyn’s public relations agent (Arthur Jacobs), has said that her husband was called out to fudge the presentation of Marilyn’s death long before Dr. Greenson was roused from bed by a phone call from Miss Murray at half 3 in the morning. The head of an ambulance company, Walt Schaefer, told Summers that Marilyn actually died at Santa Monica hospital, having been taking there in a coma by one of his company’s ambulances. Years later, Greenson said that she died in a nearby hospital. Was she later brought back to the house, which had perhaps been combed for items damaging to the Kennedys?

Deborah Gould, who Peter Lawford married in 1976, has said that he spoke of going to Marilyn’s house that night to “tidy” things up before the police and press arrived. The final recordings from the bugging of Marilyn’s house were stored at the New York home of electronics expert Bernard Spindel, who arranged for a small microphone to be installed at the Brentwood house on behalf of Jimmy Hoffa. In a dawn raid on Decenber 15, 1966, police and New York District Attorney investigators confiscated many of Spindel’s tapes. He tried unsuccessfully through the courts to secure the return of the Monroe material, and an attempt by his widow also failed. The whereabouts of the tapes are unknown. A security expert, who asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons, claimed that Spindel allowed him to listen to one of the tapes before their confiscation. He had heard Robert Kennedy apparently looking for the microphone and angrily insisting that it had to be found.

A colourful figure who stalked the final years of Marilyn’s life was the Hollywood private detective, Fred Otash. He was associated with the bugging at Marilyn’s house in 1962, at the behest of parties who wanted confidential information about the Kennedys. According to Otash, Robert Kennedy rang Marilyn on a bugged telephone after leaving her house on the last afternoon. He invited her to Peter Lawford’s home that evening. Otash quoted Marilyn as “Stop bothering me, stay away from me.” Otash has also acknowledged that, in the hours after her death, he was hired by Peter Lawford to remove any evidence of Robert’s links to Marilyn. As a footnote to this tragic story, Marilyn was working on her autobiography in the final weeks of her life. Photo journalist George Barris was working with her on the project, and he was the last person to take a photo of her while she was alive.

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