Marilyn Monroe only ever made a handful of memorable movies, but somehow she has managed to go down in history as Hollywood’s most famous starlet. Perhaps it was her connection with everybody that made the 50s and 60s so glamorous and dangerous: Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio, the Kennedy brothers, Bobby Darin, Dean Martin, Sam Giancana, Jimmy Hoffa, Tony Curtis, Ella Fitzgerald, George Raft, Laurence Olivier… or perhaps it was the mysterious way in which she died.
The Blonde Bombshell was found dead on August 4, 1962 due to an overdose on barbiturates. Dr. Thomas Noguchi, of the LA medical examiner’s office, found 8mg of chloral hydrate and 4.5mg of Nembutal in her blood, a dose enough to kill 15 people. This would have required at least 120 tablets, a feat of consumption that is highly unlikely for most people – and even more so because there was no glass in the room and the water in her bathroom was temporarily off due to home repairs, meaning that she would have had to either swallow all the tablets without water, or swallow them elsewhere in the house and make it back to the bedroom to die on her bed. All these points were found to be moot when the autopsy revealed no tablets in her stomach. There were many bruises on her body, suggesting a violent struggle before death, which could have pointed to the application of an enema or the hiding of an injection site. Before this could be cleared up, many of her tissue and body samples disappeared – leaving a mystery that has never been resolved.
Due to her sexual relationships with so many powerful people, it was a practicality for certain interested parties to spy on her. Which she was, of course: a later owner of the Monroe house found a gigantic amount of surveillance equipment and wiring behind the walls of the bedroom during renovations. She was involved with both Jack and Bobby Kennedy, who were themselves involved with mobster Sam Giancana, singer Frank Sinatra and other corrupt and criminal elements that plagued and entertained the nation’s elite. Her bedtime talks with Bobby Kennedy were often recorded by Marilyn herself in notebooks, and recorded for posterity by whoever was doing the audio recording in her rooms and on her phones.
Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy.
Her connections made her an immediate security risk: she had links to Communists and left-wing political parties through her second husband Arthur Miller and a lot of her actor friends, and her increasingly hysterical pursuit of Jack and Bobby Kennedy could both embarrass them socially and become an actual danger to national security. She had firsthand knowledge of the Kennedys’ connection to the Mob and could have known intimate details of their and the CIA’s involvement in the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro and the invasion at the Bay of Pigs, all of which could seriously effect foreign affairs. Indeed, she was intimate with – and spent her last night on this planet with – Sam Giancana, who organized the assassination attempts for the CIA. At the time of her death, Bobby Kennedy, as Attorney General, was heavily cracking down on organized crime and becoming a pain for both Giancana’s crew and Jimmy Hoffa, the leader of the Teamsters Union, the most powerful labor union in the country.
As for her Communist links: the FBI noted that she was a close friend of Frederick Vanderbilt Field, an extremely rich plutocrat that fervently supported Communism. Field, in turn, hosted meetings of Soviet spies (including Elizabeth Bentley), the head of the US Communist Party (Earl Browder) and the heads of various Comintern front companies used for Soviet espionage activities. In 1951, the editor of the main US Communist newspaper testified to Congress that Field was a spy; this was also confirmed by Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers to the Tydings Committee, who revealed that his NKVD handler – one of the leading Soviet agents in the US from 1935 to 1945 – had told him about Field’s espionage activites in 1937. In any case, Marilyn met with Field several times and stayed at his house in Mexico during her trips there. Field was under close surveillance by the FBI and internal notes reveal that the FBI was worried about the implications of contact between Marilyn and one of the most influential Soviet spies.
Marilyn Monroe and Frederick Vanderbilt Field.
Many of the leading theories regarding her death read like the plotpoints of particularly excitable thrillers. Possible suspects?
1) The CIA, to prevent Marilyn revealing their use of violent and criminal assets to the general public. They had too much public visibility after the Bay of Pigs fiasco and CIA head Allen Dulles was also having internecine battles with Hoover’s FBI. After Cuba, JFK laid the blame solidly on the CIA and promised to completely reform the Agency. Dulles was forced to retire and the rest of the CIA was tasked with dealing with further changes by Kennedy and continuing fallout from their policy of toppling unfriendly states – and getting found out. Shutting up Marilyn was shutting up a security risk for the country and for the Agency itself.
Allen Dulles with John F. Kennedy.
2) The FBI, like the CIA, to prevent an ongoing security risk but also, just possibly, as additional leverage against the Kennedys. This theory is particularly interesting: FBI head J. Edgar Hoover had a notorious set of files used to extort and blackmail leading politicians, and Kennedy had considered removing him but ultimately decided the political cost wasn’t worth it. Hoover also had completely ignored the Mafia until 1957, when NY law enforcement – without the help of the FBI – made their largest Mafia raid ever in cozy Apalachin, NY, netting over 60 Mafia bosses. (Curiously, Giancana became a boss that same year, growing his empire after the free for all that resulted from the raids.) Media coverage following that event were scathing about Hoover’s FBI, which had ignored the top criminal entity in the US for decades. And yet, after such staggering incompetence, no president was able to remove him from office. Hoover hated Kennedy and used his resources to garner swaths of material that could be used to compromise either of the Kennedys, some of which was destroyed by Hoover’s successor, Clyde Tolson, and some of which is being slowly released under Freedom of Information Act requests. Additionally, after JFK’s death, Hoover did a shoddy job investigating the assassination. In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations later characterized the FBI as reluctant to investigate the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the President. Based on internal notes, the FBI – under the orders of Bobby Kennedy himself – were watching Marilyn and Giancana 24/7 and were possibly the sources of the taps on her phones and in her walls, but they later claimed to have no knowledge of her death or any of the circumstances surrounding her death. They weren’t even the ones to reveal her meeting with Giancana the night before she died.
The Kennedys with J. Edgar Hoover.
3) The Kennedys, to get her to shut up about the affairs and their links to the Mob and anything else incriminating she may have wanted to say. They may have even involved other parties in the subsequent coverup. Her meeting with Giancana before her death was part of an “intervention” staged at Frank Sinatra’s Cal-Neva Ledge in Lake Tahoe, an infamous still-in-operation casino straddling the Cali and Nevada borders. Sinatra was loaned the money for the casino by Giancana so that Giancana could run operations and host guests without falling afoul of the law in whatever state was pissed off at him at the time; he just made sure himself and/or the gaming tables were on the right side(s) of the room. Giancana, Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Bobby Greco and Lawford’s wife – Patricia Kennedy, JFK’s sister – reportedly spent the evening attempting to persuade MM/ZZ to stop her “crazed” infatuation and increasingly hysterical attempts to win a marriage with either of the Kennedy brothers. When that failed, she flew home the next morning. During that afternoon, Bobby Kennedy went to visit her at her house. JFK was the last call she made that day, using the phone that was found beside her. Marilyn died that night.
4) Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn’s third husband. During the famous photoshoot from the Seven Year Itch – in which she stands over a subway grate and her skirts are blown up and around her – Joltin Joe, her then-husband, was visibly furious and later hit Marilyn in their hotel room. Several days later, she reappeared on set with visible bruises on her arms and shoulders, caught on camera via on-set stills. Her personal makeup artist, Whitey Snyder, was called upon (reportedly not the first time) to help cover up the bruises. There were also rumors that the plastic surgeon who did her first rhinoplasty, Michael Gurdin, helped with some fixer-upper procedures. Shortly thereafter, Marilyn applied for and won a divorce from Joltin Joe, but maintained only emotional abuse. Surprisingly, during her bout with drug and alcohol addiction in 1961, she turned to Joltin Joe for emotional support. DiMaggio called her on the afternoon of her death, and then sat vigil with her body after it was found until the time of burial. Until his death 20 years later, he had roses placed by her grave every year. Deep and devoted love? Jealousy? Guilt? All of the above?
Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio.
5) Sam Giancana and Jimmy Hoffa. They were both under investigation by Bobby Kennedy and needed ways of stopping the threat to their livelihoods. Giancana had been conspiring against the Kennedys for some time and knew about most of the Kennedys’ dalliances. He also was a close confidante of Marilyn and through her, JFK and the CIA connection, probably knew a whole lot about matters that could ruin the Kennedys. It is possible that Giancana considered the death of a movie star and a Kennedy floozie was the easiest way to send the right message to the Kennedys. Giancana was both incensed that the Kennedys could turn against him so solidly after he raised them to power, and that JFK – by holding back air support at the Bay of Pigs – could so thoroughly embarrass and discredit him in front of Florida mob boss Santo Trafficante and his Cuban allies. Allies who wanted their share in the management and profits of the Havana casinos Giancana had been promised by Dulles.
In the end, all theories tend to lead to the Kennedys. Marilyn was only a real problem in relation to what she knew about the Kennedys and what she could do with that information. Get her, and one would have a great bargaining chip against the Kennedys. It is extremely probable that Marilyn’s death was closely tied to JFK’s later assassination, and that so many of the major events of the 1960s were a shadowy chess game played between the Presidency and all its erstwhile allies and enemies, including the CIA, FBI and the Mob.
JFK’s assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963, was an extreme shock to the nation but an idea that had been bouncing around in powerful circles for years. Though there are numerous conspiracy theories surrounding that particular death, one of the most interesting involved Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. Nixon, as VP under Eisenhower, had been chief in planning training camps for Cuban exiles that were later used by Kennedy in the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Johnson, as Senate Majority Leader, was well aware of these activities and Eisenhower’s general push to discredit or oust Castro – knowledge of which wasn’t lost on JFK, who was appointed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Johnson in 1957.
A serious candid of Richard Nixon.
The CIA during this time was refining and building on Cuban invasion plans that were to have been governed by Nixon during his expected election victory; this was thrown off by Kennedy’s surprise win, which enraged Nixon. During the Bay of Pigs invasion, a vital phone call by national security advisor McGeorge Bundy to Deputy Director of the CIA Charles Cabell – the CIA officer running air support for the action teams – disallowed air strikes and doomed the invasion to failure. The Cuban Study Group, which reviewed the invasion, later revealed that Bobby Kennedy and Allan Dulles had agreed to unanimity on support for the invasion, and that JFK had not ordered the call. General Walter Bedell Smith, CIA director during Truman’s administration, was interviewed by the Cuban Study Group and quoted him as saying “a democracy cannot wage war” and that “it’s time we take the bucket of slop and put another cover over it” in response to “do you think you should take covert operations from CIA?” Kennedy learned from this and decided that the CIA could not be trusted to oversee large-scale foreign military operations and in a 1961 action memorandum, declared that the Joint Chiefs would heretofore be his go-to group for combining “all assets in a unified, effective pattern.” During this time, Nixon – despite backing the Castro assassination plans and assisting in planning for the Bay of Pigs – constantly referred to Kennedy’s failure at the Bay of Pigs. JFK chose not to deny responsibility though he was perfectly able to prove his assertion and also implicate Nixon. Instead, JFK used the opportunity to lay the blame on the CIA and begin his dismantling of the program. Shortly after, Dulles, Cabell and chief Bay of Pigs planner and DD/Plans Richard Bissell were forced into retirement.
John F. Kennedy with portrait of Castro.
On the day of the assassination, Giancana, Hoffa and Nixon were all in Dallas. Nixon claimed he couldn’t remember what he was doing that day, though the rest of the country prided themselves on knowing where they were “when JFK was shot.” Giancana, before his death, claimed that Nixon and Johnson “knew about the whole damned thing” and that the conspiracy went “right up to the top of the CIA” and included “half-a-dozen fanatical right-wing Texans, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and the Bay of Pigs Action Officer under Eisenhower, Richard Nixon.” Furthermore, he claimed that the CIA-trained patsy Lee Harvey Oswald was part of the setup: “They’d already laid the groundwork to make him look like a Commie nut, by goin’ to Russia and with all of that pro-Castro shit. He was perfect… he acted like a Commie … he smelled like a Commie … so they figured it would be no problem to convince people he WAS a Commie.” Giancana also claimed that he had been posted to Dallas that day to supervise the entire operation against Kennedy.
The trail of death didn’t end there. In 1968, Bobby Kennedy was murdered by a Palestinian Arab Christian named Sirhan Sirhan who believed RFK was supporting Israel against the Palestinians. However, evidence in the case suggested that David Morales – the chief of the CIA’s Covert Ops department, the chief of operations of JMWAVE (the CIA’s main anti-Castro station in Miami), the second in charge of ZRRIFLE (the CIA plot to kill Castro) and the recruiter of Sam Giancana – along with his chief of maritime operations and chief of psychological warfare operations, were present at the death. All three were known to Nixon, who had contact with all officials planning for the Bay of Pigs, and were already understood to be vehemently anti-Kennedy following the CIA purge. The theory of Sirhan Sirhan being a patsy was led further credence by a coroner’s report – filed by the same coroner who examined Marilyn’s body, Dr. Thomas Noguchi – that suggested a second gunman who fired the shots that actually killed RFK. Before his death, RFK was placed prominently and expected to win the presidency; with his removal from the scene, Nixon was able to become president.
Robert F. Kennedy, after being shot.
Coincidentally (or not), Nixon was friendly to the Mafia while in office. He discontinued use of the word “Mafia” by the Justice Department, and also prided himself on meeting the head of the Supreme Council of the Sons of Italy – an Italian-American fraternal organization that frequently served as headquarters and criminal enterprises for the Mob and who traced lineage to members of the Sicilian Mafia – in the Oval Office. During his time in office, he also halted FBI surveillance of known Mob figures and interfered with prosecution of other Mob bosses.
It was years later, in 1972, that Nixon was caught as the mastermind who ordered the burglary of the DNC offices in the Watergate office complex. One of the burglars, E. Howard Hunt, happened to be a top official of Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign and was an ex-CIA agent who was involved in the planning for the Bay of Pigs invasion. In order to stop the FBI probe, Nixon blackmailed CIA director Richard Helms to assist by bringing up reference to “the Bay of Pigs.” Nixon aide Harry Robbins “Bob” Haldeman suggested that this terminology was actually a reference to the JFK assassination, and others believed it was the CIA plots against Fidel Castro – which was not public knowledge at the time. Nixon even told Haldeman how to play the cards against Helms: “Hunt knows too damned much . . . If this gets out that this is all involved . . . it would make the CIA look bad, it’s going to make Hunt look bad, and it’s likely to blow the whole Bay of Pigs thing . . . which we think would be very unfortunate for both the CIA and the country . . . and for American foreign policy.” Haldeman later implicated the CIA in a coverup that “literally erased any connection between the Kennedy assassination and the CIA.” Another Nixon aide, John Erlichman later wrote a novel about a president and a CIA chief blackmailing each other over an assassination plot they had both been involved in.
On September 8, 1974, President Gerald Ford granted former president Richard Milhous Nixon an unconditional pardon for all federal crimes that he “committed or may have committed or taken part in” while in office. On the face of it, Ford insisted that it was done to move America toward recovery and away from finger-pointing. However, it was also clear that a prolonged examination of Nixon and CIA involvement in the Watergate incident would bring to light many troubling items that could endanger national security or implicate many others still in the administration. It might have been a quid pro quo from Nixon. He would resign, and be rewarded with complete non-liability for all criminal activities he had committed that were known or unknown. And happily for all, no one would find out about the dark and murderous games they had all played.
On June 19, 1975, Sam Giancana was gunned down in his kitchen the night before he was to testify to a Senate committee on the supposed CIA and Cosa Nostra plots to assassinate JFK. At the time, he had also been cooperating with the FBI and his snitching certainly caused worry amongst the Mob higherups and CIA folk, though then-CIA-director William Colby disavowed any participation. The most likely suspect was Santo Trafficante, partner with Giancana and Johnny Roselli in planning the Castro assassination. This possibility was made more likely by the discovery of Johnny Roselli’s body, stuffed in a oil drum and set adrift at sea – murdered under orders from Trafficante. Roselli had already testified to Senate committees regarding the Castro assassination attempt, Operation Mongoose, and the Kennedy assassinations. When he was called to testify again in 1976, he had been missing for three months.
Not long after Giancana’s death, Jimmy Hoffa went missing and was presumed killed. The most likely suspects were Giancana’s own outfit. They had had Hoffa under their nail by making sure Hoffa won the presidency of the Teamsters Union, and had been using money from the Teamsters Defense Fund to finance their Vegas casinos. His disappearance might have been linked to his attempts to stop the Mafia from poaching any more funding from his organization. However, it’s possible that this death might have been linked to Nixon. Hoffa had been suspiciously pardoned by Nixon, bypassing the usual methods used for presidential pardons. Tapes made in the Oval Office pointed to considerations made for help in the 1972 re-election campaign. They also included quid pro quo with Hoffa’s successor, Frank Fitzsimmons, who then had assurances that Hoffa would not be able to get his old job back. Hoffa had been unbelievably generous with Nixon, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to Nixon’s campaign funds both legally and illegally. At the time of his death, Hoffa was unsuccessfully fighting Fitzsimmons in court and causing problems for the Teamsters. Since they were being helpful to Nixon at “discouraging” anti-Vietnam war protests and with votes on labor and price controls, Nixon had reason to want to either help out or turn a blind eye to removing Hoffa’s troublesome activities; Fitzsimmons was keeping the Teamsters out of the AFL/CIO, which would have stopped the dark funding and political shenanigans they were able to commit on the quiet. Hoffa was making too many waves and could have exposed Nixon’s relationship with the Teamsters and organized crime, and surely Nixon sighed with relief when Hoffa was gone.
A couple other interesting points not germane to conspiracy theories:
- Marilyn Monroe loved traveling under the name Zelda Zonk, a pet name that Frank Sinatra used to call her. She first used the name, officially, on a LA to NY flight in 1954, the year she filmed the Seven Year Itch.
- Marilyn Monroe loved Ella Fitzgerald’s singing and lamented Ella’s long-time relegation to the small club circuit, as she was overweight and lacked enough sex appeal to break out as a major headliner on her own. Excited about such promising talent, Marilyn got in touch with the owners of the Mocambo – one of the top Sunset Strip clubs – and had them hire Ella for a week. The Mocambo gig was Ella’s ticket to the big time and launched her career.
Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald.
- Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra, who were good friends, wanted dirt on Marilyn’s affair with Hal Schaefer, her musical coach and sometime lover, once she had split from Joltin Joe. While Marilyn and Hal were ensconced in the apartment of Schaefer’s neighbor and friend – for privacy and security reasons – Joe and Frankie broke into Schaefer’s apartment, just down the hall. Hearing the crashes and broken door, Marilyn and Hal crept out the bedroom window and stole back to her house. The “wrong door raid” was only revealed much later, after an investigation of corrupt private investigation firms by the California legislature revealed that Joltin Joe had tracked her to Hal’s place – and just got the wrong door. It was later insinuated that perhaps Sinatra had sat in the car, the PI had kicked in the door and DiMaggio had just watched, but that can’t be confirmed as all the witnesses are long dead.
- Dr. Thomas Noguchi performed autopsies not only on Marilyn and RFK, but also on Janis Joplin, John Belushi, Natalie Wood and Sharon Tate. He’s still alive and wrote a tell-all called “Coroner to the Stars.”