Thursday, August 02, 2018

Guest Post: HISTORY'S RICH WITH MYSTERIES: DOROTHY KILGALLEN -- Did She know Too Much? by Earl Staggs

Our man in Fort Worth, Earl Staggs, was last here back in mid April with his take on the Dean Corll murder case. Today he considers the murder of Dorothy Kilgallen.


When I look at the past, I find stories about people which fascinate me, particularly those in which there is a curious mixture of fact, legend, and mysterious uncertainty. In this series of articles, I want to explore some of those stories. I think of them as mysteries swaddled in legend. While truth is always desired in most things, truth easily becomes staid and boring. Legend, on the other hand, forever holds a hint of romanticism and an aura of excitement borne of adventure, imagination and, of course, mystery.

DOROTHY KILGALLEN -- Did She know Too Much?

Earl Staggs

On November 8, 1965, well-known journalist and TV personality Dorothy Kilgallen was found dead in her Manhattan townhouse. A medical examiner declared her death accidental, caused by a combination of sleeping pills and alcohol.

Many people believe, however, she was silenced as a result of her investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and her plan to publish evidence which would prove that Kennedy's death was the result of a major conspiracy.

Dorothy Mae Kilgallen

Dorothy Mae Kilgallen was born on July 3. 1913 in Chicago. She began her career as a newspaper reporter at the age of eighteen. By 1938, when she was twenty-five, she began her column "The Voice of Broadway" in the New York Evening Journal, which eventually was syndicated to more than 200 papers. In 1950, she began a fifteen-year run as a panelist on the popular TV show, “What's My Line.”

Over a career spanning more than three decades, Dorothy became a household name. During those years, she married and had three children, was one of the first to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, had a long-standing feud with Frank Sinatra and, alledgely, an affair with pop singer Johnnie Ray. In 1953, she was was one of the notables who attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and Ernest Hemingway called her, "The greatest female writer in the world."

Dorothy Mae Kilgallen on What's My Line?

In addition to providing news and gossip about the New York theatre world as well as Hollywood celebrities and their scandals, she dealt with political news and major crime stories. One of those stories concerned the 1954 case against Sam Sheppard, which inspired the top-rated TV drama, “The Fugitive.“ Sheppard was convicted of killing his wife, but Dorothy was so convinced of his innocence, she pursued the case for years. Eventually, partly because of information she provided, Sheppard was retried and vindicated.

After her good friend, President John F. Kennedy, was killed, Dorothy did not accept the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvery Oswald was the assassin and that he acted alone.

She wrote:

It seemed to me after reading the testimony three times that the Chief Justice and the general counsel were acutely aware of the talk both here and in Europe that President Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy. They took pains to prove to themselves and the world that no conspiracy existed.

She covered the Jack Ruby trial and interviewed him twice. Much to the consternation of J. Edgar Hoover, she obtained and published a copy of Ruby's testimony to the Commission.

In her column of November 29, 1963, she wrote:

"The case is closed, is it? Well, I'd like to know how, in a big, smart town like Dallas, a man like Jack Ruby — owner of a strip tease honky tonk — can stroll in and out of police headquarters as if it was at a health club at a time when a small army of law enforcers is keeping a "tight security guard" on Oswald. Justice is a big rug. When you pull it out from under one man, a lot of others fall, too."

After her second interview with him, she wrote:

Jack Ruby’s eyes were as shiny brown-and-white bright as the glass eyes of a doll. He tried to smile but his smile was a failure. When we shook hands, his hand trembled in mine ever so slightly, like the heartbeat of a bird.”
Dorothy with Ernest Hemmingway

According to those close to her, she carried the documentation of her investigation in a dossier which she kept with her at all times under lock and key. She claimed she had a deal with Random House to publish a boo which would reveal the truth about the Kennedy assassination.

She reportedly told close friends, This has to be a conspiracy! I'm going to break the real story and have the biggest scoop of the century." Her hairdresser, Charles Simpson, said she told him, "If the  wrong people knew what I know about the JFK assassination, it would cost me my life."

Former criminal defense lawyer, Mark Shaw, author of 25 books and legal analyst for USA Today, ESPN, and CNN, contends in his book, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, that a New Orleans mafia don ordered her death because he feared her investigation would finger him as the mastermind behind the assassinations of both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald. In his scenario, Dorothy was poisoned and the crime scene staged to look like an overdose.  

Other authors, notably Gerald Posner and Vincent Bugliosi, in their books, Case Closed and Reclaiming History respectively, sided with the Warren Commission and its conclusion that Oswald killed Kennedy and that he acted alone.

So, were left with two competing mysteries. Was Oswald the lone assassin and there was no conspiracy? Or, was there a conspiracy and Dorothy Kilgallen was killed because she could prove it?

The dossier Dorothy was said to have accumulated throughout her eighteen-month investigation was never found. 

Author Mark Shaw said, "Whoever decided to silence Dorothy, I believe, took that file and burned it." 

Which means, we'll probably never know for sure.

Earl Staggs ©2018

Earl Staggs earned all Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION and has received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year three times.  He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars.  He invites any comments via email at

He also invites you to visit his blog at to learn more about his novels and stories.


Marja said...

I don't know why it took me so long to read this post but, Earl, your posts are always fascinating. This is another one. How many mysteries are out there that may never be solved. Thank you for sharing this story.

Earl Staggs said...

I don't think we'll ever run out of mysteries in history, Marja. A new one is coming up Tuesday. This one is about Belle Starr, known as the Bandit Queen. She was murdered and the killer is unknown to this day.