The New Tidbits Revealed by the FBI's Ted Kennedy Files

The Federal Bureau of Investigation opened its files on the late senator Edward Kennedy today, revealing 2,200 partially redacted pages in response to a Freedom of Information request. With numerous accounts of death threats, a reference to alleged "sex parties" involving the Kennedy brothers and members of the Rat Pack, and a hint of a tiff between Kennedy and then–FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the files add a few fascinating tidbits to the known history of America's political royal family.

What the documents show most clearly is that Kennedy, who died in 2009 after representing Massachusetts in the Senate for nearly 50 years, faced much of the same anger that was directed at his brothers during the 1960s.  Many of the death threats against him appeared unsubstantiated to federal agents, like the August 1968 scrawling in an Ohio jail cell by one inmate:  "1 more Kennedy to go." Then there were threats in later years, like the letter written in 1985 by a Michigan woman who cursed and declared, "Brass tacks. I'm going to kill Kennedy and Reagen [sic], I really mean it."

Other documents would be better classified under threats to Kennedy's character.  One, dated July 12, 1965, refers to alleged "sex parties" involving the Kennedy brothers and members of the Rat Pack. It reads:

"It was reported that Mrs. Jacqueline Hammond, 40, has considerable information regarding sex parties which took place at the Carlyle Hotel in NYC, and in which a number of persons participated at times. Among those mentioned were the following individuals: Robert F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy, Sammy Davis, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe."  

Hammond, the ex-wife of a former U.S. ambassador to Spain, maintained a room at the Carlyle along with other New York residences, the document said.  

Another page, dated July 29, 1965, details an alleged Mafia conspiracy to embarrass Kennedy and his brother Robert, apparently due to Robert's "attacks" on organized crime while serving as U.S. attorney general. The plot, according to the confidential source, involved "working with associates of Frank Sinatra to arrange for their women to be placed in compromising situations in the presence of any or all of the two Kennedys and Peter Lawford."  

The "sex parties" document and the document referring to the confidential source are marked with the same seven-digit filing number.  An FBI summary released with the Kennedy documents yesterday attributes the information about Monroe and the Mafia plot to a "convoluted rumor." 

"The FBI did not consider the rumor solid, and no other mention of it appears in the file, suggesting that the informant did not supply any corroboration to the story," the summary says.  

The bureau also says the documents refute another more well-known rumor: that it investigated Kennedy's role in the drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne near Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts in 1969.  No evidence of that investigation is in the files, the FBI said.  

Yet there were mentions of a long relationship between the FBI and the Kennedy family. Other pages reveal a "first-name-basis" relationship between Kennedy's father, Joseph, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.  The elder Kennedy was "a special service contact for the Boston office (of the bureau) from 1943 to 1954," one document said.

When Edward Kennedy was compiling essays about his father in 1964, he asked Hoover to contribute, and the director praised Joseph Kennedy in a seven-page response. True to form, though, Hoover's FBI compiled a background check of the elder Kennedy first.  It revealed that in 1951, the bureau conducted "a limited inquiry" into Joseph Kennedy concerning "an allegation that Mr. Kennedy, then owner of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, had given $100,000 for the removal of Government offices from that building.  No specific facts were developed and the inquiry was closed."

While the documents reveal a friendly relationship between Hoover and Joseph Kennedy, one memorandum hints at a tiff between the FBI director and Edward Kennedy. In 1967,  Kennedy and two other senators disagreed on whether Hoover should be called to offer testimony at a Senate hearing regarding riots.  After a meeting of the three lawmakers, one of the other senators—James Eastland of Mississippi—witnessed Kennedy tell a group of reporters that the group had unanimously agreed to call Hoover to testify, even though no such agreement had been reached.  Hoover, upon hearing Eastland's story of the events, wrote to a colleague, "This shows what an irresponsible person Ted Kennedy is."

The documents also offer a glimpse of Kennedy's sense of humor.  Among them is a copy of a journal that he kept during a visit to Central America in 1961, which the FBI recovered after Kennedy left it on a plane.  The journal contains observations about why Mexicans "hate us" ("because we are rich," among other things) and about the young communists he insisted on encountering during the journey in order to better understand them.  The first entry from the young Kennedy begins:

"Sunday evening 16th. 9:30 Leave house.  9:32 Run out of gas.  9:34 walk home for another car."