Here's some of the details surrounding the bizarre drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne.

The time was July 18, 1969, the place was Chappaquiddick. It was a Friday night when the dark blue Oldsmobile 98 veered off a narrow bridge into a tidal pond, killing 28 year old Mary Jo Kopechne. The driver of the car was one Senator Edward M. Kennedy, age 37.

Lets set the scene.

Martha'a Vineyard, an island off Cape Cod has always been the playground of the Kennedys. On that weekend in 1969, Ted Kennedy and 11 other people gathered at a rented cottage on Chappaquiddick for a cookout.

All of the attendees were loyal to the Kennedys. Five of the men were either employed by or friendly with the family. The six women, the "Boiler Room Girls" had all worked on Senator Robert F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, tragically cut short by his assassination a year earlier.

The participants have always claimed that it was an innocent party even though all of the men, including Ted Kennedy were married and the women were all single.

On to the party...

It was reported and later verified that huge quantities of alcohol were present at the party. Kennedy claims he had only a couple of rum and cokes. About midnight, Kennedy and Kopechne leave the party, claiming that they were tired and were going to return to Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard - across about a 150 yard wide channel.

According to Kennedy, he "mistakenly" turned right onto a gravel road and skidded off the bridge. the car landed upside down in about eight feet of water. Again, according to Kennedy, after freeing himself from the car, he made numerous attempts to rescue Ms. Kopechne, "nearly drowning". After his unsuccessful attempts he made his way back to the party where he got his cousin (Joseph Gargan) and a friend (Paul Markham) to return for another try.

After failing in their attempts, they went to a ferry landing nearby. It's at this time where Kennedy "impulsively" jumps into the water and swam all the way back to Edgartown. In subsequent interviews, Kennedy claims that he "nearly drowned a second time". His friends, inexplicably, return to the party, assuming that Kennedy, once at Edgartown would contact the police.

In fact, it was a full nine hours later - after Kennedy learned that the submerged car had been discovered, that he reported the accident to the police. He claimed he was still in shock. No tests were performed to try and determine if alcohol was a factor in the accident.

The partygoers quickly left the island. Ms. Kopechne's body was flown by a plane chartered by the Kennedys to her home town of Wilkes-Barre. Pennsylvania. No autopsy was performed.

Kennedy attends the funeral of Mary Jo Kopechne and is photographed with a neck brace. He is never seen wearing it again.

A week after the accident, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and was given a two month suspended jail sentence and a years probation.

Many investigations by both authors and news organizations have been conducted and with them, numerous theories abound. Most think a coverup of some sort took place. Kennedy himself has addressed the topic from time to time but has never added new information or clarified any unanswered questions.

Update: August 26, 2009: Senator Edward M. Kennedy died last night at his home in Massachusetts. Although many see this article as scathing criticism of the Senator, it's based in facts and this writer's opinions of the facts of this case. In no way is this intended to "outweigh," somehow, the good that Senator Kennedy achieved in his lifetime.

What kind of person gets away with murder? A very select few from the ranks of the wealthy and powerful. Well, and hit-men, too, unless they leave something behind that leads to their capture and conviction. Many who'll read this weren't even born in 1969. But those of us who were around then cannot cast eyes on Senator Edward Kennedy without thinking of an incident that to this day causes those who hear the story for the first time to gasp and say, "so you're telling me that he got away with murder?" My answer: yes and no. Vehicular manslaughter and gross negligence absolutely. Murder, perhaps.

It would be unfair not to submit to readers that indeed, dangerous and even fatal accidents occur at the most peculiar times. Vice President Dick Cheney nearly killed a close friend in a hunting accident not too long ago. Celebrity lore is full of tragedies the likes of which go unnoticed if the victim is not a celebrity, but once one is in the public eye, the bloodthirsty media, particularly the tabloid media, tend to blow everything out of perspective. Cover-ups of misdeeds by politicians, too, are bipartisan; look at what Watergate did to President Richard M. Nixon's career. President Clinton's oral fixation in the Oval office got him in a heap of trouble, too (and a perfectly good cigar was involved, too. Oh, the humanity!) Clinton's lie to the Nation about his misdeeds and his sworn responses to the questions of a Grand Jury exceed by far the speech laid out hereinafter for pure, unadulterated doubletalk.

So here we go. Some people have stated that the rumors that President John F. Kennedy's trysts with the likes of Marilyn Monroe, coupled with her lovely singing of "Happy Birthday" to the President, were in the worst of taste and despicable. Well, let's say "despicable" is a tiny red firecracker. Here's a ton of TNT:

Say The First Thing That Comes To Your Mind When I Say "Chappaquiddick"

By the evening of July 18, 1969, young Senator Edward Kennedy, then 37 years old, had endured the tragedy of the death of his brother President John F. Kennedy under mysterious circumstances a mere six years before. Then in 1968 his brother Bobby lost his life to a maniac when it looked as if he would be the next President of the United States. The grief of losing not one but two charismatic, bright and very close brothers in such a short time must be enormous. For his brothers, a run for the presidency meant death. And there was tremendous pressure on Ted to run for office in 1972.

According to all sources, Ted Kennedy was a changed man after the death of his brother Bobby. His usual upbeat mood had become morose. He abused alcohol more and more frequently.

The Edgartown Yacht Club regatta held that weekend in July, 1969 was the perfect chance for Ted to blow off some steam, be with people who were friends, and forget about the awesome responsibility that he would be soon impelled by his family, by the voters, and by the Democrat party, to accept. The Edgartown race (held on fashionable Martha's Vineyard, an island near the south shore of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, had been a Kennedy family tradition for thirty years.

A More Civilized Kind of Celebration

Ted and his lifelong chum (and attorney) Joe Gargen came up with a novel idea for the party after the '69 regatta. Post-regatta parties had usually been wild and wooly affairs (the last one Bobby attended while alive involved the "trashing" of a bungalow, according to the owner). This one would be a much quieter affair; to honor the faithful workers who were behind Bobby Kennedy's run for the White House. Ted wanted to re-assure these savvy young women that they'd always be part of the Kennedy "family" and show appreciation for their efforts on Bobby's behalf as well as move forward past grief and look toward, eventually, another Kennedy run for the Presidency. Gargen had taken some time renting a house for the party. Instead of the usual Edgartown beachfront cottage, he could only secure a cottage near the beach on the nearby island of Chappaquiddick, a few minutes' ferry ride to Edgartown. Lodging for the men and the women was provided in separate hotels.

A lot of attention was given to the fact that the house party held after the regatta at the Lawrence Cottage was attended by six married men, none with spouse in tow (Senator Kennedy's wife, Joan, was pregnant at the time). The six young women were single. They had all continued their careers affiliated with Democrat politics. Remember, this was 1969 and despite the changes in public morals occurring at the time, the media had a field day describing the assumed goings-on between the young women, blinded in the headlights of rich and powerful men, and a group of hard-working, hard-playing Democrat high-rollers. A closer look at the chronological and physical details of the situation leaves all but one of the young women above reproach, and the one left potentially a victim of a man who'd these days be guilty of rape.

By way of explanation, of the five men beside Senator Kennedy, his cousin and attorney, Joe Gargan, was co-host of the party, one man was Kennedy's personal driver, and the other three were actually there in a working sense, all long-time Kennedy supporters and front men. Only were it a formal dinner party would the wives' attendance be necessary. A regatta, in the definition of the time, was a sport for gentlemen with lots of money and young people attracted to the seaside, although today more and more yachting women are indeed becoming involved in the sport.

This article will attempt to deconstruct Senator Kennedy's speech, delivered on national television, regarding the incident. Extra information will be provided on the situation in detail thanks to the plethora of information now available on the subject.

The Speech

The press and the electronic media were, in fact, held at bay. A single television camera and microphone were allowed into the Kennedy compound. A great hue and cry followed in the media. The fact that no reporters were present, the speech itself was produced in a way to seem that some of Kennedy's remarks were his own thoughts and not prepared, and the lack of a press conference following the Senator's remarks were a very peculiar and damning strategic move.

The text that follows in monotype ("typewriter") font are the words Senator Kennedy delivered on the three national television networks at 7:30 in the evening on July 25th, 1969, writer comments and details are in regular type:

My fellow citizens:

I have requested this opportunity to talk to you, the people of Massachusetts, about the tragedy which happened last Friday evening.

This morning I entered a plea of guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Prior to my appearance in court it would have been improper for me to comment on these matters, but tonight I am free to tell you what happened and to say what it means to me.

He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident in which a person or persons were injured. Under current Massachusetts law, there was a mandatory 20-day jail sentence attached to that misdemeanor charge. The judge suspended a sixty-day sentence (ignoring the word of the law) and ordered a year's probation.

When asked if Senator Kennedy had any prior driving record, the clerk of the court responded "none." In fact, in his youth in Virginia, Teddy Kennedy had been charged not once, but twice for going through a red light, speeding and evading police, and paid fines both times. (The first time, Teddy managed to get inside his house before the police came, the second, police found him lying down on the front seat of his car in the driveway.) No mention was made at the hearings of the party, nor of the fact that it took Kennedy nearly ten hours to report the incident to police.

On the weekend of July 18th, I was on Martha's Vineyard Island participating with my nephew, Joe Kennedy, as for 30 years my family has participated in the annual Edgartown Sailing Regatta. Only reasons of health prevented my wife from accompanying me.

On Chappaquiddick Island off Martha's Vineyard, I attended on Friday evening, July 18th, a cookout I had encouraged and helped sponsor for a devoted group of Kennedy campaign secretaries. When I left the party around 11:15 PM, I was accompanied by one of these girls, Miss Mary Jo Kopechne. Mary Jo was one of the most devoted members of the staff of Senator Robert Kennedy. She worked for him for four years and was broken up over his death. For this reason and because she was such a gentle, kind and idealistic person, all of us tried to help her feel that she still had a home with the Kennedy family.

He had, indeed, encouraged Ms. Kopechne to leave with him, in his car, before the last ferry left Chappaquiddick Island for the short hop to Edgartown. His driver, Jack Crimmins, hesitated to give the keys to the Senator's car to Kennedy, offering the couple a ride to the ferry, but turned them over to the Senator after he demanded them. The pair drove off, after claiming that Ms. Kopechne was exhausted and wanted to return to her hotel room in Edgartown, and that the last ferry left at midnight. Crimmins noted that the couple left at about 11:15.

Sources for this article vary on the make and model of the car. Photographs of the car and Massachusetts motor vehicle registration records confirm the car was a 1967 Oldsmobile Delta 88 sedan. (Contrary to Wikipedia's statement, the car a) did not belong to Rose Kennedy and b) was not the larger "Ninety-Eight" model of Oldsmobile car.)

An off-duty police officer, Huck Look, had been on duty for the Edgartown regatta. When he finished his tour of duty at 12:30 A.M., he was driving on the only paved road on Chappaquiddick Island, Chappaquiddick Road, also referred to as "Main Street," when he saw a black sedan coming towards his from Cemetery Road at a high rate of speed. He pulled over and got out, intending to direct the car in back toward the center of the island and away from the private road the car was heading down. Upon seeing Officer Look, the car sped away. Look had the foresight enough to memorize the registration letter and a couple of numbers from the car; that would come out later. It was after 12:30 and well after the departure of the last ferry.

The next morning, Officer Look reported the sighting to the Edgartown police department, which found that there were fewer than a dozen black Oldsmobile Delta 88 cars with similar license plates registered in Massachusetts at the time; none of them to Edgartown residents. But one stood out; it was registered to Senator Ted Kennedy who gave his address as the Federal Building in Boston. This raised a few eyebrows, and even more were raised when the car was found later on.

What were the Senator and the stunning young blonde been doing for over an hour; driving around on a very small island where all the roads are dirt but one? It has been speculated that Kennedy, seeing an officer with a badge, wanted to distance himself. The reason is this; when Mary Jo Kopechne's dress was being inspected by the coroner, they found tiny spots of blood and grass stains on the back of it. Had Kennedy and Kopechne had a tryst in a grassy area somewhere? Without availability of the ferry, was Kennedy going to return to the party and get Kopechne "cleaned up?" Kennedy took off down the dirt roads of Chappaquiddick island in a very large car equipped with a 455-cubic inch V8 engine. The car was so wide it took up nearly the entire width of the tiny roads and the Chappaquiddick bridge (which, contrary to popular belief, doesn't lead to Edgartown but instead goes over a tidal pond and leads to a dead end road, a beach, and about three houses).

There is no truth whatever to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct that have been leveled at my behavior and hers regarding that evening. There has never been a private relationship between us of any kind. I know of nothing in Mary Jo's conduct on that or any other occasion - and the same is true of the other girls at the party - that would lend any substance to such ugly speculation about their character. Nor was I driving under the influence of liquor.

Kopechne and the other Kennedy workers had impeccable reputations. Neighbors described a party that was the type old friends would have, with singing and laughing. This was no case of a bunch of married men having sexual fun with a bunch of floozies. However, the conversation and "racket" lasted so far into the night that one of the neighbors said he was planning to call the police, but the racket stopped rather abruptly shortly thereafter.

The last sentence hereinabove included in Senator Kennedy's speech is a lie. An inventory of Senator Kennedy's liquor intake, witnessed by others, that day reveals that the Senator may not have been falling-down drunk, but had consumed quite a bit of alcohol. (Take into account that this inventory is only what witnesses saw the Senator consume; he could've made more beverages for himself at any time, and certainly wasn't surrounded by witnesses the entire day.)

  • 3 Rum and Cokes aboard his boat during the regatta, from between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m.;
  • 2 Heineken beers at the Shiretown Inn in Edgartown after the regatta, probably between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.;
  • 1 Rum and Coke on arrival at the Lawrence Cottage at 7:00.
  • From 8:30 p.m. to 11:15 the Senator testified he had 2 Rum and Cokes at the party. This could be viewed with some skepticism: for example, if he had three cocktails on his boat during the racing competition, which required a modicum of attention (at the very least to tack appropriately) would not one assume that at a social party of over three hours' duration the Senator would've made himself more than two cocktails? Further, recall that since Bobby's death Kennedy had on many occasions been accused of drinking heavily.

Little over a mile away the car that I was driving on an unlit road went off a narrow bridge which had no guard rails1 and was built on a left angle to the road. The car overturned into a deep pond and immediately filled with water. I remember thinking as the cold water rushed in around my head, that I was for certain drowning; then water entered my lungs and I actually felt a sensation of drowning; but somehow I struggled to the surface alive. I made immediate and repeated efforts to save Mary Jo by diving into the strong and murky current, but succeeded only in increasing my state of utter exhaustion and alarm.

Dike Road, the one leading to Chappaquiddick Bridge, veers off at a sharp angle and descends sharply from Chappaquiddick Road. Contrary to what he said, the corner was lit by the porch lights of two homes. The heavy, powerful car had no time to stop, skidded on the pebbly dirt road at full speed (estimates vary between 30 and 40 miles per hour), and veered to the right when it hit the resistance of the wooden bridge. Analysis of the way the car lay on the bottom of the inlet (front facing the bridge and rear away) indicates that it flipped directly over its front and landed on the roof, on the windshield side. The front of the car was weighted down by the engine, however, the rear of the car had plenty of room for an air bubble; a large one.

More About The Car

This writer's personal experience with a slightly later (1969) model four-door Oldsmobile Delta 88 Sedan of virtually similar size and weight is such that one would be hard-pressed to get a vehicle that size and weight to roll over, much less overturn in a vertical manner, rear bumper over front. For those of you too young to remember what a full-sized General Motors car was like, suffice it to say that three to four adults could comfortably occupy the front seat and four or more could comfortably occupy the rear seat of one of these behemoths. Now, despite this size, any driver who had his/her wits about them could have navigated the sharp curve from Chappaquiddick Road, into the grooves of Dike Road, albeit unpaved, and then righted the car's path once the tires contacted the wooden bridge. Although the edges of the bridge at that time were quite shallow, they would have been sufficient to assist a driver to straighten out the car's path, assuming the driver had not "locked up" the wheels and was steering mindfully. The soft, springy ride of this particular year and model of car make it difficult to maneuver on unpaved roads, and downright unsafe to drive on deeply rutted, bumpy unpaved roads at any speed but for a crawl, unless one is familiar with the car's handling.

Driving Worthy of a Hollywood Stunt Actor

Now, imagine the accident. The car sped off the bridge at such an angle as to catch the front wheels and literally toss the vehicle over onto its roof, free and clear of the bridge and into the water. One of the windows was in the open position, so therefore the vehicle would've started to fill with water rapidly. The front seat filled first, followed by the rear seat. At the estimated time of the incident, the tide level was so low that the rear wheels and trunk must have been projecting from the water. Both passengers would've tumbled from their seats, rolled over the dashboard (or steering wheel, in the driver's case), and ended up on the "headliner," or inside roof of the car, upside down in relation to the ground but ostensibly still right side up given their position in the vehicle. Given the forward roll, they'd also surely be still in the confines of the front seat area.

Okay, Kennedy was scared for his life; but given the fact that there was lighting in the area why did he not immediately make an effort to rescue his passenger. And what of the two broken windows? Had Ms. Kopechne broken one or both of them? Had Kennedy tried but given up? It must be said that to roll "head over heels" in a vehicle, despite the cushioning effect of the water, would induce disorientation in anyone. The air in one's lungs would return one to a seated position after the tumble, but given the position of the wheel it's fair to say that it was difficult for either of them to figure out which way was "up." Kennedy claims he'd hit his head. It's also quite possible that his stomach hitting the steering wheel on the way over had "knocked the air out of him," verifying his claim that he'd felt as if his own lungs were filling with water. Did Kennedy think that his passenger hadn't survived the accident and he'd already be responsible for manslaughter? Nobody knows.

Quick Drowning or Slow Asphyxiation?

Mary Joe Kopechne was found by a police diver in a state of rigor mortis clutching the back seat of the car with her hands with her head stuck upward in the rear foot-well of the vehicle. There was still a substantial air bubble inside the car, where the rear footwells and back seat are located. That indicates that she survived for some time after the car became submerged, and in fact had made her way from the front seat to the air bubble in the rear seat area. Had she been knocked out and drowned, she'd have been located totally submerged, probably in the front footwell of the car. Furthermore, when the car was taken out of the water, the trunk was found remarkably dry. This adds to the possibility that the door seals were as sure as the trunk seals, ensuring perhaps a larger air bubble until the tide rose at dawn. (The rubber door seals on Oldsmobile cars are quite substantial, contributing to the quiet ride of the car.)

When Kopechne was on the coroner's examination table, very little moisture came out of her mouth and nose, and was probably from her stomach. No salt water. Mary Jo Kopechne had been breathing the air bubble waiting for help. She'd died of asphyxiation. The car's four doors were locked, perhaps her failure to be able to open the nearest one had scared her into staying put. The car's headlight switch was still on, gear selector in drive, so why were the doors locked?

We'll never know whether the vehicle was equipped with electric door locks, which would have failed submerged in the water. The electric door locks of the day were operated by small switches on the armrests of the doors. The only way to manually unlock the door is by tugging on a small button which pops up and down on the windowsill of the door. Often times, as those familiar with General Motors cars of that era, the buttons, in the locked (down) position, were very difficult to lift, for one had not only to use the button and its small protrusion to work the door locking mechanism, but when using the locks manually extra pressure was needed to over-ride the solenoid which operates the power locking feature. Three of the car's windows were either open or smashed open; the one nearest Mary Jo was intact and closed. Again, even if Mary Jo, who drove a Volkswagen herself, could find the power window switch it's still quite possible that the electric control and/or motor would've been disabled by the entry of the salt water into the door.

Whether the young woman suffocated or drowned, both are terrifying ways to die. This article does not intend to place more gravity on one or the other mode of death. Suffice it to say that either way, she was probably hysterical and quite aware the end was near in her final moments.

Why Wasn't Official Help Summoned Promptly?

Supporting the theory that Kopechne had suffocated rather than drowned was the statement of the police diver who took her body out of the car. John Farrar stated that upon entering the upside down vehicle, he noticed that Kopechne was probably not knocked unconscious by the car's contact with the water: "If she had been dead or unconscious, she would have been prone, sinking to the bottom or floating on top. She definitely was holding herself in a position to avail herself of the last remaining air that had to be trapped in the car." Once out of the water, he continued, "There was a great possibility that we could have saved Mary Jo's life," Farrar said. "There would have been an airlock in the car - there always is in such submersions - that would have kept her alive. If we had been called, I would have reached the scene in 45 minutes. I say 45 minutes because it was dark. ( The daylight recovery had taken 30 minutes ). The lack of light might have caused a delay of 15 minutes."

My conduct and conversation during the next several hours, to the extent that I can remember them, made no sense to me at all. Although my doctors inform me that I suffered a cerebral concussion as well as shock, I do not seek to escape responsibility for my actions by placing the blame either on the physical and emotional trauma brought on by the accident, or anyone else. I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately. Instead of looking directly for a telephone after lying exhausted on the grass for an undetermined time, I walked back to the cottage where the party was being held, requested the help of two friends, Joe Gargan and Paul Markham, and directed them to return immediately to the scene with me ( it then being sometime after midnight ) in order to undertake a new effort to dive down and locate Miss Kopechne. Their strenuous efforts, undertaken at some risk to their own lives, also proved futile.

The residents of two homes, Sylvia Malm and the Rev. and Mrs. David Smith, located nearby the bridge affirmed that not only wasn't the bridge area "dark," as said Kennedy, it was well-lit by their porch lights. In fact, Mrs. Malm was awake "some time after midnight" and didn't hear the noise of an accident, but did mention hearing a car driving quite fast on Dike Road. Help was nearby - just a few steps. Not only did Kennedy fail to summon help immediately but neither did the two attorneys. Kennedy also, on his way to the cottage, passed a fire station with a working emergency telephone he could have used to summon aid.

Both Gargan and Markham were lawyers. If a proper and thorough investigation had been conducted absent all of the patently obvious "fixing" (Kennedy's expired Massachusetts driver's license suddenly appeared, free of salt-water, with a new expiration date; the absence of the two Virginia motor vehicle convictions from his record; an inquisition into the long delay in reporting the accident) the two lawyers would have certainly faced charges ranging from failure to act to conspiracy to commit and/or aid and abet a crime.

Before Kennedy arrived at the Edgartown police station to give a statement, the Lawrence cottage was cleaned of all traces of a party. Every bottle (but for four Coca-Cola bottles), napkin, every potato chip; was gone. The trash had been removed. The beds were made perfectly. The place was scrubbed from stem to stern. Gargan, ever Kennedy's "fixer," saw to it that this was done, and participated in the cleaning himself.

The Most Ridiculous Public Statement by a Politician (Until the "Meaning of 'is'3)

Read this carefully. Then read it again. Read it out loud. Imagine someone delivering this paragraph on television:

All kinds of scrambled thoughts - all of them confused, some of them irrational, many of which I cannot recall, and some of which I would not have seriously entertained under normal circumstances - went through my mind during this period. They were reflected in the various inexplicable, inconsistent and inconclusive things I said and did - including such questions as whether the girl might still be alive somewhere out of that immediate area, whether some awful curse actually did hang over all the Kennedys, whether there was some justifiable reason for me to doubt what had happened and to delay my report and whether somehow the awful weight of this incredible incident might in some way pass from my shoulders. I was overcome, I am frank to say, by a jumble of emotions - grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion and shock.

The above speaks for itself. It's kinda like a life and death version of "the dog ate my homework," is it not?

This speech was the result of nearly a week's work by all of the Kennedy insiders, including John F. Kennedy's brilliant speechwriter Ted Sorensen. Gargan's attorney, Joseph Donahue, had to vet the speech because his client's name appeared therein, and offers up an appropriate description for the entire mess, the height of inanity which appears directly above. Donahue did find it acceptable with regard to Gargan's legal position, but otherwise was appalled. He urged Gargan to go personally to Ted Kennedy to dissuade him from delivering the speech. Donahue said, "Can't you get to him? Can't you tell him how damaging this is?"

Of all the emotions he lists above, Kennedy certainly must have suffered panic and fear; the confusion and exhaustion in fact were caused by alcohol intoxication, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Instructing Gargan and Markham not to alarm Mary Jo's friends that night, I had them take me to the ferry crossing. The ferry having shut down for the night, I suddenly jumped into the water and impulsively swam across, nearly drowning once again in the effort, returning to my hotel around 2 AM and collapsed in my room. I remember going out at one point and saying something to the room clerk. In the morning with my mind somewhat lucid, I made an effort to call a family legal advisor, Burke Marshall, from a public telephone3 on the Chappaquiddick side of the ferry, and then belatedly reported the accident to the Martha's Vineyard police.

Today, as mentioned, I felt morally obligated to plead guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. No words on my part can possibly express the terrible pain and suffering I feel over this tragic accident. The last week has been an agonizing one for me, and for the members of my family; and the grief we feel over the loss of a wonderful friend will remain with us the rest of our lives.

Kennedy was far more than morally obligated to plead guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. To plead not guilty and cause a prosecutorial investigation to ensue would surely have ruined his career. The statement of morality is utter nonsense; a moral human being would not have acted in the many ways he did in order to save his own skin. The only thing missing is "I am not a crook." Not mentioned by him but included in the text of his statement to the police was a remark to the effect that he was unfamiliar with that road, and the bridge. The truth is, he'd traveled Dike Road and crossed the bridge many times to go fishing on the beach at the end of the road, where the tide goes in and out. What it looks more like is that he actually thought that he could drive a sedan all the way down the diminishing dirt road and navigate it over the beach, ending up in Edgartown. I guarantee you the car would've been mired the moment it hit the sand.

Kennedy put aside the prepared text. He folded his hands, looked directly into the camera and appeared to continue the speech extemporaneously. However, large cue cards picking up the text of the speech were held up out of camera range. The Senator continued:

These events and the publicity and innuendo and whispers which have surrounded them, and my admission of guilt this morning, raises the question in my mind of whether my standing among the people of my state has been so impaired that I should resign my seat in the United States Senate. If at any time the citizens of Massachusetts should lack confidence in their Senator's character or his ability, with or without justification, he could not, in my opinion, adequately perform his duties, and should not continue in office. The people of this state - the state which sent John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Charles Sumner, Henry Cabot Lodge, and John F. Kennedy to the United States Senate - are entitled to representation in that body by men who inspire their utmost confidence. For this reason I would understand full well why some might think it right for me to resign.

This would be a difficult decision to make. It has been seven years since my first election to the Senate. You and I share many memories. Some of them have been glorious, some have been very sad. The opportunity to work with you and serve our state has been much of what has made my life worthwhile.

And so I ask you tonight, the people of Massachusetts, to think this through with me. In facing this decision, I seek your advice and opinion. In making it, I seek your prayers. For this is a decision that I will have finally to make on my own.

It has been written:

"A man does what he must - in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures - and that is the basis for all human morality. And whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience - the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men - each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul."

I pray that I can have the courage to make the right decision. Whatever is decided, whatever the future holds for me, I hope I shall be able to put this most recent tragedy behind me and make some future contribution to our state and mankind whether it be in public or private life. Thank you and good night.

Kennedy, who rarely discussed his brother John, chose to quote from John F. Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage near the end of his speech. Utterly ironic. Three paragraphs above he invokes the names of John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Charles Sumner, Henry Cabot Lodge and his own brother. This is in poor taste at best. Some may claim he outrageously used his brother's words so as to remind the public that "heck, I'm a Kennedy, too." It is poor logic, and smacks of self-promotion or self-comparison to use the names of the other outstanding politicians.

Who's Really Guilty?

Now, what is past is past, as painful as it may be. So long as Senator Kennedy decided it was alright to continue serving in the Senate, and, in fact, run for re-election, is fine with this writer. The reason Senator Kennedy remains in the U.S. Senate is due to a miscarriage of justice on the part of the Court and a horrible job of investigation on the part of the police department in Edgartown and the Massachusetts State Police. No one with damning evidence came forward until they were either paid by the media to do so after the fact, or their conscience or further investigation warranted it.

Despite the apologetic timbre of this strange piece of oratory, if one looks hard at it, it's just a piece of self-serving rhetoric. It's certainly not the eloquent and inspiring words Mr. Sorensen had crafted for Ted's brother John.

The Kopechne family's response to the death of their daughter was neither vindictive nor righteous. They failed to allow an autopsy nor exhumation of Mary Jo's body (the exhumation for an Edgartown Grand Jury which never handed down a verdict). They welcomed Kennedy to attend their daughter's funeral, which he did sporting a cervical collar, even though X-rays and examination by his physician had revealed that there was nothing physically wrong with him, although he complained of soreness in his neck. The Kopechne family received a payment of $50,000 from Kennedy's insurance company and another $90,000 from Kennedy himself. Now remember, in 1969, $140,000 could buy a pretty nice house on Martha's Vineyard. $50,000 could buy a pretty nice house anywhere.

He Didn't Learn

A little over twenty years after this speech was delivered, the intoxicated Senator and one of his nephews, dressed only in their boxer shorts, were chasing young women around the lawn of a Kennedy estate in south Florida. Charges of rape were lodged against Smith. During the trial the tasty bit about Ted walking around in his boxer shorts with a drink in his hand came out. (Author's Note: Now, far be it from me to criticize someone other than myself who engages in walking around in one's boxer shorts with a drink in one's hand).

More "Kennedy Curse" Stuff, if You Care to Read it

One of my least favorite sources, Wikipedia, turned up an interesting and very spooky set of factoids: compare Mary Jo Kopechne's death with those of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy (wife of John F. Kennedy, Jr.) and her sister Lauren Bessette:

  • All three women died in water, a few miles off Martha's Vineyard,
  • All three women died on the third Friday weekend of July
  • All three women died within one hour or so of 10:30 p.m., on a Friday night, exactly 30 years apart
  • All three women died because of operating errors committed by a male, direct descendent of Joseph Kennedy (John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s airplane crash was cited as caused by pilot error by the FAA.

Satire (or, Bad Taste Defined)

Even the popular long-running humorous revue on television, "Saturday Night Live", got into the action with the first episode of a story of a couple and their cat, "Toonces," "the cat who could drive a car." Toonces was given all manner of reasons to get into the car with various people, but of course the sketch always ends with the stock footage of an automobile going over a hill and crashing horribly. Research does not reveal, however, any episode of "Toonces the Driving Cat" ending with the car going into a body of water. Careful viewers could see, particularly in the first "Toonces" episode that the satire was partially at the expense of Senator Kennedy.

The National Lampoon magazine, ever at the cutting edge of poor taste, parodied a Volkswagen ad which boasted that the car was so well-sealed it could float on water. The "ad" suggested that Mary Jo would still be alive if she and Kennedy had driven her car. The magazine was sued for misuse of Volkswagen's logo and the car company won an undisclosed settlement.

Chappaquiddick Island

Chappaquiddick Island itself is right next to Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard. It is the summer vacation choice of the well-to-do who choose a more peaceful locale than the bustle of Edgartown and the rest of the Vineyard. There is but one store on the entire island of some 400 or so homes. For a long time, Chappaquiddick was connected by a beach one could use to walk to Edgartown. In 2002, the connection to the "mainland" (Edgartown) was washed out by a storm and it's anyone's guess when this little spit of land will re-emerge. The beach, by the way, is at the end of the Chappaquiddick Bridge; to this day a popular tourist attraction, much to the annoyance of the summer and year-round residents of the island.


  1. In 1969, the Chappaquiddick bridge had no more than "bump rails" about six inches high on either side. Current photos of the bridge show a strong guardrail has been erected there.
  2. See text of President Clinton's answer to a Grand Jury investigating his adultery with Monica Lewinsky scandal if you haven't already heard this one. A good place:
  3. Senator Kennedy's credit card records later showed that seventeen telephone calls were made between his arrival at the Shiretown Inn the night before and his reporting of the incident to the police.


"Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick," by Chris Pratt, SaturatedPratt, Summer, 2001 (Accessed January 28, 2008)

"Mary Jo Kopechne," email to by Roger E. Mundinger, June 26, 2004 (Accessed January 28, 2008)

"To the Manor Born — Psychoanalyzing Teddy" by Roger L. Simon, blog, January 12, 2006 (Accessed January 28, 2008) [Note: Mr. Simon is corrected by a responder to his blog, the title phrase, particularly in reference to the article in question,  is expressed correctly as: "To the Manner Born."]

"Remembering Mary Jo" in "Blyth Spirit" by Myrna Blyth, The National Review Online, July 20, 2004 (Accessed January 29, 2008)

"Chappaquiddick: A Profile in Cowardice" (author uncredited; includes excerpts from Senatorial Privilege by Leo Damore which were used in the preparation of this article) (Accessed January 28, 2008)

"Celebrity Critters: Toonces, the Cat who Could Drive A Car," Maverick Times, (no author indicated) (Accessed January 28, 2008)

"Mary Jo Kopechne" (Accessed January 29, 2008)

"Bill Clinton and the Meaning of 'Is'" by Timothy Noah, Slate Magazine Online September 13, 1998 (Accessed January 30, 2008)

Chris Pratt's writing about the Chappaquiddick incident includes some important books from which information essential to this writeup were taken:

  • Tedrow, Thomas L., Tedrow, Richard L. Death At Chappaquiddick. Gretna, La: Pelican, 1980
  • Olsen, Jack. The Bridge At Chappaquiddick. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970
  • Kappel, Kenneth R. Chappaquiddick Revealed: What Really Happened. New York: Shapolsky, 1989

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