The Lonesome Death of Dorothy Kilgallen
By George W.Bailey
When her hairdresser found her she was propped up in bed, still wearing her make-up, false eyelashes, false hairpiece, and earrings. And one more thing–dead to this world. Her hairdresser and friend Marc Sinclaire, found this odd, as she would normally never go to bed in this condition. But that was not the only strange thing her hairdresser noticed when he found the body. Dorothy was not wearing her regular pajamas, but instead a blue matching peignoir and robe. A book was on her bed, a book she had finished reading two weeks earlier. Her reading glasses, which she needed, were nowhere nearby. She was found in the third floor bedroom of the townhouse. She always slept in the fifth floor bedroom.
Her husband, Richard Kollmar was asleep in the fourth story of the townhouse. He gave inconsistent accounts of what happened that night. He claimed that Dorothy arrived home at 11:30 p.m., in good spirits, and went off to write her column. But those who saw her in the Regency lounge reported her being there far past midnight 2 a.m. Later, when asked by friends about Dorothy’s JFK investigation, he replied, “I’m afraid that will have to go to the grave with me.” And it did when Kollmar died of a drug overdose in 1971.
Later, it would be discovered that her JFK file that she had been compiling for years would go missing.
Today, Dorothy Kilgallen’s name will go unrecognized by the current generation but she was at one time one of the first of a new bread of celebrity journalists. By the mid-50s, she was the most famous journalist in America, made even more apparent by her 15-year stint as a panelist on the popular CBS show, What’s My Line. The events surrounding her untimely and mysterious death have become intertwined with the lore of the Kennedy assassination. She would be one of many suspicious deaths in the case.
She started her career in journalism at the age of 17 covering crime stories and earned a reputation of good, thorough reporter–someone that left no stone unturned. By 1950 her column was running in 146 papers, and reaping 20 million readers. Kilgallen’s style was a mixture of gossip, movie star news, and politics.
As time went on her reporting got closer to heart of power in this country. She was one of the first reporters to imply, which we now know to be true, that the CIA was working with the mob to assassinate Fidel Castro. Declassified documents show that the FBI was monitoring Kilgallen’s activities since the 1930s while the CIA closely watched her travels overseas.
Devastated by the news of John Kennedy’s death (of whom she met on a White House tour with her son), Kilgallen increasingly turned her attention, and her impressive crime investigation skills, to the assassination of the president. Dorothy Kilgallen quickly made a name for herself as one of the first (and few) people in the mainstream press to question the Warren Commission report. Kilgallen pulled no punches as she wrote the first article on the FBI’s intimidation of witnesses, interviewed Acquilla Clemons a witness to the shooting of Officer J. D. Tippit whom the Warren Commission never questioned (Clemons claimed to see two men at the scene of the murder—none matching Oswald’s description), and was successful in interviewing key figures such as Jack Ruby.
Kilgallen’s death has many mysterious elements to it. The autopsy showed her to be in overall good health, but tests found her to be over the legal limit for alcohol consumption. The cause of death would be ruled as “acute ethanol and barbiturate intoxication, circumstances undetermined.” In an odd turn of events, Dr. James Luke, a New York City medical examiner that did the autopsy, did not sign the death certificate. It was signed by another physician, Dr. Dominick DiMaio, who when questioned, did not know why his name was appeared on the certificate, nor was he working out of Manhattan at the time.
In 1968 a test using a new process determined from saved tissue samples, proved that Dorothy Kilgallen died of fatal mix of three barbiturates: secobarbital, amobarbital, and pentobarbital. Kilgallen was not known as a drug user. She was spotted at the Regency hotel, chatting with a stranger in a booth. Perhaps a source? Did this man slip a mickey in her drink? Her favorite drink included the ingredient, quinine, which can be used to mask the taste of barbiturates. The Regency was seven blocks from her home and it is unknown how she got to the townhouse or what transpired during this time. She apparently was not among friends in her final hours.
In 1975, Dorothy’s son Dickie, was contacted by the FBI concerning his mother’s JFK papers. He told them the notes were still missing. Notice that the FBI was interested in the papers at this late date, after they had long decided that Oswald was the murderer of the president. Why would they be so interested now?
When those who go to murder, and desire to make the victim’s death appear as a suicide, they all have one thing working against them. They can never know enough about the intended victim’s personal habits. In this case, if Dorothy Kilgallen’s death was a murder, the killers were not aware of her favorite bedroom, her sleep attire, her need for reading glasses, or for that matter, the book by her side was one that she had already read.
So was she murdered? Like so many tragic happenings like this the evidence for a murder is circumstantial. If she was murdered, we’ll never know the names of the people who did it. They are forever outside of our knowledge and justice system. Sometimes the bad guys win. But, to answer the question, yes I do believe she was murdered. She knew too much and most likely ticked off too many powerful people. Of course, there is no way to prove a thing.
However, her JFK file remains missing.
In closing, here is a quote from the FBI’s FOIA section on Dorothy Kilgallen:
“Ms. Kilgallen and Director Hoover corresponded with each other. Miss Kilgallen printed information in her column several times about cases involving the FBI, none of which were true. Dorothy Kilgallen died in November 1965, from alcohol and barbiturates.”
Interesting the way the government takes this self-serving shot at someone who can no longer shoot back.