Mark Shaw on Dorothy Kilgallen’s JFK investigation

Mark Shaw
Mark Shaw

I was intrigued by advance notice of Mark Shaw’s new book, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, both because its subject, pioneering journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, and the medi credentials of author Mark Shaw.

Shaw describes himself as a former criminal defense lawyer, legal analyst for USA Today, ESPN, and CNN, and the author of 25 books. I  sent Shaw some questions and he responded thusly:

JFK Facts: For a baby boomer like me, he name ‘Dorothy Kilgallen’ evokes the days when women were dames, men were chauvinists, and newspapers mattered–none of which seems to apply to our world today. Who was Dorothy Kilgallen? And why should we care?

MS: Your observations are right on point and this is one reason Dorothy’s career is so remarkable, that she could succeed and be called “the most powerful female voice in America” by the New York Post. Besides her What’s My Line? game show fame that 25 million people watched weekly on CBS, she was a Pulitzer-Prize nominated journalist whose New York Journal-American column was syndicated to 200 newspapers in the country when yes, newspapers did make a difference, a crack investigative reporter who covered high profile trials such as the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case, Dr. Sam Sheppard (became the film “The Fugitive), Lenny Bruce, and of course the Jack Ruby trial (evidence on the videotaped interviews and NBC footage). Also, she co-hosted a NYC morning radio program, appeared on numerous other TV shows, authored a book, all this while raising three children. Without doubt, Dorothy broke the glass ceiling before it was ever a fashionable term.

Dorothy Killgallen,
Dorothy Killgallen, crusading columnist

Q.What stoked her interest in JFK and why?

It was personal, not business since Dorothy and JFK were very good friends. A primary source in the book, one of at least 40 or so, recalls JFK playing charades at her house, their meeting at the Stork Club, and a late night telephone conversation. But it was when she took her youngest son Kerry to the White House that her affection for the president solidified since JFK took the time to meet with them and give Kerry a PT-109 pin while praising a letter he had written to JFK that he brought along with others from his 3rd grade class. When JFK died, Kilgallen wrote in her column, “The picture that stays in my mind is the one of this tall young man bending over a small boy, carefully scrutinizing envelopes until he came to the name ‘Kerry Ardan Kollmar- Grade 3B.’ This is the man who was assassinated in Dallas.”

Q.What did she think of Jack Ruby?

Kilgallen was the only reporter at the Ruby trial to interview him and she did it twice as evidenced through a primary source, Joe Tonahill, Ruby’s counsel who describes what Ruby thought of Dorothy, how one interview took place, etc. Dorothy’s notes as to what Ruby told her have never been divulged since her JFK assassination file disappeared when she died but she wrote a column entitled, “Nervous Ruby Feels Breaking Point Near.” The full article is in the book but the first line reads, “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” and the last line, “I went out into the almost empty lunchroom corridor wondering what I really believed about this man.

Q. What’s the most significant thing she wrote about the JFK story. When and where?

Seven days after Dorothy began investigating the assassinations, she wrote her first column, “The Oswald File Must Not Close” previewing her disbelief that J. Edgar Hoover’s “Oswald Alone” theory was credible. Several columns followed questioning every facet of reporter-kilgallen-coverthe investigation but perhaps it was her securing Ruby’s testimony before the Warren Commission and publishing it before the release date, that was her real scoop, one that might be compared to exposure of the Nixon tapes or Snowden’s secret government documents. In the articles accompanying the WC testimony, she called the whole investigation “fishy” and questioned whether the WC really was seeking the truth about the assassinations.

Q. What did she think happened in Dallas?

I want to make it clear that this is not my book but Dorothy’s since although I add material to provide background and context, etc., Dorothy’s works about the assassinations are what separates this book from every other one published to date. Unlike me or any other author’s, etc., Dorothy was there, an eyewitness to history, a primary source I would encourage readers to make up their own minds regarding what really happened in Dallas based on her words not mine.

Q.What stoked your interest in her story?

When I wrote and published a biography of Melvin Belli, Jack Ruby’s attorney whom I briefly practiced law with in the mid-1980s, there was a quote of his to a friend regarding Dorothy that I could not get out of my mind. That quote was “They’ve killed Dorothy, now they will go after Ruby.” I had to investigate and this led to Dorothy’s book where I intend to provide Dorothy with the justice she was denied in 1965 when no investigation of her death happened.

Q.What was the official version of Kilgallen’s death?

Accidental death caused by the combination of barbiturates and alcohol with the words, “Circumstances Undetermined” added by the Medical Examiner.

Q.You say you have found new witnesses. Who are they? What does their testimony tell you about the official story?

Some of the primary sources I’ve mentioned before, but they also include two of Dorothy’s closest friends, her hairdressers, one who found her body, a woman who saw Kilgallen with a “mystery man” identified in the book who met with her hours before she died, two toxicologists who worked in the Medical Examiner’s office and describe irregularities with cause of death conclusions, and Kerry’s tutor who was in the townhouse when she died.

[Shaw has posted videos of some of his interviews on]

Q. Was Dorothy Kilgallen killed for her interest in the JFK story?

The book is set up as part tribute to Dorothy and then as a true crime “whodunit” murder mystery so readers can decide for themselves whether she died accidentally, committed suicide or was murdered. This said, the death scene clues point to homicide and I believe the fresh research points clearly to Dorothy being “The Reporter Who Knew Too Much,” that she was eliminated by those threatened with exposure for their part in the JFK and Oswald assassinations in a book she was writing for Random House. Sadly, she was a reporter killed in the line of duty for writing the truth and I will be forwarding my research including all of the videotaped interviews to the Manhattan D.A.’s office demanding that it re-open her case.




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