What happened to Dorothy Kilgallen?

Crime and courts reporter, columnist, and 15-year “What’s My Line” panelist Dorothy Kilgallen died on November 8, 1965. I remember when it happened because I watched “What’s My Line” in those days and thought that there was something odd about her death.  I liked her because she was very good at figuring out contestants’ occupations on the show and, in a media world dominated by men, she was one of the best reporters in the business (Hemingway was among those who thought so).

Mark Shaw has written two books about her, The Reporter Who Knew too Much and Denial of Justice in which he clearly believes she was murdered, and lays out as much evidence as he can find to support that theory. While her death was generally presumed to be an accidental overdose of sleeping pills combined with alcohol, two of the drugs in her system, and in the residue of one of two glasses on her nightstand, weren’t drugs prescribed for her and that she was never known to take.

There was never a formal police investigation even though the circumstances surrounding her death were odd and should have raised multiple red flags. Shaw wants the case to be re-opened, but that seems unlikely since most of the witnesses are gone and the crime scene in her home is gone. By the time I finished reading Shaw’s books (“Denial” is largely a rehash of The Reporter Show Knew Too Much) all I had was a long list of suspects.

Suspects include: Her husband (they led separate lives), Frank Sinatra (long-time feud), FBI/CIA (to stop her JFK/Ruby/Oswald investigation that might uncover secrets the government didn’t want to be known), organized crime (that might have been complicit in the JFK assassination). Certainly, her husband had the easiest opportunity while those who think, as Kilgallen did) that there was something fishy about JFK’s death and the government’s handling of it, will suspect, possibly, the CIA.

Shaw has done a lot of research (click on his name above for more info), but the books are not really organized well (my opinion), so when one finishes them there’s a great sense of frustration, mainly at how badly the police and the medical examiner handled things in 1965 and partly because Kilgallen’s family hasn’t been as supportive of Shaw’s efforts as one might hope.

The books raise more questions than answers, but certainly provide a lot of information about the probable answers to those questions. We may never know, and it’s quite possible that people are around who want to make sure we never know.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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‘The Reporter Who Knew Too Much,’ by Mark Shaw

Those who knew her work, including Ernest Hemingway, said that Dorothy Kilgallen was the best female reporter in the business, perhaps the best of either sex and one of the most powerful people in the country when her life suddenly ended on November 8, 1965.

She was known for her “Voice of Broadway” column that appeared in Hearst’s New York Journal American and was syndicated to newspapers across the country, she was a popular panelist on “What’s My Line” for many years, and she covered major news stories including the Sam Sheppard murder trial (“The Fugitive”) and the Kennedy Assassination. She was the only reporter allowed to interview Jack Ruby.

Many said that she broke the “glass ceiling” that allowed women reporters to take their rightful place in the press corps.

Newspapers reported her death as an accidental drug/alcohol overdose. However, the tox screen showed two drugs in her system (in addition to the prescribed Seconal for sleep) that were not prescribed and not even in the house. The M.E. report was a horrible mess, the death scene (her house) got no forensic workup, and there was no police investigation. Those who know these details and the fact she was receiving death threats believe she was murdered, most like due to her determined investigation of the Kennedy/Oswald deaths that she was apparently close to solving.

The book presents a brief biography of Kilgallen and then focuses on her investigative work, the people she came in contact with as a reporter, a list of those with motives to silence her, and the perplexing details of her final hours and who might have spiked her drink and possibly gotten into her house to arrange the crime scene. There were two glasses on the nightstand. One included the residue of a narcotic she did not take, yet neither glass nor the surrounding area was checked for fingerprints.

While the writing and organization of the book are a bit uneven, it presents useful information for those who followed Kilgallen’s career. Shaw hopes that the information he has uncovered will prompt officials to re-open the case. Sadly, the family is not co-operating.

On a personal note, I was stunned when she died and always thought there was something fishy about it and the fact that–in spite of the tox screen–no police investigation followed. I liked her work as a journalist and saw her every week on “What’s My Line” (still available on YouTube) where she asked questions the way a reporter would. Some said panelist Arlene Francis was the good cop and Kilgallen was the bad cop. Francis was a regular on the show for 25 years, Kilgallen for 15 years. 

The FBI (including director Hoover) did not like her. The mob did not like her. Her husband did not like her. That’s not an easy place to be.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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