Unearthed claim about JFK and Bobby Kennedy’s involvement in Marilyn Monroe’s death… and all the signs it wasn’t a suicide, revealed by MAUREEN CALLAHAN: ‘I know who killed her’

On Saturday, in an exclusive extract of her new book ‘Ask Not: The Kennedys and the Women They Destroyed’, Maureen Callahan revealed the sordid secrets of Jackie and Aristotle Onassis’s marriage. Now, in this explosive next extract, she delves into the enduring mystery of Marilyn Monroe’s death…

She may have been the biggest star in the world, but this was going to be the most important night of Marilyn’s life: Headlining a fundraiser that would double as President John F. Kennedy’s 45th birthday party, on May 19, 1962, at Madison Square Garden.

Now the world would finally know: She and the married American president were a thing.

And what a headline that would be: Marilyn Monroe, the world’s biggest movie star, and the president of the United States!

He was going to leave his wife, the admired but frosty Jackie, and marry her. He had said as much, and Marilyn believed him. Once he won re-election, he would be free to make her the next First Lady of the United States.

It wasn’t so crazy: Marilyn had Jack on her hook for years, long before he was in the White House.

Marilyn Monroe sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, May 19, 1962.

Marilyn was headlining a fundraiser that doubled as JFK's 45th birthday party.

Marilyn was headlining a fundraiser that doubled as JFK’s 45th birthday party.

For this most pivotal night, Marilyn wanted to look like the German sex-siren Marlene Dietrich, but edgier, more risqué.

So she’d turned to Dietrich — herself a former lover of both Jack Kennedy and his father Joe — and the star had sent Marilyn to her own designer, the French costumier Jean Louis.

The result was a gossamer, flesh-toned dress glittering with thousands of hand-beaded rhinestones, so figure-hugging that it had to be sewn onto Marilyn’s body, so tight that she couldn’t wear underwear.

Half an hour before her performance at the Garden, Marilyn was in her dressing-room when the president’s brother, Bobby, arrived at the door. They spent 15 minutes alone together.

Marilyn knew both Kennedys wanted her, and she wanted both of them. Jack, of course, had the charm and power, but Bobby had a kind of gravitas that attracted her.

Late to the stage, drunk and flush with the transgressive sex she’d just had with Bobby, her dress so tight she could hardly walk, Marilyn approached the podium.

She flicked the microphone with her finger and stepped aside to reveal herself. The Garden lights hit her; she was ablaze with carnality.

Forty thousand people reacted like a single organism, including the president.

‘You could just smell lust,’ was his friend Hugh Sidey’s description. Jack Kennedy, he said, had gone limp with desire.

Marilyn cooed ‘Happy Birthday’ as if it were the greatest come-on ever written, leaving the president slack-jawed. Regaining his wit, he took the stage with one intent: acknowledge but minimize.

‘I can now retire from politics,’ he told the crowd, ‘having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.’ He laughed. The crowd roared.

Later that night, at the private after-party in a clubby Manhattan room filled with mahogany bookshelves and important men, the only known photo of Bobby, Marilyn, and Jack was taken — a photo that wouldn’t be made public until 2010.

Marilyn stood between them, in profile, looking serious. Bobby and Jack had turned themselves away from the camera. 

Marilyn had sex with Bobby Kennedy in her dressing room back stage before her Madison Square Garden performance.

Marilyn had sex with Bobby Kennedy in her dressing room back stage before her Madison Square Garden performance.

The only picture ever taken of Marilyn with both Bobby, left, and JFK, May 19, 1962.

The only picture ever taken of Marilyn with both Bobby, left, and JFK, May 19, 1962. 

Jack Kennedy loved having access to anything and anyone he wanted. Famous people fascinated him, so it wasn’t surprising when Frank Sinatra and his friends – known as the Rat Pack – became part of his inner circle.

As senator and later president, Jack would often join them for reckless, debauched weekends in Las Vegas and Palm Beach. Or he’d fly to Los Angeles, his favorite place, for what he called his ‘hunting’ expeditions.

It was in LA, in 1954, when Jack first met Marilyn at a Hollywood party.

He had been married to Jackie for just a year, and she had accompanied him – just as Marilyn arrived with her then husband, the legendary baseball player Joe DiMaggio.

‘I think I’ve met you someplace before,’ Jack said to Marilyn. It was hardly the most original line, but she played along. Certainly possible, she said.

After all, they had friends in common – in particular Jack’s brother-in-law, the actor Peter Lawford, who acted as his pimp, fixer and drug supplier. Anything or anyone Jack wanted, Peter made it happen.

Before leaving the party, Marilyn slipped Jack her phone number.

A few months later, Jack underwent extremely risky surgery on his back. His two-month hospital stay was touch-and-go; three times, priests were called to deliver Last Rites.

It was Jackie who powered him though, who never left his side, and who tried to ignore the pin-up poster of Marilyn on the wall.

It had been deliberately hung upside-down, so her crotch was at Jack’s eye-level.

Marilyn had experienced a great deal of trauma: As a child, she’d been shunted from foster home to foster home, violated, molested, and raped. She married at 16 to escape but soon realized domestic life held nothing for her.

She knew she was meant for bigger things.

After she became a star, after her first divorce and the fame, the hole inside of her was still there. What she really needed, she thought, were two things: to be loved — a deep, full love that she believed would heal her wounds — and to be appreciated for her intelligence.

But her marriage to DiMaggio proved no better. He became abusive, controlling, and wanted her to abandon her career to be a housewife. Within nine months, they too were divorced.

Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio arriving at the theater.

Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio arriving at the theater.

Marilyn poses for a portrait in 1953.

Marilyn poses for a portrait in 1953.

Marilyn and DiMaggio relaxing in a cabana on Redington Beach, Florida.

Marilyn and DiMaggio relaxing in a cabana on Redington Beach, Florida.

She wanted powerful and famous men to see past the sex symbol and realize that Marilyn Monroe had substance. She always carried a serious book around with her — Ulysses by James Joyce was a favorite, though she didn’t understand it — and preferred to be photographed reading or sitting in her private library.

And then came Arthur Miller, America’s most revered living playwright. He left his wife for Marilyn, started writing a movie for her, introduced her to all his intellectual friends. She wanted desperately to be like them. He clearly saw that potential in her.

They married in 1956, almost two years after she first met JFK.

Despite the cynics who saw it as a brand merger — Marilyn sexing up this geeky playwright, and Miller loaning her an air of literary class — she was crazy about him.

So off they went to England, where they rented a manor in Surrey called the Parkside House while Marilyn shot a film with Laurence Olivier.

It was at Parkside House where Marilyn came across a notebook her new husband left lying out. The entry was about her, and one word leapt out: ‘Embarrassed’.

She embarrassed him. He was ashamed to be her husband. He worried that his career would be torpedoed by this ‘pitiable, unpredictable waif’.

Had he done the right thing, he asked himself, in leaving the mother of his children for Marilyn Monroe? The only person he would ever truly love, he wrote, was his daughter.

Marilyn had been his wife for just two weeks.

Jack Kennedy had never made her feel this way. He had a first-rate mind and surrounded himself with the best and the brightest, but he also loved Hollywood: the scene, the women, the gossip. And he was fun.

He never assumed that Marilyn’s affectations — her compliance with men, the baby-doll voice — meant she was dumb.

Only Marilyn’s doctors had any inkling why she spoke that way, why some women who were abused as children sometimes adopt a child’s voice. It was a way of saying: I’m smaller than you. Please don’t hurt me.

She never thought Jack Kennedy would hurt her.

Marilyn filed for divorce from Arthur Miller on January 21, 1961 — the day Jack Kennedy was inaugurated. It was a liberation for her, a hopeful nod to her future.

She hadn’t minded that he disappeared while campaigning. In fact, she understood: He had to be careful. He couldn’t be caught with another woman.

If only Marilyn knew about all of Jack’s other women.

Marilyn hugs playwright Arthur Miller, her third husband.

Marilyn hugs playwright Arthur Miller, her third husband.

Marilyn and Miller pictured after their wedding in 1956.

Marilyn and Miller pictured after their wedding in 1956.

Her psychoanalyst, Dr. Ralph Greenson, was aware of her on-off affair with Jack. He thought it best if she broke it off, but as Marilyn told him shortly after the election: ‘Marilyn Monroe is a soldier. Her commander-in-chief is the greatest and most powerful man in the world… He says this, you do it. He says that, you do it.

‘This man is going to change our country… I tell you, doctor, when he has finished his achievements, he will take his place with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt as one of our greatest presidents… I will never embarrass him.’

Jack reveled in sitting next to her at fancy restaurants and big dinners, pinching her bottom, whispering dirty jokes, caressing her under the table — like the 1960 night at ‘Puccini’ in LA, Jackie home and six months pregnant, Jack’s hand sliding higher and higher, until he realized: Marilyn wasn’t wearing underwear.

He turned bright red. She loved that, found it so funny.

Little did she know: Jack had no problem shedding women who became inconvenient.

Marilyn was beginning to obsess, and Jack had a plan: Pass her off to his brother Bobby.

The first time Marilyn and Bobby had met, at an LA dinner party, Marilyn stashed crib notes into her handbag, facts about world events that otherwise eluded her.

Bobby noticed but said nothing; he thought that her lack of cynicism, her eagerness to please, was poignant.

After dancing with Bobby, Marilyn wrote to a friend: ‘He was very nice, sort of boyish and likable. Of course he kept looking down my dress, but I’m used to that.

‘I thought he was going to compliment me, but instead he asked me while dancing who I thought was the handsomest man in the room. I mean, how was I going to answer that? I said he was. Well, in a way, he was!’

With the president so seldom available, Bobby ended up overlapping with him in Marilyn’s bed, as did Frank Sinatra.

Her psychoanalyst worried that the actress was in way over her head, but felt it was equally dangerous to discourage her. Marilyn had never felt so seen, so wanted, so gratified. Despite her enormous success, she still primarily defined herself through men.

Marilyn poses for a playful portrait laying on the grass in Palm Springs, California, 1954.

Marilyn poses for a playful portrait laying on the grass in Palm Springs, California, 1954.

JFK, left, and his brothers Bobby, middle, and Edward.

JFK, left, and his brothers Bobby, middle, and Edward.

Marilyn poses with a telephone.

Marilyn poses with a telephone.

In March 1962, the president came West again.

By then, Marilyn was falling in love with Bobby, too. But even he couldn’t compete with the high of knowing the president still wanted her.

So she spent a secret weekend with Jack in a cottage on an A-list star’s estate in Palm Springs. There, she made sure that one of her best friends spoke to him on the phone; she wanted a witness to know that their love was real — should the president ever try to deny it.

Then Jack was off and Bobby returned, and Marilyn’s sense of potency started giving way to suspicion. Was she being used? Were the brothers having some kind of incestuous sexual competition? Was she just another disposable blonde?

Her psychoanalyst was now very concerned and tried to coax her into breaking off both affairs. As he wrote to colleagues, ‘I try to help her not be so lonely and […] get involved with very destructive people who will engage in some sort of sadomasochistic relationship with her.’

But Marilyn refused to see it that way.

She had these two extremely powerful men vying for her — the lonely baby, the abandoned girl, the abused pre-teen who’d had only one message from the men in her life: ‘You are worthless.’

Yes, sometimes Jack and Bobby could make her feel that way. But when she was with them, she felt quite the opposite, worth very much indeed.

There was just one of her husband’s many lovers who had bothered her, Jackie Kennedy confided to her doctor, and that was Marilyn Monroe.

So on that night in May 1962, when Marilyn sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to the president, his wife remained at home. Jackie’s aim was to send the public a clear message: ‘Your First Lady shares your values, and she is also appalled.’

Those who knew about Marilyn — the reporters, friends, and family members — felt sorry for Jackie. But she didn’t want their pity.

Jackie was furious. After this latest, most public indignity, she gave Jack an ultimatum: no more Marilyn. Otherwise she would divorce him — taking the children and costing him a second term — and the American people would finally know why.

Her husband complied, immediately.

For Marilyn, so sure Jack would never hurt her, this abandonment was unendurable.

Marilyn wears her iconic gown at a reception after singing 'Happy Birthday' to JFK at Madison Square Garden.

Marilyn wears her iconic gown at a reception after singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to JFK at Madison Square Garden.

Then-Senator John F. Kennedy talks with his brother and campaign manager, Bobby.

Then-Senator John F. Kennedy talks with his brother and campaign manager, Bobby.

Jackie Kennedy and her husband JFK at the White House in 1962.

Jackie Kennedy and her husband JFK at the White House in 1962.

She didn’t know about Jackie’s ultimatum. She didn’t know why he had disappeared. She phoned and phoned him at the White House, but was never again put through to him.

Instead, Bobby was suddenly making himself more available. Soon they were having a relationship, and Marilyn had begun to think the US attorney general was a better version of Jack: for his sense of purpose, his deep belief in the civil rights movement, his righteousness, his intellect.

Now she studied even harder to improve her vocabulary; for Bobby, she wanted to use big words to express big thoughts.

No one seemed to consider Bobby’s wife, Ethel, by whom he already had seven children – least of all his sister Jean.

She gave Marilyn the Kennedys’ enthusiastic endorsement in a handwritten letter.

‘Understand that you and Bobby are the new item!’ she wrote. ‘We all think you should come with him when he comes back East!’

Marilyn was now convinced Bobby would leave Ethel for her.

Everyone in the Monroe-Kennedy social circle knew of her entanglements with both Jack and Bobby. The men were titillated — all but Marilyn’s ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, who thought the Kennedys were using Marilyn.

So did her closest female friends, especially Jeanne Martin, the wife of Sinatra’s fellow Rat Packer, Dean Martin.

Jeanne was none too impressed with the way Jack and Bobby conducted themselves; she found the brothers juvenile, boorish and way too aggressive with women.

One of Jeanne’s friends had found herself alone with Bobby at a party and, before she knew it, he’d locked the door and pushed her down on a couch.

But that wasn’t Marilyn’s Bobby. ‘The General’, as she called him, always took her calls at the Justice Department, no matter how busy he was.

He’d sneak off on trips to LA, pull up in his white 1956 Thunderbird and spirit her away for evening strolls on the beach, just the two of them. She taught him how to do the Twist.

Once, he asked her to call his father, because few things would impress the Old Man more than a call from America’s number one sex symbol.

But Bobby could never be around for long, and Marilyn – ever insecure – began floundering. She’d drink champagne from morning till night, pop pills, stop showering.

Marilyn pictured on set for her movie 'There's No Business Like Show Business' in 1954.

Marilyn pictured on set for her movie ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’ in 1954.

Marilyn was interviewed  for an episode of the CBS television program 'Person to Person' in 1955.

Marilyn was interviewed  for an episode of the CBS television program ‘Person to Person’ in 1955.

Her emotional disruption extended to her career. On the set of her latest film, ‘Something’s Got to Give’, Marilyn’s persistent inability to get out of bed left her on the verge of being fired.

Neither Kennedy was ever far from her mind. But compassion was something both brothers had ceased to show her.

In mid-June 1962, when Bobby came to LA with Ethel for a party at the Lawfords’, Marilyn sent her regrets via Telegram.

As ever, she was hoping to impress.

‘Unfortunately,’ she telegrammed, ‘I am involved in a freedom ride protesting the loss of the minority rights belonging to the few remaining earthbound stars. After all, all we demanded was our right to twinkle.’

Marilyn’s star was dying.

After the Kennedys left, Marilyn went to see Pat Lawford, who had no illusions about her brothers. ‘Forget it,’ Pat told her. ‘Bobby’s still just a little boy.’

But Marilyn was inconsolable. Her consumption of alcohol and pills was so staggering that the Lawfords were afraid to leave her alone.

They let her stay with them for a while, took her on holiday, and one morning, Peter woke up to find Marilyn on their balcony, looking down as if she might jump, her face streaked with tears. I’m ugly, she told him. I’m worthless. I’m a thing that Jack and Bobby used up.

When the studio finally fired her from ‘Something’s Got to Give’, Marilyn took the public humiliation as a challenge. Aged 36, at the height of her beauty, she posed for a Vogue shoot.

The most daring pictures showed her lounging nude in bed, her breasts swathed in pink tulle. The eye was drawn to a long, deep scar below, the result of recent gallbladder surgery.

It was a physical manifestation of how Marilyn felt: gutted, vandalized, a part of her deepest self removed.

But her grief would soon give way to vengeance, and both Kennedy brothers got the message: If they continued to ignore Marilyn, she would call a press conference and tell the world exactly who they were and what they had done to her.

Six weeks later, on August 4, Bobby Kennedy arrived in California and went straight to Marilyn’s house.

‘Where is it?’ he yelled at her. ‘Where the f*** is it?’

Marilyn Monroe relaxes for a moment during a press party held at her home in Los Angeles on March 3, 1956.

Marilyn Monroe relaxes for a moment during a press party held at her home in Los Angeles on March 3, 1956.

The FBI and the CIA, Bobby and Jack discovered, had bugged Marilyn’s house and phone line without her knowledge. It was a coordinated attempt to bring down both Kennedys — and Bobby wasn’t leaving without the tape recordings.

Marilyn had no idea what Bobby was talking about. Peter Lawford arrived and tried to calm him down.

‘We have to know,’ Bobby continued yelling. ‘It’s important to the family. We can make any arrangements you want, but we must find it.’

Bobby and Peter left empty-handed.

Hours later, at 7:30 pm, Marilyn called Peter at home. The Lawfords were throwing another party that evening; Bobby would probably come, and they were expecting Marilyn. But she wouldn’t be coming, now or ever.

She had no last words for Bobby. ‘Say goodbye to Pat,’ Marilyn said to Peter, ‘say goodbye to the president, and say goodbye to yourself, because you’re a nice guy.’

Her body was found early the next morning by her housekeeper. She was face-down on her bed, nude, with her phone still in her hand. She’d been dead for hours.

The FBI was dispatched to Marilyn’s home immediately. Former senior FBI agent James Doyle later admitted the Bureau had been ordered to remove certain phone records.

Recovered in the 1980s, Marilyn’s logs showed she’d called Bobby’s workplace eight times between June 25th and 30th. Her final call to him lasted eight minutes.

Why had she been so desperate to reach him? Reports suggest she’d had an abortion on July 20, and that the baby may have been Bobby’s.

Also missing from her house was her surveillance system, as well as her diary, which Bobby had apparently told her to ‘get rid of’ a few months before.

Marilyn Monroe’s death had been caused by a massive barbiturate overdose. Whether it was accidental or purposeful will never be known.

But those who knew and loved her best blamed Jack and Bobby Kennedy.

Marilyn's body is taken out of her Los Angeles home in the early hours of August 5, 1962.

Marilyn’s body is taken out of her Los Angeles home in the early hours of August 5, 1962.

Empty pill bottles were found in Marilyn's bedroom when she died.

Empty pill bottles were found in Marilyn’s bedroom when she died.

Former LA County deputy district attorney John Miner later recalled speaking at length that year to Marilyn’s psychoanalyst, who let Miner listen to a 40-minute tape of her sharing her plans for the immediate future.

‘As a result of what Dr. Greenson told me,’ Miner said, ‘and from what I heard on tape recordings, I believe I can say definitely that it was not suicide.’

In the 1980s, ABC News planned to air a special about the Kennedy brothers’ involvement in Marilyn’s death. Hours before the broadcast was due to air, ABC pulled the plug.

ABC News president Roone Arledge, who cancelled the documentary, was a longtime friend of Ethel Kennedy. He denied any conflict of interest.

Both Kennedys were banned from Marilyn’s funeral by Joe DiMaggio.

‘I always knew who killed her, but I didn’t want to start a revolution in this country,’ he said later. ‘She told me someone would do her in, but I kept quiet.

‘The whole lot of Kennedys were lady-killers, and they always got away with it. They’ll be getting away with it a hundred years from now.’

UK READERS: Adapted from ‘Ask Not’ by Maureen Callahan, to be published by Harper Collins on July 4 at £25. © Maureen Callahan 2024. To order a copy for £22.50 (offer valid to 30/06/24; UK P&P free on orders over £25) go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 02031762937.

US READERS: Adapted from ‘Ask Not’ by Maureen Callahan. Copyright © 2024 by Maureen Callahan. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company. New York, NY. All rights reserved. Order a copy here. 

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