Obituary: Judith Exner

A DALLIANCE with Judith Campbell cost the US president John F. Kennedy his life and the taxpayer billions of dollars - which is a high price to ask, even if one is the granddaughter of an estate agent.

Never mind the conspiracy theories about Kennedy's assassination, if it weren't for his constant urge for sex, Kennedy - with a bad back already, and often in need of a corset - should have been able to lurch forward after the first bullet in that Dallas motorcade rather than remain in a position to take the full brunt of the second one.

One unfortunate legacy was not rescinded, and the American economy was blighted. The floundering General Dynamics Corporation had won the contract to supply the US forces with its swing-wing jet fighter, the F1-11, something which those with any savvy about such things had rejected: the navy, for one, was not too happy about taking on board an aircraft too heavy for its carriers. The FBI, when keeping under surveillance Judith Campbell's apartment in Los Angeles, had - bizarrely - not bothered to pursue a break- in which it witnessed by another organisation. By bugging her apartment in August 1962, General Dynamics had gathered enough compromising material to bring pressure to bear upon the Kennedy administration. Later that year the aircraft was foisted upon the services in the face of opposition and protest: the F1-11's shortcomings did indeed become apparent, and fewer were delivered than first ordered, but at a higher cost than estimated.

Not until Seymour Hersch's The Dark Side of Camelot (1997) was the Kennedy story set out in such detail. One need not accept it all, but he has a journalist's nose for facts. His account of Judith Campbell Exner is more on the money than her as-told-to memoir, My Story (1976). She wrote it after leaks about her confidential testimony to mid-Seventies Senate hearings had brought her out from the obscurity of marriage to a golfer, Dan Exner, into which she had retreated after the Kennedy assassination. That move into obscurity was partly decreed by the knowledge that any earlier revelations about her link between Kennedy and the Mob might bring a rapid demise (she always wondered about Marilyn Monroe's death).

One Kennedy aide, David Powers, was being disingenuous when he claimed as recently as 1991 that the only Campbell he knew "was a chunky vegetable soup". The beautiful, sapphire-eyed Judith Campbell had been born into the Immoor family, a rich, large Catholic family in the Pacific Palisades and, overcoming a certain shyness, seemed destined for the life of a socialite. The only blight, and that not too bad, was an unpleasant divorce at 24 from the television actor William Campbell whom she had married six years earlier, in 1952. She soon found consolation with others, and had a weakness for singers of all abilities - that is to say, from Eddie Fisher to Frank Sinatra.

She appears to have been happy enough with the latter until he proposed a threesome: "I just absolutely froze. I went rigid. No one could have moved my arms or legs." Sinatra duly apologised, and introduced her to Jack Kennedy, who - after she had spurned his brother Edward - consummated the relationship a month later, in March 1960, the night before the New Hampshire primary. At one point, being from California, she had claimed not to have known anything about this Massachussetts senator. Be that as it may, she gives a convincing account of his undoubted charm: "When you talked to him, you felt you were the only person on the planet, much less just in the room. He never forgot anything you said - good or bad. He didn't just pretend to be listening to you - he listened to you. He absorbed everything."

One of the things that he absorbed was that she had been introduced by Sinatra to one Sam Flood: that is, as he well knew, one of the many aliases used by the Mafia boss Sam Giancana, and - as she was to detail closely after denying any such knowledge to the Senate committee in 1975 - she agreed to take satchels and envelopes to Giancana and to Johnny Rosselli for Kennedy: these were funds to fuel the election campaign and, after its success, payoffs to bring about the desired assassination of the Cuban leader Fidel Castro (she said that she did not know the exact meaning of "elimination"). The only things - only! - JFK ever gave her, she said, were a ruby and diamond brooch from Tiffany's and $2,000 to buy a mink coat.

Even the FBI agents were shocked to discover that there was so close a link between the Mob and the President, when his brother Bobby claimed to be set upon neutralising it. J. Edgar Hoover was informed, Kennedy was left in no doubt about what was known, and the tangled web took another turn when it became apparent that - either before or after conceiving Kennedy's child - Campbell was also having an affair with Giancana, who arranged the abortion.

Her last encounters with Kennedy, in the summer of 1962, had seen him display the same charm, but she was left - as others were - with an unhappy memory: "Slowly I began to feel that he expected me to come into bed and just perform. I understood about the position he had to assume in lovemaking when his back was troubling him, but slowly he began excluding all other positions, until finally our lovemaking was reduced to this one position . . . the feeling that I was there to service him began to really trouble me."

For all that, she knew - until the very end of her life - that she would fall for it all over again: his line that they were both from large Catholic families, his interest, his concern. As for Giancana, he was murdered that very summer, on the night before he was due to meet a lawyer about his own testimony.

In the welter of evidence, accusation and publicity which followed the Senate committee hearing, her marriage to Dan Exner broke up. In 1978 she was diagnosed with cancer, and there is no denying the courage which, with the solace of cats and painting, she brought to her battle with it - and, if that was not enough, all the while she had to contend with continued questions about what she had done, and had done to her, before the age of 30 in that era between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP: a disc which drew America out of mourning for a President whose demise can no longer tug at the heartstrings in the way it once did.

Judith Katherine Eileen Immoor: born Fort Lee, New Jersey 11 January 1934; married 1952 William Campbell (marriage dissolved 1958), (one son), 1975 Dan Exner (marriage dissolved); died Los Angeles 24 September 1999.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home