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One unfortunate legacy was not rescinded, and the American economy was blighted.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
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own