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One unfortunate legacy was not rescinded, and the American economy was blighted.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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor