Emma [00:00:09] *Hey, welcome back to. Well, that’s despicable. A true crime podcast, a little bit of a comedic slant. With me, your host, Emma Greenberg.
Emma [00:00:21] Today, I’m joined by a very special co-host, my brother Matthew. So me and my brother Matthew are currently in quarantine right now, and we thought it would be a good idea to do this episode of the podcast about the infamous Chappaquiddick incident. Matt, you want to talk about it?
Matthew [00:00:37] Yes. And before I begin, when you talk about an incident on Martha’s Vineyard. No, we’re not talking about the brother and sister arguments that we get into on the daily. We’re talking about one of the most infamous incidents on Martha’s Vineyard, which is the incidents of revolving around Ted Kennedy and his supposed mistress, Mary Jo Kopechne. So I believe personally that they were an item because of the need to cover it up. But, you know, there’s a movie that just came out about it in 2017 called Chappaquiddick. And something that’s really interesting about media and the role of communication is how things are sensationalized to the world versus how they feel when you are at that geographic location and that is being sensationalized. So for the past 20 years of my life, I’ve gone to Chappaquiddick, seen the bridge that it happens. And I look and I said, you know, that happened right here. I mean…
Emma [00:01:34] It’s so weird because we really grew up summering on the chappy beach that like where the incident took place. And all the time, we always say, how on earth could Ted Kennedy have like even thought when he wasn’t supposedly drunk driven onto this bridge?
Matthew [00:01:47] Yeah. And another fun incident that happened on Chappaquiddick is where they shot the movie Jaws. So Chappaquiddick has a certain reputation, especially in the northeast, of being infamous for unwanted deaths of some kind. So there’s a lot of information about Ted Kennedy and this incident. But basically the facts were it was a hot summer night in July of 1969, the summer of love. And I felt that’s probably what happened. You know, if we’re speculating and Ted Kennedy, known as Edward Kennedy, U.S. senator, brother of JFK, was driving a black Oldsmobile that plunged off the Dike Bridge, Dike Bridge on the tiny island of Chappaquiddick, which is a sub island on the larger island of Martha’s Vineyard. And his vehicle, which was carrying Mary Jo Kopechne, plunged into the Poucha pond. Ted Kennedy was 37 years old and he survived the crash. But the young woman who he was riding within the car, Mary Jo Kopechne, she didn’t. And the newspaper headlines at the time identified as her as just like a blonde or a bimbo. But actually, she was a really well respected political aide who not only worked for Ted Kennedy, but also for a couple of other people, too. So these headlines sort of, you know, put her at a disadvantage for this, you know, crime because she wasn’t fully, you know, respected. And it was rumored, as you know, things are politicized, that she was Ted Kennedy’s lover, especially being on a bridge on an island, definitely in the middle of the night.
Emma [00:03:22] So just to recap what happened. So Kopechne and Kennedy were at a party being held on a cottage in Chappaquiddick. And it was getting late. So Kennedy offered to give Kopechne a ride home. So he was driving home and claiming he wasn’t drunk. There’s a lot of speculation, conspiracy theories that he was under the influence or he passed off as he was. It wasn’t a big debate. He drove the two of them to Chappaquiddick Beach, which was not the main part of the island, Edgartown where they were staying at. And he plunged the car into the water. And as they plunged into the water, he was able to escape. But Kopechne, was left in the water. He’s claimed and claimed and claimed that he went back in a million times and go back into water to try and get Kopechne’s body out. But it was too dark, so we couldn’t see anything. Instead of going to the police, I should have done. He went back to the house that he was staying and came back to the site of the crash with Joseph Garrigan and aide Paul Martin. Both claimed that they tried in vain to rescue her, but they were unsuccessful in doing so and even still, they didn’t go back to get the police. So they took Kennedy back to his hotel where he was staying on the main island, in Edgartown, and she was later discovered by a civilian, some odd nine hours later.
Matthew [00:04:35] So it’s also really interesting, too, because this is in part how Ted Kennedy may have gotten away with it, because they weren’t able to do a breathalyzer test because it wasn’t reported at the time of the accident, and especially at this time, too Chappaquiddick is a dark, deserted no police station, a small fire station, dark lights, not lit road. So it really is the perfect place to have a tryst and be private. And a lot of residents who still occupy Chappaquiddick, they like that secluded feel that this part of the island offers. So by the time the civilian found her body the next day, she’d been underwater for at least nine hours. And the coroner thinks that she didn’t die right away on impact, which means that Ted Kennedy maybe could have had time to save her. She was gasping for air or life. In a speech, Ted Kennedy made the following week regarding the accident, he claimed he was not intoxicated while driving and did not report the incident to the police because of the confusion he suffered upon impact with the water, which led to a, quote, confused and shocked state.
Emma[00:05:45] Just going back to what you mentioned earlier about Kopechne’s character after the incident, the media blew up with it. They took that they were able to slander Kennedy and ran with it and they slandered back name and process of it, too. So what the Kopechne’s family has been trying to do for the past, like over half century, was trying to restore her name and good character that she was indeed actually, a do good public servant and not just the bimbo blonde that he is rumoured to have an affair with. First in her life after college. She was a teacher in Alabama and she worked on at the Mission of St. Jude. She then relocated to Washington, D.C., working for Florida Senator George A Smathers, 1963.
Matthew [00:06:19] In D.C., the home of the best university American.
Emma[00:06:22] Yeah, funny. Mathew is a grad student at Ohio State, but he has a very big admiration AU. Right?
Matthew[00:06:29] Not only do I have a big admiration for AU, but I also love, you know, those Georgetown cupcakes, which are right around the street.
Emma[00:06:35] I mean, they’re delicious. All right. Anyways, so after serving under Smather’s for a little bit in 1963, she was then transferred to work for Senator Robert F. Kennedy upon his election in the following year while working for Robert F. Kennedy. Kopechne’s main role was to was the secretary to Speechwriter’s, and then she continued through his 1968 presidential campaign. She played a huge key role in helping write Robert F. Kennedy’s speeches while announcing his candidacy.
Matthew [00:07:01] Which is really important because she was the brains behind the speech and the writers and the editor. So she clearly had a high level of intellect that went beyond just being a “blonde”, as the media reported. You know, she was also a young woman who cared about the country. She was very patriotic and she wanted to make a difference, which is why, you know, her family states that she moved from the Deep South to get into Washington, as an aide, and she ascended through the political ladder rather quickly, being along side, these really high, powerful senators and congressmen.
Emma[00:07:34] I mean, I always say, behind every strong man, is an even stronger woman. But that’s just my two cents.
Matthew [00:07:41] And that’s how I think about, you know, my sister, too, right behind me, very strong things like many of her family members. They tried to reclaim her image from against what the media reported about her. It was stated that her cousin, Georgetta Potosky, wrote a book entitled Our Mary Jo that recounts her life from the perspective of her beloved family. Something that I think about that’s really interesting, especially coming here, that the Kennedys have this huge reputation. It’s, you know, why wasn’t Ted Kennedy ever arrested? And I hinted at it a little earlier. But Emma, you want to take it?
Emma [00:08:17] I mean, to charge Kennedy with involuntary manslaughter. The police would have had to establish that he did something illegal, like speeding or driving under the influence. But since Kennedy didn’t come into contact with the local police until 10:00 a.m. the next day, Kopechne’s body was found was already submerged in the pond. Therefore, police were unable to test Kennedy’s blood alcohol level at the time of the accident and no other evidence of illegal activity. So in the end, Kennedy pled guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of the accident and received a two month jail sentence, which was suspended and he was given temporary driving ban. Like it all boils down to that, in the end, the Kennedy family is a political machine.
Matthew [00:08:57] If you’re rich and in power, you you’re above the law, which is evident of modern day politics, I think, especially in Washington with the Trump family and how, you know, they’re you know, how they get away with things and their political operatives, because you think when you’re in power, you know, it’s it’s like Foucault, who was a you know, Foucault, you know. You know, Foucault. Yeah. Yeah. You know, the French scholar, that’s like, you know, we tell the stories from the people of power. Yeah. And I think that’s totally evident with, you know, the story of the Kennedys.
Emma [00:09:28] I mean, and another thing that also is neglected in the story is that timing was also on his side when he was going about the incident. The same weekend that the fateful weekend Chappaquiddick happened was also the Americans moon landing.
Matthew [00:09:41] *In a signing voice* He went to the moon in 1969. Even Stevens, you know, classic.
Emma [00:09:47] So, like, I mean, what happened to Ted Kennedy’s political career after the accident? He was slated to run for president in 1972.
Matthew [00:09:54] So, you know, although he didn’t eventually run for president, in 1972, I guess my short answer would be not a lot happened to him. Going back to that, he served and, you know, not a lot of punishment happened. But, you know, he’s still served in the United States Senate for 30 more years before retiring, which is like, you know, no consequences really happening. He didn’t resign from the Senate, but he did announce that he wouldn’t run for president in 1972, as I stated, and many of his supporters, he was a beloved senator, you know, was hoping that he would before the incident of Chappaquiddick. And I guess, you know, I would say that the fallout from this incident and the rumors of being, you know, of having an affair and covering this up, you know, doomed his presidential ambitions, which is ironic. You know, if we look at how presidential ambitions happen, present and present day. In 1980, when he finally did want to run for president and seek the Democratic nomination, he suffered an embarrassing defeat to unpopular incumbent Jimmy Carter. The peanut farmer. Right? That’s Jimmy Carter. You know, farmer, you know, he’s a good guy now, though.
Emma [00:11:08] I mean, in his memoir that he published in 2009 after he died of brain cancer, Kennedy wrote that his actions the night of the incident were inexcusable. And that can mean terrible decisions. So, I mean, it sounded like he would grind it a little bit.
Matthew [00:11:22] Like the Viola Davis show “How to get away with murder.” Sounds like he regretted his actions at the end of his career, not at the time it happened.
Emma [00:11:29] Definitely. I mean, take what you will from it. Was it a cover up to get rid of his mistress from going to the press?
Matthew [00:11:35] I say yes. What do you think, Emma?
Emma [00:11:38] I definitely think it was. But in the opinions of the media were supposed to remain unbiased. So was it a coverup to get rid of his mistress or was it just an accident? Like everyone else claimed it would be? Thank you, Matthew, for joining me on this episode of Well, that’s despicable.
Matthew [00:11:52] You’re so welcome.
Emma [00:11:53] Hope everyone is staying safe and healthy out there.
*Music Comes in and fades out*