Why Mary Jo Kopechne Matters

It’s been forty years since Mary Jo Kopechne died and despite the fact it was before my birth I knew who she was before today. However, many people have no clue who she was, such is the fate of a person’s life and legacy when bulldozed by American royalty, Kennedy style.

There’s little doubt for anyone familiar with my writing that the late Senator Edward Kennedy and I had little in common politically. Aside for an issue here or there his positions have been the polar opposite of mine. That’s not why I’m writing here today although I’m sure many will say it is. While the eulogies and the tributes continue to flow for him I can’t sit back and watch it happen without my say, and that’s what blogs are all about.

This isn’t a political issue for me it’s a moral issue and it’s about getting away with murder. I don’t subscribe to the theories that the end of Mary Jo’s life came deliberately at the hands of Edward Kennedy. We will never know because Kennedy made sure we would never know. However, there is no doubt in my mind the man was not fit to hold public office after what happened in July of 1969. When Richard Nixon resigned the presidency it was for covering up a burglary; Kennedy covered up the loss of a promising young woman’s life.  Why he was re-elected to office again and again over the next forty years is almost more troubling than Kennedy’s actions then.

Bremerton Police at the scene of the crash.
Edgartown Police at the scene of the crash.
So while those who wish to lionize him will go on about all the great accomplishments he made, the way he wanted to embrace people and raise them up, he did so by holding one down. At the critical moment not only did he turn away, he looked for ways out of it. Even his own friends present tried to talk him out of the cover story he was concocting about Mary Jo driving. Worst of all, the diver who recovered Mary Jo’s body told People Magazine in 1989 that she didn’t drown, she spent the last two hours of her life slowly running out of air that was trapped in the car.  During those two hours Kennedy passed up a home within 100 yards of the crash site with people home and a telephone.  He went back to get his friends to start figuring a way out of the mess including blaming it on her.  He concocted a story about Mary Jo wanting to go back to the hotel and Kennedy offered to drive her despite the fact she didn’t tell any of her friends and left her purse and hotel key behind.

“The Lion of the Senate” as he was somehow dubbed resembled the one in The Wizard of Oz in July 1969 as he was far more concerned with saving his own posterior than Mary Jo breathing her last breaths. Even worse, even after these terrifying events he got up the next morning calm and casual striking up conversations with those in the hotel lobby.  Mary Jo’s body laid submerged aside the Dike Bridge that went to nowhere but a beach.

Even after finally showing up at the police station to own up to being involved (the police already knew that having run the plates on the car) he artfully dodged any serious prosecution as only a United States Senator can.  You or I would have have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  The fullest extent for Kennedy who was driving on a suspended license, left the scene of the accident and did nothing to aid Mary Jo was a suspended sentence.  Despite a judge’s clear findings of a cover-up at a coroner’s inquest the district attorney never prosecuted the case.

So, I’m sorry if I am out of line for speaking ill of the dead, I think I’m only following Kennedy’s example and I apologize.  We all make our mistakes in life, to err is human.  To walk away and let someone die? Little could be more inhuman.

Amidst all the talk of the grand and noble things Kennedy said and did there should be some thought put to just how genuine those things were.  Because when faced with the terrible wrong he had done Kennedy greeted his moment of truth by walking away.  Some say it cost him the presidency, it cost Mary Jo her life.