By Sara Jordan
Born in Chicago, she became a New York journalist and popular game show panelist. But her mysterious death still troubles a legion of fans who won't forget this remarkable woman
July 14, 2007
During her 35-year career as a gossip columnist, crime reporter and panelist on the weekly TV game show, "What's My Line?," Dorothy Kilgallen ("Dolly Mae" to her friends), was a fearless journalist who broke major stories, and was the only reporter to interview Lee Harvey Oswald's killer, Jack Ruby. Her biggest case yet -- investigating President John F. Kennedy's assassination, and finding fault with the official story -- became the last one she ever pursued. She died mysteriously in November 1965, after being threatened, but the cops never probed further. Thanks to reruns on the Game Show Network, fans are still talking about Dorothy, including Larry King of CNN, and Dominick Dunne, who wrote about her in Vanity Fair. Now, shocking new information has emerged.
Dorothy Mae Kilgallen, who was born in Chicago on July 3, 1913, to Mae and James Kilgallen, graduated in 1930 from Erasmus Hall High School. She got her first taste of journalism from her father, who was a highly regarded newspaperman, working for Hearst papers in Illinois and Indiana. She would soon follow in his footsteps, becoming a crime reporter at age 17, and attending the College of New Rochelle for a year. Dorothy was a trend-setter, as crime journalism was considered an unsuitable profession for a woman at the time.
In September of 1936, Kilgallen found out that three newspapers were sending reporters on a race around the world, and she convinced her editors at The New York Evening Journal to dispatch her as well. Only 23, she had just two days to get 16 visas and a passport. She promised her father she'd attend mass enroute whenever possible. Dorothy's trip included flights on the Hindenburg and Pan Am's China Clipper. It took 24 days, and she came in second (to a man who cheated by booking charter flights). Still, she became the first woman to fly around the world. Upon her return, every house on her block was decorated with American flags and her picture. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to congratulate her. Kilgallen then published a memoir on her trip. Next, she appeared in the movie "Sinner Take All," and the following year wrote the script to "Fly Away Baby."
By November of 1936, Kilgallen was back working for the New York Evening Journal, and received her own column entitled "Hollywood Scene." In 1938, after her paper merged with another, Dorothy started a new column for the New York Journal-American. This one was called "The Voice of Broadway." It represented the social elite, the famous people, the ones who ate at the fanciest restaurants, saw the greatest shows and cocktailed the night away.
In 1940, Dorothy married actor Richard Kollmar, three years her senior, who played "Boston Blackie" on the radio crime drama. The wedding was attended by 800 guests, including Thomas Dewey and Milton Berle. The couple would later have three children named Jill, Richard Jr., and Kerry.
April of 1945 brought Mr. and Mrs. Kollmar their own live radio program broadcast daily from their home and called "Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick."
By 1950, Dorothy's column was running in 146 papers, and garnering 20 million readers. The Kilgallen approach was a mixture of catty gossip ("A world-famous movie idol, plastered, commanded a pretty girl to get into his limousine, take off all her clothes"), odd tidbits of inconsequential information ("The Duke of Windsor eats caviar with a spoon"), and dark warnings ("Anti-American factions are planning to blow up the Panama Canal").
Her deal "Bring me three detrimental stories concerning other stars and I will include a good piece about your client," became the way she ran her column. She cruised New York nightspots like the Stork Club, Copacabana, Eden Roc, Delmonico's and the Cotillion Room, picking up tidbits, writing them on matchbooks and tossing them in her purse. She frequented P.J. Clarke's for lunch, occupying the same big round table in the back corner of the room that is still there, and like the eminence grise that she'd become, she held court with all kinds of politicos, celebrities, wits, and movie stars paying homage. Reuben's Restaurant in New York even named a sandwich after her. The Dorothy Kilgallen was $1.10.
That same year, Dorothy became a regular panelist on the new game show, "What's My Line?." She would appear weekly for the next 15 years, (the series ran for 17). In Dorothy, viewers saw a highly intelligent woman, who was quick-witted, put-together, and who seemed to be enjoying herself.
Each broadcast, which was seen by 25 million viewers, also featured a celebrity guest, for whom the panelists were blindfolded. The show came out of a time when Hilton meant Conrad, not Paris, so the celebs had more heft. Among the guests were Lucille Ball, Artie Shaw, Bob Hope, Carroll Baker, Gloria Swanson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and Peter, Paul & Mary.
The premise of the show was that contestants with unusual occupations were interviewed by the panelists. Only questions that could be answered with a "yes" or "no" were allowed, with the contestant winning $5 per "no" answer. The game ended either upon ten "no" answers, a panelist correctly guessing the player's secret or at the discretion of the moderator. The viewers at home knew the occupation of each guest from words that were flashed on the screen at the start of questioning.
The show was broadcast live from New York on Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m. EST, from a drab, seven-story theater on West 54th Street that was later remodeled into the famed disco, Studio 54. "What's My Line?" reruns are aired on the Game Show Network (GSN) each Sunday night at 2 a.m. The Wall Street Journal called the reruns "a bracing antidote to today's dispiriting talk-a-thons, humiliating reality shows and hostile cable-news programs. What strikes you first is the civility." The men wore black tie, the women evening gowns and jewels.
Becomes Celebrity Journalist
While she was having fun on "What's My Line?," Dorothy Kilgallen became the most famous columnist in America. She often eclipsed the stars she wrote about. When she attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, she wore a silver gown with 14,000 embroidered jewels and pearls that were encrusted at the scalloped neckline. She placed a tiara on her head, put on her white mink cape lined with silver lamé, grabbed her Western Union copy paper and headed off to Westminster Abbey. She won a Pulitzer nomination.
Dorothy and her family also moved into a five-story townhouse on East 68th Street. It was an elegant setting, with chandeliers, French doors, original art and furniture out of "Gone With the Wind." The Kollmars were known for their glittering parties at which Dorothy excelled in charades and word games.
She worked and slept in a room on the fifth floor she called "the Cloop." It was her sanctuary, and she did not permit anyone else to be around her there. It had chartreuse carpeting, flowered wallpaper, and embroidered organdie curtains tied back with taffeta bows. She told her dad, "I like pretty things," and her father, Jim, smiled when he recalled, "The room was an index to her character. Even when she was a cub reporter at $20 a week, she was a spender and inclined to extravagance. Her expense accounts were high and her personal taxi bills exceeded her weekly income!"
But her father recalled, "She had an unerring instinct for news. She had a brilliant style of writing. She was accurate and had a flair for the apt phrase. She had an uncanny ability to produce scoops and an inordinate speed in turning out copy."
Not everyone was equally enamored with Dorothy. Frank Sinatra carried on a public feud with her, cruelly deriding her in his Las Vegas act as that "chinless wonder." She responded by reminding people of his mob ties. Kilgallen was also sued for $700,000 by a female White House reporter, to whom Dorothy had referred with a blind item in her column (but did not name). It was a ludicrous suit, which Dorothy won, but it caused her much anxiety.
Over the years, Dorothy covered a series of famous murder cases, and was instrumental in helping a man accused of killing his four-month pregnant wife gain a new trial. His name was Dr. Sam Sheppard, and DNA evidence later cleared him. In 1959 and '60, she wrote anti-Castro articles, with first-hand accounts from Cuban exiles living in Miami.
In a column which appeared on July 15, 1959 Kilgallen became the first reporter to imply that the CIA was working with organized crime to knock off Fidel Castro. The FBI had been surveilling Dorothy since the 1930s, and now tried to dig up more dirt on her. An internal memo to director J. Edgar Hoover dated Sept. 15, 1959 cited a confidential informant who "stated that [Dorothy and her husband Richard] have their own private lives," that he "has been dating other women...is interested in both sexes...and has his own private apartment..."
As her husband's attention wandered, Dorothy had begun a long-term and torrid affair with singer Johnnie Ray, 14 years her junior. Ray was a troubled man with a hearing impairment from childhood, and they were each other's enablers. Dorothy was head over heels in love with Johnnie and flew anywhere to meet him.
On Aug. 3, 1962, Kilgallen became the first journalist to refer publicly to Marilyn Monroe's relationship with a Kennedy. Within 48 hours, Marilyn was found dead of a drug overdose at her Los Angeles residence. The inquiry into her death was marred by numerous unanswered questions and contradictions in the medical findings.* Dorothy publicly challenged the authorities with tough questions. For instance, she wrote, "If the woman described as Marilyn's 'housekeeper' [Eunice Murray] was really a housekeeper, why was her bedroom such a mess? It was a small house and should have been easy to keep tidy." Kilgallen also wanted to know "why was Marilyn's door locked that night, when she didn't usually lock it? If she were just trying to get to sleep, and took the overdose of pills accidentally, why was the light on? Usually people sleep better in the dark." And she asked, "Why did the first doctor [to arrive on the scene] have to call the second doctor before calling the police? Any doctor, even a psychiatrist, knows a dead person when he sees one, especially when rigor mortis has set in and there are marks of lividity on the surface of the face and body. Why the consultation? Why the big time gap in such a small town? Mrs. Murray gets worried at about 3 a.m., and it's almost 6 a.m. before the police get to the scene."
Kilgallen wrote that "the real story hasn't been told, not by a long shot." Such bold reporting was not common in American journalism at that time. She could not have known that her own life would end under circumstances eerily similar to Marilyn's.
March of 1963 brought Dorothy ill health, as she was hospitalized for anemia. In her usual way she appeared positive. However, her daily radio show lost supporters in Dorothy's absence, and in April was cancelled. Dick Kollmar, who had hosted the show with her, sank into depression.
Then John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Dorothy was devastated. Ten months before, she had taken her young son Kerry on a tour of the White House one Saturday. To their surprise, President Kennedy invited them into the Oval Office and was extraordinarily kind.
As a formidable crime reporter, Kilgallen immediately started asking tough questions of the authorities. She had a good contact within the Dallas Police Department, who gave her a copy of the original police log that chronicled the minute-by-minute activities of the department on the day of the assassination, as shown in the radio communications. This allowed her to report that the first reaction of Chief Jesse Curry to the shots in Dealey Plaza was: "Get a man on top of the overpass and see what happened up there." Kilgallen noted that he lied when he told reporters the next day that he initially thought the shots were fired from the Texas School Book Depository.
Dorothy challenged the credibility of Howard Brennan (who supposedly gave police a description of the shooter). She wrote articles about how important witnesses had been intimidated by the Dallas police or FBI.
In the midst of her aggressive reportage on the Kennedy case, Dorothy met a man who was to intrigue her the last months of her life. He helped her on some of her JFK stories but ultimately was to come under suspicion by amateur sleuths as having been involved in her death. Questions about him were raised by Lee Israel, who wrote the 1979 biography "Kilgallen." She never printed his name, and referred to him only obliquely as "the Out-of-Towner." But he is Ron Pataky, and he was interviewed by Midwest Today publisher Larry Jordan.
Employed then as an entertainment writer for the Columbus Citizen-Journal, Ron first met Dorothy in June 1964 during a press junket for journalists covering the film industry. "[We were in] Salzburg [Austria] on the set of 'The Sound of Music.' And the bus had arrived at the set from the hotel," he recalls. "She walked up to the door of the bus and kind of tripped and I caught her by the elbow. She was on the outside of the bus. I looked at her and I said, 'Well, hello!' knowing instantly who it was. She said, 'Thank you very much. And who are you?' flirtatiously. She giggled a lot. She was giggling the first 30 seconds we ever talked and kind of charming. And I said 'What are you doing after we get off the [bus]?' And she said 'Nothing.' And we went and had drinks."
The well-built, 29-year-old Ron Pataky was quite a ladies' man. He had been engaged to the famous singer Anna Maria Alberghetti, squired Mia Farrow while staying at her mother, Maureen O'Sullivan's New York apartment, and brags that he "dated half of the females in Hollywood." So why his interest in Dorothy Kilgallen, who was old enough to be his mother?
"For all of her brashness in print she was very poetic," Pataky reflects. "She was a dyed-in-the-wool romanticist, to be sure. A very soft person. I never saw her angry. I don't think, other than strictly business, something like discussing the Jack Ruby thing, [that] Dorothy and I ever really had a serious conversation. I knew Dorothy better than anybody. We talked daily. If we missed a day, we were aware we missed a day. Let's put it that way. And it was not a love affair...well it was a love affair, but not a physical love affair. She was a sweet lady, my best friend in the whole world."
Over the next 17 months, Ron and Dorothy rendezvoused often. Sometimes she'd come to Ohio to see him, and he even took her to meet his mother. He'd frequently go to New York. "[We'd] shuck the rest of these phonies and go off and do our thing," Pataky explains. "We made trips together. We went to Florence together, we went to London together." Yet Pataky steadfastly insists that he and Dorothy were platonic. He says, "We'd kiss hello on the cheek if I was coming into town. But there was no goodnight kiss when I dropped her off, and I dropped her off a lot of times. Because it wasn't that kind of relationship. Never. Not even close. I had my girlfriends. She knew about them." Ron avows they had nothing to hide. He says that while they did openly meet at hotels "we never, ever spent any time in a hotel room."
But that's not what Marc Sinclaire claimed. Marc was Dorothy's chief hairdresser and confidant. Though he later found her body, he was never questioned by the police and never spoke out publicly. His remarks are published here for the first time anywhere.
He said that one Sunday night in February 1965, as he was doing Kilgallen's hair at her townhouse just before she left to do "What's My Line?", her married daughter, Jill, came by and confronted her mother. Jill "was very angry," Sinclaire alleged. She mentioned Ron Pataky by name and "said that she was highly infuriated because her mother was going out with this man and sleeping with him all over town, and she said, 'It's just too embarrassing to be seen in public with you.' And after she left, Dorothy cried. And she said, 'I don't know why Jill wants to behave this way. She knows about her father [and his indiscretions]. I've told her. And she knows a lot of other things.' " She vowed, "I will never see [Jill] in public again." And she never did.*
"She had several places she could have [gone] with Pataky," Marc declared. "One was my apartment, and there was [interior designer] Howard Rothberg's house. She could have gone to either. She had a key to mine, and she had a key to his. And I told her, 'Why are you going to a hotel?' [And she said of Pataky] 'He wants to.' " Ron admits he would stay at the Regency during his frequent trips to New York, and Dorothy would even pick up his room keys for him.
Midwest Today obtained a copy of a note Kilgallen had sent Pataky in which she romantically referred to "our little room on the 19th floor." Another time, she sent him a newspaper clipping showing a picture of her promoting a muscular dystrophy charity with two men. On stationery marked "Dorothy Kollmar," Kilgallen wrote: "Notice that they were the wrong guys to be at the Regency with. Where were you when I wanted you?"
Asked about this, Pataky told Midwest Today, "I had a lot of mail from her that was written in a kind of an intimate fashion. We'd flirt..." She also apparently used him as a sounding board for some of her Kennedy stories. He explains, "She would reach out if she respected you; she might well call you and say, 'I want to read you something. Tell me what you think of it. And make any suggestions.' And she'd read it, and then go from there."
On Sept. 25, 1964, Kilgallen ran an interview with Acquilla Clemons [who reported two men at the site of the Tippit slaying, neither looking like Oswald, all in complete contrast to about a dozen other witnesses; almost certainly disinformation of Mark Lane], one of the witnesses to the shooting of Officer Tippit whom the Warren Commission never questioned. Clemons told Kilgallen that she saw two men running from the scene, neither of whom fit Oswald's description.
Dorothy also approached one of Jack Ruby's lawyers, Joe Tonahill. Surprisingly, Ruby (who fatally shot Lee Harvey Oswald, who was suspected of assassinating John Kennedy) agreed to talk with her. Some have speculated that Ruby would not have told her anything important, but Tonahill strongly disagrees. "This interview with her was a very significant point in his classless life," Tonahill asserts. He affirmed that Ruby "cooperated with her in every way that he could, and told her the truth as he understood it. It was just a very agreeable conversation between them. I just can't understand people doubting the sincerity of that interview."
The attorney, who observed the two talking, said that "I don't think there was any doubt about it... Jack was highly impressed with Dorothy Kilgallen... Of all the writers that were down there during the Ruby trial -- about 400 from all over the world -- she probably was the one that, to him, was the most significant."
Kilgallen never published any information she obtained from her private talk with Jack Ruby, but Ron Pataky says that's because she was "saving it for a book." She was under contract to Random House, Bennett Cerf's company, to produce a tome that was supposedly going to be a collection of stories about the famous murder trials she had covered. Instead, says Ron, "It would have been on JFK, the entire assassination. That's what we were really working on. Of course. Who better to write it? When she got into the JFK thing, as we all know, the world went crazy. But given her background, given the people she spoke with, don't you think the obvious thing would be that that would be THE book?"
One of the biggest scoops of Kilgallen's career came when she obtained the 102-page transcript of Ruby's testimony to the Warren Commission. Readers were shocked at the hopelessly inept questioning of Ruby by Chief Justice Warren, and by Warren's failure to follow up on the leads Ruby was feeding him. Attorney Melvin Belli called Dorothy's scoop "the ruin of the Warren Commission." Incidentally, John Daly, moderator of "What's My Line?", was married to Chief Justice Warren's daughter, Virginia.
The FBI sent agents to Dorothy's townhouse to interrogate her and an FBI memo reported that "she stated that she was the only person who knew the identity of the source and that she 'would die' rather than reveal his identity."
Ron Pataky says now that "I helped her write the thing." But he adds, "I was interested in the story only because of Dorothy, because she was on it." On Sept. 30, 1964, Kilgallen wrote in the Journal-American that the FBI "might have been more profitably employed in probing the facts of the case rather than how I got them, which does seem a waste of time to me."
Dorothy's last public reference to the JFK assassination appeared on Sept. 3, 1965 when she challenged the authenticity of the famous Life magazine cover of Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly holding a rifle. [yet another not-too-productive area of research into the JFK affair] She also chastised Marina Oswald for vouching for it. The incriminating photo has since been discredited by analysts who say Oswald's head was pasted on someone else's body. [a very strong statement]
In October, Dorothy confided to "What's My Line?" make-up man Carmen Gebbia that she was "all excited" about going to New Orleans to meet a source whom she did not know, but would recognize. She said it was "very cloak-and-daggerish" and would yield details about the assassination. Gebbia told Lee Israel that Dorothy "said to me several times, 'If it's the last thing I do, I'm going to break this case.' "
New Orleans had been a bubbling cauldron of suspicious characters, ranging from Lee Oswald to Guy Bannister, David Ferrie, Clay Shaw and Mafiosi Carlos Marcello.*
Marc Sinclaire said that in October 1965, during the New York newspaper strike, Dorothy hired him to meet her in New Orleans. Marc explained, "She didn't tell me why we were going. She just asked me could I go with her, and I said 'yes.' She told me how I was to travel, where I was to go, what I was to do. And I'd never been to New Orleans before, so I didn't know anything about it. We didn't even travel on the same plane together. I went directly to my hotel, we talked [on the phone], and then I went over to her hotel and had dinner. And then I went back to mine. And the next morning, I was supposed to go do her hair and make-up, and she called me at my hotel and she said, 'I want you to go to the airport, I've left a ticket for you, and I want you to go immediately back to New York, and never tell anyone you came to New Orleans with me.' And I said 'okay' and I left. I did not do her hair." Somebody or something had apparently spooked Kilgallen.
Her other hairdresser, Charles Simpson, recalls, "She even told...me of her own volition...'I used to share things with you...but after I have found out now what I know, if the wrong people knew what I know, it would cost me my life.' "
After her trip to New Orleans, strange things were afoot. "Up until then, I didn't think anyone could touch her," Sinclaire allowed. On October 24, 1965, only two weeks before she died, and just minutes before she was to do "What's My Line?", an announcement came over the theater sound system that rattled Dorothy. A voice said, "The keys to Ron Pataky's room are waiting at the front desk of the Regency Hotel." No one knew who made the announcement or why they hadn't just brought her a note. She was so shaken up that as the show began and the panelists were introduced, Dorothy sat down too soon, and then quickly got up again, the only time that happened since the panelists started showing off their Sunday formal wear in 1954. That "seems odd," Pataky concedes. "I remember that story. They weren't my keys. I was not there then." Was somebody trying to scare Dorothy with embarrassing personal disclosures?
Ironically, she had sent Pataky a letter saying cryptically, "I will try to call you, hopefully before you get this, but it ain't easy." She suggested that Ron visit New York "in late October or early November" so they could have "conferences and all that jazz."
Sinclaire said that Dorothy Kilgallen called him on Saturday, Nov. 6, 1965, her final weekend alive. "We talked for about an hour," Marc maintained. "Her life had been threatened. Finally, after exhausting me over what was going on, I said, 'The only new person in your life is Beau Pataky. Why don't you ask him if all this information that is slipping out about you is coming from him?' Because she was concerned where people were getting the information from. I'm the one that suggested that she confront Beau Pataky with it. I call him 'Beau' because that's what she called him." Sinclaire pointed out that she was dead "two days later."
In response, Pataky says, "It never happened." But he admits that the Fall of 1965 "was a funny period in retrospect because I was quick to realize after these things began to come out that there's a lot that Dorothy didn't tell me. Clearly, she didn't want to worry me. She danced around problems. She did not want to tell me, for example, that she'd had death threats. She said she had some weird calls. Now these are my words. I'm not sure she said 'weird calls.' I probably said, 'Well, what kind of weird calls?' and she said, 'Oh you know, the kind we get' and I probably said 'Oh ya...?' That's the way it would have gone down."
That final Sunday night, before "What's My Line?" aired, Marc Sinclaire did Dorothy's hair at her home. "She was subdued but no more than usual," Marc recalled. "She had done something every day that week, and she was tired. But I would imagine [also] that she was upset about Beau. She was telling him so much. I think he was the snitch, [and] that's what she found out."
Sinclaire said, "She'd asked me if I wanted to meet her [later], because she did not have anybody she was going to meet with, and she was not dressing for a 'date date.' [But] I said, 'No, I'm going to a movie.' [So she told me] she was going home after the show."
Dorothy had decided to wear a long, white silk file evening gown and Marc reminded her she had worn it the previous week. But she told him no one would notice. "So I said 'okay.' I helped her into it. She wanted to wear that dress. [It] was cumbersome, because that dress took up the back seat [of the limo]. We always discussed the clothes ahead of time, because...if it was an evening dress, I would do [her hairstyle] more elaborate, than I would do...for a shorter cocktail dress." Marc had taken some silk flowers from a vase in Dorothy's home, and incorporated them into her hair.
But Marc was stunned to see, when Kilgallen appeared on the program a short while later, that she was wearing a different outfit entirely: a low-cut, wing-sleeve short chiffon dress by designer Anne Fogarty (a woman who, as it turned out, would marry Dorothy's widower 19 months later). The hairdo Sinclaire had designed for the formal gown didn't look right with the short skirt, especially with the flowers. "She couldn't take the flowers out because they were woven into the hairpiece," Sinclaire explained. So "obviously [there] was something to make her change that dress at the last minute. I don't know how she pressed the chiffon dress because there was no one left in the house to press a dress like that." Sinclaire speculated that "after I left, I think she got a phone call [at home] from somebody, and she agreed to meet whoever it was at the Regency. That's my belief."
Despite the wardrobe switch, the last "WML?" Dorothy was on showcased her astuteness. She looked tired but was in good humor, sharp as ever, phrased questions with her typical shrewdness, and correctly guessed the occupations of two of the contestants. However, she did at times seem to speak a bit like she had a dry mouth, which could have been caused by nervousness.
Fellow panelist and book publisher Bennett Cerf recalled that after the broadcast, "She read me the preface of the book she was finishing for us at Random House, titled 'Murder One.' I told her it was great." Marc Sinclaire insisted that based on notes that Dorothy carried around with her, and that she had opened one time in his presence, "I think [the posthumously published] 'Murder One' wasn't the book that Dorothy had in mind." He agreed with Ron Pataky that it would have been a book on the JFK assassination.
Arlene Francis subsequently reflected "that was the only night, in all the years we did the show, that Dorothy didn't kiss me on the cheek when she said good night."After the show, Dorothy was observed getting into her Cadillac limousine alone, apparently to meet Bob Bach, a "What's My Line?" producer, for a quick drink at P.J. Clarke's, as was her custom. She had told him in the past that the Warren Commission Report was "laughable" and vowed that she would "break the real story and have the biggest scoop of the century."
Clarke's employees confirmed that Dorothy ordered her usual vodka and tonic. She told Bob that she had a "late date." Bach and Kilgallen were on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis regarding each other's personal affairs. He then walked his colleague to her car, "under the impression" that she was headed to meet Ron Pataky.
But Pataky denies he was in New York. Instead, he says, "I think I talked to her that night early [on the phone]." Asked if she sounded suicidal, he said, "No! No! The last time I talked to her, she was just normal. She always called herself my New York secretary and Suzie Creamcheese. 'This is your New York secretary reporting in.' That's how every call began from her."
Katherine Stone from Madisonville, Kentucky, who had just appeared as a contestant on "What's My Line?", was invited by the show's staff to join them for cocktails at the Regency. She rode over in a CBS limo. She remembers walking into the opulent piano bar, which was decorated in reds and located in the basement of the hotel. "When we got there, there was this man sitting right next to [Dorothy]...and I mean close, because they were talking," Ms. Stone explains. "Whether they didn't want anybody else to hear, I don't know. And I could see they both had a drink. There wasn't any laughter. The reason I know this is I kept an eye on her because I wanted to talk to her afterwards to tell her that I enjoyed being [on the show] and I was happy she guessed my line. I'd look over to see what's going on. That's the reason I was paying so much attention. Back in the corner where Dorothy was, was sort of a curved [banquette]. They wanted privacy. In other words, you wouldn't have felt like going up there. I knew they were talking serious business of some kind. I had that feeling."
At 1 a.m., press agent Harvey Daniels ran into Dorothy in the Regency bar. He described her as being in good spirits. Daniels left the bar at 1:30, assuming her to still be seated in the dark corner.
Kurt Maier, the piano player, said that Dorothy was still in the lounge in good spirits when he got off work at 2 a.m. He added, "Of course, Dorothy was with a man. A true lady like her would not come by herself to hear me play."
Dave Spiegel, the manager of the Western Union office, said, "Miss Kilgallen called me at 2:20 in the morning. She sounded great, as usual. She said 'Good morning, Mr. Spiegel, this is Dorothy Kilgallen. Would you send a messenger over to the house to pick up my column and take it to the Journal-American? I'll leave it in the regular place, in the door.'
"I said, 'It's always a pleasure,' and sent the messenger. It was there, as usual...the last column she ever wrote."
Dorothy Is Found Dead In A Bedroom In Which She Never Slept
Dorothy had an appointment with Marc Sinclaire to do her hair that Monday morning, Nov. 8, 1965, as she was supposed to be at her son Kerry's school at 10:30. Sinclaire arrived at Kilgallen's townhouse around 8:45 a.m. "I used my key," he explained, "let myself in, and went upstairs" [via a back staircase often used by servants]. He went to the small dressing room on the third floor where Dorothy had her hair done. "When I entered...she was not in that room but the air conditioning was on and it was cold outside. So I turned on my curling irons and I walked into the [adjacent] bedroom, not thinking she would be there," Marc said. That's because, even though it was officially the master bedroom and was adjacent to the "black room" where she and Dick entertained, Dorothy hadn't slept in that room for years, and instead slept on the fifth floor. Dick slept on the fourth.
Yet a surprised Marc Sinclaire found his client. "She was sitting up in bed, and I walked over to the bed and touched her, and I knew she was dead right away," he recalled somberly. "The bed was spotless. She was dressed very peculiarly like I've never seen her before. She always [was] in pajamas and old socks and her make-up [would be] off and her hair [would be] off and everything." This morning, however, "she was completely dressed like she was going out, the hair was in place, the make-up was on, the false eyelashes were on." She was attired in a blue "matching peignoir and robe." Sinclaire insisted that this was the kind of thing "she would never wear to go to bed."
He said "a book [was] laid out on the bed. [But it] was turned upside down; it wasn't in the right position for if she'd been reading...and it was laid down so perfectly." The book was "The Honey Badger," by Robert Ruark. Sinclaire claimed she had finished reading it several weeks earlier, as she had discussed it with him. Dorothy needed glasses to read, but they weren't found in the room.
"[There was] a drink on the table, the light was on, the air conditioning was on, though you didn't need an air conditioner. You would have had the heat on. She was always cold and why she had the air conditioner on I don't know..."
Charles Simpson recalled that his friend Marc "called me on the phone and told me that he had found her dead. And he said, 'When I tell you the bed she was found in, and how I found her, you're going to know she was murdered.' And when he told me, I knew. The whole thing was just abnormal," Charles declared. "The woman didn't sleep in that bed, much less the room. It wasn't her bed."
Strangely, she was in the middle of the bed beyond the easy reach of the nightstand. "Rigor mortis had set in on the right hand and it had drawn up the covers a little bit," Sinclaire related. "And there was lipstick on the [left] sleeve of the Bolero jacket.
"I went back in the dressing room, picked up the intercom, and rang for James [the butler]. I said, 'James, I am unable to wake Miss Kilgallen. Could you please come up?' He ran up the stairs. I could hear him. He came up the front stairs and he ran like he was very excited and of course the door was locked. But I had come in from the back door. I don't think anyone knew I was coming. So I opened the door to the bedroom and James came in, and at that time I noticed a sheet of paper laying on the floor that had been pushed under the door. And James came in and he was very flustered. He wasn't himself at all."
A distraught Sinclaire left the residence without knowing what was on the sheet of paper. "When I got downstairs and went out the front door, there was a police car sitting in front of the house. There were two officers in it. They didn't pay any attention to me," Sinclaire recalled. "I find it very strange that they were sitting in front of the house and Dorothy was dead upstairs."
Dorothy's husband, 11-year-old son, and the son's tutor, Ibne Hassan, who slept in the townhouse that night, claimed to have heard nothing strange. But Hassan said that was not surprising since it was such a big townhouse. He remembers the household staff claiming Dorothy had committed suicide, but they later denied telling him that. He thought her too cheerful for that.
That morning, a New York woman named Mary Brannum received a bizarre call. "The phone on my desk rang, and when I answered a voice said, 'Mary, Dorothy Kilgallen has been murdered.' Before I could say anything, my caller had hung up. We put on a radio in the office and heard the news a little later. What made it odd was the anonymity of the call, and the fact that it had been made to me at all. I was hardly a reporter, just a managing editor of a couple of movie magazines."
Ironically, that Monday, Kilgallen could be seen as a guest on a recently-taped episode of a rival game show, "To Tell the Truth." After it aired, CBS newsman Douglas Edwards announced at 3:25 p.m. that Dorothy had died. It was only then that a police commissioner heard the news and dispatched detectives.
Her newspaper, the Journal-American, devoted seven pages to her life and death. Joan Crawford called her "one of the greatest women who ever lived." Producer David Merrick said, "Dorothy Kilgallen was one of the great reporters of our time. Her coverage of trials were journalistic masterpieces. She was a star and gave glamour and glitter to the world of journalism." Sammy Davis Jr. said, "Broadway won't be the same without her." Ginger Rogers applauded Dorothy's "journalistic talents and her television brilliance." Famed lawyer Louis Nizer said Dorothy had "keen insight, vivid and concise descriptive powers and an evaluating intelligence." Ed Sullivan said he was "heartsick."
Three days after Dorothy died, Bob and Jean Bach invited her widower Richard Kollmar over for dinner. Bob then asked him, "Dick, what was all that stuff in the folder Dorothy carried around with her about the assassination?" Richard replied, "Robert, I'm afraid that will have to go to the grave with me."
Ten thousand people filed past Dorothy's coffin, but Ron Pataky was not one of them. Neither was her close confidant Marc Sinclaire. Though he had gone to the funeral home and fixed her hair and make-up, he commented, "I didn't like the funeral director because he was very rude about Dorothy's death... I didn't like the way the family was behaving, I didn't like the way the press was behaving. I didn't like any of it. I knew more than they did, and I didn't want to be party to it." At the funeral, Dorothy's bereaved mother, Mae, angrily confronted Dick Kollmar. Pointing a finger at him, she said, "You killed my daughter, and I will prove it." But Marc Sinclaire said, "I don't think he could have done it. I think more than one person was involved in Dorothy's death."
The following Sunday on "What?s My Line?" somber panelists paid tribute to their missing friend. Bennett Cerf said it best:
"A lot of people knew Dorothy as a very tough game player; others knew her as a tough newspaper woman. When she went after a story, nothing could get in her way. But we got to know her as a human being, and a more lovable, softer, loyal person never lived, and we're going to miss her terribly."
Seven days after Kilgallen's loss, Dr. James Luke, a New York City medical examiner, said she died from "acute ethanol and barbiturate intoxication, circumstances undetermined." That was not a common phrase for his office to use. An autopsy showed her to be in surprisingly good health with no pathology, only "minimal coronary arteriosclerosis" and "no significant stenosis or occlusion." There was no evidence of a heart attack but there was a bruise on her right shoulder. (Back in March, she had fractured her left shoulder.)
Dr. Luke said that the combination of alcohol and barbiturates had caused depression of Dorothy's central nervous system and that this had caused her heart to stop. Dr. Luke would not speculate about the form in which Kilgallen had taken the barbiturates. "We'd rather leave that up in the air," he said. "We don't want to give that out because ... well, just because." Even though the circumstances of her death were listed as "undetermined," for some reason the police never bothered to try to determine them. They closed the case without talking to crucial witnesses.
Since Dr. Luke had gone to the scene the day of Dorothy's death and then did her autopsy, it would have been customary for him to sign her death certificate. But he did not do so. Instead, it was supposedly signed by Dr. Dominick DiMaio. Asked about this, Dr. DiMaio was nonplussed. "I wasn't stationed in Manhattan [where Kilgallen died]," he asserted. "I was in Brooklyn. Are you sure I signed it? I don't see how the hell I could have signed it in the first place. You got me. I don't know why. I know nothing about the case. I never handled it."
Ten days after Dorothy's death, Ron Pataky penned a scathing attack on New Yorkers and said audiences there are "the stupidest collection of dull clods ever to set foot in a club or theater... If any of them ever had an original idea, the shock on the nervous system would send both the originator and his comrades to their great reward... They go where they hear they really should go." Seeming to take aim at Broadway columnists like his late friend Dorothy, Pataky said, "...big people say go. The others follow suit and do just that. Then, through agony that no mortal, even these idiotic phonies, should have to endure, they pretend to like it."
According to author Lee Israel, Dr. Charles Umberger, director of toxicology at the New York City Medical Examiner's office, privately suspected Dorothy had been murdered, and had inculpatory evidence to prove it. He remained silent, Israel theorizes, because he understood the political implications of the matter and he wanted leverage over Dr. Luke, in an internecine feud. In 1968, he asked a chemist who worked closely with him as his assistant, to use some newly available technology to analyze tissue samples he had retained from Kilgallen's autopsy, as well as the glass from her nightstand. Though Israel interviewed this chemist in 1978, she did not print his name. However, we can now report that he is John Broich. The new tests turned up traces of Nembutal on the glass, but this was not the same as what was found in her blood. The more precise tests on the tissue samples were able, for the first time, to particularize a deadly mix of three powerful barbiturates in her brain: secobarbital, amobarbital and pentobarbital. Broich told Israel that when he gave his findings to his employer, Dr. Umberger grinned and told him to "keep it under your hat. It was big."
In a much more recent interview, Broich elaborated: "There was some talk...whether the body had been moved and a whole bunch of stuff. But I don't know if it was ever resolved. I do remember that things were kinda screwed up. I think things were probably pretty unreliable. I wouldn't trust anything, you know what I mean? When I was [employed by the medical examiner's office], very few of the people knew what the hell they were doing. I was paranoid as hell when I was there. You never knew what was going to happen from one day to the next."
On January 7, 1971, Richard Kollmar was found dead in bed of a drug overdose, just like Dorothy. David Susskind's widow, Joyce, described Dick as "this guy who was always in his cups. He had the looks, he had the intelligence to do something with his life if he had not had this alcoholic cross to bear."
In 1975, the FBI contacted Dorothy's son, Dickie, still trying to locate his mother's papers. Her JFK notes were never found.
Katherine Stone still lives in Kentucky. She remembers that when she learned of Dorothy's passing, "I was shocked to death. It made me mad that everybody thought that her medicine and her drinking caused her death. And I didn't think that at all. I thought that man probably did something to her."
Bob Bach and his wife, Jean, who were close to Dorothy, were among those who suspected Ron Pataky knew something about Kilgallen's demise. But Ron insists, "The next day [Monday] I had been in the office [in Columbus, Ohio] from 8 o'clock on. What did I do...hire my own jet, fly [to New York], kill her, and fly back in a hurry?" In reply to those who wonder why he was lavishing attention on a woman much older than he when he says he wasn't interested in her romantically, Ron explains he had other platonic friendships with older women like Myrna Loy, Alexis Smith, Arlene Dahl and Phyllis Diller.
Conspiracy buffs will no doubt seize on the fact that Pataky told us, "I knew Sam Giancana through Phyllis McGuire. Drunk one night, I tried to put the make on her. That didn't work..."
And Pataky certainly didn't stanch the speculation about himself when he published a poem called "Never Trust A Stiff At A Typewriter." In it, he asserts there's a "way to quench a gossip's stench" that "never fails." He notes, "One cannot write if zippered tight" and that somebody who's dead can "sell no tales!" Some see in these lines a chilling reference to Dorothy and the way she died. But Ron says he's written 2,000 poems and asks: "How in the hell did anyone come up with that one?"
Lee Israel was quoted online as alleging that Pataky "dropped out of Stanford in 1954 and then enrolled in a training school for assassins in Panama or thereabouts." However, in talking with Midwest Today she emphatically denied making that statement, though Ron did attend Stanford for one year. He says that a few months after flunking out, he spent time inHobbs, New Mexico.
Decades later, Ron Pataky, then 56, went on to earn a master's degree in Christian Counselling from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and a Ph.D. in Christian Counselling from Trinity Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana.
He muses, "I would probably put it at 75% that [Dorothy] died naturally. My inclination, if I think about it at all, is that she accidentally o.d.'ed. Took a little too much pill with just a little too much whiskey. She was not a big person, you know. She was a small gal. And it would not take a whole heck of a lot to just quiet her down to the point she stopped... [But] I'm not a fool. Of course she could have been murdered."
Johnnie Ray was more convinced. He said, "Beyond question...I believe Dorothy was murdered,
but I can't prove it."
There's No Statute of Limitations for Prosecuting Murder
What to make of all this? What man in Dorothy's life was so important, and knew her so well, that he could call her at home on a Sunday night just before she left for the TV show, and make a late date with her for which she rushed to change her wardrobe at the last minute?
Dorothy obviously knew the man she met at the hotel or she wouldn't have sat so close to him. If this person's encounter with her was so innocent, and did not have sinister implications connected to her death, why has nobody ever come forth to admit he was there with her (as Bob Bach did at P.J. Clarke's)?
Though she had been drinking, Dorothy was apparently functional enough to call Western Union at 2:20 a.m. and sound normal. She may have made the call from the hotel, (there was a bank of phones near the bar), having already left her column in the entryway at her residence, and remained in the bar for awhile longer. Since it was estimated that she died between 2 and 4 a.m., that really leaves only an hour and a half for her to have become intoxicated. (She had a blood alcohol level of 0.15. Based on her weight, this represents four to six drinks. She was legally drunk at 0.10.)
Since the barbiturates found in Dorothy's system take a half hour to an hour to start working and then reach a dangerous peak level, this implies she consumed them between 2:30 and 3 a.m. The authorities should have pinned down her whereabouts at that time. As Lee Israel told this magazine, ordinarily in the case of a woman's suspicious death, the police would "go out and at least ask pro forma questions of the people who were around her the night before." But the New York cops "did nothing. I mean nothing." The lead detective on the case, who had six children, abruptly resigned from the NYPD without a pension a short time later, moved out of town, and opened a pricey restaurant.
Dorothy's favorite mixed drink, which she'd ordered that last night, included tonic, which contains quinine. Quinine has long been used by murderers to disguise the bitter taste of barbiturates. If someone slipped her a "mickey," she could have been too intoxicated to notice.
The Regency was seven blocks from her townhouse but nobody knows how she got home. It makes sense she would have gone to her dressing room and removed her dress, because she had a big closet there. It is plausible that given her blood alcohol level, the symptoms of which can include impaired balance, movement, coordination, walking or talking, she decided to lie down in the nearest bed. She may even have felt hot from the alcohol, so turned on the air conditioner. But why would she have first put on clothes she didn't normally wear, and grab a book to read without her eyeglasses?
The best evidence to suggest that the several drugs found in Dorothy's blood were not self-administered is that only one drug, the one she normally took, was on the glass on the nightstand.
It's pretty clear that Dorothy Kilgallen's overdose did not happen in response to her having insomnia and then taking too many barbiturates. If sleeplessness had really been the problem that night, before she'd resorted to taking any additional meds, why wouldn't she have done first the things that would have made her more comfortable to begin with, such as remove her earrings, false eyelashes and especially the hairpiece that she wore in back (rather than having to lie on it)? And remember the question that Dorothy had asked about Marilyn Monroe's death: "If she were just trying to get to sleep, and took the overdose of pills accidentally, why was the light on? Usually people sleep better in the dark." Dorothy's light was on.
As the medication took hold, Kilgallen would first experience bradycardia, or slow heart rate, the classic symptoms of which are fainting, dizziness or lightheadedness. This is on top of being drunk.
One scenario is that she may have collapsed before she had a chance to put on more clothes, and injured her shoulder. Richard may have heard this, or she might have even summoned him on the intercom. (The household staff had the night off.) He might have thought she just had too much to drink. He couldn't leave her like that, so perhaps he grabbed an outfit to put on her. He could have propped her up in bed, maybe because she complained of nausea. (A pink liquid was found in her stomach but was never analyzed. Pepto-Bismol, perhaps?) He could have assumed she'd sleep it off. But why lock the door and what was in the note?
Dick Kollmar told inconsistent stories to the police. In one version, he claimed that Dorothy had returned from "What's My Line?" at 11:30 p.m. "feeling chipper," that she "went in to write [her] column," that he had said goodnight and then gone to bed.
Dorothy's inquiry into Jack Ruby's ties to the mob, and her relentless exploration of the Warren Report's gross inadequacies, threatened to expose dark secrets that powerful people both in and out of government did not want revealed. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act confirm that the FBI perceived her exposés as enough of a threat that they monitored her closely.
Incredibly, the CIA had 53 field offices around the world watching her on her foreign travels. Given this context, it is hard to see her untimely death as a mere accident.
There is no statute of limitations on murder, and there are enough people alive who could be questioned. But will there be enough interest by the powers that be to pursue this? As Dorothy once reflected, "Justice is a big rug. When you pull it out from under one person, a lot of others fall, too." Justice needs to be done in this case.