Mistress who linked JFK to Mafia don

 

Judith Campbell Exner, who has died of cancer, aged 65, in a Los Angeles hospital, became notorious in the mid-1970s when she claimed that she had had an affair with President John F. Kennedy from 1960 until 1962. She said she and Kennedy made love in New York hotels, at Kennedy's home and even in the White House. After her affair with the president ended, she had a brief relationship with Sam Giancana, the capo of the Chicago Mafia.

In her 1977 memoirs, My Story, she described how she arranged a meeting between Kennedy, when he was running for the presidency, and Giancana in April, 1960. As a result of this, the mobster sent an aide, Paul "Skinny" D'Amato, to West Virginia to buy support for Kennedy in the Democratic Party primary election there. She also hinted that Giancana had helped Kennedy carry Illinois, against Richard Nixon, which he won by a few thousand votes in the Chicago area.

For many years, rumours circulated that she had also been involved in a plot hatched between her two lovers, Kennedy and Giancana, to kill the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. In 1991 she came forward and described how she had sat on the edge of the bathtub in a Chicago hotel while the president and the Mafia don talked in the bedroom.

Kennedy's involvement with the mob in a plot to kill the Cuban president has often been put forward as one of the reasons for his own assassination in Dallas in November, 1963.

Not surprisingly, Judith Campbell Exner's story has been energetically denied over the years by many of President Kennedy's intimates, including his personal secretary, Mrs Evelyn Lincoln, and court jester, Dave Powers, who said the only Campbell he knew was chunky vegetable soup. Frank Sinatra also denied it, observing: "Hell hath no fury like a hustler with a literary agent."

Judith Campbell Exner's veracity was especially called into question after she claimed in 1996, to have become pregnant by Kennedy in 1962 and to have had an abortion, paid for by him, at a Chicago hotel. This contradicted her earlier story that she had stopped seeing Kennedy seven months before, partly because he proposed a threesome with another woman. Apparently Frank Sinatra had earlier upset her sensibilities with an identical proposition.

On the other hand, both Judith Campbell Exner's agent, Meredith Scott, and other journalists who investigated her story, were impressed by the meticulous records she kept.

Her name only became known in the first place as a result of an investigation by the senate intelligence committee which showed she visited and telephoned the White House on dozens of occasions.

Her revelations, in My Story, played an important part in making Americans reassess the Camelot myth of the Kennedy presidency.

Judith Katherine Eileen Immoor was born in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in the mid-1930s, during the first Roosevelt presidency. She was the daughter of a successful German architect and property promoter and an Irish-American mother. When she was still a child the family moved to the lush Los Angeles suburb, Pacific Palisades, where the comedian Bob Hope was a neighbour and friend.

She married actor William Campbell in 1952, but they were divorced six years later.

In 1959 she was picked up by Frank Sinatra at Puccini's restaurant in Los Angeles, and began a brief interlude with the singer. She was taken to Palm Springs, the luxurious resort, by another show business lover, but it was Sinatra who, on February 7th, 1960, made the fateful introduction to the brothers Edward and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who were out in California campaigning for JFK's presidential nomination.

By March, John F. Kennedy and his new girl were holed up together for four days in the Plaza, New York's most decorous hotel.

In April, with Jackie Kennedy away in Florida, Judith Campbell was seeing Kennedy at his house on N Street in Georgetown, the upmarket Washington DC suburb. One night Kennedy asked her to put him in touch with Sam Giancana, and within the week JFK was meeting the Mafioso at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach to arrange mob help with his Democratic primary campaign in West Virginia.

After the break-up of her affairs with Kennedy and Giancana, Judith Campbell was afraid for her life. She kept her archives under the bed at her house in Newport Beach, California, protected by a large dog, and a pistol under her pillow. In April 1975, she married Daniel Exner, a professional golfer, but in 1978 she was diagnosed as suffering from lung cancer, from which she died last week.

She is survived by one son, David Bohrer.

Judith Campbell Exner: born 1934; died September, 1999