On April 27, 1996, 76-year old William Colby, former director of the CIA, disappeared from his vacation home on the water at Rocky Point, Maryland.  Colby had spent the day at a marina fixing his sloop.  He returned home after 6 pm, phoned his wife, who was visiting her mother in Texas, and told her he was tired and would eat supper, then go to bed.  He watered his trees, met with his gardener and his visiting sister around 7:15 pm (sunset was at 7:57), and fixed himself a meal.  The next day there was no sign of him.  Eventually, a neighbor phoned the police.  They found his supper half-eaten.  The computer and radio were on.  His canoe was missing.1

By the next day a full-scale search with helicopters and divers was under way.  CIA controlled the scene until its agents were satisfied.  A carpenter had found the canoe nearby and had emptied a great deal of sand out of it.  But repeated searches over the next few days found no sign of Colby.  Finally, the search was called off.  On May 6 Colby’s body was found face-down on the shore 40 meters from the location of the canoe, in a place that had repeatedly been searched.

The Maryland medical examiner’s autopsy2 concluded that atherosclerotic disease had caused Colby to fall into the water from his canoe.  He died of drowning and hypothermia.  The body was described as “in an advanced state of decomposition” after nine days in the water.

But that was a lie.  The previous day the Maryland medical examiner had remarked to journalist Zalin Grant that Colby’s body looked “remarkably well”.  A former US Army intelligence officer in Vietnam, where he had worked with Colby, Grant had seen plenty of decomposed bodies.  According to the photos of the corpse that he saw, Colby’s body was indeed in very good shape, as if it had spent only a brief time in the water.  Colby’s wife said that he was in very good shape.  He had no history of heart problems.  So the report’s “atherosclerotic disease” was also a lie.  At any rate, it seemed strange for Colby to take a canoe ride in reported choppy water, after dark, and after he had told his wife that he was tired and would go to bed after supper.

Grant concluded that Colby had been abducted, then murdered by ex-CIA officers who were retaliating against Colby for firing them and disclosing Agency secrets during his time as director, 1973-1976.  While his account of the many discrepancies between the evidence and the official story should lead us to conclude that Colby was indeed murdered, ascribing this to embittered ex-CIA officers seems very open to question.  Why would they wait 20 years after his retirement?  Some had passed away in the interim, and others were less fit for an operation like this.  Also, would they trust each other not to blab?  Why risk arrest and punishment?  Besides, a murder seems extreme.  Or, if they wanted to murder him, why didn’t they do it right away?

In fact, there is a much more likely perpetrator:  a Russian intelligence hit squad from a KGB successor agency or military intelligence.3  Why should we think this?  First, it far better explains the 9-day interval before the body showed up.  That would give the Russians ample time to interrogate Colby in depth.  Second, even though 20 years had passed since he had left CIA, Colby possessed exceptional insider knowledge of CIA operations, including of many episodes of the Cold War that the Russians would have wanted to understand.  Above all, he would know of CIA operations in the Soviet Union and of Soviet traitors.  Third, Colby had remained active as a consultant and Washington commentator.  He had contacts throughout the American foreign policy elite and was likely privy to more recent secrets.  Fourth, quite aside from Colby’s intelligence value, interrogating and murdering him could exact revenge for his decades of very effectively fighting Soviet communism as well as for the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

Still, we need to account for various dangling ends.  For instance, certain aspects of the kidnapping seem amateurish.  The kidnappers left the tow line on the canoe, yet Colby had never used a tow line.  Abandoning a half-finished meal to go boating seems very out-of-character for Colby.  The abductors should have cleaned it up.  Returning the body in such good shape is another anomaly.  Perhaps the leaders of the kidnapping had to make do with whatever untrained helpers were available.

A further question is why wait until 1996?  Here we might answer that the KGB might have had Colby on their hit list for many years, but the disruption of the collapse of the Soviet Bloc had led to delays.  It might have taken time to persuade President Yeltsin to authorize the kidnapping, assuming that it wasn’t a rogue operation.  They also could have viewed this late murder as a reminder to themselves, and perhaps to others, that the Cold War had never completely ended and that the KGB never forgets.

A String of KGB Murders?

Supporting this interpretation is the suspicious 1978 death of CIA consultant Arthur Paisley, a retired Agency expert on verification of nuclear weapons agreements.4  Paisley’s sloop was found run aground on Chesapeake Bay.   Seven days later his body was found floating in spite of being weighted down with a diving belt, with a gunshot wound in the back of his head.  CIA suggested that his death was by suicide; the Maryland State Police said he died of indeterminate causes.  The circumstances, including the number of days available for an interrogation, suggest murder by the KGB.  That gave Colby’s kidnapping, interrogation, and murder a clear precedent.

In recent years we have become increasingly aware that the KGB was the likely perpetrator of the murders of key individuals connected with the assassination of President Kennedy:  definitely, JFK’s backchannel to Nikita Khrushchev Mary Meyer; and very likely, journalist Dorothy Kilgallen and Lee Harvey Oswald’s KGB handler George de Mohrenschildt (both deaths have been incorrectly and without proper investigation attributed to suicide).5

If we can find good reasons to suspect the KGB in these murders, CIA must suspect it, too.  Why does CIA remain silent in so many cases?  From the murder of Mary Meyer, we know that the CIA concluded that the KGB did it, yet it did not go public with this information.  Understandably, it wished to avoid exposing its intelligence sources and methods to public scrutiny in a trial.  It also might have wished to avoid a fruitless debate with various observers who, however wrongly, insisted that CIA was behind her death.

It may be that CIA remains silent in these cases in part to deceive the KGB and its post-1991 heirs.  But this policy has the lamentable effect of misleading the public.  This undermines public trust in the government and media because Americans are expected to believe palpably implausible rulings of suicide or accident.  In some cases, it leads to wild-eyed conspiracy theories.  Not only does the KGB get off scot-free in the public’s eyes; CIA is branded as a perpetrator of crimes against Americans, increasing the general alienation of Americans from their government and media since the Kennedy assassination.  So the KGB and its successors have two added incentives to perpetrate such murders:  they won’t be blamed, and the CIA will.

We must wonder if the KGB arranged more such deniable murders; if its successor organizations have also done so, even at a time, 1996, when the US and Russia seemed to enjoy a good relationship; and if innocent people and organizations have been wrongly blamed.  The KGB could organize murders that seemingly had little to do with Soviet interests, but which served to pit Americans against each other, provoke turmoil, damage morale, and alienate the people from their government and media.  All with the aim of harming the United States–of course, a major, compelling interest of the USSR.

Notably, the KGB must be considered the leading suspect in the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King.  See The KGB Theory of American Assassinations.


Kenneth J. Dillon is an historian who writes on science, medicine, and history.  He also served as a foreign service officer, with five years in intelligence analysis.  See the biosketch at About Us and his novel Rosemarie.







1. The best account is at http://www.pythiapress.com/wartales/colby.htm .
2. https://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/PostMortem.pdf
3. I am indebted to Cliff Kincaid for suggesting that the post-KGB was the perpetrator.
4. Randall B. Woods.  Shadow Warrior:  William Egan Colby and the CIA.  New York:  Basic Books, 2001, pp. 469-470
5. https://scientiapress.com/kgb-kennedy
Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
Copyright © Scientia Press, 2024