August 4, 1962.  Celebrity actress Marilyn Monroe died in her bedroom in Los Angeles (or in the guest house near her house, from which she was carried back to her bedroom).1 The autopsy found a bruise on her hip indicative of violence, and she had taken in a very high dose of drugs; yet there was no residue in her stomach nor glass for water to take pills.  Bruising around her colon led to suspicion that she had been chloroformed, then dosed lethal drugs with a bulb syringe.  Lividity marks showed that her body had been moved.  The safe containing her files had been broken into, and the files were gone.  Although the first police at the scene, some eight hours after death, suspected murder, there was no formal police investigation.  The media reported the autopsy finding of suicide (penciled in as Probable Suicide).

Monroe had a long-time, friendly relationship with the Chicago mafia.  She also befriended Frederick Vanderbilt Fields, a well-known leftist with communist ties.  Earlier in 1962 she had had a brief fling with President Kennedy, and then a longer romance with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, married father of seven.  Many witnesses have said that he was in Los Angeles on August 4.  Coming to her home in the afternoon, he had quarreled with her, then left.  That night he abruptly flew back to Washington, D.C.  Various authors have accused him of arranging her murder, to cover up her affairs with the Kennedys and any damaging information about them that she might reveal to journalists.  But this would have been extremely risky.  Observers have also noted that the Kennedys were not in the habit of murdering ex-girlfriends.  Journalists had never reported John Kennedy’s many other infidelities.

The other main suspect has been the mafia, seeking to collect dirt on the Kennedys and to cast suspicion on them, in revenge for double-crossing and oppressing the mafia, which had helped JFK win Illinois and West Virginia in 1960.  But murdering Monroe would run against her friendly mafia ties going back to her early days in Hollywood.

Although the KGB has not attracted suspicion, there are good reasons to suspect that it was the real perpetrator.  As part of its ordinary business, the KGB would have tracked gossip and the activities of the two Kennedys. It could well have bugged Monroe’s new house and inserted an informant into her entourage.  The KGB had palpable motives:  to cast suspicion on both Kennedys, to spread scandal about them, to collect information to use in blackmailing them, and to demoralize Americans by killing an iconic American celebrity while tarnishing her reputation.  Intruding into a fraught situation was a characteristic KGB move.  Also, the KGB appears to have murdered two other women involved with JFK:  Mary Meyer and Florence Pritchett Smith.

Several KGB hit men would have broken Monroe’s bedroom window, chloroformed her, warned her housekeeper to keep quiet, administered a lethal dose of drugs, moved her body, perhaps even to the guest house, removed any bugs, broke into her safe to steal her files, with possible defamatory information about the Kennedys, and departed.  Then psychiatrist Ralph Greenson, phoned by housekeeper Eunice Williams, arrived and supervised a clean-up of the crime scene on the assumption that he was cleaning up after JFK, RFK, or the mafia had ordered her murdered.

Contradictory and obfuscatory testimony by Greenson and Monroe’s physician Hyman Engelberg, as well as by others, complicated attempts to clarify what actually happened. Engelberg’s very excessive dosing and Greenson’s manipulation had reduced Monroe to poor physical and mental shape, which raises the suspicion that the KGB had induced them to maltreat her.    The CIA and the FBI might have suspected the KGB, but they kept their suspicions to themselves.

In sharp contrast to the Kennedys and the mafia, the KGB had nothing keeping it from murdering Monroe.  It had strong incentives to commit this crime.  Deniable murder was a KGB modus operandi.  We now have good reasons to think that the KGB was behind the murders of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King as well as a half-dozen other murders connected with these assassinations.  So murdering Marilyn Monroe would fit neatly into this pattern.  Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that, much more likely than the other two main suspects, the KGB did it.

*****

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Kenneth J. Dillon is an historian who writes on science, medicine, and history.  See the biosketch at About Us and his novel Rosemarie (Washington, D.C.:  Scientia Press, 2021).

 

Notes:
1. Richard Belzer and David Wayne.  Dead Wrong.  New York:  Skyhorse Publishing, 2013, pp. 25-86
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