Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist

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The President, The Lady and Godfather


Daily Mail 22nd September 1976

Douglas Thompson, Dermot Purgavie, Peter Greig and Jeri Elrod


THIS story is about two of the most powerful men in the world, the President of the United States and the Mafia's Godfather of God­fathers, Sam Giancana, the most feared man in American crime. Above all, it is about Judith Campbell (now Mrs Exner), a beauti­ful young divorcee who became, astonishingly, the mistress of both, at the same time.

Judith, the fun-loving daughter of a wealthy Irish-American family, was a society girl on the jet-setting Hollywood circuit. It was through Frank Sinatra, then America's biggest star, that, in February 1960, she met John Fitzgerald Kennedy, campaigning as the Democrats' Presidential candidate. They be­came lovers.

Soon Sinatra was to introduce her to the deadly Giancana, boss of the Chicago Mafia. He flattered and pursued her with gifts and attentions and, by sinister coincidence, when •she had kept a secret liaison with Kennedy, a call from Giancana quickly followed. Mean­while, the Godfather and his deputy, Johnny Roselli, were involved in a deal with the Central Intelligence Agency. If they assassin­ated Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, the CIA would help take Federal heat off the Mafia.

IN THE weeks leading up to the Democratic Nat­ional Convention in Los !Angeles . . . the great ritualistic gathering where the party would select its candidate for President . . . Judith Campbell continued her secret meetings with John Fitzgerald Kennedy. They met in Palm Beach, Florida, in Washington D.C., and in California. They were short meetings. Kennedy was busy, his competitive nature caught up in the frantic cam­paign battle. But he needed to see Judith Campbell.

The attraction was very strong and with her he could relax. So the couple met — in private houses, in hotel rooms and they talked. They conversed either In a make-believe dialogue of lovers, like teenagers in their first affair, or Kennedy would talk about the campaign and his plans . . . almost talking aloud to himself as if to make a cool assessment of what his chances were. Judith Campbell would listen.

And then again, as if by ritual, there would be phone calls from Giancana after these meetings. 'Judy', he would say, 'I'm in New York. Why don't you come up and see me ? I miss you.'

A new breed of hard men

Judith Campbell, restless, con­fused and pleasure-bent, would accept. Like so many girls of her type, she was never still. She was always flying down to Florida 'to see Dean' or up to New York 'to join Toni Carroll' or stopping by 'in Nevada 'to catch Prank'.

Now there was someone else to visit. A man who had superb facilities in whichever city he chose to reside. A man who could make any arrangement necessary for transitory lux­ury, for the high style living that Judith Campbell adored. The hotel suites full of flowers . . . the parties . . . the access to everywhere that was any­where.

So, when Sam called, she went. He was so ... undemanding! So understanding ! She explained to him about Jack Kennedy. Of course it was confidential but she knew she could trust him—he would murmur reassuringly—but she felt she loved this man and that was why Sam could never be more than just a good friend to her. Did he under­stand? Well, yes ... he understood . . . he may not like it, but he understood.

It was amazing. Kennedy was mounting the most professional poli­tical drive for the White House that America had seen since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was surrounded by a group of tough, young political organisers. Hard men, but razor sharp in the mental department. These were to be the 'New Frontiersmen' of legend, hailed as the new breed in politics men who could never be outsmarted. The supreme professionals.

They were working day and ni^ht to get their leader into the White House. Their reputations, their in­comes, their total futures depended on him winning. And to win there must be no slip up. They had a motto : 'No Risks'. And yet, at this vital moment, Kennedy's recklessness and laxness made him totally vulnerable. Cer­tainly some of the men around him were beginning to know about Judith Campbell . . . later he would formally introduce her to them. But not one of the supreme pro­fessionals -checked her out. No-one said : 'Who is she ?' 'Where does she come from ?' 'Who else does she know?' No-one said : 'Is she a risk?' And the reason for this was the unwritten law around JFK. It said he had to have his fun ... his girls. Then he would get on with being a politician. The law became tolerated, .accepted, even admired. And, as it did so, it built a false confidence — no-one thought such innocent, manly fun would or could possibly harm JFK.

So much so that, at the Nassau conference after he became the President, Kennedy told Harold. Macmillan that he had to have plenty of sexual relationships with different women or he felt unwell. Macmillan, with elegant Edwardian diplomacy, changed the subject to the weather to cover what he con­sidered rather bad form. Kennedy laughed at this afterwards.

The luck of the Irish

Had anyone in the opposite camp . . . had the Nixon 'plumbers' been in existence 12 years earlier . . .

Kennedy would never have gone to Nassau. He would never have been President. For the fact that the Democratic candidate's mistress would leave his bed to visit the Mafia boss of bosses immediately afterwards would have finished Kennedy at once and for ever. But Kennedy got away with it. And the more he did, the more reckless he became. It reached the point where he began to meet Judith Campbell openly.

By tradition, Presidential candi­dates did not go to the Convention until the nomination was settled. So he phoned Judith Campbell ... Why not come up and have a drink with him in his room Hills Hotel in the Beverly. That meeting was not a happy one for her. She did not like many ol the other people in the room, particularly some of the hangers-on and the Irish politicians. In parti­cular, she did not like another woman there .... a tall, thin sec­retary type' Kennedy obviously knew her well; there was an air of intimacy about their looks. She clearly was there as his personal guest.

At one stage, Judith Campbell found her in the bedroom and a row broke out. Eventually, the other woman left. Judith Campbell says that Kennedy, at one point, suggested that all three of them should go to bed together. At any event, the evening ended in a bitter quarrel. Their first.

Certainly Judith Campbell would later tell friends that Kennedy tried to involve her in a sexual menage a trots that night and she refused And Kennedy would hear that she was saying this. She insists to this day that it was true.

One quarrel does not end an affair. Kennedy was suitably apolo­getic the next day and the friend­ship resumed.

Sinatra keeps a secret

But it' was about this time that Judith Campbell's friendship with Frank Sinatra came to a conclusion. She ceased to be part of his circle . . . perhaps because of her new life, she was too busy. But. after one more date in Atlantic City, New Jersey, she stopped seeing him. Occasionally, they would meet and say hello in restaurants or have a drink at parties and she would, according to the FBI record, still phone him. But, from the summer of 1960, Judith Campbell ceased to be a Clan follower.

Frank Sinatra has refused to talk about Judith Campbell Exner beyond the cryptic comment that 'Hell hath no greater fury than a hustler with a literary agent.'

His part in the whole mysterious affair is certainly an innocent one. There is no evidence that he 'planted' Judith Campbell on John Fitzgerald Kennedy on behalf of the Mafia.

But he was one of the few people who must have known the astounding secret that the President's mistress was also sleeping with the Head of the Mafia—and he kept it.

Today, out of the quartet of powerful men who were friends of Judith Campbell, he is the only one still alive. The other three have all been killed by an assassin's bullet.

Although Judith Campbeli con­tinued to see a great deal of Sam Giancana that summer, he was not always available. But no matter. There was always his great friend, Johnny Roselli, there to stand by. And\ Judith liked him. He was always one for a laugh.

A reason called Phyllis

Roselli was a well-tailored, beautifully barbered and manicured man-about-showbusiness, then aged 54. His real name was Filipo Saco and he was the West Coast chieftain for the Chicago Mafia.

Roselli, who was second only to Giancana, became a willing squire for Judith when Sam wasn't around. And Sam wasn't around for a very good reason. Her name was Phyllis McGuire of the singing McGuire sisters. She was a big star and his long time girl friend and travelling companion (he would accompany her to London when singing engage­ments brought her here) and he was very much in love with her, accord­ing to friends.

All this was happening while he was wooing Judith Campbell Per­haps, like many men. he wanted to own two beautiful and glamorous women. But perhaps there was another reason. The fact that Giancana was still seeing Phyllis McGuire. The fact that she knew nothing about Judith Campbell underlines the suspicions that Giancana went out of his way to form a friendship with the President's friend to gain some advantage.

What were his reasons ? They were almost certainly mixed with no clear cut target in mind. But Giancana was shrewd enough to know that private knowledge about the future President's woman friend (he was convinced that Kennedy would win the election) must be advantageous.

Then, too, there was the CIA/ Mafia plot. He was, in the late summer of 1960, deeply embroiled in close negotiations with the CIA dirty tricks department. That, too, had given him an edge if any future pressure was to be put on him. And so he continued to invest time in his two insurance policies.

The centre of the anti-Castro movement was in Miami, Florida. It was to this city that all the Cuban refugees were fleeing as Castro in--creased his communist stranglehold. And it was here in September 1960 that Gian­cana and Roselli got down to business with their opposite numbers in the CIA.

First there was bargaining. Pres­sure was beginning to build up against America's crime empire. If the CIA wanted to use the brother­hood for a patriotic venture such as eliminating Castro . . . which couM never be publicly recognised .... then it must be repaid in some way. By using influence to take, the heat off a little perhaps?

Beware the gangbuster?

This was discussed at length. Whatever the CIA said they could do or could not do would obviously depend on one thing . . . the elec­tion A new President was coming in and with him a new Attorney Gen­eral to head the Justice Department. Some men, said the CIA, might be prepared to look the other way for the greater good of the country.

And others said Giancana, might not. In particular, one who might not was Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the Presidential candidate, JFK. He had already made himself a reputation as a gangbuster on the West Coast and he was very close to his brother. He would clearly have a lot of influence if Jack Kennedy got into the White House.

The CIA men nodded. Maybe! But it was too early to tell whether JFK would win. And if he did, it was far too early to tell what his attitude would be to the Mafia vis-a-vis a great favour done in Cuba. The CIA would watch the situation and monitor his general reactions to crime and the Communist threat in the Caribbean. They would have a better idea then.

The two Mafia chieftains listened and acquiesced. They had them­selves the beginning of a deal.

During the next two years, the Mafia and the CIA would become involved in some of the weirdest assassination plots in the history of political murder. They attempted to poison Castro but the Mafia assassins could never get close enough-to drop the CIA poison into his drinks.

Another plan involved a Chicago-style Shootout which Giancana vetoed. One particular CIA 'mad scientist' scheme concerned putting a new secret drug in powder form into Castro's boots which would work through the bloodstream and make all his hair fall out. CIA psychiatrists reasoned that without his beard Castro would lose his political charisma. 'Defoliate the sonofabitch', they said, 'and he'll never give you any trouble again.'

None of this insanity was ever concluded . . the reason probably being that the Mafia never took it as seriously as their white-collar counterparts They co-operated and provided couriers and even assassins, according to the Church Committee investigation, but without success.

"But they were impressed by- the equipment the CIA was producing. Clearly it could make their business more effective. There is at least one instance of Giancana using CIA sur­veillance equipment for his own purposes. He was having to spend weeks in Miami with the CIA and he was also investing time with Judith Campbell.   This was not helping his suit with Phyllis McGuire.

'Giancana was crazy with love for Phyllis at that time,' Robert Maheu recalls. 'He was very jealous indeed .and he thought she was seeing other men while she was working in.Las Vegas.' But Giancana could not do any­thing about it.

The deadly, jealous love*

No matter. His new-found friends with their incredibly advanced equipment would help him.

The man at the centre of Gian-cana's deadly and jealous attentions was the comedian Dan Rowan, later of 'Laugh In' fame. The CIA, through Maheu, arranged for a specialist detective to tap the phone in Rowan's room to see whether his relationship with Phyllis McGuire was romantic' or not.

They proposed to give the tapes to Giancana, though it is not diffi­cult to imagine what the result would have been for Rowan, had they been 'positive'.

So while Giancana remained in the East with his twin pre­occupations, the CIA-briefed agent set about tapping the telephone. He installed the equipment but was caught by the maid unexpectedly returning to the room and was arrested by the Las Vegas police. This came to the ears of the FBI Who themselves were watching Phyllis McGuire, hoping to get something on Giancana.

Sam's good friends, the CIA

It did not take them, long to place Giancana as the man behind the phone-tapping incident ... a Federal offence. But before any action on grounds of national security.

This bizarre episode seemed to prove one thing to Giancana and Roselli … they had bought insurance and it worked.

Both would in the future use their CIA contacts to unhook themselves from serious charges later in their careers—Giancana for an illegal phone-tapping charge and Roselli to prevent deportation. And in both cases, the CIA came across and blocked the charges rather than have their criminal partnership exposed.

But that was in the future. Through 1980, Judith Campbell was seeing Kennedy and Giancana was meeting her afterwards and, when he wasn't with Judith, he was with the CIA . . . both liaisons would pay off handsomely for him.

The more Judith Campbell saw John Kennedy the more use she would eventually be to Sam Gian­cana. And, as the campaign swung into its final and most frantic stage, the more she began to see him.

While Judith Campbell was receiv­ing John Fitzgerald Kennedy in her rented New York apartment . . . while he was entertaining her in his Washington house while his wife was away . . . other things were happening in the Armory Lounge in Forest Park, Chicago.

Judith under scrutiny

An FBI agent, either posing as a workman or infiltrated as a Mafia soldier into the outer ranks of the Giancana 'family', gained access to the little back room where the lounge owner liked to talk to his friends. There, behind the cans of tomato paste and bottles of olive oil, he implanted an object so small that in the darkness of the shelves it could not be seen by the naked eye.

It was the latest 'micro bug' developed by the Bureau, for they too had their scientific research and development department which in some ways was better than t-he CIA'S. This FBI bug would pick up every word said in that room and transmit it to an FBI receiver several blocks away. There they would be tran­scribed on tape which would later be replayed and the words . . . eventually millions of them . . . would be typed out for analysis. The names that would appear there would then come under scrutiny: One of them would be Judith Campbell's.

The President, The Lady and Godfather Part 1
The President, The Lady and Godfather Part 2
The President, The Lady and Godfather Part 3

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