The family widely regarded as America’s answer to the Royal family has not been short of drama, controversy and intrigue throughout their time as one of the country’s most powerful and influential political dynasties. Yet, could there be a further scandal to add to the family’s intricate history with claims that John F. Kennedy may have been guilty of bigamy.
Jerry Oppenheimer, author of “The Other Mrs. Kennedy: An Intimate and Revealing Look at the Hidden Life of Ethel Skakel Kennedy” and the “RFK Jr.: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the Dark Side of the Dream” recently investigated claims that JFK may have married socialite Durie Malcolm in 1947, a marriage for which there is no record of a divorce.
The marriage is said to have taken place after a drunken party, six years before JFK married future First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier in September 1953. If true, this would mean that not only was Jackie Kennedy JFK’s second wife, but if claims of no record of divorce are true, she may not have ever been legally married to him at all.
For years, rumors of the secret first marriage have followed JFK’s legacy, but, in a recent article for the Daily Mail Oppenheimer claimed to have discovered proof that the marriage took place and that at the behest of JFK's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, all record of the marriage was destroyed while the Kennedy brothers used their influence to keep the story from being published.
The Kennedys always denied the marriage, but Seymour M. Hersh, author of “The Dark Side of Camelot” and a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter, told the Daily Mail that despite the constant denial of the marriage between the pair, he still believes the rumors to be true, especially given evidence of an admission from Kennedy's sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Hersh claims that Eunice once told a friend of the family “there was a drunken party and they [JFK and Durie] went off to a justice of the peace to get married.” The same family friend also claims to have heard Joe Kennedy once referring to having his son’s marriage “nullified.”
Hersh spoke to sources within the Kennedy sphere who revealed their role in keeping the marriage under wraps, including Charles Spalding. Spalding, who believes himself to have been a good friend of JFK’s, reveals he was asked to destroy the marriage records for the young man tipped for the Presidency.
Hersh quotes Spalding as saying the marriage was a “high school prank, a bit of daring that went too far…the kind of joke that Durie would go for…They went down [to get married] and went through the motions. It was like Halloween. I remember saying to Jack, 'You must be nuts. You're running for president and you're running around getting married.'”
Spalding also claims that their father, Joe Kennedy, “demanded that it [records of the marriage] be taken care of. They [the Kennedy family] were afraid the whole thing was going to come out. I went out there and removed the [marriage] papers. It was Jack who asked me if I'd go get the papers.”
Spalding tells Hersh he personally went to the courthouse to find the marriage documents and destroy them. There was, however, no record of divorce ever found. Hersh concludes that this would make JFK and Malcolm, who went on to have two more marriages, bigamists, quoting an unidentified friend of Kennedy as saying “Jack was never married legally to Jackie, and all that's left of Jack are his two children [John Kennedy Jr. subsequently tragically died in a plane crash, leaving only Caroline] and his grandchildren.”
A Kennedy-Malcolm marriage would mean that his children were “not legal. That's a very disruptive thing to do. Those children had a hard enough time as it is – they lost their father.”
By the middle of 1947, Malcolm was a wife for what many believed to be the third time but may, in fact, have been her fourth. Her officially-recorded third marriage was to fellow Palm Beach socialite, Thomas Shevlin. She too denies claims that she and JFK were ever wed, although she admits that they dated.
She rarely commented on the rumors of a fifth marriage added to her portfolio, but in the 1990s stated,“I wouldn't have married Jack Kennedy for all the tea in China … If you want to know the truth, I didn't care for those Irish micks, and old Joe was a terrible man.” She also signed a sworn affidavit attesting they had not married.
Despite this, a member of Shevlin’s family told Hersh that JFK had “really loved” Malcolm and “wanted to be with her,” but when they married, Joe Kennedy had “gone ballistic and got everything [the records of the marriage] eradicated – all the records wiped out.”
Perhaps the biggest piece of evidence was revealed in 1957, when amateur genealogist Louis L. Blauvelt printed a private edition of his family tree which included Durie Malcolm. The family tree states that Malcolm had married five times in her lifetime, not four as was believed, with her third husband in this particular family tree listed as “John F. Kennedy, son of Joseph P. Kennedy, one time Ambassador to England.”
The press learned of the family tree in 1961 when JFK was already US President and the Kennedy family quickly used their influence to prevent it from being printed. Newsweek's Washington-based reporter Ben Bradlee was one of those to investigate the story, but he came up with no solid evidence. Jack Kennedy told him, “You haven't got it, Benjy. You're all looking to tag me with some girl, and none of you can do it, because it just isn't there.”