Continued from Part One.
Featured image shot by Lawrence Schiller on the set of Something’s Got To Give.
The conspiracy theories about Marilyn’s death persist to this day. However, the oft-cited originators of the rumors about her alleged murder have been systematically discredited and debunked, or, in the case of Norman Mailer, who had claimed she’d had an affair with Robert Kennedy and said that she was killed by the FBI or the CIA, recanted his story in a TV interview with Mike Wallace (60 Minutes) and admitted he’d made it all up in order to publicize the biography he’d written about her in 1973. He admitted that he thought she had died by suicide.
There is a tangled web of conspiracy theories here, but cooler heads with large research budgets have prevailed and have drawn lines under all of them. We’ll go through them here, though we have to skim, because there’s… a lot.
Allegations about an affair with JFK are questionable at best. She was clearly friends with JFK’s relatives and with him, and they met in public several times, but not in private. She was interested in politics long before she met him, and that was apparently what they spoke about most. (In fact, in 2010, JFK’s former secret service men stated that the rumor was “unfounded.”) There is a slightly more credible speculation that she had a one-night stand with Bobby Kennedy, but there was no evidence of any relationship, and this is still dubious, but may have taken place as a one-off.
The source of the bulk of the allegations that persist to this day was hack writer Robert F. Slatzer who dug up a pamphlet written by a paranoid anti-communist “activist” Frank Capell who had claimed in the 1960s that Marilyn had been murdered by Bobby Kennedy. Capell’s only source was columnist Walter Winchell, but Winchell’s only source was Capell himself. An LA cop named Jack Clemmons was the first officer on the scene when Marilyn was found, and later added some claims to Capell’s pamphlet that he hadn’t mentioned in the official 1962 investigation. (That her housekeeper was washing her sheets – she wasn’t washing the ones Marilyn had died on anyway – there are photos of the scene with the sheets intact) and that he had a “sixth sense” that something was weird. That’s it.) Both of them fired off all manner of letters to the FBI making claims about the Kennedys consistently for years, and they were both indicted in California for conspiracy to libel for claiming that senator Thomas Kuchel had been arrested for a homosexual act (because Kuchel voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.) Capell pleaded guilty, but Clemmons agreed to resign from the LAPD so charges were dropped. The FBI files that were released surrounding speculations about the alleged affairs Marilyn had with Bobby Kennedy were created because of the accusations of Capell and Clemmons. We’ll revisit the recently-released FBI files below.
When Robert F. Slatzer’s limp first book about Marilyn failed to sell to a publisher, he dug up Capell and Clemmons’s pamphlet and wove it into the story, and also suddenly remembered that he’d been secretly married to Marilyn in Mexico for three days in 1952 and had remained close friends until she died.
A quick note on this claim: All of his photos with her were from the set of Niagara, when he was doing a story on her and she posed with him. He grabbed her a lot. He used those photos to suggest that they were secret lovers, yet the date he claims they were married in Mexico, October 4th, 1952, her financial records show checks that she wrote when she was out shopping, without him, in the US. Not getting married.
For the record, a lot of men grabbed Marilyn for photos, and she often grabbed right back. It was a thing. Here she is with singer Buddy Greco, who she also didn’t marry or have an affair with.
A year after Slatzer’s trashbook dropped, a rock journalist named Anthony Scaduto used Slatzer’s book as a source for his book that repeated the allegations, and added a red diary that Marilyn supposedly kept that contained political secrets she’d heard from the Kennedys. The subsequent series of books, including one by British journalist Anthony Summers, added even more outlandish claims, and though Summers had interviewed 650 people connected to Marilyn, his narrative was taken apart by a more thorough and credible biographer, Donald Spoto.
Spoto has taken pains to point out the places in which Summers contradicts his own narrative within the same book, alleges that outright lies are facts, and that the quotes attributed to Marilyn’s friends were not genuine – several went on record with him debunking what Summers said they’d done. Among Summers’s witnesses which he presented as credible were the aforementioned hack Robert Slatzer, as well as disgraced LAPD officer Jack Clemmons, and a woman named Jeanne Carmen who claimed to be Marilyn’s close friend, despite the findings of Spoto and another credible biographer, Lois Banner.
Summers’ allegations were part of a 20/20 segment in 1985 which never aired because the news executive for ABC found it didn’t pass muster and that there was no evidence to back up the claims, so they couldn’t be aired as fact. Summers took to the media to claim that the Kennedys had gotten to the news executive, Roone Arledge, and somehow pressured him to kill the story. A version of Summers’ story did end up on the air on the BBC’s 1985 documentary Marilyn: Say Goodbye to the President, despite the same lack of any evidence.
Several more books make similar and sometimes even wilder assertions would surface about Marilyn’s alleged murder. The latest emanated from John Miner, an LA prosecutor in charge of investigating Marilyn’s death, then later the death of Bobby Kennedy, and then the Manson murders. He claimed to have transcripts of audio tapes that Marilyn made, and which she had given to Dr. Greenson, and that Dr. Greenson had invited him to listen to the tapes on the condition that he never reveal their contents. Miner claims to have listened “intently” and to have made substantial notes. Miner should be as credible a witness as one could get, but there were some issues.
One of Marilyn’s more credible biographers, Lois Banner, mentioned above, knew Miner personally – they had worked at the University of Southern California together (where she still works as a Professor Emerita of History). Through Banner, it became known that Miner had once lost his law license and was barred from practicing for several years, and also that he had claimed to Banner that he had worked for the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. He had never worked for the Kinsey Institute, but the relevance of it being known for studying sex, including more unusual practices, may come into play later. Additionally, he declared bankruptcy just months before selling the alleged transcripts.
Miner had initially offered the transcripts to Vanity Fair, but when they asked him to show them to Summers to “validate them” (imagine!) he failed to produce them, making it obvious that he didn’t have them. That means that the transcripts that he eventually sold to British author Matthew Smith, who wrote a whole new book around them, were written decades after Miner claimed to have listened to the tapes. The assertion that alleged transcripts could be written decades after someone hears audio tapes, even if the writer were using extensive notes to recreate the speech, is dubious at best. He might have had more credibility if he’d published his unaltered notes instead.
However, in his duties as an official investigator of the death of a high-profile celebrity, amidst allegations and rumors, he never disclosed that there were ever any tapes, that he’d heard them, nor had notes, nor transcripts of said tapes. During the official 1982 review by the LA County DA, he told the new investigators that there were tapes. He did not mention that he had transcripts of them even at that point. He said that Dr. Greenson had made him promise not to reveal the contents, but despite the deaths of all involved including Dr. Greenson, John Miner never revealed any knowledge of tapes, nor his transcripts thereof, until it came time to sell them to recover from bankruptcy.
Additionally, according to Banner, the content of the alleged transcripts seemed to parallel Miner’s personal obsession with enemas and sadomasochistic sexual fantasies about Marilyn’s having been murdered that way. Via enema. By her housekeeper. Who was actually a nurse. on the orders of the CIA.
No tapes had ever been found. Dr. Greenson had died before Miner went public, and Miner was the only person ever to claim they existed, at his financial convenience.
Among the allegations often quoted about her autopsy, claims such as “extensive bruising” of her body, the fact that her stomach was empty so she couldn’t have taken pills and furthermore, why didn’t the pills she was supposed to have taken leave their telltale yellow residue, and that the note about “no needle marks” couldn’t have been true because she received regular injections from her physicians. (No explanation as to why the coroners would make a claim that would arouse suspicion – she had an empty stomach – but then claim there were no needle marks when conspiracy theorists feel there should have been some.) There are also claims that Marilyn’s tissue samples “mysteriously disappeared.”
The toxicology report from the lab stated that there was Nembutal and chloral hydrate in her blood stream, and a further 13mg of pentobarbital in her liver. (Not Seconal, or Secobarbital, anywhere.) However, because of the rumors, in 1982, LA County DA John Van de Kamp ordered an initial investigation to determine whether the DA’s office should pursue a criminal investigation. After over three months and a 30-page report, no evidence was deemed credible enough to warrant an investigation.
The chief medical examiner. Dr. Boyd G. Stephens, was also coroner for the City and County of San Francisco and he performed an independent review of the autopsy evidence. He agreed with the initial findings of then-LA coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi, finding that the methodology and the report itself reflected a legitimate, scientifically acceptable medical examination performed in accordance with 1962 standards. He went on to add that even with the advancements in procedure and technology present in 1982, the conclusions reached by Dr. Noguchi would not, in all reasonable probability, have been changed.
So, how can the theories above be explained? As well as the interviews with Dr. Stephens, Dr. Noguchi also addressed these rumors in his 1985 memoirs. It bothered him that there would be room for speculation, which I’ll address after his medical findings.
Firstly, the fact that Marilyn’s stomach was empty not only fails to prove that she had taken the fatal doses orally, but it helps prove that she did. Specifically, her autopsy made it clear that there was hemorrhaging of her stomach lining caused by ingestion of several pills at once, and that because she had been an addict for several years already, her body would more rapidly absorb the pills than would be the case for a non-addict. Further, Dr. Stephens further pointed out in his report that an empty stomach absorbs medications faster than a full one. Additionally, Nembutal would not leave behind any yellow residue. It simply wouldn’t transfer dye in the way alleged by conspiracy theorists.
As for the needle marks not being visible, unless it’s a large gauge needle, such as the ones that draw blood, needle marks disappear quickly. Only very recent injections would leave needle marks that were still visible. Also, the only bruise he had seen on Marilyn’s body was on her lower back, and it was superficial – not the sort of bruise consistent with force – and that its placement was more consistent with an accidental bump rather than restraint or violence. There was absolutely no evidence that Marilyn regularly or even occasionally took enemas, let alone enemas administered by her housekeeper rather than a nurse.
But what about the fact that her organ samples simply vanished?
Ay. They did not “simply vanish.”
Dr. Noguchi took slices of Marilyn’s various organs during the autopsy and sent them to the toxicology lab. They tested the blood and liver samples only, which were both found to have high amounts of lethal drugs – certainly enough to kill her. He noticed that her stomach and its contents had not been tested, but the cause of death was consistent with suicide by oral ingestion of pills leading to an overdose. There was no medical finding to refute the facts alleged by witnesses, nor to refute the physical evidence of method of ingestion and effect. However, when he published his reports, the conspiracy theories escalated. Dr. Noguchi admits a “crucial mistake” in not asking the lab to do further backup of the findings by testing her stomach contents. He did not, however, neglect to correctly and fully find and prove a cause of death. Suicide, ingestion of pills leading to overdose.
Despite Noguchi’s “crucial mistake” – an assessment that he made of himself in retrospect – the claims that Marilyn’s organ samples disappeared is still not true. Head toxicologist Raymond J. Abernathy believed that the tests that were performed by the lab on her blood and liver were overwhelming evidence and proof of Marilyn’s suicide and its method that additional testing would be redundant and unnecessary. Dr. Noguchi did call Abernathy a few weeks after the closure of the case to find out if they had retained the samples. Abernathy had not. The case had been officially closed, so the organ samples were discarded as part of the normal procedure employed by the lab on closed cases.
The notion that the lab and the coroner’s office would conspire to release medical evidence on Marilyn’s blood and liver as part of a cover up would necessitate the dubious notion that a cover up would not have simply involved losing all of the tissue samples, or merely forging test results of them all rather than just two, which would lead to public speculation that there had been a cover up at all. For these allegations to be true, either these masters of manipulation would have to have botched the cover up in a colossal way and Noguchi would be an incompetent doctor who couldn’t falsify reports thoroughly enough, or if, as some allege, he was not involved and his original report was overwritten by a false one, why would the conspirators not write a completely sewn up report that would close all of these gaping holes and put the rumors to rest?
Furthermore, the most pressing finding of Dr. Noguchi’s initial report and Dr. Stephens’ subsequent affirmation of that report point to the most medically sound reason for the conclusions they reached. Injections of high doses of any drug would not deposit in such large numbers into the liver. Only 10% of an injected drug would be found in the liver after the first pass metabolism thereof. Crucially, this also applies to rectal administration. 10% would be in the liver after a rectal administration. Only oral ingestion would deposit as much into the liver as was found in Marilyn’s case.
The high levels of barbiturate in her liver is what led to her death, and was a far slower process than would have been the case had she been injected. In the case of an injection, the blood toxicity would have been very quickly elevated and she would have died very quickly. The time it takes for liver toxicity to become fatal is far higher than the time it takes for blood toxicity to become fatal. So, once again: fatal blood toxicity would not have allowed for the high levels of toxins found in the liver.
Let’s bring this home.
Marilyn Monroe’s death by suicide was, unfortunately, not out of character. It was a horrible ending to a sustained period of despair and physical illness that, when we look at the facts of her life leading up to that night, cannot be surprising, even as we wish it never happened. The accepted “facts” of conspiracy ask us to ignore her actual character and accept the characters projected onto her by the public – a combination of her movie roles and the wild, lurid fantasies attached to her by men who never knew the reality of her life. We are asked to accept that she was having affairs with every man she ever spoke to – dismissing the fact that she was known to “collect experts” who could teach her everything about things she wanted to learn (such as politics).
We are asked to believe only men found to be liars and charlatans, and those who admitted lying on national television, and those who could never produce any evidence whatsoever of their claims of conspiracy by the Kennedys and who were credibly debunked by highly conscientious writers who COULD cite their sources and back their claims with recordings and confirmed quotations. We are asked to discount years of patterns of behavior and character traits not only attested to by people actually close to Marilyn, but also found in countless interviews and statements made by Marilyn herself, in order to believe that her depression and her physical illnesses and exhaustion and overmedication were fabricated, or arranged, in order to stop her from breaking another character trait – the ability to keep secrets about the men in her life – to go public with an affair.
We are asked to assume the worst of everyone involved, to dismiss the possibility of friendship between the Kennedys – all of them – and Marilyn, despite the fact that their circle of friends overlapped again and again. And even if we give oxygen to the possibility that Marilyn and Bobby Kennedy had a night, or two, of passion, that both of them were so emotionally crippled that they couldn’t simply let it pass, and that Marilyn herself was so inexperienced with sexual affairs that she conflated it with love and had no ability to distinguish between a sexual encounter and a relationship. Read about her early life if you’re confused about her naivety. She knew very well about the expectations of men – and women – who wanted her, and did very well at managing them for her entire adult life.
That the world lost Marilyn Monroe is a tragedy, but not worse than the fact that she became so overwhelmed with despair that she felt she had to finally do what she’d tried to do a few times before, and bailed out of at the last minute. And coming in second to the worst part of this is that the rumors about her became common belief, dismissing her actual reality and her personal agency, and her real personality, and grafting onto her a twisted personification of how we see women and what we expect from them at any given moment, and those expectations contradict each other to the point of becoming untenable.
We live in a time when many of us are scared, sleeping restlessly, joking about dying, thinking about giving up – sometimes succeeding – and yet as a society, we continue to allow ourselves to believe the worst of people to the point that this sort of assumption of terrible behavior of others manifests in the worst behaviors in ourselves. To the point that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that shows in the people we have elevated to the highest positions in our culture and how they treat us and each other.
To properly honor Marilyn for who she actually was, may we not only remember how even those of us who like her, love her, adore her, “know” a lot things about her that were engineered to defame her by those that never knew her, but may we also recognize when that’s being done to us and to each other, so that we can keep our heads and our hearts aligned and see each other in truth first, before anything else that we’ve got to work through. And may we work through it together.
To Marilyn, and to you, beloved, beautiful reader, with absolute love.
Massive thanks to the caretakers of Marilyn’s legacy, and my grateful credit to the info found in Donald Spoto’s book Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, to Donald McGovern’s book Murder Orthodoxies: A Non-Conspiracist’s View of Marilyn Monroe’s Death, and to the information treasure trove found on The Marilyn Monroe Collection.