On July 18, 1969, Senator Ted Kennedy‘s Oldsmobile careened off a 10.5-foot-wide bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in Edgartown, Massachusetts, resulting in the death of 28-year-old campaign strategist Mary Jo Kopechne. For reasons he was never able to convincingly explain, it took Kennedy 10 hours to report the accident, and he ultimately pled guilty to a misdemeanour for leaving the scene. It seemed certain the scandal would dog his career. But 11 years later, he appeared headed for the comeback of a lifetime, as frontrunner in the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 1980. That February, Reader’s Digest commissioned reports and published a story that directly contradicted Kennedy’s sworn testimony. Written by investigative journalist John Barron, “Chappaquiddick: The Still Unanswered Questions” gained national attention. In fact, many believe our article played a major role in Kennedy’s failure to win the nomination. Fast forward to 2018, with the release of Apex Entertainment’s film Chappaquiddick, we are reminded about questions raised back then that have gone unanswered. Here are 15 puzzling facts you may not know about the Chappaquiddick tragedy.
1. The Party
Senator Kennedy was visiting Edgartown to participate in the annual Edgartown Regatta, as he had done for the past 30 years. At his direction, close advisors had rented a cottage and invited a group of friends and campaign workers to a party on Chappaquiddick island after the race. Attending the party were Kennedy; his two closest friends Joseph Gargan and Paul Markham; a pair of aides; civil defense official Raymond LaRosa; Mary Jo Kopechne; and five other young women, Kennedy-clan campaign workers and friends of Kopechne. What began as a celebration earlier in the day would become a haunting tragedy by midnight. Kennedy and Kopechne left the party together at 11 p.m., and only one of them made it back alive.
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2. The Departure
Kennedy claimed he’d left the party with Kopechne because both wished to return to their hotels in Edgartown, however, circumstances surrounding their departure are murky. Kennedy told only John Crimmins—his aide, who handed him the car keys—that he and Kopechne were leaving. Neither said good night to their friends, which was especially strange, considering Kennedy was the host of the party. Even more puzzling, Kopechne didn’t take her handbag—or her room key. John Barron, author of the Reader’s Digest cover story, raised suspicions that Mary Jo, at least, had expected to return.
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