John F. Kennedy, Jr. and the Bessette Sisters
John F. Kennedy, Jr.
November 25, 1960 – July 16, 1999
“Well, there is no curse.”
January 7, 1966 – July 16, 1999
“I’m not a priority.”
November 5, 1964 – July 16, 1999
“Have you seen my luggage?”
I’ve been dreading this day. I’ve been staring at my JFK Jr. file for months. I just want it off my desk. Like yesterday. I tried to make this as comprehensive as possible, though I know there are plenty of holes (two in particular) in the story, and missing photos.
He and his wife Carolyn lived in New York, at 20 North Moore Street, on the 10thfloor. Lauren Bessette lived at 17 White Street.
John John had a broken ankle from a rollerblading accident a few weeks prior, and the cast was just removed. He was still walking around on crutches. On Friday morning July 16, 1999, he had a doctor appointment at Lenox Hill Hospital (thank you Stacy Weinstein and Mark Ferrara for that shot).
John spent most of the day in business meetings. He went home, changed his clothes (a white tank top, white slacks, and a backwards baseball cap), played with their dog Friday, then hopped in his white Hyundai convertible to the airport.
At around 8 p.m., he arrived at the Essex County Airport, where he would meet his wife Carolyn and her sister Lauren, and together they would fly to Massachusetts for the wedding of Rory, one of Bobby and Ethel’s 400 children.
The plan was to drop Lauren in Martha’s Vineyard, and then continue on to Hyannis, where the wedding was to take place on Saturday the 17th. He got to the airport later than anticipated, around 8. John stopped and bought a bottle of water, 6 AA batteries, and a banana at a nearby gas station.
Lauren worked for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter on Wall Street, as an investment banker. She had to work late that night, thus pushing the flight back, and no doubt pissing everybody off. Lauren and Carolyn arrived at the airport in a Lincoln Town Car. Carolyn was wearing black slacks and a black blouse, and Lauren wore a beige dress (honestly.) that she’d worn to work that day.
They loaded the plane with their luggage (and a kayak), and taxied on the runway.
Thank you to Findadeath.com friend Tina Jacoby for the photos of the airport and gas station.
The last person to see them on the ground was another pilot named Kyle Bailey. Bailey was planning to fly to Martha’s Vineyard as well, but opted out, due to poor weather conditions.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s official report (Courtesy of Celebrity Collectables.com – thanks Ted!)
“The pilot received his private pilot certificate in April 1998. He did not possess an instrument rating. Interviews and training records revealed that the pilot had accumulated about 300 hours of total flight experience. These hours did not include the recent experience gained in the accident airplane.
On July 16, 1999, about 2141 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-32-R301, Saratoga II, N9253N, was destroyed during a collision with water approximately 7 miles south-west of Gay Head, Martha’s Vineyard, MA. The certificated pilot and two passengers were fatally injured.
The flight departed Essex County Airport at 2038. The pilot informed the DCW tower controller that he would be proceeding north of the Teterboro Airport, and then eastbound. There is no record of any further communications between the pilot and the air traffic control system.”
About 150 miles from the crash site, an American Airlines crew saw the plane, and all looked hunky dory. Hello-hooooo!
A review of the radar data revealed that the plane began a descent from 5,600 feet about 34 miles from the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. The airspeed was 160 knots and the rate of descent was about 700 feet per minute. About 2,300 feet, the plane began a turn to the right and climbed back to 2,600 feet. It remained there for one minute while tracking on a southeasterly heading. The plane then started a descent of about 700 feet per minute and a left turn back to the east. Thirty seconds into the maneuver, the plane started another turn to the right and entered a rate of descent that exceeded 4,700 feet per minute (very very fast.) The altitude of the last recorded target was 1,100 feet.
Someone claiming to be a Navy SEAL called the Howard Stern show, and said, “they died instantly when the plane hit the water at an 80 degree angle.” He added, “highly classified photos of the wreckage and the three bodies were taken by the Navy during the extraction and retrieval mission. The main cabin was crumpled, ripped and torn, resembling an empty, crushed Budweiser (Carolyn’s favorite) can. At no time did any of the bodies become decapitated or dismembered in any way.” He adds, “One of the women was thrown through the metal wall of the plane by the incredible impact. Her body was found about 25 feet from the main cabin section. The other woman was found crumpled up in the rear of the plane’s cabin.”
Meanwhile at the Kennedy compound, the rehearsal dinner for the wedding was underway. John and Carolyn were due to arrive just after 9 p,m. By 10:00, a couple which were at the airport to meet them became concerned. Airport employee Adam Budd phoned the Federal Aviation Administration and asked them to trace it – but no action was taken (Budd hadn’t made it clear that the plane was overdue). By midnight, the Kennedys were worried and phoned the Coast Guard. By 8 a.m. the next day, dozens of aircraft and ships searched for the plane. The Kennedys had a big mass on their front porch, as you do.
By the middle of Saturday afternoon, a piece of luggage with Lauren’s tag on it had washed up.
They continued searching (and who wasn’t glued to the dullest CNN broadcast in history) throughout the weekend. By Sunday, they stopped looking for survivors, and the search became a “recovery” rather than a “rescue.” Officials at Arlington National Cemetery (at their own initiative) measured the plot of JFK Sr., in case John would be buried there. “There were measurements taken yesterday… to be prepared for any future inquiry from the family.” The Kennedys took down the big tent in Hyannis.
Back to the accident report:
On Tuesday July 20, 1999 about at 22:40, the plane was located in 116 feet of water, about ½ of a mile north of the 1,100-foot radar target position. The engine, propeller hub and blades, and entire tail section were recovered. The entire span of both main wings’ spars was also recovered. Additionally, about 75 percent of the fuselage/cabin area, 80 percent of the left wing structure, and 60% of the right wing were recovered. The recovered wreckage was taken from an area that was about 120 feet long.
At 4:30 p.m., the bodies were brought to the surface. I don’t think this is real, but there is one photo making the rounds that is supposed to be of John Kennedy being pulled from the water. I warn you, this is not a pretty picture, and I really do doubt its authenticity. Anyway, (WARNING: dead pic) here is the photograph.
March, 2002 – This in from a Findadeath.com friend: The photo purported to be of John Kennedy appears to be of someone who has been in the water substantially longer than Kennedy was. I am a detective in Boulder County, Colorado and have investigated over 250 deaths, including submersion deaths, and this photo is not of someone who is been in cold water for a relatively short period of time.
Findadeath.com friend Tara Akinlose sends us this info: “I heard a different story about them on a message board I frequent. A woman who went to a wedding on Martha’s Vineyard a few weeks after the crash, posted something she heard from another wedding guest who happened to be part of the recovery team. She said that they didn’t find 3 bodies, but only two: John and Carolyn, but no Lauren. Furthermore, Carolyn was cut off from the hips down.
I believe this story because all three were cremated and buried at sea, not a normal Kennedy tradition. I’m sure I was not the only one surprised at that. I think the burial at sea was definitely because they didn’t find Lauren, and wanted to have a ceremony for her, but without causing a lot of publicity.”
Interesting point Tara, and completely believable. But I would think that parts of Lauren would have washed up by now. Maybe not, but they weren’t that far from shore.
March 2002 – Findadeath.com Elizabeth adds her two cents: Just for your information, it is possible that remains do not wash up due to the fact that fish life will eat corpses as food, so it is quite possible that Lauren’s body was never recovered and was used for lunch or dinner. Read your biology books! Point taken – S
The Kennedys were notified, and Uncle Teddy hopped on board a boat, to view the remains, for identification. The bodies were then taken to a hospital for the post mortem.
Later that evening, they were taken to the Dumbury Crematory in Duxbury, Massachusetts, and cremated.
Of course, their home in Manhattan became a shrine.
Meanwhile, two flatbed trucks under police escort transported the wreckage of the plane to the Coast Guard hangar, in Otis Air Force Base, Mass.
Preliminary examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of an in-flight structural failure or fire. They also found that the landing gear was fully retracted, and the propeller was indeed operating at the time of the crash. That ruled out mechanical failure.
Pilots who had flown the same route were interviewed after the accident. These pilots reported that the in-flight visibility over the water was significantly reduced.
The next morning, Thursday the 23rd, the Kennedy family and the Bessette family had a private service aboard the USS Briscoe, and had the ashes of their loved ones dumped into the sea.
Lauren went first, as usual, followed by Carolyn and then John. Another dull day on CNN, but significantly more interesting. A Navy band played Eternal Father, Abide with Me, and For All the Saints. Then they threw 3 wreaths of flowers into the water. I wonder if those showed up on eBay. I do know that somebody was auctioning water that was scooped up that day, that could have contained their cremains. That was ridiculous, and very inventive.
The next day, the Kennedys had a memorial service in New York, at St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church (thanks Tom) which is on 89th Street between Madison and Park Avenues. That’s where Jackie used to pray. The guests included Muhammad Ali, the Clintons, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria, Jackie’s old flame Maurice, and Diane Sawyer.
The Bessettes threw their own shindig in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the Christ Church. This one focused on Lauren more. A few Kennedys showed up, but that was about it.
In February of 2000, the Kennedy family settled out of court with the Bessettes, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit. Who didn’t see that one coming? The Kennedys coughed up 10 Mil.
Oh yeah, Rory finally got married, in Greece. Two weeks after the crash.
Trivia: John smoked a single cigarette every day, and had a shamrock tattoo on his buttock.
March 2002 in my mailbox: I came to view your site at the advice of a friend. I browsed around, and saw your JFK Jr. page. There was one thing on the page that is incorrect. The shamrock tattoo was not on JFK Jr’s booty, it was on his shoulder.
Another thing is that I believe that Rory Kennedy was married two MONTHS after the crash, not two weeks.
June 2002 – don’t know if this is true, but my good pal KK sends me this gossip: The Day John Died revealed that JFK Jr. was into porn flicks–so much so that he hung onto them for re-viewing and had to pay close to $1,000 in late fees to one video store for all his overdue adult videos.
More: He never saw the movie JFK. God, could you imagine? He would have had to have had that conversation with his mother about it. “Mom, remember when you scooped dad’s brains up off the trunk of that limo in Dallas? Where did the bullet come from?” That is an amazing perspective that we will never ever know. Unless Caroline spills it. Also, wouldn’t you kill to have Jackie’s pink suit? I think it’s probably the most famous piece of clothing in the world. Remember when Daryl Hannah wore a similar costume on the cover of SPY magazine, back when she was dating JFK Jr? Imagine Jackie hearing about that for the first time.
Added May 2009 from Findadeath friend Pam: The suit was donated to the National Archives sometime between November 22, 1963 (assassination date) and July 1964. Nobody – not even anyone at the Archives – knows who donated it or where it came from. It arrived at the Archives via mail in a plain brown box with only a postal zone return address. (The most popular belief is that it was donated by Jackie’s mother.) Within the last 10 years, Caroline Kennedy signed a “deed of gift”, essentially “donating” the suit officially to the Archives, but with a stipulation that the suit be withheld from public view for 100 years. (infuriating!) So, the suit won’t be on view until 2063. This was done to protect the family’s privacy. (I wish this weren’t true, it’s our history too!)
Right now the suit is packed in a custom storage container in a secure warehouse with an extremely controlled climate. The facility is windowless, the temperature and humidity are controlled, and in the current conditions the suit should stay preserved indefinitely. The box contains the pink jacket and skirt, blue blouse, blue purse, shoes, and even Jackie’s stockings. The white gloves and the matching pink pillbox hat didn’t come with the package, and the whereabouts of those items is unknown.
Where did I get all this information? [I know someone that] worked inside the warehouse where the suit is housed. [This person] has seen the suit once and only once, when it was removed from the original packaging and placed into a custom-built acid-free storage container. Most Archives employees have never even seen it.
Oh, and for all the death hags like me – no, the suit has never been cleaned.
Fascinating, thank you, Pam.
Mark Langlois sends this:
Carly Simon once mentioned on the Howard Stern show, that she was friends with Jackie O, and asked her, “Have you seen JFK (the film) yet?” Jackie paused and simply said, “no.” Carly realized, and was appropriately mortified. Jackie let it pass.