The Exner Files: Judith Campbell Exner, JFK and the Mob
A beautiful woman is introduced to a handsome, charismatic Senator running for President by an Academy Award winning movie star. They fall into an affair. Meanwhile, the beautiful woman is also introduced to the head of the Chicago mob by the same man. The beautiful woman carries messages and arranges meetings between the now President of the United States and the Chicago mobster. Sounds like the plot of a thriller, or a conspiracy theorists wet dream doesn’t it? However in this case, it happens to be true. Allegedly.
This much can be proved.
Fact #1: Judith Campbell as she was known then was introduced to John F. Kennedy in Las Vegas by Frank Sinatra.
Fact #2: Several months later, Judith was introduced to ‘Sam Flood’ in Miami by Frank Sinatra. Later on she learned that he was actually Sam Giancana, the head of the Chicago mob.
Fact #3: Judith and JFK carried on an affair for almost three years, meeting in hotel rooms, the Georgetown house he shared with Jackie, and even the White House (in her autobiography, Judith gives the phone numbers of both Evelyn Lincoln, JFK’s secretary as well as the phone number of the Georgetown house.
Fact #4: While she was seeing JFK, Judith was also seeing Sam Giancana, platonically she claims until the relationship with JFK was over.
Fact #5: J. Edgar Hoover had lunch with JFK in March of 1962, where he allegedly handed him the FBI report detailing Judith’s relationship with Giancana.
The whole story came to light in 1975 during the Senate Select Committee to study Governmental Operations to Respect to Intelligence Activities (aka the Church Committee) in its report on CIA assassination attempts. The report stated that a ‘close friend’ of JFK had also been a friend of mobsters Sam Giancana as well as Johnny Roselli, an associate of Giancana. It was the first time that JFK’s rampant infidelities had been revealed to the public. When Exner’s name was finally revealed, she gave a press conference claiming that while she had had a personal relationship with JFK, she denied that she had any knowledge of mob activities.
How did an ordinary woman find herself involved not only with the leader of the free world but also one of the most notorious gangsters in mob history? Nothing in Judith Campbell’s background seemed to suggest that she had a penchant for taking a walk on the wild side. She was born Judith Immoor on January 11, 1934 on the East Coast but she grew up in tony Pacific Palisades in California. Her father was an architect, and her family was well off if not quite wealthy. When Judith was 14, her mother was in a serious car accident, which traumatized Judith so much that she dropped out of high school and was privately tutored.
At the age of 16, Judith met William Campbell, a minor contract player through her sister Jackie who had started a movie career under the name of Susan Morrow. They married when Judith turned 18 in 1952, but the marriage was over by 1958. Judith claimed in her autobiography that Campbell cheated on her repeatedly, which he denies. Whatever the case, Judith was footloose and fancy free and indulging in the single life that she felt that she had been denied by marrying so young. With an inheritance from her grandmother and her alimony, Judith was free to spend her days getting ready for her nights out on the town.
In 1959 she began a brief romance with Frank Sinatra that ended when he tried to get her to participate in a threesome. Still, she accepted his invitation to come to Las Vegas to see him at the Sands hotel, where he was filming Oceans 11 and performing at night with the Rat Pack consisting of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, brother-in-law of JFK (he was married to JFK’s sister Patricia). It was there that she met JFK in February of 1960. Judith claimed not to know who he was or that he was running for President of the United States. Apparently spending three hours a day getting ready didn’t leave much time for reading newspapers of newsmagazines. Although there were other people at the table, Judith wrote that JFK spent all his time focused on her. “It was as if every nerve and muscle in his whole body was poised at attention. As I was to learn, Jack Kennedy was the world’s greatest listener.”
Soon they were trysting whenever JFK had a spare moment. In the meantime, Frank Sinatra introduced Judith to Giancana while she was attending his show in Miami. Soon when she wasn’t traipsing across the country to see JFK, she was spending time with Giancana in Chicago. Despite the fact that he was a mafia kingpin and was blatantly racist, Judith liked the way that Giancana treated her, and the fact that he didn’t press her into a sexual relationship. Judith and JFK’s relationship petered out sometime in June of 1962. Judith claimed that after awhile, the relationship no longer felt right. She felt that JFK had become too demanding, wanting her to fly to be with him at a moment’s notice, and that she was expected to service him during sex.
After her relationship with JFK was over, Judith and Giancana drifted into a sexual relationship that ended when she turned down his marriage proposal. By 1963, the relationship was over. Still the FBI continued to hound her because of her associations with Giancana and Johnny Roselli. Judith began dating Eddie Fisher and a pitcher for the Angels. She suffered health problems from the injections she had received from Dr. Max Jacobson, also known as ‘Dr. Feelgood.’ Jacobson was notorious in the 60’s for giving celebrities shots filled with not just vitamins but also amphetamines. In 1965, Judith gave birth prematurely to a son who she later gave up for adoption. She never revealed the name of the father.
In her autobiography, Exner also managed to include photographic evidence of plane tickets, tickets to JFK’s inauguration and other pieces of evidence to bolster her claim that she and JFK had an affair. However, in 1988, she changed her tune and in an article in People magazine written by Kitty Kelley, Exner claimed for the first time that she was ferrying information and money back and forth between Kennedy and Giancana. In fact she claimed that the only reason that she spent time with Giancana at all was because JFK had asked her to. Later she claimed that Robert F. Kennedy knew that she was carrying money and information back and forth between JFK and Giancana.
Exner claimed that she lied to the Church Committee and in her autobiography because she was afraid for her life. Both Giancana and Johnny Roselli had been killed, their murderers never found. Now that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and it was terminal, Exner felt she needed to come clean. She repeated her story in a 1997 article written by Liz Smith for Vanity Fair, and also to Seymour Hersh for his book The Dark Side of Camelot. She also claimed that she had become pregnant by JFK and had an abortion in early 1963.
But was she telling the truth or just trying to embellish her story for money? After her story was revealed, Judith was called everything from a party girl, to a call girl in various biographies of JFK. What better way to bolster her reputation than to claim that her real reason for hanging out with mobsters was because she was a go-between for the President of the United States? Sounds much better than just being a woman who fell for inappropriate men, who liked to walk a little bit on the wild side doesn’t it? Her story also dovetailed neatly with the conspiracy theorists who believe that the mob was involved with JFK’s death. The revelations that the CIA had hired Roselli and Giancana to help assassinate Castro also lent credence to her story.
The plot to Assassinate Castro
In the 1960's, the CIA contacted Johnny Roselli, Sam Giancana and Salvatore Trafficante to help them assassinate Castro. Why the Mafia? Well Castro's rise to power had destroyed the Mafia's hold on the Casino's which they had controlled during the previous regime. They had lost millions of dollars when the Casino's were confiscated when Castro took over. Also, most of them still had contacts with disgruntled anti-Castro associates who would be happy to help them with the job. The CIA offered Giancana and Roselli a $100,000 to do the job, which they refused, happy to do it for free. Unfortunately, the Three Stooges could have done a better job. Despite the resources of both the Mafia and the CIA, they were never able to get the job done, despite repeated attempts. Everything was tried from poisoning his food to his cigars. In the meantime, Giancana used the services of the CIA, to have comedian Dan Rowan's dressing room and hotel bugged in Las Vegas to see if Rowan was having an affair with his girlfriend, singer Phyllis McGuire. The man sent to the job ended up arrested which almost blew the whole operation sky high. The revelations of the CIA plot to kill Castro was revealed in the 'Family Jewel' papers that were released. Roselli had actually tried to use the information to keep from being deported but the CIA didn't care. The attempts continued while Johnson was President. The question still remains whether JFK or RFK knew of the plot.
However there are also a few holes. Why would JFK personally meet with mobsters when he must have known that they were being bugged and spied on by the FBI? He had minions to do stuff like that, to keep his hands clean. His brother, the attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, was publicly waging a war against the mob. And why would JFK trust a woman he hardly knew, a woman that he was sleeping with, to not only ferry money and important documents, but to also accept payoffs for him from defense contractors in California?(another Exner embellishment). Exner claimed that JFK didn’t trust the CIA, and that he felt that no one would suspect a woman.
The one potential witness, a man named Martin Underwood, who initially claimed that he had followed Exner on the train to Chicago in April of 1960 to make sure that she delivered the money to Giancana, recanted his statement. Seymour Hersh in The Dark Side of Camelot even claimed that JFK was blackmailed into giving a defense contract for a new plane. They threatened to expose his relationship with Exner. Critics of her story claim that Exner is an unreliable witness, that she had a history of depression, she’d been addicted to alcohol and amphetamines, and she’d been hounded and harassed by the FBI. Instead she invented a role for herself out of John le Carré thriller.
Judith Campbell Exner died at the age of 65 on September 24, 1999, still insisting that she played a bigger role in history. She has her detractors and her defenders on either side. Historians will probably never know the truth unless some new evidence pops up that bolsters her claims. However, she will be remembered as one of the first people to pop the bubble that was the Camelot myth about JFK.
Power and Beauty– starring Natasha Henstridge as Judith Campbell Exner, Kevin
Anderson as JFK, Peter Friedman as Sam Giancana. 2002, Produced by
Showtime. Three years after her death, Showtime produced a movie based on
Exner’s story. Despite the salacious material, the movie was incredibly
dull. The biggest problem is that Exner’s role in the story is basically
passive. Occasionally she stands up for herself, when Giancana pays her
bill for her in Miami soon after they meet, and Judith insists on paying him
back. Henstridge isn’t a good enough actress to make the viewer either
sympathize or care about Exner and the voice-over narration is distracting.
My story: Judith Campbell Exner and Ovid Demetrias
The Dark Side of Camelot, Seymour Hersh.
Mafia Moll: The Judith Campbell Exner Story by Sam Sloan