The Strange Death of Dorothy Hunt

Special for Fair Play
By Lalo J. Gastriani

November 1994


Was Dorothy Wetzel Hunt, the late wife of convicted Watergate conspirator, E. Howard Hunt, murdered? Was the plane on which she was traveling--along with other key Watergate characters--sabotaged? If so, why? And by whom?

These questions have troubled researchers for more than twenty years. Along with the unanswered questions about Hunt and how he relates to the forces that brought down the Nixon presidency, also too is the question about what more the Hunts knew about Nixon; what it was that made Nixon so paranoid; that made him so willing to come up with hush money ("...a million dollars? we could get that."). Could it be that Hunt and/or Nixon were complicit in the death of JFK?

The Crash

It was at 2:29 PM on Friday, December 8, 1972, during the height of the Watergate scandal that United Airlines flight 553 crashed just outside of Chicago during a landing approach to Midway Airport. Initial reports indicated that the plane had some sort of engine trouble when it descended from the clouds. But the odd thing about this crash is what happened after the plane went down. Witnesses living in the working-class neighborhood in which the plane crashed said that moments after impact, a battalion of plainclothes operatives in unmarked cars parked on side streets pounced on the crash-site [High Treason 2 (1992, Carroll and Graf); Harrison Livingston; p426] . These so-called 'FBI types' took control of the scene and immediately began sifting through the wreckage looking for something. At least one survivor recognized a "rescue worker"--clad in overalls sifting through wreckage--as an operative of the CIA [op. cit.; p428]

Nixon Whitehouse Asserts Control of Investigation

One day after the crash, the Whitehouse head of Nixon's "plumber's" outfit--Egil Krogh, Jr.-- was made undersecretary of transportation, a position that put him in a direct position to oversee the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Agency which are both authorized by law to investigate airline crashes. Krogh would later be convicted of complicity in the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg's Psychiatrist's office along with Hunt, Liddy and a small cast of CIA-trained and retained Cuban black-bag specialists.

About a month after Krogh's new assignment, Nixon's appointments secretary, Dwight Chapin, was made an executive in the Chicago office of United Airlines [op. cit.; p429], where he threatened the media to steer clear of speculation about sabotage in the crash. On December 19th--eleven days after the crash--Nixon appointed ex-CIA officer, Alexander Butterfield, as head of the FAA. Students of Watergate will remember Butterfield as the Whitehouse official who supervised Nixon's secret taping system and who exposed the existence of the infamous tapes that ultimately would force Nixon to resign.

Ostensibly traveling with Mrs. Hunt on flight 553 was CBS news corespondent Michelle Clark who, rumor had it, had learned from her sources that the Hunts were about to spill the proverbial beans regarding the Nixon whitehouse and its involvement in the Watergate burglary; Clark also died in the crash.

A large sum of money (between $10,000 and $100,000) was found amid the wreckage in the possession of Mrs. Hunt. It was during this time that Dorothy Hunt was traveling around the country paying off operatives and witnesses in the Watergate operation with money her husband had extorted from Nixon via his counsel, John Dean. Hunt had threatened Nixon and Dean with exposing the nature of all the sordid deeds he had done.

Could it be that the fuel for Hunt's blackmail of the president had little to do with the so-called "third-rate burglary" of the Democratic headquarters? Could it have had more to do with the fate of John F. Kennedy and of Nixon's awareness of who was really behind the planning and deployment of his demise? In the Watergate tapes, Nixon displays a malignant paranoia to his chief-of-staff, H. R. Haldeman, concerning E. Howard Hunt and the Bay of Pigs operation. He decides to use this paranoia to force the CIA to help cover up the Watergate affair:

"...just say (unintelligible) very bad to have this fellow Hunt, ah, he knows too damned much, if he was involved -- you happen to know that? If it gets out that this is all involved, the Cuba thing, it would be a fiasco. It would make the CIA look bad, it's going to make Hunt look bad, and it is likely to blow the whole Bay of Pigs thing which we think would be very unfortunate - both for the CIA and for the country..."

In his memoir, The Ends of Power (1978), Haldeman claims that all the references in the tapes to "The Bay of Pigs thing", were coded references by Nixon:

In those Nixon references to the Bay of Pigs [in the White House tapes] he [Nixon] was actually referring to the Kennedy assassination...After Kennedy was killed, the CIA launched a fantastic cover-up...The CIA literally erased any connection between Kennedy's assassination and the fact, Counter Intelligence Chief James Angleton of the CIA called Bill Sullivan of the FBI (Number Three man under J. Edgar Hoover, who later died of a gunshot wound) and rehearsed the questions and answers they would give to the Warren Commission investigators."

In The Haldeman Diaries (1994), editor Stephen Ambrose wrote that Haldeman, in the latter years of his life, attributed the above revelations to his ghost writer, Joseph Di Mona; by 1990, Haldeman was repudiating the entire book. One must remember that from the time Nixon fired Haldeman (1973) until December 1978, the two men were not on speaking terms; it was during this time--coincident with his prison term--that Haldeman released his book.

Hunt and Lansdale in Dealey Plaza

Some JFK assassination researchers have long speculated that E. Howard Hunt holds the keys to what really happened to Kennedy. There has long been conjecture about the whereabouts of Hunt on November 22, 1963. Some have posited that Hunt and his merry band of operatives were in Dealey Plaza that day providing the logistic backup and diversion that enabled the true assassins to escape under the cover of the ensuing pandemonium. Some have even gone as far to say that Hunt--in a clever disguise--was one of the mysterious "Tramps" arrested in the railroad yards behind Dealey Plaza shortly after the last shots were fired at the Kennedy motorcade.

In the latest issue of Steam Shovel Press [Steam Shovel Press #11, p13] in an article by photo analyst Jack White, L. Fletcher Prouty describes one of several known Tramp photos. This particular photo shows the tramps being escorted along a service entrance to the TSBD wall comprised of two high chain-link gates with large diamond-shapes in the center of each [Photo designated as "P1" in Weberman and Canfield's Coup D' Etat in America (1992, Quick Trading)]. The tramps are facing the camera and a man is seen walking in the opposite direction, back to the camera. Prouty believes that the man walking away from the camera is Edward Lansdale. Lansdale, a planner with the Air Force Directorate and then the CIA-affiliated Office of Special Operations, worked closely with E. Howard Hunt. Lansdale's specialty, according to Prouty, who claims to have also worked closely with him, was staging real-time covers, diversions, and the general "smoke screens" under which assassinations took place. When asked to explain, Prouty alleges that it was Lansdale's job to provide "actors", and "screenplays" for certain black operations deployed by the covert operatives.

One must remember that E. Howard Hunt is a prolific author, having written over seventy books, virtually all of them spy novels; novels that some have speculated were designed by Hunt's superiors at the CIA to be Cold War disinformation tools. Hunt has also written screenplays, the most notable being Bimini Run.

Alibis Have Crumbled

One thing is for sure: Hunt has consistently changed his story about his whereabouts on that November day in 1963. We must go no further than the retrial of Hunt's liable lawsuit against the Liberty Lobby (1985) to realize that there is much that Hunt is holding back on this matter. In this trial, attorney and JFK assassination author Mark Lane was able to get Hunt to finally admit that he was not with his family in Washington on November 22, 1963, watching on TV, along with the rest of the world, the aftermath of the assassination.

Lane posed the question to Hunt that if he was with his family that day, than why did he have to pursue the lawsuit to square himself with his children who, Hunt contended, had to endure for years the nagging question of whether or not their father had in some way been involved in the assassination. Hunt's reaction to the query--a stunned, head-snapping recoil, followed by a 30-second pause, pretty much answered the question for the jury. His case was overturned [Plausible Denial (1991, Thunder's Mouth Press); Mark Lane; p 283].

Admitted as part of the evidence was a sworn deposition of CIA operative and one-time Castro love-interest, Marita Lorenz, testimony which places Hunt--along with CIA contract agent Frank Sturgis, supermercanary Gerry Patrick Hemming and Jack Ruby--in a Dallas motel room, with Hunt doling out cash from his famous attache case ostensibly for the procurement and transportation of two carloads of firearms moved from Florida to Dallas the day before the assassination.

What Did Dorothy Know?

After reading in the spring of 1991 James Hougan's amazing Watergate book, Secret Agenda, I began a Freedom of Information Act search on certain FBI documents related to the death of Dorothy Hunt. I was especially intrigued by the report by Hougan, that amongst the cash Mrs. Hunt had in her possession, was a $100 bill with the inscription, "Good Luck FS". I immediately suspected that FS could stand for Howard's Watergate co-conspirator and fellow CIA affiliate, Frank Sturgis, and began searching for other crash-material ascribed to Mrs. Hunt from the ill-fated flight.

In Agenda, Hougan describes an engineer, Michael Stevens, proprietor of the Chicago-based Stevens Research Laboratories, as being visited in early May, 1972 by Watergate wireman James McCord who had come to place orders for ten highly-sophisticated eavesdropping devices---much more sophisticated units than the cheap, commercial-grade bugs supposedly found in the DNC the next month in June.

Stevens claims that Dorothy Hunt was traveling to see him in Chicago when her plane went down and that the $10,000 or more she possessed was intended for him as an installment for his silence. Stevens says he told the FBI that his own life had been threatened anonymously and that Hunt's death was a homicide.

According to Hougan, the high-performance bugs were not used at the DNC but rather in various hotel rooms setup by Hunt and McCord as combination "dens of compromise" and psychological data-gathering field laboratories; rooms in which high-priced call girls helped stage episodes with political figures that were worthy of blackmail. Hougan makes a very good case for this including a statement by landlady, Miriam Furbershaw, who claims that she rented her basement apartment to James McCord [Secret Agenda; James Hougan; p19] two or three years before the Watergate scandal. McCord is known to have had considerable bugging equipment in this apartment which appears to have been some sort of safehouse. Mrs. Furbershaw also told the FBI that McCord had several male visitors, including E. Howard Hunt. Intriguingly, Hunt claims to have never met McCord until introduced to him in 1972 by G. Gordon Liddy. There is ample evidence that Hunt and McCord knew each other by 1963 if not earlier [op. cit.; pp17-18] having worked extensively in the CIA's Bay of Pigs operation.

Mrs. Furbershaw says she ultimately evicted McCord because he had "...more than one occasion on [sic] which 'young girls' visited during the night." In a confrontation in the presence of a young woman said to have been crying hysterically on the bed, she ordered McCord leave. Hougan claims that McCord's blackmailing activities were illegal CIA-sanctioned operations the purposes of which were to collect personality information for use in personality predicting-models by CIA psychiatrists. He further claims that McCord was engaging in similar if not identical operations at the Watergate; that McCord compromised the DNC "cover" operation to protect the CIA-sponsored callgirl operations or other operations known only to McCord and or Hunt.

Freedom of Information?

My request of the Chicago FBI office for all documents related to this matter have only yielded the FBI claiming that there are no documents related to that case using the index numbers I obtained from Hougan's book. The case is on appeal with the Justice Department. Updates on the case will be presented when they develop.

Dorothy Hunt's Death Certificate

In the process of pursuing the case, I was required to obtain a certified copy of Dorothy Hunt's death certificate, which I did, obtaining it from the Cook County Coroner's office. A link to a scanned image of this document is at the end of this article. Note the clear copy of E. Howard Hunt's signature. Also note that while Dorothy Hunt was officially pronounced dead on December 8th, 1972, it wasn't until November of 1973--nearly a year later--that the Coroner's signature is dated. Also interesting on this certificate is the lack of a Social Security number.

Dorothy Wetzel Hunt was also an employee for the CIA in the late forties, stationed in Shanghai, China, where she met her future husband. E Howard Hunt lives in southern Florida with his second wife where he continues to write. One of his latest novels (1992) is Body Count.

Click here for a copy of Dorothy Hunt's Death Certificate