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Knowledge Can Kill!

I recently wrote about the panelists on the 1950s-1960s-era TV program What's My Line? All of them were famous. One was an actress; another was a publisher. The third was a reporter and columnist known primarily for writing about the business and gossip of the social scene, especially the world of entertainment. (The fourth seat on the panel involved a rotating retinue of other famous people, notably renowned comedians.)

But it was the third panelist, Dorothy Kilgallen, who arrested and retained my interest because of the mystery surrounding her death.

More than a gossip columnist, Kilgallen was a tenacious investigative reporter who, once she caught the scent of a good story, simply refused to be distracted or lose the track until she had the whole story and had "treed" her prey.

The New York Post called her "the most powerful female voice in America." She had a lot of contacts, both savory and unsavory. Fellow What's My Line? panelist Bennett Cerf said, "A lot of people knew Dorothy as a very tough game player; others knew her as a tough newspaper woman. When she went after a story, nothing could get in her way."

But arguably that tenacity eventually led to her death. Authorities in the New York City Medical Examiner's office, after a cursory and slipshod investigation, ruled her death the result of an overdose of alcohol and barbiturates. The New York Police Department accepted that pronouncement without further investigation, never dusted the scene for fingerprints, and never interviewed potentially key witnesses. The whole matter was swept aside, leaving many questions unanswered to this day.

Mark Shaw, however, dared to ask the tough questions and to interview the people who could provide the answers. He documented his findings in a book titled The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What's My Line? TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen (Franklin, Tenn.: Post Hill Press, 2016). He also presented his findings, including videos of excerpts from some of his interviews with witnesses, on a webpage at

In those two media formats, Shaw concluded that, based on the available evidence, there are three possibilities of how Kilgallen died: (1) accidental overdose, (2) suicide, or (3) murder. After showing the unliklihood of the first two options, he followed the trail of the third.

Then, in true Agatha Christie style, he paraded the lineup of possible murder suspects and their possible accomplices. He introduced each of them and explained their motives and means of killing her. And he produced quite a long list of suspects: Richard, her alcoholic and jealous husband; a lover (of which she had a few); the FBI; the CIA; the Russian government; the Communist Cubans; and the Mafia.

Kilgallen's gossip column and investigative journalism could make or break one's career. She had made many enemies.

But the question underlying all this detective work is the question of WHY she was killed. Shaw concluded that it all went back to the assassination of President John Kennedy and subsequent events. After conducting her initial investigations, Kilgallen concluded that there had been a conspiracy. Contrary to what the Dallas Police Department, the Warren Commission, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover said, she was convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the "lone gunman."

Days after Oswald's arrest, when Oswald was gunned down in the basement of the Dallas Police Department by stripclub owner Jack Ruby, Kilgallen intensified her investigations, delving into Ruby's background and finding among all the principals in the events numerous connections to the Mafia. As she drew near the end of her detective work, she became even more convinced of a conspiracy, and she confided to a few friends that her revelations would blow the lid off it all. "Justice is a big rug," she said. "When you pull it out from under one man, a lot of others fall too."

Somebody got nervous. Before she could publish her findings, she died, "circumstances unknown," the ME's report stated. Her voluminous files about the conspiracy have never been found.

Shaw seemed to believe that she had been murdered. Unfortunately, he never revealed conclusively who her murderer was or who his accomplices, if any, might have been. The reader comes from his book, however, convinced that it was indeed murder and that it was mob related.

After reading about a suspect, I was convinced that it was him. But then Shaw presented another, and I found myself thinking, Maybe it was HIM! Then came another and another. Each time, I was forced to change my mind. (That's exactly how I've found myself thinking whenever I've watched one of the Agatha Christie's Poirot or Miss Marple mystery movies.)

Check out Shaw's website for yourself. Read his book. And then reach your own conclusions.

This one thing we know, however--one day, the truth will out!

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