07.26.12

Mary Kennedy: Bringing Up the Body

By moving his wife's remains to the far reaches of the local cemetery, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. outraged his neighbors in Hyannis Port. Even worse, he violated the law. Paula Froelich reports.

Near the back of the St. Francis Xavier cemetery in Centerville, Mass., are the resting places of Eunice and Sargent Shriver. Set in a secluded grassy area, surrounded by a circle of manicured bushes and white flowers and shaded by a large tree, the setting is peaceful and pristine. At the foot of the adjacent 4-foot high gravestones are floral arrangements that are just starting to wilt. The card on Sargent’s grave reads, “Dear Daddy, I miss you so much, Maria.” A similar card lies on her mother’s grave. The area is clean and well-tended, the only blemish is a grave-sized area of baked dirt nearby where a body was removed two weeks ago.

At the entrance to the cemetery, 700 feet from that peaceful scene, lies a raw grave. Under a tree with several dead branches hanging from it and surrounded by weeds, it is covered with sod and adorned with three small religious statues, albeit covered in bird droppings and some cobwebs. There is a lone plant on the grave, but no marker. Nor are there other graves nearby. From the site, one can hear the hum of traffic and see cars passing on the street.

This is the final, lonely resting place of Mary Kennedy, the 52-year-old mother of four who hanged herself on May 16 in a barn on the grounds of her home in Bedford, N.Y., a suburb of the New York City in tony Westchester County. Mary’s suicide took place against the backdrop of a bitter divorce proceeding with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and came after her estranged husband won temporary custody of their children, ages 11 to 18.

The Kennedy’s tragedies—the wartime deaths, assassinations, and plane crashes—are well-documented. So are the family’s self-inflicted wounds—Chappaquiddick, alcoholism, drug use, and divorce. But since the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, himself no paragon of virtue, on Aug. 25, 2009, the family’s problems seem only to have escalated.

In Hyannis Port, longtime summer home of the Kennedy clan, everyone has a story about the infamous political family. In the 86 years since Joseph Kennedy built the family compound on the 6-acre lot on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, locals have become inured to reports of drunkenness, drug use, car accidents, fistfights, and tightfistedness. But the disinterment and reburial of Mary Kennedy’s body on July 12 has created a level of anger new to the populace.

Twenty feet way from the Shriver family grave is the burial site of Algirdus Dapkus. His widow, who asks to be identified only as Mrs. Dapkus, visits every day. Mary Kennedy’s original plot had “a lovely cross made of white roses and a small plaque that said Mary Kennedy,” Mrs. Dapkus said. “People would come by and pay their respects and leave flowers. Then they moved her in the middle of the night.”

Shaking her head, Mrs. Dapkus continued, “People around here don’t want to think about [the Kennedys] anymore. There used to be an aura, but not anymore. There’ve been so many crimes and immoral things done. When you’re rich and famous, you think you can do anything.”

Bob O’Brien, 73, a retired marketer in Hyannis Port, says he’s also angry about the behavior of the town’s first family. “The way they dug up Mary—disgusting. Bobby is a cold-hearted beast. The smartest, best Kennedys are all gone. What’s left is detritus, just flotsam riding on the surf.” O’Brien’s friend, Jon Byland, 62, a local former customer serviceman, agreed: moving Mary’s body “was pointless. Nobody approved of it here.”

The re-internment also may have been a violation of the law. Massachusetts requires a permit and a court order to move a body once it has been buried. The law also requires that it be ”for a good reason,” such as burying a wife with her husband.

Linda Hutchenrider, the Barnstable town clerk, confirmed that no permit-request to move the body was received prior to the disinternment. (After The Daily Beast queried a Kennedy spokesman on the issue, a permit application was filed.) “The body was moved and without a permit,” Hutchenrider said. “No one has ever done this before as I far as I know. The process needs to be followed, so I am working with those involved to see that what did not take place does take place.”

The Kennedy family declined to comment on the reburial. The local district attorney was not much more forthcoming. “If there is someone who has an interest in this matter, we’ll be more than happy to listen to what they have to say,” said Barnstable County District Attorney Michael O’Keefe. “I’m not going to comment for some trashy news story.”

People in Hyannis, and those close to the family elsewhere in the country, also are furious at Bobby. They suspect that after Mary’s death, he leaked details of his sealed divorce papers, in which he characterizes her as a violent and abusive drunk, claims Mary’s family has said were “vicious lies.” Others have been angered by the behavior of Kerry Kennedy, Bobby’s sister. Almost immediately after Mary’s body was found, Kerry held a press conference, and then another after Mary’s funeral, blaming her former best friend’s and sister-in-law’s suicide on “lifelong demons” and a battle with mental health issues and alcoholism.

“The body was moved and without a permit,” Hutchenrider said. “No one has ever done this before as I far as I know. The process needs to be followed.”

“I cannot recover from what Kerry did to Mary—holding a press conference hours after her body was found?” a close friend of Mary’s told The Daily Beast. “Then saying she suffered from mental illness and struggled her whole life with alcohol problems? That was just self-serving and mean. Mary didn’t have a drinking problem. Period. There was no alcohol in her system, so why did Kerry bring it up?” The coroner’s report found three anti-depressants in Mary’s system but no alcohol.

Kerry herself is now embroiled in controversy. On July 13, she was arrested for driving while impaired by drugs in North Castle, N.Y., after she sideswiped a truck and left the scene of the accident, according to local police. Immediately after the accident, Kerry’s spokesman, Ken Sunshine, moved to dispel rumors that drugs or alcohol had played a role in the incident. “Kerry Kennedy voluntarily took Breathalyzer, blood, and urine tests—all of which showed no drugs or alcohol whatsoever in her system,” Sunshine said. “The charges were filed before the test results were available.”

By all accounts, including from Kerry Kennedy’s friends and those of her ex-husband, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Kerry never has had a drug or drinking issue. “Believe me, if Andrew thought there was a problem he would have whipped his children out of her care in a hot second,” said a friend of Cuomo’s. ”He hasn’t—and that says a lot. The Cuomos are just as clannish as the Kennedys, if not more so.”

At a press conference, Kerry ultimately blamed a “seizure” for her car accident. Police released the results of their blood tests Wednesday, and Ambien was found in Kerry’s blood system.

The Daily Beast has had several contentious emails and phone calls with Sunshine, who declined to comment on Kerry’s arrest, the criticism of Kerry’s treatment of Mary Kennedy, or the re-internment of Mary’s body. Bobby Kennedy also declined to comment publicly for this story. His lawyers have threatened The Daily Beast with legal action.

The heavy-handed way the Kennedys have dealt with the media even has some police officers up in arms. “Ninety minutes after the state police issued a press release [about Kerry’s arrest], Ken Sunshine puts out a release that says she’s clean. Right now, they’re obfuscating. I don’t believe any of it,” a Westchester law-enforcement source told the New York Post. “The family is so aggressive, they act like some organized-crime family…They come right out playing hardball with bare knuckles—they don’t even know the facts.

Back in Hyannis Port, the locals say they know the score. “[The Kennedy family] drives cars with no plates and the cops don’t pull them over. It’s crazy,” said Leonard Holtzman, a hairdresser who has been cutting the Kennedy family’s hair for more than 40 years. “Teddy never had any money in his pocket. You’d drink with Teddy and you paid. That’s the way it is. This is the Cape.”

—With additional reporting by Beverly Ford

Video screenshot

Historian Laurence Leamer discusses his Newsweek cover story on Mary Kennedy's death.