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Crime News

The True Story Behind 'Chappaquiddick' And Ted Kennedy's Car Crash That Killed Mary Jo Kopechne

Senator Ted Kennedy left the scene of an accident he caused. Passenger Mary Jo Kopechne died after his car crashed into a pond.

By Gina Tron

On a summer night in 1969, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy drove into a pond. As his car began to submerge into the water, he got himself out but left behind Mary Jo Kopechne, who was a passenger in his car. She perished.

A new biopic "Chappaquiddick," directed by John Curran explores the story behind the scandal and the night that the 28-year-old secretary and political strategist lost her life. It stars Jason Clarke, Kate Mara and Ed Helms. The film depicts the fateful night in which Kennedy hosted a party on Chappaquiddick Island, not far from Martha's Vineyard. The gathering was a reunion for a group six single women aged 28 or younger, including Kopechne.

The group was known as the "boiler-room girls", and they had served on Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign before he was assassinated.

Also present at the party on July 18, 1969 were six married men, including a cousin of the Kennedys, a former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts and Kennedy's part-time driver.

Kopechne reportedly left the party at 11:15 p.m. with Kennedy. He later claimed he offered to drive her to a ferry so she could go back to where she was staying. She didn’t tell any friends at the party that she was leaving, and she left her purse and keys at the event.  

According to Kennedy's own testimony, he accidentally drove his 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 off a narrow, unlit bridge, without guardrails after a wrong turn. It landed in Poucha Pond and overturned in the water. Kennedy was able to get out of the car but Kopechne died, trapped in the car.

Kennedy didn’t call police. The body of Kopechne and the car were both recovered by a diver the next day. It was only after her body was discovered that Kennedy reported the incident.

Kennedy said his wife didn’t accompany him to the party because of health reasons. Rumors swirled that he was having an affair with Kopechne — rumors that he adamantly denied. He also claimed he wasn’t driving under the influence of alcohol.

A week after the crash, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and he received a two-month suspended jail sentence. The night of his sentencing, he gave a statement: "I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately."

The incident influenced Kennedy's decision not to campaign for President in 1972 and 1976. However, he still served as a senator until his death in 2009. The Chappaquiddick incident remained scandalous and became the topic of at least fifteen books.

[Photos: Getty Images]