So now we know.
Deep Throat, the enigmatic source who helped two young reporters bring down a president, turns out to have been Mark Felt, the FBI’s second in command during Watergate. At 91, the man who aired the Nixon administration’s dirty laundry during clandestine meetings in a dingy parking garage now lives with his daughter in Santa Rosa, Calif.
“Deep Throat has become this living legend, like Camelot. And now it isn’t anymore,” lamented writer Sally Quinn, who is married to former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.
Another one bites the dust. One by one, history’s most intriguing unknowns are succumbing to the ravages of time, a relentless onslaught of forensic science advancements, Cold War declassifications and the voracious appetite of the 24-hour news cycle.
Other solved mysteries
Did Thomas Jefferson father a child by his slave, Sally Hemings? DNA evidence says yes.
Did Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed in 1953 for espionage, really pass atom bomb secrets to the Soviets? Intelligence intercepts made public in 1995 indicate that Julius was guilty and Ethel at the very least knew about his activities.
Was Jesse James shot in the back by a member of his own gang? You bet he was, pardner.
How do they know? They dug him up.
It seems like people just can’t keep themselves hidden any more. Eric Robert Rudolph, the serial bomber who dodged the law for five years in the mountains of North Carolina, was caught in 2003. He recently received four life sentences without parole. Unabomber Ted Kaczynski has been behind bars for almost a decade.
In Wichita, Kan., the accused BTK killer — who terrorized and murdered at least 10 people between 1974 and 1991 — gave himself away a few months back because he couldn’t resist getting in touch with the media and police more than a decade after his last crime. In Georgia, runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks ran out on her fiancee four days before their nuptials ... but she couldn’t even stay gone until the wedding date.
The only remaining question mark there: Who’s going to play her in the TV miniseries?
What about Jimmy Hoffa?
It didn’t used to be like this. There was a time not so long ago when it was a lot easier to keep a secret, perpetrate a hoax or disappear without a trace.
Or make somebody disappear without a trace.
Hoffa had clashed with both men during his long career in the Teamsters Union, and both of them had good reasons to want him dead. So it’s not such a stretch to assume that Hoffa was the victim of a mob hit.
Even so, his body has never been found. Investigators never came up with enough evidence to charge the two men, or anybody else, in Hoffa’s disappearance.
The case of the missing judge
Judge Joseph Crater had some organized crime connections, too. He was last seen getting into a taxi on Aug. 6, 1930, after having dinner with two friends at Billy Haas’ chophouse on West 45th Street in New York City. One of the two friends was a fellow attorney named William Klein. The other was a showgirl named Sally Lou Ritz. She went missing a few weeks after the judge did.
Crater’s disappearance became New York’s obsession. For months, the tabloids bulged with false leads, farfetched theories and the occasional real development. Some people naturally assumed that Crater ran off with showgirl Ritz. Others preferred the theory that both had been murdered by gangsters due to their awareness of some underworld malfeasance.
Crater’s assistant testified that the day he disappeared, the judge cashed two checks for a total of $5,150 — about $55,000 in today’s money. Crater’s assistant also helped the judge lug several portfolios of documents from the judge’s chambers to his Fifth Avenue apartment.
$6,000 in cash and a note
Nearly six months after Crater disappeared, his wife Stella found a note from him in a hidden dresser drawer, along with more than $6,000 in cash, several life insurance policies and a list of people who owed the judge money. The note said, “Am very weary. Love, Joe.”
Crater sightings were all the rage for years after his disappearance. Various reports put him in California, prospecting for gold in Alaska and serving in Africa with the French Foreign Legion.
But none of those leads ever panned out, and Crater was legally declared dead in 1939.
A jump into oblivion
By the time Watergate started to unravel more than 30 years later, few people would have remembered the Judge Crater legend. But everybody knew about D.B. Cooper.
That’s what the papers called him, anyway. On the afternoon of Nov. 24, 1971, a well-dressed man calling himself Dan Cooper boarded a short-hop Northwest Orient flight from Portland, Ore., to Seattle. He handed stewardess Flo Schaffner a note that she put in her pocket without reading, under the assumption that it was a romantic overture.
But when she unfolded it a few minutes later, Schaffner realized it was not her affections Cooper was pursuing. He wanted $200,000 in unmarked bills, four parachutes and no nonsense. The note also mentioned a bomb.
Schaffner consulted the cockpit crew, and they decided she should go back to where Cooper was seated to see if he really had a bomb. He obligingly opened his carry-on bag to reveal a tangle of wires and metal cylinders. There was no question about how Cooper had gotten such a contraption on board — back then, metal detectors, X-ray machines and pat-downs were just a twinkle in some security consultant’s eye.
When the plane landed in Seattle, Cooper got what he’d asked for. Then he had the pilot take off again and head south at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Somewhere over the Pacific Northwest, Cooper opened a door at the rear of the plane and jumped.
Nine years later a kid discovered $5,800 of the money buried on the banks of the Columbia River. But the rest of the cash, and Cooper, have never been accounted for.
Fugitive with little romantic appeal
Somehow, the most elusive figures of our own day don’t have the same romantic appeal. When Osama bin Laden last surfaced in October, just days before the presidential election, he lectured Americans by videotape about U.S. foreign policy. Polls indicated that the public’s reaction was an emphatic ho-hum.
Sure, he lives in a cave somewhere. Yes, he’s been able to avoid capture by what may be the most intensive manhunt ever. Normally that would be pretty intriguing. But considering what he’s done, most people just want to see bin Laden caught.
The same goes for whoever perpetrated the anthrax mail attacks in the weeks after Sept. 11. The feds are no nearer to solving that one than they were 3½ years ago, an alarming fact that tends to overwhelm any curiosity about how whoever it was did it and what he — or she — was thinking.
The Chandra Levy case showed some promise when it broke four years ago. Here was an attractive young woman, alleged to be romantically involved with a married congressman, who had simply vanished — “pulled a Crater,” as New Yorkers of the ’30s and ’40s referred to any sudden disappearance.
The case kept CNN uncharacteristically interesting throughout the summer of 2001. Every time you turned on the news Gary Condit, the California Democrat who had been linked to Levy, was issuing another grim denial.
But then Sept. 11 happened, and the public appetite for salacious Washington scandal plummeted. And when Levy’s remains were discovered in Washington’s Rock Creek Park a year after she disappeared, the mystery became a lot less interesting and a lot more sad.
Just somebody's grandpa
The Deep Throat mystery was fascinating because, like Jimmy Hoffa and Judge Crater, he was larger than life, not some transparent, blown-dry politician desperately trying to keep his job. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein painted Deep Throat as an outlandish character, chain-smoking cigarettes and advising the reporters to “follow the money.” His very name, concocted from the title of a dirty movie, made him that much seamier and sexier.
Deep Throat was a truly mythic figure, a gutsy maverick buried deep in the Washington power structure with the access and the will to destroy a corrupt administration.
And now he’s just somebody’s grandpa.
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