Why Conspiracy Theorists Link A Deadly Plane Crash To Watergate

In 1972, a suspected key player in the shocking Watergate scandal was found dead in the wreckage of a Boeing 737 with what appears to have been damning evidence related to the case (via Yahoo). The unlikely death of Dorothy Hunt has raised eyebrows ever since, with some calling the event a murder cover-up.

Dorothy Hunt was apparently in charge of paying the men involved in the illegal break-in at the Watergate Hotel. President Richard Nixon gave orders to the burglars to bug the Democratic National Committee's offices and steal some of their documents (via History). However, when the group returned to replace some faulty microphones one night, a night guard caught them in the act and they were arrested on June 17, 1972. The burglars were paid to keep silent for a time, although whistleblowers inevitably compromised the operation.

Less than six months after authorities caught the burglars, Dorothy Hunt, wife of a CIA agent under indictment in the case, was found burned to a crisp in the wreckage of United Airlines Flight 553, with a large amount of money on her person.

The plane crash

According to CBS News, on December 8, 1972, United Airlines Flight 553 crash-landed near Midway International Airport with Dorothy Hunt on board. President Richard Nixon had just been reelected that November, having successfully fooled the public into thinking that he was innocent (via History). During the Watergate investigation, Nixon had asked the CIA to stop the FBI from uncovering the story, and Dorothy Hunt's husband, E. Howard Hunt, was one of the CIA agents under indictment for possible involvement in the scandal (via The Washington Post).

But it was the FBI, not the CIA, who found Dorothy Hunt's body in the wreckage, not long after the plane hit the ground. When they arrived at the scene, they discovered that her purse was full of a suspicious amount of cash — $10,000 in $100 bills — money her mourning husband later claimed was intended for her cousin. Nixon makes reference to the money in one of the White House tapes, during which he asks if the money is traceable.

E. Howard Hunt's contact in the White House was presidential aide Charles Colson, and it later transpired that the pair had discussed the hush money that was doled out to the burglars. According to a 1974 Time Magazine article, Colson reportedly told a private detective he believed Dorothy Hunt was murdered for her involvement, saying, "I don't say this to my people. They'd think I'm nuts. I think they killed Dorothy Hunt."

Was Dorothy Hunt murdered?

There is a good case to be made that Dorothy Hunt's death was just a coincidence. According to The Washington Post, in one of the tapes recorded in the White House, President Richard Nixon gets word of Dorothy Hunt's death and is quite obviously surprised.

On the other hand, a private investigator, Sherman Skolnick, who looked into the crash in 1970s, caused a conspiracy storm after he argued that there are many suspicious details surrounding the accident (via MuckRock). According to an article printed in the Ann Arbor Sun, Skolnick made a whole host of claims about the crash, some of which relied on secret informants. He argued, among other things, that the double failure of the crash recorders on United Airlines Flight 553 was a highly suspicious coincidence. According to Skolnick, the landing system on the Chicago runway had also been mysteriously turned off, just before the incident.

Skolnick's claims have, on the whole, been dismissed as baloney — not least because the official National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the accident ruled that the crash was caused by a careless pilot. On the other hand, both the NTSB and Skolnick both pointed out that the speed with which the FBI appeared at the scene was peculiar, according to MuckRock. However, it seems that the FBI had nothing to do with the accident. Those who suspect CIA involvement instead may still wish to don their tinfoil hats.