Inside John F. Kennedy's Relationship With His Mistress Judith Exner

Few presidents have been as mythologized and worshiped as John F. Kennedy, who became a legendary figure after his assassination on November 22, 1963. His administration was considered in such vaunted terms that it even attracted an Arthurian nickname: Camelot. Kennedy's marriage to Jacqueline, who was first lady during his presidency, has also been mythologized, with Jackie — who later became known as Jackie Onassis after remarrying — becoming idealized in the popular imagination thanks to her air of grace and glamor. However, the truth was that Kennedy was a far from fidelitous husband, with a string of high-profile affairs, including an alleged fling with Marilyn Monroe. All of Kennedy's affairs posed a threat to his political career, though none became widespread public knowledge until after his death.

One, however, seems in retrospect to have been more dangerous than most: His dalliance with Judith Exner, the daughter of a wealthy architect who became Kennedy's mistress while he was still a senator in 1960. Per her testimony and research by several JFK scholars, it is believed that Exner also became instrumental in helping her lover communicate with the mob, with whom she also grew to have close ties.

Judith Exner's mob ties

Judith Exner, who died in 1999, was open about her affair with John F. Kennedy from the mid-1970s on, penning a warts-and-all memoir, "My Story," in 1977. In it, she recalls how she became the secret lover of the most powerful man in the world. In the late 1950s, Exner was a teenager and married to the famous and well-connected Hollywood actor William Campbell. Through him she became a famous Hollywood socialite, and by 1959 she was the lover of Frank Sinatra, who later introduced her to Kennedy, according to People. Her affair with Sinatra didn't last long, and within a few meetings, Exner and Kennedy became romantically involved.

But Kennedy wasn't the only big name that Exner came into contact with through Sinatra. She also made the acquaintance of a man named Sam Flood, whose real name was Sam Giancana (pictured), a notorious mobster with whom she later claimed to have also had an affair with.

Her bombshell claims

Judith Exner reportedly engaged in an affair with John F. Kennedy from 1960, when he was still a U.S. senator, until 1962, by which time he was in the White House. Her shocking revelations regarding the affair first came to light in 1975 during a Select Committee hearing, though she furnished greater detail in "My Story." Specifically, she claimed that she had acted as a liaison between Kennedy and the Mafia's Sam Giancana, who she says the presidential hopeful was keen to contact to help him win the election. Years later, Exner added to her story, stating that she helped arrange a meeting between the two men to discuss a potential Mafia hit on the Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Exner also later claimed that she became pregnant through her world-famous lover, a development which certainly would have posed more of a threat to his marriage than any of the childless affairs he partook in before or after Exner. According to Exner, it was Kennedy who paid for her to have an abortion.

Exner's account has been questioned

Few historians today question that John F. Kennedy had affairs during his political career. Evidence exists in the form of witness accounts, testimony from the women involved, and even love letters between the president and his mistresses. But though Judith Exner's relationship with Kennedy has been widely accepted, several details from her story have provoked skepticism among those familiar with Kennedy's dealings as a politician. Notably, Bill Roemer, an FBI agent tasked with monitoring Sam Giancana, told The Washington Post in 1988 that the Feds would likely have been aware of any direct meeting between Giancana and Kennedy during the latter's presidency. He also said that both Exner and Giancana had overstated the mobster's potential influence in Illinois — and that Mayor of Chicago Richard J. Daley was more instrumental in ensuring Kennedy's success.

Exner's made her claims about Kennedy's links to the mob more than a decade after her memoir was published. She argued that her story changed over the years on account of her fear of reprisals, and several mobsters were indeed killed around the time of the Senate Select Committee's investigation into Kennedy's mob links, including Giancana. Still, critics argue that her version of events is far from credible, claiming that the timeline of her abortion story contradicts her earlier version of events regarding when her affair with Kennedy ended.