After his murder, President John F. Kennedy's penchant for extramarital affairs has been well recorded. JFK's two-and-a-half-year affair with Judith Exner ended in 1962, only a year before the ill-fated assassination.
Judith Campbell Exner stepped up as the first lady to publicly acknowledge having a fling with John F. Kennedy. However, she did so reluctantly. Exner's name was discovered during an FBI inquiry into JFK's murder and specific mob dealings.
These led to her being exposed to the public. Let's get a detailed account of Judith Exner and her complicated relationship with JFK.
Who Was Judith Exner?
As per a 1988 People profile, Judith Exner was the child of an established architect. She was born and raised in comfort in Pacific Palisades, California. A brief marriage with actor William Campbell as a youngster exposed her to the glamorous Hollywood scene.
This was where she ultimately became a glossy singleton. Exner reconciled with friend Frank Sinatra in Hollywood during that era. She won an offer to attend the crooner in Hawaii on a November trip in 1959.
The two had a stormy relationship that lasted long after it terminated. Ol' Blue Eyes even asked her to a show at the Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, in February 1960. Here, Sinatra connected Exner to Kennedy, who was running for president at the time.
In an article with People magazine, Exner recounted the encounter.
Judith Exner And JFK's Relationship Starts
In an article with People, Judith Exner recounted the first encounter.
"When you talked to Jack [JFK], he just talked to you. He was endlessly curious about everything and everybody. He loved gossip. That night he did not want me to leave his side."
Exner's attraction to Kennedy was instantaneous. The two chatted on the phone practically every day for the following month:
"He seemed very anxious to get together again. I was elated, almost giddy. The world looked wonderful."
They arranged a meeting on March 7, 1960, at The Plaza Hotel, NYC, the night before the New Hampshire primary. They consummated their affair here for the first time.
Judith Exner As A Courier
Shortly afterward, Judith Exner was back in Miami Beach, watching Sinatra's acts. She started with the musician's gangster pals, Sam Giancana and Joe Fischetti.
Despite claiming ignorance of Giancana's status as the "Chicago Godfather," Exner informed People that he had a firm hold on Sinatra. Kennedy believed Sam Giancana could help him get a hold of the West Virginia primary.
Thus, Judith was quickly assigned as the liaison:
"I feel like I was set up to be the courier. I was a perfect choice because I could come and go without notice, and if noticed, no one would've believed it anyway."
Judith Exner began working as a courier for Giancana and Kennedy in April of 1960. Exner alleged she set up ten meetings between the two to help Kennedy win the election.
The mob boss allegedly boasted to the courier that JFK wouldn't have won if it hadn't been for his contacts in Cook County, Illinois. She also carried private envelopes between the two men.
She informed People these envelopes were regarding the CIA's collaboration with the Mafia to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro.
"I thought I was in love with Jack. He trusted me, and I was doing something important for him. I was 26 years old, and I didn't have any great purpose in my life. That's probably why I became so involved in doing this and did it with such gusto. I guess I felt I was doing something important."
Exner acted as the exclusive liaison for around eighteen months.
Judith Exner And JFK: The Affair's Downfall
Exner's affair with Kennedy began to deteriorate as Kennedy's emphasis on the presidency became more intense. She became aware that she was being watched by federal investigators responsible for investigating Giancana.
"I called Jack immediately to tell him that the FBI had been to see me, asking all sorts of questions about Sam. I told him I had said I knew nothing about Sam's business affairs. Jack reassured me. He said, 'Don't worry. They won't do anything to you. And don't worry about Sam. You know he works for us.' "
Later that same year, the relationship came to an end. The following year, Kennedy was assassinated. The next couple of years were not easy for Judith Exner. She battled depression, tried to commit suicide, and had a son whom she gave up.
All this while, she was tormented and getting hunted by the FBI.
Judith Exner's Later Years
Exner was subpoenaed to appear in front of the Senate more than a decade later. She was highly terrified during this time.
"If I'd told the truth, I'd have been killed. I kept my secret out of fear. Look what happened to Jack and to Sam, who was murdered in his house while under police surveillance."
Giancana was wounded seven times in his head just minutes before appearing in the Senate House. His murderer was never located. Exner finally wrote Mafia Moll: The Judith Exner Story, The Life of John F. Kennedy's Mistress.
It got released in 1977. She claims that numerous publishers rejected her out of fear of political retaliation. She informed People magazine that she stayed mum about her relationship with JFK out of fear of being killed. And rightfully so.
Initially, nobody accepted her narrative. The Kennedy family flatly refuted her allegations. After all, she had been the very first woman to speak up about Kennedy's affairs. The public criticized her statement.
Historians, on the other hand, hold a different viewpoint. Judith Exner's observations of the White House and processes, combined with conversations with Secret Service personnel, appear to back up Exner's claim.
She did possess insider info on JFK and had worked as his mafia courier.
During her final years battling terminal cancer, she finally told her story without inhibitions.
"For the past 25 years, I have been terrified, to tell the truth about my relationship with Jack Kennedy. In fact, I've gone to great lengths to keep the truth from ever coming out, which is probably the only reason I'm alive today."
"Except for Sinatra, all the key figures involved in my story have been murdered."
Exner shared a complicated relationship with John Kennedy and was a key in his multiple Mafia interactions. She was the first woman to come forward and disclose her extramarital affair with Kennedy as well.
She got hounded by the FBI for years and could never live her life in peace. When she finally told the truth to the world, she got vilified. She died before her time in 1999, succumbing to her terminal breast cancer. The great mystery that envelops Kennedy's murder lives on, still.