Review: The Reporter Who Knew Too Much

As promised…

We like to watch the reruns of What’s My Line? every night. The shows are older than either one of us, but that doesn’t matter. We especially like the interplay between John Charles Daly, the moderator, and the panelists, which usually include actress Arlene Francis, Random House co-founder and author Bennett Cerf, and reporter and columnist Dorothy Kilgallen. Mary is impressed that, more often than not, the panel is able to determine the occupation of the contestants with little difficulty (often despite the “help” proffered by Mr. Daly that occasionally leads the panel in the wrong direction).

The panelist that impresses us the most is Miss Kilgallen, who used her superior investigative skills to her advantage and showed her dogged determination in her questions to the contestants. Usually, it was she who either figured out the occupation of the contestant or whose questions put the other panelists on the right track. We looked up the panelists on Wikipedia and IMDb, and learned Miss Kilgallen was born in Chicago not far from where Mary grew up, her father was a newspaperman, and that she died under suspicious circumstances from an overdose of alcohol and barbiturates in 1965.

At the time of her death, Miss Kilgallen, dissatisfied with the statements made by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and the conclusion drawn by the Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he assassinated President John F. Kennedy two years earlier, had been investigating who might have been behind the assassination and the subsequent murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby. Mark Shaw, former legal analyst for USA Today, ESPN, and CNN, has written The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen, in which he takes up the cause for Miss Kilgallen, asserting that she was murdered because she got too close to the truth about JFK’s assassination, and presents arguments for who actually murdered her.

The book is well-organized, with chapters dedicated to the crime scene, the autopsy report, and people who might have had a reason to want Miss Kilgallen dead, as well as his assessment of how the crime occurred and who was responsible. Since most of the people who might have been responsible are deceased themselves, he managed to interview the people closest to her, primarily her hairdresser and confidante Mark Sinclaire. Toward the end of the book, he presents the possibility that the person who killed her was Columbus, Ohio reporter Ron Pataky, who is still alive, and details conversations he had with Pataky and messages Pataky sent him.

To me, Shaw’s interactions with Pataky seemed a little obsessive. I understand that he’s the last person to see her alive, and that on the night of her death she was seen having drinks with him in a club, but it doesn’t appear that he had any motive to murder her, nor is it likely he was pressed into service to kill her on behalf of someone else. Is it possible? Sure. Likely? I can’t say.

I was also disappointed that the book wasn’t edited very well. There were numerous typos and grammatical errors that, given the price of the book (I paid $9.99 for the Kindle version, and the print version, available on January 6, will sell for almost $24 at Amazon), should have been cleaned up.

Nevertheless, this is a good if imperfect book, and anyone interested in the Kennedy assassination or in a case that was closed before all the facts were known will enjoy it, as will fans of a woman about whom Ernest Hemingway said was “one of the greatest woman writers in the world.” I’ll give it three and a half stars.

15 thoughts on “Review: The Reporter Who Knew Too Much

  1. Those errors can be distracting and one wonders how it passed through all the editing process. I would love to read this book because I first heard of her through my dad who always said she was murdered. He never believed it was a one man show in killing Kennedy and he said this woman was too level headed to have done herself in. I have seen her in tv spots and I doubt she did kill herself. She made it too well known that she was close to finding out the truth. She probably has the truth but needed the evidence. Amazing how explosive it is even to this day…makes you wonder who killed Kennedy.


    1. Shaw has his theory of why JFK was assassinated, which I won’t spoil, but it explains everything: Ruby killing Oswald, Dorothy being murdered in a way that looked like a suicide, and Ruby dying in prison so soon after he was arrested. Editing errors notwithstanding, it is a good book, and with the print edition coming out next week my guess is many of the errors and typos will be fixed. It’s definitely worth a read.


      1. I am about three quarters through the book and am enjoying it despite the errors which remain in the hard cover. For me the interesting facts I didn’t know about was the belief by one of the Dallas officers that the first shots came from the overpass in front of the motorcade and the notion of why Oswald would have killed Tippett if he (Oswald) was trying to get away. Moreover finding out that jack Ruby’s lawyer appeared on StarTrek is just about too much to contemplate but suggests that people will do anything to follow their dream inclusive of giving Dorothy exclusive access to interviewing Ruby. I think she was killed to keep her quiet and that maybe in 50 or more years from now those truly responsible for killing Kennedy will become known. The book is well worth the read, if only simply for the facts you did not know about and the events going on right after his assassination.

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  2. I remember watching that show with my parents. I had to look it up, because I thought Kitty Carlisle was the leading female panelist (turns out she was on “To Tell the Truth”). Anyway, this is an interesting review. I think it may make a good gift for my wife, although she won’t like the grammatical errors, but, she does like reading about Kennedy. Thanks.


  3. I’ll have to look for the What’s My Line reruns. I used to watch it all the time when I was a kid but a lot probably eluded me then. I’m sure it would all make more sense to me now.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out


    1. I believe there’s a What’s My Line channel on YouTube with a lot of old episodes on it. And they run them on Buzzr with To Tell The Truth and I’ve Got A Secret at 9 PM ET; check local listings. It’s fun to see the old shows with the old commercials and everything.


  4. I asked for and got this book for christmas from my daughter because of your earlier post about it. Now I’ll be looking for the editing errors 🙂 The Kennedy’s fascinate me and I used to watch What’s My Line as well so I’m looking forward to reading it.


  5. hmm, sounds interesting. I tend to bend toward conspiracy theories, especially political ones, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was murdered for getting too close to the truth in the Kennedy assassination. Of course, it could’ve easily have been an accidental overdose too. I don’t always like a book that keeps me wondering…. I want the case solved in the end. But life doesn’t always work that way, does it?

    Michele at Angels Bark


    1. One of the things they discovered that wasn’t included in the autopsy report was there were at least two and possibly three different barbiturates in her system when she died, which would have killed her even without the alcohol in her system. She would have had to have intentionally taken them, making it a suicide. The chance of that happening was very low, from what I read. They also were unable to find the research she had, meaning it was likely taken by whoever did her in. It’s really a tangled web. The book does a good job of going through all the ins and outs and Shaw draws a conclusion as to who might be responsible. If you get a chance to read it, I think you’d like it. It’s amazing how closely JFK’s assassination and Dorothy’s death had to do with each other.


    1. I hope they fix the errors, because it’s an interesting book and gives a lot of background information. For me, the question was not “Was Dorothy Kilgallen murdered?” but “Who murdered her, and why?”


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