'Cover-Up ' Episode 1: 10 Hours Later

On the night of July 18, 1969, Ted Kennedy's car went off the Dike bridge on Chappaquiddick Island and plunged into the water below. The car landed upside down, and Mary Jo Kopechne, a 28-year-old campaign worker for Ted's brother, Bobby, was left trapped inside.

Photo: Getty

Nearly 50 years later, there are a few things everyone can agree on. It was a hot summer night. The water was calm. Mary Jo Kopechne attended a cookout at a small rental cottage on the island of Chappaquiddick. And the next morning, she was found dead in a submerged car at the bottom of a tidal pond.

On the night of July 18, 1969, Ted Kennedy’s car went off the Dike bridge on Chappaquiddick Island and plunged into the water below. The car landed upside down, and Kopechne, a 28-year-old campaign worker for Ted’s brother, Bobby, was left trapped inside.

What happened in the 10 hours between the time the senator escaped from the car and the time he reported the accident to police, sparked a mystery that has lasted nearly 50 years.

People’s first podcast, Cover-Up, produced in conjunction with Cadence13, explores the events surrounding that night, through interviews with over 50 people, including Kopechne’s cousin and closest living relative, law enforcement officials who oversaw the investigation, the diver who recovered her body from the car, and many more.

Edward Kennedy Going to Court
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

In the first episode, you’ll hear from those who were on the Dike Bridge the morning of July 19, when a black Oldsmobile was spotted in the water below. After Bob Bruguiere, a local Edgartown police officer, was told the license plate number, L78 207, was registered to Edward M. Kennedy in Boston, he says, “I had a shiver that went up my spine that I will never forget.” As Bruguiere recalls, “When I yelled out to [Police Chief Jim Arena] who the car was registered to, he said that the world will descend upon us, which it did.”

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The world did indeed descend upon Chappaquiddick, a tiny island just off Martha’s Vineyard, as reporters arrived from all over the world to cover the ensuing scandal. Many say the island has never been the same since.

In the course of the podcast’s seven episodes, listeners will hear from many who remain haunted by what happened that night.

Diver Inspecting Chappaquidick Accident Scene
The site of the 1969 Chappaquiddick Island crash involving Sen. Ted Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne. Bettmann Archive/Getty

Diver John Farrar always felt he might have been able to save Mary Jo had he have been called after the accident. To this day, he can remember how the next morning he found Mary Jo in the back seat of the car, which was overturned in the water.

“She was holding herself in the air void in the back seat,” Farrar says. “But she had panicked and her nails were torn. On her left hand particularly, and the right hand, as she was trying to scratch her way out of the bottom of the automobile.”

Police Chief Jim Arena, 88, also remains haunted by the events surrounding her death. Arena charged Senator Kennedy with leaving the scene of an accident. He pled guilty and was given a two-month suspended sentence. But to this day, Arena doesn’t understand why it took Kennedy so long to report the accident. “I’ll never understand why he waited 10 hours and left her in the car,” says Arena.

From left: Ted Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne. Getty (2)

Senator Kennedy, who died in 2009 after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, wrote in his memoir True Compass, “That night on Chappaquiddick Island ended in a horrible tragedy that haunts me every day of my life. I had suffered sudden and violent loss far too many times, but this night was different. This night, I was responsible.”

But no one was more haunted by the events of Chappaquiddick than the family of Mary Jo Kopechne. She was a young woman who was devoted to Bobby Kennedy and passionate about her work on his presidential campaign. “She wanted to make a difference,” says her cousin Georgetta Potoski. “She loved the Kennedys. JFK’s idea of ‘Ask not what your country can do for you — but what you can do for your country’ — she really tried to do that.”

But even to this day, even though some may know Mary Jo’s name, many know nothing about her.

“Mary Jo’s parents never had the last few hours of their daughter’s life explained to them,” says Potoski. “They were shattered by her death. I don’t think they ever recovered. She was intelligent and smart and a delightful person. But she was forgotten. She was one of my dearest friends and I miss her. She was always ‘the girl in the car’ but I would like her story to be told. And maybe now, people will learn who she really was.”

For more on the Chappaquiddick scandal, subscribe now to Cover-Up on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or wherever podcasts are available. And to continue the discussion, join our Facebook group or reach us directly at coverup@people.com.

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