59 School Street, Box 1310, Edgartown MA 02539 - 508.627.4441
Martha's Vineyard Museum MV Museum

A Finding Aid to the The Edgartown District Court Collection on the Edward Moore Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne Incident, 1969 January-1970 May, undated

Descriptive Summary

Repository Martha's Vineyard Museum Gale Huntington Research Library
59 School Street
P.O. Box 1310
Edgartown, MA 02539
Call Number RU 555
Creator Williamson, Liza
Creator Edgartown District Court
Title The Edgartown District Court Collection on the Edward Moore Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne Incident
Date [inclusive] 1969 January-1970 May, undated
Extent 4 boxes (1.108 cubic feet)
Location For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's staff.
Language The materials are predominately in English. Some materials are in French and German. They are indicated at the file level.
Abstract The collection contains materials created and received by the Edgartown District Court prior to the inquest of Senator Edward Moore Kennedy regarding the incident at Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island which resulted in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

This collection has a small amount of restricted materials. Requests to access restricted materials should be directed to the library's staff.

Use and Reproduction Restrictions

Requests to reproduce material from this collection should be directed to the library's staff. Reproduction fees may apply.

Preferred Citation

Martha's Vineyard Museum, RU 555, The Edgartown District Court Collection on the Edward Moore Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne Incident.

Acquisition Information

  • Gift of Liza Williamson (Clerk Magistrate of the Edgartown District Court) in 2015 (Accession no. 2015.027). [Donation]

Publication Information

Martha's Vineyard Museum

Gale Huntington Research Library
59 School Street
P.O. Box 1310
Edgartown, MA 02539

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared and machine-encoded by Clint Johnson in September 2015.

Related Materials

Related Materials

  • See also, Oral History Collection, Oral history interview with Senator Edward Brooke, 2007 August 27, Object ID 2007.030.002.
  • See also, Reference Library Collection, Teddy Bare, Call No. 974.42 R21.19.
  • See also, Reference Library Collection, The bridge at Chappaquiddick, Call No. 974.42 012.19.

Index Terms

Family Name(s)

  • Kennedy family


  • Affidavits
  • Clippings (information artifacts)
  • Correspondence
  • Criminal court records
  • Dockets
  • Envelopes
  • Judicial records
  • Memorandums
  • Subpoenas

Geographic Name(s)

  • Chappaquiddick Island (Mass.)
  • Edgartown (Mass.)
  • Marthas Vineyard (Mass.)

Personal Name(s)

  • Arena, Dominick
  • Boyle, James A.
  • Dinis, Edmund
  • Heiskell, Andrew
  • Kennedy, Edward M. (Edward Moore), 1932-2009
  • Kopechne, Joseph
  • Kopechne, Mary Jo, 1941-1969
  • Nash, Kenneth
  • Steele, Walter
  • Teller, Thomas


  • Chappaquiddick Island (Mass.)--History
  • Dukes County (Mass.)--History
  • Edgartown (Mass.)--History
  • Kennedy, Edward M. (Edward Moore), 1932-2009--Correspondence
  • Kennedy, Edward M. (Edward Moore), 1932-2009--Friends and associates
  • Kennedy, Edward M. (Edward Moore), 1932-2009--Relations with women
  • Kopechne, Mary Jo, 1941-1969--Death and burial
  • Martha's Vineyard (Mass.)--History--20th century
  • United States. Congress. Senate--1950-1990.
  • United States. Congress. Senate--Ethics
  • United States--Politics and government--1969-1974--Congresses
  • United States--Politics and government--1969-1974--Public opinion

Biography/Historical Note

The incident on Chappaquiddick Island involving U.S. Senator Edward Moore (Ted) Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne occurred on the night of July 18, 1969. Senator Kennedy and Kopechne were presumably driving back to Kopechne’s hotel room at night after a party on Chappaquiddick Island for the “boiler room girls” who had worked on his brother’s, Robert Kennedy’s, presidential campaign. Kennedy’s vehicle flipped over Dike Bridge and into Poucha Pond where it became submerged in water. Senator Kennedy recovered from the car without Kopechne and according to his testimony then began multiple attempts to rescue his passenger, all of which were futile. He then returned to his friends from the party and eventually returned to his hotel room without reporting the accident. He claims to have been in shock and had a hope that Kopechne had recovered from the car herself and would eventually return.

The next morning, locals spotted the submerged vehicle and alerted authorities who recovered Kopechne’s lifeless body. John Farrar, a diver, was the man to recover her body and testified that she had died of suffocation, not drowning. He also stated that if Senator Kennedy had reported the incident immediately, she would likely have survived the accident. Upon hearing of the body’s recovery Senator Kennedy then reported to the Edgartown police station and pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of the crash. The case was then handed to the Edgartown District Court. The inquest was held in January 1970. Under presiding judge, James Boyle, Kennedy was let off with a suspended two-month jail sentence for fleeing the scene of a crash after causing injury. The cause of death was assumed to be drowning, though no autopsy was performed on Kopechne’s body and Farrar’s initial report of the scene points to suffocation. Multiple attempts for further investigation were denied and the Kopechne family did not press charges, leaving the public with many unanswered questions. Many feel that alcohol, drugs, and infidelity were strong contributing factors to the events on July 18, 1969 and that Senator Kennedy had not been brought to trial because of his family, stature, and wealth. There has been much speculation on the events of the night and many have blamed the presiding Judge, James Boyle, and the prosecutor Walter Steele of accepting bribes from the Kennedy family to dismiss charges.

The event is thought to have stubbed Ted Kennedy’s political career from rising to the presidency but he remained a part of the Senate until his death in 2009.

Scope and Content of Collection

The collection contains materials predominately from the summer of 1969 that the Edgartown District Court created and received prior to the inquest of Senator Edward Moore (Ted) Kennedy concerning the Dike Bridge accident on Chappaquiddick Island, which resulted in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. The materials are predominately letters that U.S. citizens sent to the prosecutor, Walter Steele, urging him to charge Ted Kennedy with murder and/or manslaughter. The collection also contains letters from international sources, news clippings regarding the incident (some that citizens sent to the courthouse), and court records created prior to the inquest. There are also numerous letters addressed to the presiding Judge, James A. Boyle, and the court clerk, Thomas Teller. Much of the material is in favor of a prosecution of Kennedy, but a few letters offer their sympathies to Kennedy, the prosecutors, and judge presiding over the inquest.

Some of the materials contain controversial terms and ideas that the creators of the correspondence held and may be offensive. The letters sometimes include derogatory racial, religious, and political terms.


  • Series I: Court records and correspondence
  • Series II: News clippings
  • Series III: Correspondence

Contents of Collection

Series I: Court records and correspondence, 1969 August-1970 May, undated 

Scope and Content

The series contains court records and court correspondence from the court’s clerk, Thomas Teller, the special prosecutor, Walter Steele, and the presiding judge, James A. Boyle. The materials are the product of the inquest of Senator Edward Moore Kennedy and his involvement in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. The court materials are labeled with the docket number 15220 and are predominately from the fall of 1969 and the winter of 1970 when the inquest proceeded.


The series is arranged alphabetically by folder title.

Box Folder

Affidavit of Notice, undated 

1 1

Certified Return, 1969 September 

1 2

Court Appearances, 1970 January 5, undated 

1 3

Court Appearances, undated 

1 4

Court Inquest, undated 

1 5

Court Petition, 1970 May 15 

1 6

Court Subpoenas, 1969 December 

1 7

Court Subpoenas, 1970 January 

1 8

Denied Court Motions, 1969 August 28 

1 9

Docket Entry, undated 

1 10

Edmund Dinis Correspondence, 1969 December 

1 11

Edward Kennedy Barnstable Court record, undated 

1 12

James A. Boyle Outgoing Correspondence, 1969 August 

1 13

James A. Boyle Incoming Correspondence, 1969 August-1969 September 

1 14

Memorandum of Law, undated 

1 15

Memorandum of Law Concerning Duty of Clerk to File Motions Tendered by Counsel, undated 

1 16

Point of Order, 1969 September 

1 17

Speeding Fine Payment, 1969 August 20 


Thomas Teller Incoming Correspondence, 1969 August-1970 May 

1 18

Thomas Teller Outgoing Correspondence, 1969 August-1970 February 

1 19

Series II: News clippings, 1969 July-1969 September, undated 

Scope and Content

The series contains news clippings regarding the incident on Chappaquiddick Island, some of which U.S. citizens sent to the courthouse with annotations stating the opinions of the sender on Senator Kennedy’s guilt. Some of the news clippings include the original mailing envelope. The news clippings and envelope are grouped together with a separating sheet of paper. Publishers include The Great Falls Tribune, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Montreal Matin The New York Post, The Chicago Tribune, Record American, National Enquirer, and the St. Louis Globe. Some of the news clippings are in French.


The series is arranged chronologically.

Box Folder

New York post clippings, 1969 July 

1 20

Clippings, 1969 July-1969 September 

1 21

Chicago Tribune clippings, 1969 August 14 

1 22

Great Falls Tribune clippings, 1969 July 21 

1 23

Record American clippings, 1969 July 22 

1 24

Montreal Matin clippings, 1969 July 22 

 Materials are in French.

1 25

News clippings sent to Walter Steele, 1969 July 24-1969 August 1 

1 26

News clippings sent to Dukes County Court House, 1969 July 25, undated 

1 27

Daily News clippings, 1969 July 29 

1 28

Richmond Times clippings, 1969 July 30 

1 29

St. Louis Globe clippings, 1969 August 2 

2 1

Fort Worth Star-Telegram clippings, 1969 August 

2 2

National Enquirer clippings, undated 

2 3

Clippings, undated 

2 4

Series III: Correspondence, 1969 July-1970 January, undated 

Scope and Content

The series contains letters that men and women sent to the Edgartown court in hopes that the prosecutor and judge would hold a trial for Senator Kennedy, regardless of the Kennedy family’s influence on Martha’s Vineyard. Many of the letters include their original mailing envelopes and are grouped together with a separating sheet of paper and individually dated. The letters also include notes from newspaper editors, thanking the courts for information on the inquest, condolences to the Kopechne family, and telegrams. Some of the letters include annotated news clippings.

Many of the letters are addressed to the prosecution office. These letters are organized with the Walter Steele correspondence. Also, many letters are addressed to the clerk’s office. These letters are organized with the Thomas Teller correspondence.

The letters are predominately from around the United States dated July and August of 1969, but one letter is from Germany and in German.


The series is arranged alphabetically by recipient's last name, therein chronologically and followed by unidentified correspondence and empty envelopes.

Box Folder

Dominick Arena Correspondence, 1969 July 21-1969 July 31 

2 5

James Boyle Correspondence, 1969 July 22-1969 August 23, undated 

2 6

Edmund Dinis Correspondence, 1969 July 27-1969 July 28 

2 7

Andrew Heiskell Correspondence, 1969 August 

2 8

Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Kopechne Correspondence, 1969 July 29-1969 August 25 

2 9

Kenneth Nash Correspondence, 1969 July 28-1969 August 7 

2 10

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 

2 11

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 4 

2 12

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 20 

2 13

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 21 

2 14

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 22 

2 15

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 23 

2 16

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 24 

2 17

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 25 

2 18

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 26 

3 1

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 27 

3 2

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 28 

3 3

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 29 

3 4

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 30 

3 5

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 July 31 

 One letter is in German.

3 6

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 

3 7

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 1 

3 8

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 2 

3 9

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 3 

3 10

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 4 

3 11

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 5 

3 12

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 6 

3 13

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 7 

3 14

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 8 

4 1

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 10 

4 2

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 11 

4 3

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 18 

4 4

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 August 19 

4 5

Walter Steele Correspondence, 1969 September 11 

4 6

Walter Steele Correspondence, undated 

4 7

Thomas Teller Correspondence, 1969 

4 8

Thomas Teller Correspondence, 1969 July 21 

4 9

Thomas Teller Correspondence, 1969 July 22 

4 10

Thomas Teller Correspondence, 1969 July 23 

4 11

Thomas Teller Correspondence, 1969 July 24 

4 12

Thomas Teller Correspondence, 1969 July 25 

4 13

Thomas Teller Correspondence, 1969 July 26-1969 August 18 

4 14

Thomas Teller Correspondence, 1969 August 20 

4 15

Thomas Teller Correspondence, 1969 September 4-1969 November 1 

4 16

Thomas Teller Correspondence, 1970 January 8 

4 17

Thomas Teller Correspondence, 1970 January 13 

4 18

Thomas Teller Correspondence, undated 

4 19

Correspondence, 1969 July 20 

4 20

Correspondence, 1969 July 22 

4 21

Correspondence, 1969 July 24-1969 July 30 

4 22

Correspondence, 1969 August 1-1969 September 15 

4 23

Correspondence, undated 

4 24

Empty Envelopes, 1969 July 25-1969 September 3 

4 25