“THE BELL WITCH KILLS JOHN BELL” and More True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: A man is awoken in the middle of the night by a piano – being played by no one. (Rock Isn’t Dead) *** Is it possible that ancient human skulls are conscious? (Cult of Human Skulls) *** Did the Watergate scandal hide a secret agenda? (Watergate: Wilderness of Mirrors) *** Did a malevolent spirit cause the death of John Bell, or was it something else that brought his demise? (The Death of John Bell)
Listen to ““THE BELL WITCH KILLS JOHN BELL” and More True Stories! #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.
TRANSCRIPT FOR THIS EPISODE…
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“Watergate: Wilderness of Mirrors” posted at The Unredacted: http://bit.ly/2JjZ0pr
“Rock Isn’t Dead” by UnQuiet: http://bit.ly/2HfOZax
“The Death of John Bell” by Troy Taylor: http://bit.ly/2HgkJwq
“Cult of Human Skulls” by A. Sutherland: http://bit.ly/2Q1WbtT
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On December 20, 1820, John Bell – a gentleman farmer from Tennessee who has earned his place in history as the only man ever murdered by a spirit – took his last breath. Bell had been tormented for nearly four years by a malevolent spirit that inhabited his property and had earned the moniker of the “Bell Witch.” While the entire Bell household had all been tormented by vicious attacks, flying objects, strange sounds and the nerve-rattling voice of the disembodied entity, it had been John Bell and his daughter, Elizabeth, or “Betsy,” who had borne the brunt of the witch’s attacks.
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
THE BELL WITCH KILLED JOHN BELL
The spirit had vowed to drive John Bell into his grave – and on December 20, 1820 she did just that.
For years, Bell’s health had been failing. His nerves had suffered from the attacks by the spirit. On the morning of December 19, he had failed to rise from his bed, as he did each day. Even when he was sick, he never failed to get up and try to eat or drink something, even if it was only water, bread, or broth. On this morning, however, he did not awaken. His wife, Lucy, checked on him after she woke and it appeared that he was sleeping soundly. She decided to let him rest, and sent sons John Jr. and Drew to check on the livestock while she prepared breakfast. She would awaken her husband after she had prepared something for him to eat.
A little less than an hour passed before Lucy returned to the bedroom. She touched John gently on the shoulder, but he did not wake up. She shook him a little harder, but again, there was no sign that he was starting to awaken. She realized then that he was in some sort of deep stupor.
Lucy called to the rest of the family, and John Jr. ran back into the house. He went immediately to the cupboard where his father’s medicines were kept. His father had slipped into similar states before, and usually a dose of one of his medicines would revive him. When John opened the cabinet, though, he discovered that all the medicines that had been prescribed to his father had vanished. In their place was a small, “smoky-looking vial” that was about one-third filled with a dark, almost black liquid. He asked if anyone in the house had moved the medicine, but they all denying touching it or even knowing what medicine had been there in the first place. No one had any idea what might be in the strange vial.
Immediately, John Jr. sent one of the family’s slaves to the nearby settlement of Port Royal to fetch Dr. Hopson. In the meantime, several of John Bell’s friends – John Johnston, Alex Gunn and Frank Miles – had arrived at the house. The three men had stayed at the family’s side during their persecution by the witch. They were as puzzled by the appearance of the mysterious vial as the family had been.
The group gathered around John’s bed and continued to try and revive him. As they were doing this, the voice of the witch split the air. She laughed loudly and declared, “It’s useless to try and revive Old Jack – I have got him this time. He’ll never get up from that bed again.”
Frank Miles could hardly believe what he was hearing. He demanded the spirit tell him about the smoky vial that had been found in the cupboard. The spirit freely admitted to placing it there. She claimed that she had given a large dose of it to John Bell the night before, “which fixed him.”
This was all that spirit would say about the liquid. No one had any idea where it had come from, or how John had managed to ingest it. Even if the witch had not brought it into the house, it was possible that John might have awakened in the middle of the night, and looking for his medicine, might have swallowed its contents by mistake. Even so, where the bottle had come from could not be explained.
It was suggested that liquid in the vial be tested somehow, and so Alex Gunn went outside and returned with one of the cats that lived in the barn. John Jr. dipped a straw into the vial and then drew it across the cat’s mouth, dripping the dark liquid on its tongue. The cat let out a screech and threw itself out of Gunn’s arms. It landed hard on the floor, fell over, got back up again, whirled around in a circle a few times and then fell dead.
Whatever was in the bottle appeared to be highly toxic.
Bell remained in a coma for the rest of the day and through the night. When Dr. Hopson arrived, John Jr. and the others tried to rouse him to swallow medicine that might counteract the effects of the drug, but it was useless. Dr. Hopson smelled John’s breath and confirmed that he had swallowed the contents of the mysterious bottle. Frank Miles, in a fit of anger and despair, cast the vial and its remaining contents into the fireplace. When he did so, a blue blaze shot up into the chimney “like a flash of powder.”
John Bell never regained consciousness. Early on the morning of December 20, he took one last shuddering breath and died. His final moments were met by great joy from the witch. She laughed heartily and expressed the hope that “Old Jack” would burn in Hell. With those unnerving words, she departed and was not heard from again until his burial.
The story of the Bell Witch remains one of America’s greatest ghost stories and the history of the terrible events that occurred in Tennessee in the early nineteenth century still haunt the region today.
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ROCK ISN’T DEAD
On March 9th, 2018 I was awoken suddenly at 1:14 am by the sound of a few notes played on my 12-year-old son’s electronic keyboard in his room.
I waited a moment before getting up to investigate, just in case I was dreaming. Then I heard a note played a second time. I thought that maybe my son must be up, in which case it would have been very unusual. Our rooms were close together and I would have heard it had he been up.
I laid in bed a short moment, trying to figure out who was playing the keyboard at that time of night. The cat sometimes sleeps in his room so I rationalized that the cat decided to play a little night music. The notes, however, sounded too composed to be a random cat walk. Also, the cat had no history of jumping on the keyboard, it was not entirely sturdy enough to handle a pounce.
I decided to go investigate.
I wasn’t worried, just curious, as I crept down our hallway to his room. I quietly peeked in to find that he was sound asleep. I used to work nights at a psychiatric hospital and it was part of my job to check on the patients throughout the night. I knew the signs of deep sleep and my son was definitely sleeping soundly.
After scanning the room and finding nothing amiss, I decided that maybe my son forgot to turn the keyboard off and it just sounded a note for no reason, maybe an electric issue or something of that nature. Eager to get back to bed, I went to my room. When I reached my doorway (only about 10 feet from my son’s door) it dawned on me that his keyboard display was not lit up like it does when the keyboard unit is turned on.
I went back to his room for further investigation. I saw the cat awake on his bed, blinking sleepily but standing up and facing the keyboard. The cat is not nocturnal – when we turn in for the night he picks a room/human to sleep with and snuggles in for the duration, often curled into a ball on the bed. I thought it unusual for the cat to be staring at the keyboard so I walked over to the keyboard and pressed some keys. No sound came out, confirming that the power was turned off.
I checked my son again and he was softly snoring. I shrugged the incident off as unusual but not alarming, thus went back to bed.
The next morning, I woke my son up for school. As he rolled over in bed I saw the back of his tee-shirt and couldn’t help but smile at the words printed on it – “ROCK ISN’T DEAD…it’s just played by Ghost Of”.
The shirt belonged to my deceased brother who had been in a band called “Ghost Of”. He died suddenly and tragically in 2015. He loved music and his lifelong dream was to be in a band. He finally made his dream come true a few years before his death. My son had never worn that shirt before even though it had been in our possession for some time. It is curious that the first time my son wore that shirt I was awoken by the sound of a musical instrument in my son’s room. But that wasn’t the only coincidence.
My brother and I were very different people, he was charismatic and outgoing with many friends. I am a quiet introvert who prefers staying home rather than going out to parties. Despite our differences, we had two main things in common: a love of ghost stories and music. We would often sit around the table telling ghost stories and he would jokingly tell me that he would come back to visit me when he died.
Maybe it is true, “Rock isn’t dead, it’s just played by “Ghost Of”.
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Do you believe in skulls, which wish to be left in places they really enjoy?
There are mysteriously chosen skulls that create supernatural atmosphere. A tradition of a widespread belief in the head as the seat of the soul and that this represented a medium for communication with the Other World, is very old.
Power of the skulls has very strong and deep roots in the life of the ancient people on all continents. The cult of human heads, collecting of enemy heads, to obtain their powers is example of continuing cycle of the spirit/life.
Head-hunters preserved the skulls of dead enemies as trophies of war and it was considered a great honor.
Many believe that the Celts in particular were worshippers of the head. There have been many archaeological finds of Celtic cult skulls in several places in England. In fact, in the early Celtic period, the head was believed to be the vassal of the soul.
There is, however, “much debate amongst Celtic historians as to the validity of the so called Celtic “Cult of the Head”, according to Celtic Heritage.
“The frequency with which human heads appear upon Celtic metalwork proved nothing more than that they were a favourite decorative motif, among several, and one just as popular among non-Celtic peoples”, that the use of the head as icons is merely due to the practice been a favoured artistic image,” according to Professor Ronald Hutton, an English historian who specializes in the study of Early Modern Britain.
Skulls have always had an important role in black magic and witchcraft.
In a gloomy English trial in 1612, head of a Lancashire family of witches, Anne Chattox, was alleged to have desecrated graves in a churchyard to collect skulls and teeth for the purpose of using them in some forbidden rituals. Anne Chattox was hanged.
Many primitive people around the world regarded the human skull with superstition and mixed feelings of respect, wonder and fear. They believed that the skull was soul protectors, because the skull housed the soul.
In the 17th century, a young girl, Anne Griffiths lived at Burton Agnes Hall in Yorkshire. She was attacked and beaten by some robbers. Before she died, she expressed a strange wish that her head should be buried in the home she had loved. Nobody listened to the dying’s wish. Anne Griffiths was buried in the village churchyard.
The problems began after the funeral, when intimidating noises appeared in the house. The sound of mysterious crashes and slamming doors were heard. The dead girl’s skull was exhumed and bricked up in a wall off the house’s staircase. Anne Griffiths’s wish came true, since then, her lovely home and its residents had been at peace.
It seems that of all unhappy, screaming skulls ever recorded is that of Bettiscombe Manor, in Dorset, ancestral home of the Pinney family. During the 18th century, one of the Pinney family members returned home from the West Indies. He was accompanied by a black slave, who died shortly after coming to England.
Before he died, he was promised to be buried in his homeland, the Caribbean Island of Nevis. The promise given to him was unfortunately broken and the black man was buried in the local churchyard.
Horrifying screams began to be heard coming from the the black man’s grave. The house was long tortured by poltergeist activity and finally the skeleton was recovered and brought into the house.
Most of the stories of screaming skulls originate from England and other European locations and the most evidence of the Celtic head cult comes from the Gallic temple sites of Entremont and Roquepertuse, France, according to Miranda Green’s Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend.
The “screaming skull” mystery is probably more legend than a real, documented fact, but there is just enough credibilityin each story to be believable. The story of the “screaming skull” has been known for a very long time and passed on from one generation to another.
It still deserves to be respected.
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Coming up, Did the Watergate scandal hide a secret agenda? We’ll look at the theories of a possible conspiracy.
Our next Weirdo Watch Party is a DOUBLE-HEADER, with a watch party two nights in a row! On Friday, June 26th horror hostess Arachna from Beware Theater brings us “The Ape Man” from 1943 starring Bela Lugosi! And then on Saturday June 27th, horror host Octavian Hallow presents 1973’s Rock-and-Roll horror, “Son of Dracula” starring Harry Nillson and Ringo Starr! The Weirdo Watch Party is ALWAYS FREE, it’s ALWAYS FUN, and it promotes different horror hosts and lets them know that we appreciate what they do! Our last party with Igorro had people from 113 countries in 933 cities watching! We’ve never done a double-header before though, so this is going to be more fun than usual! Friday June 26th it’s horror hostess Arachna with 1943’s “The Ape Man” starring Bela Lugosi, and then Saturday June 27th it’s horror host Octavian Hallow with 1973’s rock-and-roll horror flick, “Son of Dracula” starring Harry Nillson and Ringo Starr! The Weirdo Watch Party both nights starts at 7:00pm Pacific, 8:00pm Mountain, 9:00pm Central, 10:00pm Eastern on the Weirdo Watch Party page at WeirdDarkness.com!
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Legendary CIA counter-intelligence chief James Jesus Angleton once described the world of espionage as a ‘wilderness of mirrors’.
No more apt description can be applied to Watergate, the biggest scandal in U.S. political history. Only the most basic facts are undisputed, whilst much else is Hollywood myth-making.
The story begins one night in June 1972, when 5 burglars were arrested at the Watergate building, a large office complex in Washington. The men were apprehended in the offices of the Democratic National Committee, complete with cameras and bugging devices.
Inside the address book of one of the burglars was the name of E Howard Hunt, a career CIA man who had recently left the agency to work for the Nixon White House.
This crucially linked the burglary to the Campaign to Reelect the President, waggishly referred to by the acronym CREEP. The committee had been set up by the White House to gather dirt on the democratic party ahead of the 1972 presidential elections.
Whilst there was never any suggestion President Richard Nixon or his senior aides had ordered the burglary, the mere connection would be politically disastrous for the administration, and Nixon knew it.
It was widely believed that the target of the operation was the office of Larry O’Brien, the head of the Democratic National Committee. The inference would be obvious, Nixon was after political intelligence about his rivals in the upcoming election.
Clearly, if any association at all could be established to the White House, it would be abundantly clear to the world that Nixon had ordered the burglary. The inveterately paranoid president had no choice but to order a cover-up.
Somewhat ironically, Nixon easily won the 1972 election. But as 1973 rolled on, the connections between the Watergate burglary, and particularly the White House’s attempts to conceal this connection, started to become public.
History tells us, informed particularly by the coverage of the scandal by journalist Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the Washington Post, that the Watergate cover-up was what lead to Nixon’s downfall, rather than the original burglary.
Over the next year, Nixons position became increasingly precarious. Senate investigations and Woodward’s reports in the Post, informed by the mysterious anonymous informant ‘Deep Throat’, gradually revealed the extent of the White House’s complicity.
The final blow came with the sensational news that Nixon had installed a secret taping system in the Oval Office, which had recorded every word of Nixon’s conversations with his senior aides.
When the tapes were finally handed over to investigators, the true extent of the corruption and cover-up at the White House was revealed. Nixon was doomed.
With impeachment proceedings imminent, the president took the initiative and on August 8th 1974, more than 2 years after the burglary, Richard Nixon became the first U.S. President in history to resign.
Subsequent hearings would lead to 40 people been sent to jail, including the 5 burglars, their handlers E Howard Hunt and G Gordon Liddy, senior Nixon aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, White House lawyer John Dean and Attorney general John Mitchell.
The only senior figure not to serve time in jail was Nixon himself, who was pardoned by new President Gerald Ford in 1975.
This then is the official story of Watergate. There is no doubt that the Nixon presidency skirted with criminality and ordered a vast cover-up of their connections to the Watergate burglary.
But one glaring question cast a shadow over the whole story. A question of fundamental importance, but one entirely overlooked by all of the investigations and 40 years of mainstream coverage of the scandal.
What was the reason for the burglary? The official theory that it was to gain political intelligence on the democratic party by bugging DNC chairman Larry O’Brien’s office’s had a serious flaw — it was not true.
Larry O’Briens phone had not been bugged. His office was of no interest to the burglars, indeed they had planted no bugs in the entire complex. The official story simply made no sense.
Amidst the widespread fervour to convict Nixon, a minority voiced their doubts. Ironically, Nixon himself, whilst hardly an impartial voice, most astutely articulated these misgivings in his memoirs.
“It sounded preposterous. Cubans in surgical gloves bugging theDNC! I dismissed it as some sort of prank”, Nixon’s incredulity was well placed in light of the evidence.
“Anyone who knew anything about politics would know that a national committee headquarters was a useless place to go for inside information on a presidential campaign”, he stated.
“The whole thing was so senseless and bungled that it almost looked like some kind of a setup.”
Was Nixon right? Was there something wrong with the official story? 10 years after Nixon’s resignation journalist Jim Hougan’s landmark book Secret Agenda finally crystallised the doubts.
Not only was the Watergate burglary nothing to do with bugging the democrats, the perpetrators were almost entirely made up of former-CIA employees.
One of the few concrete pieces of physical evidence in the whole affair was also revealed — a key found on the person of one of the burglars which pointed to the true target of the operation.
But most disturbing of all, Hougan revealed the existence of something dark and insidious. Amongst the burglars themselves, there was a secret agenda at work. Some of them, it seems, set out to deliberately sabotage the operation, ensuring it’s discovery.
Angleton’s wilderness of mirrors was reflecting a strange and confusing picture. Was there another agenda at work? And was it designed to destroy Richard Nixon?
One critical, but often overlooked fact about the Watergate burglars is their close connections with the CIA.
The five men caught red-handed in the building were James McCord, Bernard Baker, Frank Sturgis, Eugenio Martinez and Virgilio Gonzales. McCord was a former CIA employee, whilst the latter 4 men were veterans of CIA attempts to oust Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the 1960s.
The burglary was coordinated by E Howard Hunt, a former White House consultant and career CIA operative who retired from the agency in 1970.
Alongside Hunt was G Gordon Liddy. The ostensible ringleader of the operation, Liddy was the only member of the Watergate 7 to have no connections to the CIA. Many, including Liddy himself in later years, regard him as an unwitting dupe to the senior CIA men in the operation — Hunt and McCord.
With so many ex-CIA men amongst the conspirators, the clear suspicion is that the Watergate burglary had been infiltrated by a CIA plot of some kind. These suspicions are deepened by a closer examination of Hunt and McCord.
Hunt’s supposed retirement from the agency in 1970 warrants skepticism. Twice before he had ‘retired’ from the CIA, only for the retirement to be revelated as a subterfuge to distance Hunt from the CIA, whilst secretly continuing to work for them on clandestine projects.
Was Hunt’s 1970 retirement another ploy to hide a continuing CIA operation? Within a year he would be at the heart of the White House, working for Nixon’s secret team of ‘plumbers’, set up to plug political leaks emanating from the government.
Whilst there, Hunt would continue to have contacts with the CIA. He would send them secret packages from the White House, supposedly filled with political gossip. He would also regularly meet senior agency directors, engagements Hunt claimed were entirely social.
Like E Howard Hunt, James W McCord had been a member of the White House’s plumbers. Also like Hunt, he was a former CIA operative, a fact which contradicts the official account that McCord was merely a lowly technician for the agency
McCord was actually a senior member of one of the CIA’s most important and secret divisions — The Office of Security. The OS was responsible for vetting employees and rooting out moles.
They were also deeply involved in covert surveillance, particularly the gathering of sexual dirt, and McCord was one of their most experienced agents. His claim to be a mere technician was the first of many lies he told about his role in Watergate.
One of the biggest of the lies was McCord and Hunt’s insistence that they were unacquainted with each other until introduced by G Gordon Liddy in 1972. The evidence, however, shows the two men had been professionally involved for at least a decade.
Enrique Ruiz-Williams, a veteran of the CIA’s anti-Castro operations, recalls how both Hunt and McCord were his CIA handlers in the early 1960s. Tellingly, Ruiz-Williams recalled how the pair used the same alias. During Watergate, both Hunt and McCord would again use the same alias.
In 1969, testimony from a former landlady showed that McCord and Hunt were running some kind of entrapment or surveillance operation out of a rented basement apartment, presumably for the Office of Security.
That the pair lied about their long-standing association and their roles in the CIA suggests a sinister possibility. Were Hunt and McCord actually running a covert CIA operation that night at Watergate?
Under the unwitting nose of G Gordon Liddy, were the pair operating a conspiracy within a conspiracy? A plot with a secret agenda unknown to, perhaps even against, their ostensible paymasters at the White House?
Of all the mysteries surrounding the Watergate affair, by far the most perplexing is the actual burglary itself. What was its purpose?
The ringleader of the operation was G Gordon Liddy. As far as he was concerned the purpose was to plant bugs in the office of Larry O’Brien, the leader of the Democratic National Committee, in order to gather political dirt ahead of the 1972 presidential elections.
This version of events was the one shared by the subsequent Watergate hearings, Bob Woodward’s famous Washington Post stories and the heavily fictionalized Hollywood film All The President’s Men.
As G Gordon Liddy himself now acknowledges, this official narrative is not true.
There were actually two Watergate burglaries. The first occurred on May 28th, 1972. Here, James McCord says he planted a telephone bug and a room listening device in the office of Larry O’Brien. Other accounts have an obscure DNC official called Spencer Oliver as another target.
The second burglary on June 17, where the men were caught and arrested, was supposedly ordered to correct a problem with the bug planted on May 28, and set up other bugs.
Two pieces of evidence show this official account to be a fantasy, concocted by James McCord and E Howard Hunt.
Despite the fact McCord was a surveillance expert and had access to near unlimited funds, he chose cheap off the shelf bugging equipment for the operation.
These type of wiretaps were line-of-sight. They could only operate by placing the receiving equipment in a direct line with the bug. Through windows was OK, but not walls.
To this end, McCord had rented a room in the Howard Johnson motel, directly overlooking the Watergate. But McCord knew full well that O’Brien’s office was at the opposite side of the building, meaning the bugs could never have worked.
Such an elementary error could not have been made by accident, indicating there was never any intention to bug O’Brien’s office. But as Jim Hougan revealed in his seminal book Secret Agenda, astonishingly, there was never any attempt to bug the Watergate at all.
The day before the June 17 burglary the DNC, anticipating that they may be a target for espionage, had the entire office complex swept for bugs by the phone company, who found nothing. After the June 17 arrests, the FBI also swept the building, twice, and similarly found nothing.
What was so strange about this was, for three weeks following the first break in, McCord had an employee stationed at the Howard Johnson hotel transcribing conversations from these nonexistent bugs.
Conveniently, and to the bafflement and rage of Liddy, McCord didn’t take the most basic precaution of tape-recording these wiretaps, so his deception would not be revealed.
It has been suggested by some authors that the real target of the surveillance was not Watergate, but the adjacent Columbia Plaza apartments, the location of an alleged high-class call girl ring been covertly monitored by the CIA.
McCord and Hunt’s true purpose may have been to conceal this operation from their fellow burglars, to ensure it remained undiscovered.
But whatever obscure agenda James McCord was working to, it was clearly nothing to do with Richard Nixon or bugging the Democrats. The official story makes so little sense because it simply isn’t true.
And if this bewildering state of affairs wasn’t already confusing enough, it was about to take an even stranger, deeper, and darker turn.
The decision to launch a second assault on the Watergate building on June 17 would lead to the discovery of the plot and ultimately the downfall of a president. But as Nixon himself so astutely pointed out, this burglary was so incompetently conducted as to be unbelievable.
The Watergate team was stuffed full of seasoned, hardboiled covert CIA and FBI operatives. Would they really be caught red handed executing a simple break in?
An unsettling suspicion rears its head. Did some members of the team deliberately ensure the plot was discovered? Was the burglary sabotaged from within, perhaps even to set-up Nixon for a fall?
A close examination of Hunt and McCord’s behavior that night suggests exactly that.
A 20 year veteran of clandestine CIA operations, Hunt made the unbelievable decision to leave a briefcase full of incriminating documents in one of the Cuban burglars hotel rooms at the Watergate.
The documents, including an address book, linked the Cubans directly to Hunt and the White House. Equally bizarrely, Hunt instructed the men to take their hotel keys with them to the burglary, guaranteeing Nixon would be implicated if they were caught.
McCord’s sabotage was more nebulous but even more calamitous. In his role as lookout, he failed to notify his cohorts that the coast was clear at the DNC offices for almost an hour. Had he done so, they likely would not have been caught and the Watergate scandal would never have occurred.
Instead, McCord, from his vantage point at the opposite Howard Johnson hotel, told his colleague the building was still occupied, which was a lie. But that was only the beginning of his duplicity.
McCord was also tasked with placing tape over the locks of the stairwell doors at the Watergate to ease the passage of the burglars. He chose to do so in a way that would ensure their discovery.
Instead of taping them vertically, on the inside edge of the door, where the tape would not be visible to guards, he did so horizontally, across the front face of the door, in a way which would clearly noticed.
The conclusion that McCord was determined the taped doors would be discovered by guards is unavoidable. He taped doors two floors up from the DNC, at the offices of the Federal Reserve, where he knew the guards were more vigilant.
There is no suggestion that the Federal Reserve was ever a target for the burglars, so McCord’s taping of their doors is inexplicable unless the intention was to alert security to the presence of the men.
McCords initial door taping was discovered by the building’s guard Frank Willis. Suspicious, but unsure what to do, Willis stalled for over an hour whilst he consulted colleagues about the situation.
During this time, the other conspirators wanted to abort the operation, but McCord ensured them that the guards would simply presume the tape had been added by cleaners.
It was here that McCord made his most egregious act of sabotage. Having prompted his colleagues to continue the burglary, he re-taped the doors. This, more than anything, ensured their capture.
The building’s security guards, on rechecking the locks, discovered they had been retaped and were left with no other conclusion than that there was a burglary in action. The police were called. The men were caught. The rest is history.
McCords bizarre conduct had left his colleagues, the investigators, reports and the history books utterly baffled. What was really going on?
There are two plausible explanations, not necessarily exclusive to one another, for the sabotage of the Watergate burglary.
Aside from the miasma of contradictory, inconsistent and self-serving personal accounts from the Watergate 7 about what happened that night, we have very little hard evidence that might attest to the burglaries true purpose.
One such piece of evidence is a key, found on the person of Eugenio Martinez after his arrest. The key, completely unknown to investigators and not publicly revealed until Jim Hougan’s book Secret Agenda in 1984, fit the desk of DNC secretary Ida Wells.
Hougan and other authors have speculated that the real purpose of the burglary was to gather information from Wells’ desk regarding a call girl ring operating from the adjacent Columbia Plaza Apartments.
If so, it may be that the hapless burglars had stumbled upon a top secret CIA operation. Possibly an operation run from the Office of Security, designed to gather sexual dirt on high-ranking senators and diplomats.
Suddenly McCord and Hunt’s actions begin to make sense. The pair, having never really left the agency, sabotaged the Watergate burglary to protect an extremely sensitive clandestine CIA operation.
Alternatively, or perhaps as an additional bonus, the discovery of the burglary would inevitably lead back to the White House. Pliant assets in the media, such as the intelligence connected Bob Woodward at the Washington Post, and a hostile political establishment could ensure the investigation went straight to the top — Richard Nixon.
Nixon, alongside his secretary of state Henry Kissinger, had infuriated both the CIA and military top brass for effectively running a secret government from the Oval Office, with little reference to the agency or the joint chiefs of staff.
The discovery of the Watergate burglars and their obvious links to the White House would at the least undermine Nixon’s administration, if not destroy it.
Whilst it seems undeniable that the Watergate operation was sabotaged from within, a serious, even fatal flaw to the theory is the consequences for its protagonists — James W McCord and E Howard Hunt.
Both men, with families and comfortable lifestyles, went to prison for their part in the conspiracy. It seems a real stretch to suggest either, whatever their secret agenda, was willing to serve serious jail time for it.
Hunt, improbably, left behind a stack of incriminating evidence in one of the Cuban burglar’s hotel rooms, directing linking both him and the White House to the crime.
McCord sabotaged the burglary whilst he himself was still in the building, ready to be caught red handed by the police. But his subsequent behaviour, he turned on his conspirators and revealed the whole plot to investigators to get a reduced sentence, strongly suggests he was not keen on a stretch.
Could it be the pair had intended to set up their cohorts but remain undetected themselves? Even seasoned spies like Hunt and McCord make mistakes, after all.
With both men now dead, we’ll probably never know their real motives. One of the strangest and most perplexing crimes of the 20th century remains an enigma, the truth forever lost in a wilderness of mirrors.