The William Kennedy Smith Rape Saga





It would be sad enough if Teddy Kennedy’s demons had blighted only his own life. Now they are eating his young the third generation of Kennedys, already scarred with their own tragedies of drink, drugs and early death. In yet another of the tawdry dramas that he seems destined to play out, it turned out last week that the last of the Kennedy brothers had presided over a late-night drinking party that included his own son and two women picked up in a bar, and ended with his nephew accused of rape.

More than a week after the bachelor party on Easter weekend in the Kennedy beach mansion in Palm Beach, Fla., only the outlines of the story were known. No charges had been filed, and clamor was rising that the local police were dragging their feet on the case, covering up once again for the Kennedy family. But what had come out was trouble enough. The Massachusetts senator, on holiday at the family retreat, had gone with his son Patrick, 23, and his nephew William Kennedy Smith, 30, to a trendy nightclub called Au Bar. There they drank for three hours or so with two women, who turned up again with the men at the mansion at about 3: 30 a.m. One of the women, a 27-year-old waitress named Michele Cassone, says she stayed until nearly dawn, leaving after the senator appeared before her without his trousers. The other, a 29-year-old single mother whose name is being withheld, says she was raped by Smith. There were apparently no witnesses to the attack.

When word started circulating two days later, it touched off a predictable feeding frenzy in the tabloid headlines: PALM BEACH COVERUP, TEDDY’S SEXY ROMP. Some 300 reporters converged on the scene. Offers for the victim’s exclusive story topped $100,000. Local media sued to force police to release details, but a judge refused, reasoning that detectives needed confidentiality to investigate. That chore, however, seemed glacially slow. It took police more than five days to find a photo of Smith to show the victim, and after seven days, none of the three men had been interviewed. Smith, a fourth-year medical student at Washington’s Georgetown University, issued a statement denying he had been “involved in any offense.” But he agreed to provide hair and blood samples, which will be compared with semen taken from the victim; police also reportedly plan to seek forensic samples from the senator and Patrick.

The alleged victim, a regular on Palm Beach’s late-night party circuit, stayed out of sight. Her friends described her as well-to-do, a sometime student who has held several jobs. The mother of a 2-year-old girl and the stepdaughter of a retired industrialist, she lives in a comfortable suburban house. She wanted no money, her lawyer said, only justice.

The story emerged slowly, mainly through an escalating series of disclosures by Cassone, who said she was the heiress to a bakery fortune. In her first accounts, Ted Kennedy went to bed shortly after she got to the mansion and didn’t reappear. Then the New York Post quoted her, anonymously, in a lurid tale of being pursued around the mansion by the senator, who was wearing only a T shirt. After that she gave several interviews, with differing details.

The two women were at the bar of the nightclub when the Kennedy party came in about midnight, witnesses said. The five wound up at a table by the dance floor; at about 3: 30 they left for the Kennedy compound. Cassone said she hadn’t seen the other woman and Smith after that, and hadn’t been aware of any attack. She said she and Patrick Kennedy, who is a Rhode Island state legislator and a student at Providence College, had more drinks on the patio, sat by the beach with the senator and chatted about scuba diving and the importance of family. Then she went inside with Patrick. Soon after that, she said, Teddy Kennedy appeared, his bare knees showing below the tail of his long shirt. He said nothing, she said, but she felt “weird,” and “I said, ‘I’m out of here’.” Patrick walked her to her car and she left, sometime after 4 a.m. The next afternoon at 2 o’clock, the second woman told police she had been raped by Smith somewhere else on the grounds during Cassone’s adventure.

Smith, known as “Willie,” seemed an unlikely villain. Tall, blue-eyed and reserved, he graduated from Duke University in 1983 and worked a stint at investment banking before starting medical school. He lives quietly in a Georgetown apartment and has done volunteer work in Central America and on an Indian reservation in New Mexico. His own father, Stephen Smith – the senator’s brother-in-law, and the man who handled “damage control” after the drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne in Teddy’s car at Chappaquiddick in 1969 – died last year of cancer. Ted Kennedy, the patriarch by default, added Willie and his three siblings to the long list of his surrogate children.

The senator has tried, fumblingly at times, to care for his extended family, and Willie and Patrick share a bond: they both suffered badly from asthma as boys. But in the wake of the rape accusation, Patrick and his father seemed to distance themselves from Willie. Patrick said he “assumed” the alleged victim was “a guest of one of my cousins.” Teddy said he had “absolutely no idea” who she was; later, he issued a statement noting that while Willie was a suspect, that didn’t mean he was guilty. “When all the facts come out, I’m confident Willie will be vindicated,” he said. He told reporters he was eager to talk to police, and that when the probe was finished, “No one will be more eager to get the full report out” than himself.

But it’s hard to see any happy ending. Once again, the patriarch has no trousers. Walking out to the car in the predawn, Michele Cassone told reporters later, she asked Patrick if he was embarrassed by his father, and he said, “Yeah, sometimes he embarrasses me.” But embarrassment is a euphemism. For the wounded family, it surely goes beyond that.


Chris Lawford

He kicked a heroin habit after cousin David’s death. Now he’s an actor, like his father, Peter.

Patrick Kennedy

A college student, the senator’s son is also a member of the Rhode Island Legislature.

Joe and John Kennedy

After a troubled youth, RFK’s son Joe (left) became a congressman; JFK’s son is a Manhattan assistant district attorney.

David Kennedy

After dropping out of Harvard, he died of a drug overdose in Palm Beach on Easter weekend, 1984, at 28.

Kathleen Townsend

A family leader, the eldest of Bobby’s 11 children lost a bid for a seat in Congress in 1986.

Caption:PHOTO: The suspect: William Kennedy Smith and his mother, Jean, at his father’s funeral in 1990/TONY SAVINO – SIPA

PHOTO: The scene of a crime? The family’s walled estate in Palm Beach/STEVE STARR – SABA

PHOTO: The senator: He denied knowing the alleged victim/LISA BUL – AP