It's almost like he had a target on his back. Episode 6 of the “Fatal Voyage: The Death of JFK Jr.” podcast, "Miami Vice," explores JFK Jr.'s seemingly cavalier attitude for his own safety — and how it may have influenced a kidnapping plot just four years before his plane went down in 1999, resulting in his tragic death.
JFK Jr. lived in New York City for a good portion of his adult life, and some say he took risks with his lifestyle in a city that, at the time, was rather dangerous for the everyman — and perhaps even more so for someone of JFK Jr.'s celebrity status.
"There was a crack cocaine epidemic going on, there were massive problems with violence, gun crime was out of control, huge parts of the city were basically a no-go zone," reporter Andy Tillett says of the metropolis at the time. "I’m talking here about the difficulties staying safe if you’re an ordinary person, a nobody. If you’re John F. Kennedy Jr., a celebrity, a millionaire, a public figure … you’d be insane to do the kinds of things he was doing at that time."
"He could easily bike 80 miles in a day, and then go rollerblading all around, and then walk on his hands," Linda Massarella, who worked at the New York Post in the 1990s, further explains. "He's very athletic. Which gives you a sense of invulnerability."
"I wouldn't go to John F. Kennedy Jr. for advice on living carefully and safely," Dick Morris, a former advisor to President Bill Clinton, says on the podcast. "I mean, look at how he died."
And some say that behavior only got worse after the loss of his mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. "He loved the attention," Massarella says. "His mother didn't like it. His mother never liked this, that he was dating movie stars, and getting all this attention."
But on May 19, 1994, Jackie Kennedy died at home in her Manhattan apartment at the age of 64. JFK Jr. was "devastated," Massarella believes, adding, "He had just lost his rock. Now he was in the world by himself. Without his mother. His mother was always a big director ... Suddenly, he didn't have that voice anymore. He didn't have his compass anymore."
"On the other hand, his mother was one of the most controlling mothers that a guy could have," fellow reporter Leon Wagner adds. For better or worse, JFK Jr. was left to make his own decisions after her death — and he didn't always make great ones.
On May 14, 1985, police in Herndon, Virginia received a call from someone who the FBI at the time described as “an apparently intoxicated white male." They informed authorities that "he and seven other individuals intended on kidnapping John Kennedy that evening at 8 p.m.” It was a serious enough threat to be logged and filed and very likely that the Kennedys were informed. But Wagner says, "It never influenced John’s behavior. He refused to knuckle under to threats."
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People who know the history of the Kennedys may also know that in June 1972, eight Greek men were arrested after they planned robberies and abductions of government officials and other prominent people for ransom — including a young JFK Jr., who was just 11 at the time. It was just 13 years later that the other plot against JFK Jr. was discovered.
And now, podcast host and ex-homicide detective Colin McLaren and investigative journalist James Robertson reveal their findings indicating another kidnapping scheme may have been planned against JFK Jr. Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI for any and all documents related to JFK Jr., they found files from a potential threat in 1995 — four years before his death.
Robertson explains that there were "murmurings" in the media of such a threat but no one had "any sufficient details" about it. "This is serious," he reveals. "This is not threats to kidnap a child. This is a grown man ... Nobody knows what really happened here. This is brand new."
McLaren explains that, according to a report dated July 13, 1995, someone called the FBI in New York with information about an alleged plot to kidnap JFK Jr. The caller allegedly told the FBI the kidnappers “had determined that Kennedy rode a bicycle in Manhattan and did not have any bodyguards.” Another report states, “The security firm that handles security for the Kennedys has been appraised of the potential threat to John F. Kennedy Jr.," and that he would be notified.
Robertson reveals one of the documents lists FBI locations in New York, Miami and Jacksonville, and that there's a reference to California. "Whatever this is," he says, "this is a nationwide serious operation that is involving the highest level of federal investigators."
"Whoever is the informant here for the FBI has such detailed and specific information that they know that Junior rides a bicycle alone in Manhattan," Robertson says. "This will be a serious level of concern for the FBI."
"This guy's vulnerable, back at the time of this alleged kidnapping." McLaren points out because, at the time, the former president's children no longer received secret service security after the age of 16. "The fact is he's put himself in the position to be this vulnerable, to be surveilled, by some serious, serious rough people," Robertson says.
McLaren notes this investigation took place just a few years before JFK Jr.'s untimely death. "This is close enough to become a conspiracy," Robertson claims. "Who wanted to kidnap him? Why? ... The FBI was involved and the first tip looks like it came in as far back as '95, four years before the death, but continued almost up until the moment his plane hit the water."
The “Fatal Voyage: The Death of JFK Jr.” podcast will continue to explore the publisher's reckless life before his tragic death and to pursue the details behind this attempted plot to kidnap JFK Jr. Listeners can tune in for new episodes every Wednesday.