As fans of conspiracy theories know, there is always a connection if you look hard enough, and the one between JFK and the Profumo Scandal is particularly intriguing.
The connection is called Mariella, or Maria, Novotny. Different sources give her different places of birth – London, Sheffield, Prague – but most agree that she was really called Stella Capes. She almost certainly wasn’t the niece of former Czech President Antonin Novotny as she claimed, nor had she spent four years in a Soviet camp. But what’s undeniable is that she lived quite the life.
It was Novotny who hosted the infamous Man In The Mask orgy in an apartment in Hyde Park Square in December 1961, where various members of high society consorted with glamorous woman such as Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler. Novotny, who called the party The Feast of Peacocks after what had been served for dinner (she also cooked badger), spent much of the evening wearing a corset in bed with a whip and six men. Stephen Ward, the mysterious society osteopath, was there wearing socks and nothing else. Everybody else – among them actors, MPs and judges – was naked except for a man wearing a gimp mask, who was tied between two pillars and whipped by everybody on entry. There has been much speculation as to his identity, with names including minor royalty and Cabinet Ministers, but he has never been named.
The Feast Of The Peacocks became public knowledge after featuring in Lord Denning’s 1963 report into the security implications of the Profumo Scandal. This was written in the wake of Conservative Minister John Profumo’s resignation from the Cabinet following revelations regarding his relationship with Keeler and Keeler’s relationship with Soviet naval attach Eugene Ivanov.
This was not the first political scandal Novotny was at the centre of. Wherever she was born, she had moved to London in 1958 to become a model, and was soon performing as a topless dancer in Soho.
In 1960, she married. Her husband, Horace ‘Hod’ Dibben was in his 50s and moved in serious company. He ran the Black Sheep Club in Piccadilly and knew both the Duke of Kent and the Krays. He was a sado-masochist and a friend of Stephen Ward. Through Hod, Novotny met Harry Towers, a mysterious and sinister figure, who persuaded her to go to New York for some modelling work.
Novotny was soon operating as a prostitute in New York, with Towers as her pimp. Before long Towers had introduced her to Peter Lawford, the film star and John F Kennedy’s brother-in-law whose main responsibility was to find willing women for the insatiable President. Novotny was soon sleeping with JFK. On one occasion she and fellow prostitute Suzy Chang were asked to dress as nurses, with JFK the patient.
In May 1961, Novotny was deported from the US, returning to London on the Queen Mary where she began hosting her memorable parties. Guests are said to include everybody from Bobby Moore to Felix Topolski. She was also introduced by Ward to both Ivanov and Profumo before Keeler, but nothing developed from this. Novotny believed she had been used to ‘get’ JFK and was wary of the same thing happening again. Keeler was not so smart.
When the Profumo Scandal broke, JFK was said to be fascinated by it, demanding to be kept informed of ongoing events, at least in part because of his own tenuous connection. Robert McNamara, the US Defence Secretary, knew all about the President’s dalliances with this prostitute who claimed to be from Eastern Europe and said ‘he felt like he was sitting on a bomb’. On June 23, one American newspaper even hinted at the President’s involvement, until his brother Robert Kennedy forcefully intervened and the story was dropped. Nobody picked it up and the President took his secret to the grave.
What to make of this? Some believe the fact Novotny was connected to JFK and Profumo was no coincidence and here you could go down a rabbit warren of theories and counter-accusations. One argument is that Novotny was part of a honey trap operation, run by Lyndon Johnson’s office by Towers and Ward with the assistance of the sex-obsessed FBI, aimed at blackmailing powerful men in Britain and America. Others claim it was a KGB sting – Novotny claimed Czech heritage and Chang was Chinese – and Towers was using his women to try to infiltrate the United Nations. Still others say Ward and Towers were working for MI5 to entrap Ivanov. Conspiracy journal Lobster has more. This stuff could drive you insane.
Novotny later worked for the police in same capacity, and was used to help bring down gangster Charles Taylor. She died of an overdose in 1983. Some, including Christine Keeler, claim it was murder. Novotny had attempted to write a book about her life shortly before her death, but mysterious things kept happening to her and the ghostwriter, causing them to nervously end the project. After her death, her house was burgled and her diaries disappeared.
She did write a book in 1971. It is a fictionalised account of her adventures called King’s Road and one of the worst books I’ve ever read. You can get it on Amazon for 14p.