Nation: The Puzzling Paisley Case

  • Share
  • Read Later

What happened during the CIA man's last sail?

A 31-ft. sloop, under full sail, runs aground on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay. No one is aboard the vessel, which contains CIA papers and sophisticated radio gear. One week later a bloated body is found in the bay. There is a bullet wound behind the left ear. Two diving belts weighing 38 lbs. are strapped to its waist. The body is identified as that of the sloop's owner, John Arthur Paisley, 55, a former deputy director of the CIA's Office of Strategic Research.

So began in late September the intriguing mystery of an ex-spook's last voyage, aboard a sloop that he had fancifully but appropriately named Brillig, from the "Jabber, wocky" in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. After the body was discovered, the CIA insisted that there was no mystery. Paisley was not a spy, said a CIA press spokesman. He was an intelligence analyst. Moreover, he had retired from the agency in 1974. The CIA had no quarrel with Maryland state police theories that Paisley had committed suicide. Six months before his death, he had left his wife of 19 years—the mother of his two children—and developed a close relationship with another woman. He had been depressed over his personal life and had been seeing a psychiatrist.

Since last fall, the mystery of John Arthur Paisley has deepened. The woman he had been seeing, Betty Myers, 51, a psychiatric social worker, says that "suicide was a valid option to him." Among his problems, she said, was that "he had ambivalence about his desire to be close to someone and his desire for freedom." But his estranged wife Maryann maintains that he was not the sort of man to kill himself. She has hired Washington Lawyer Bernard Fensterwald to try to find out what happened. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence also has been looking into the case and is expected to complete its inquiry in a few weeks.

The facts about Paisley's fate are as elusive as anything conceived by Lewis Carroll. The questions start with the identity of the corpse found in Chesapeake Bay a week after the Brillig ran aground. The body was badly disfigured by immersion and was not viewed by any member of Paisley's family before it was cremated. To obtain fingerprints, the FBI had severed both hands from the body and peeled back layers of decomposing skin. These prints could not be compared with the ones that the CIA said it had sent to the FBI when Paisley was hired in 1953; the bureau reported that they had inexplicably been lost from its files. But the prints did match a set voluntarily submitted to the FBI by a "Jack" Paisley in 1940. The age (17) of the youth at the time, his home town (Phoenix) and his parents' names all matched with John Arthur Paisley's past.

As further evidence, the Maryland state police reported that Virginia Dentist Albert F. Brendes had examined an upper plate of teeth from the corpse and said that the denture was the one that he had made for Paisley several years ago. Brendes was relying on memory: Paisley's dental records were destroyed, the dentist explained, when he recently reorganized his office.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3