The Mystery of the Kennedy Kids

by Laura Hayner

Like many other interns working on the Boston TV News Digital Library Project, I have been amused and baffled by the shorthand used by WHDH scribes as they furiously clocked and “cataloged” the massive volumes of shot footage required to air a daily news program onto small cards. As a library science graduate student at Simmons College, I use the word “cataloged” lightly. Yet, faithful readers of this blog know many of our posts originate from cards that stand out, that are just a bit too eccentric or tantalizingly vague to ignore.

As I plugged away on a large batch of Kennedy family-related cards, many from the late 1960s to early 1970s, I came across three from 1970 that simply read, “Kennedy Kids busted”. Busted for what pray tell? And which kids? Robert F. Kennedy alone had 11 of them.

Wikipedia and Google, the stalwart “go-to” tools of quickie reference, yielded no immediate answers. Internet, thou hast failed me! Now what to do? I must know what troubles those impeccably preppy youngsters got themselves into over four decades ago!

Wait, I’m in a freaking library. Thankfully, the WHDH cards were dated, one with footage from August 5, 1970, and two from August 6. A short trip down the hall to the Microtext Department later, and I was able to pull up The Boston Globe archives. Low and behold, it was front page news: upstanding youths, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Robert Sargent “Bobby” Shriver III, got busted for marijuana possession. Both were age 16 at the time.

The story unfolds: On July 10, “Young Kennedy” as the Globe staff repeated called him, Shriver and other young people were spotted by undercover Barnstable Police officers in possession of marijuana. However, they were not arrested at the time to protect the officers’ undercover identities. The Kennedy Kids received their court summons on August 5 at the end of the four-month long Cape Cod drug trafficking investigation, prompting uncle Edward “Ted” Kennedy to fly home from Washington D.C. and the senior Shriver to cut short his California campaigning. A total of 23 young people were served with a court summons for possession of marijuana, heroin, amphetamines and LSD, some with intent to sell.

The Kennedy family attended a 20 minute closed court session the next day. Both boys received a legal slap on the wrist and the Camelot Clan drove back to the family compound.

On the list of Kennedy family tragedies, this ordeal ranks fairly low, though this would not be “Young Kennedy”’s last drug-related offense. Though obviously both kids turned out alright: Kennedy is a well-respected environmental lawyer and Shriver founded several AIDS relief and international aid organizations. As far as I’m concerned, the mystery of the Kennedy Kids is solved.

An interesting endnote: While my “catalog” card curiosity is sated, I would still love to see the WHDH footage, not for the Kennedy family but of the newsmen covering this event. Andrew F. Blake, one of the Boston Globe reporters covering the courthouse, published an editorial on August 7, 1970, describing the newsmen’s reprehensible behavior outside the Barnstable Country Superior Court. He reported that 75 to 100 reporters mobbed the scene; “some cameramen behaved as if they had just been loosed from cages at the zoo,” Blake wrote, for prime shots of the teen delinquents, along with widowed Ethel, scandalized Ted and the rest of the company. Blake also took a jab at Ted for having the family take a walk up to the courthouse instead of directing their fleet of vehicles straight to the front door.

It would be interesting to view this film in order to see how a media frenzy of 40 years ago compares to those we routinely witness today. We often like to think the world has changed so much from previous decades only to find, as the footage probably shows, that some things don’t change at all. References:

  • Blake, A. F. (1970, August 7). Newsmen behaved badly toward Kennedys. The Boston Globe, p. 9.
  • Sheehan, A. (1970, August 5). In Court Tomorrow RFK Jr., Shriver Son Face ‘Pot’ Charges. Boston Evening Globe, pp. 1, 40.
  • Sheehan, A. H. (1970, August 6). RFK Jr., Shriver Son Appear in Closed Court. Boston Evening Globe, pp. 1, 34.
  • Sheehan, A. H., Blake, A. F. (1970, August 6). A Kennedy, a Shriver Face Drug Charges. The Boston Globe, pp. 1, 6.