- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Tunnel of love?

It so happened that this columnist was staying at the Cal Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe this past weekend when Marilyn Monroe’s confessions to her psychiatrist — taped shortly before she died 43 years ago at 36 — were made public, raising questions about whether she died of a drug overdose or perhaps something more sinister.

Rather than room service, I dialed hotel security.

Frank Encinas, as he does every day, was keeping a watchful eye over the craps tables and slot machines (the Nevada-California state line slices right through the lodge’s rock fireplace, thus the casino is found in the Nevada half).

“Is there a chance you might take me into the tunnels?” I asked him.

During the late 1950s, with the blessing of notorious crime boss Sam Giancana, Frank Sinatra became the “captain” and owner of the Cal Neva Lodge. Soon, the lakeside resort was a favorite playground for Hollywood’s brightest stars and, some contend, a pair of famous brothers from Washington, D.C.

“Most people say that Frank Sinatra owned the Cal Neva, and Sam Giancana was his silent partner,” Mr. Encinas tells me. “But those in the know say Sam Giancana was the actual owner, and Frank Sinatra was his silent partner.”

What’s easier to believe is that Sinatra, Giancana, and President Kennedy all shared the same mistress, Judith Campbell. The Hollywood socialite acknowledged the high-level trysts when subpoenaed to testify in 1975 before the so-called “Church Committee” (named after then-Idaho Sen. Frank Church and his Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities).

Mrs. Campbell, who later became Campbell Exner, told congressional investigators that Mr. Kennedy additionally used her as a go-between with Giancana, supposedly when the president was weighing a possible assassination of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The FBI, it was later revealed, had recorded phone calls from Giancana’s home to Mr. Kennedy (it also was reported that Giancana, despite being a suspect in numerous killings, participated in 1960 talks with CIA Director Allen W. Dulles about ways to forever silence Mr. Castro).

Meanwhile, as all this was supposedly happening, Mr. Kennedy was rumored also to be having an affair with Marilyn. And if that’s not scandalous enough, notes from the newly revealed tapes have Marilyn trying to put the skids on another secret romance — this one with Robert F. Kennedy, the attorney general.

“As you see, there is no room in my life for him,” she told her psychiatrist. “I guess I don’t have the courage to face up to it and hurt him. I want someone else to tell him it’s over.”

That said, the Cal Neva Lodge on the northern shore of Lake Tahoe is supposedly where many of these colorful players came together.

“This was supposedly a secret rendezvous place for the Kennedys and Marilyn Monroe,” Mr. Encinas says as we duck into the cinderblock-lined tunnels. “Here’s how it worked: Frank Sinatra had cabin number 5; Marilyn Monroe had cabin number 3. In each cabin, you entered the tunnels through the closet. That way, Sinatra’s close friends could move about the resort undetected.”

He leads me to the furthest reaches of three separate tunnels, where today carpeted staircases and ramps lead to floorboards, mounds of dirt, and in one case a locked door adjacent to the casino, its sign reading “Ski Locker.”

The lodge’s security officer then stops in the middle of the tunnel leading directly to Sinatra’s old office (the underground entrance to the office was eventually ordered sealed by gaming control board agents. In fact, authorities stripped Sinatra of his gaming license after Giancana’s involvement with the lodge became known).

After Mr. Encinas points out Sinatra’s initials in the cement, he reaches across the tunnel and identifies what some believe is a telltale “X” scraped into the wall.

“My boss told me that he had read sometime ago that along this tunnel wall leading to Frank Sinatra’s office, John F. Kennedy had [an encounter] with Marilyn Monroe and ‘X’ marks the spot. Well,” he says, “there’s your X.”

If tunnels could only talk. There’s nothing remotely substantial, of course, to prove whether Marilyn ever encountered either of the Kennedys in the cabins — or tunnels — of the Cal Neva Lodge.

Guy Rocha, Nevada state archivist, wrote last August in the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal that indeed Marilyn was a guest at the Cal Neva just days before she died in Los Angeles of an apparent suicide, “albeit under mysterious circumstances,” he added.

Her final trip to the Cal Neva, wouldn’t you know, was at the invitation of actor Peter Lawford, brother-in-law to the Kennedys. Rumors, and nothing more, had it that Mr. Lawford told Marilyn that she was no longer to communicate with either of the Kennedy brothers.

“The truth in its entirety will likely never be known about the JFK-Monroe affair,” the archivist concluded, and as far as the Cal Neva is concerned “may well represent a titillating, modern-day presidential version of the ‘George Washington slept here’ myth.”

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected]

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