A Woman I Know: Female Spies, Double Identities, and a New Story of the Kennedy Assassination

A Woman I Know: Female Spies, Double Identities, and a New Story of the Kennedy Assassination

by Mary Haverstick
A Woman I Know: Female Spies, Double Identities, and a New Story of the Kennedy Assassination

A Woman I Know: Female Spies, Double Identities, and a New Story of the Kennedy Assassination

by Mary Haverstick


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Notes From Your Bookseller

Calling something an "untold story" might feel overdone, but this really is that. It’s the Kennedy Assassination from a new angle, women spies of the Cold War and a refreshing historical narrative that is as fascinating for its content as it is compulsively well written.

The “fascinating” (The New York Times) true story of a filmmaker whose investigation of her film’s subject opened a new window onto the world of Cold War espionage, CIA secrets, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

“A compelling real-life thriller.”—The Telegraph (UK)

Independent filmmaker Mary Haverstick thought she’d stumbled onto the project of a lifetime—a biopic of aviation pioneer Jerrie Cobb, the key figure in a group of extraordinary women who in 1960 passed the same tests as the legendary male astronauts of the Mercury 7 but never went to space. Just as casting was set to begin, Haverstick received a mysterious warning from a government agent; soon she began to suspect that there was more to Jerrie’s story than what met the eye. As she dug deeper, she discovered that Jerrie’s life shadowed that of a mysterious CIA agent named June Cobb, whose espionage career traced an arc of intrigue from the jungles of South America to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, to the communist literary circles in Mexico City—and ultimately into the dark heart of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas.

Haverstick’s attempt to learn the truth directly from Jerrie would plunge her into a cat-and-mouse game that stretched across a decade, deep into a thicket of coded CIA files. As she uncovered a remarkable set of mostly unknown women whose high-stakes intelligence work left its only traces in redacted files, she also found shocking new clues about what really happened at Dealey Plaza in 1963. Offering fresh insight into the Kennedy assassination and a vivid picture of women in midcentury intelligence, A Woman I Know brings to life the astonishing duplicities of the Cold War intelligence game, a world where code names and hidden identities were the lifeblood of spies bent on seeking advantage by any means necessary.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593727812
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/14/2023
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 132,499
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Mary Haverstick is a director, writer, and cinematographer. Her most notable work as director was for Home, 2009, which starred Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden. She is currently chronicling the turbulent political landscape of her home state, Pennsylvania, for her documentary, Tipping Point, PA.

Read an Excerpt



1.1 The Drive

It was a cold clear winter morning, driving up the New Jersey Turnpike, as I rehearsed in my mind the sequence of steps that might get me to Redbird. I’d already been working with Jerrie to tell her story for over two years, and I was now driving to the Newark Airport hotel to see her about problems with the film.

Over those two years, starting in 2009, our relationship revolved around the goal of telling her space story, which would have been in the same vein as Hidden Figures, but our work took place eight years before that Oscar-nominated movie portrayed other influential NASA pioneers. Jerrie and I had met many times for the interviews from which our screenplay was developed. I held the exclusive option to her space story rights, which contracted us together for interviews and access to her historical materials. Independent dramas often take years to develop, research, and produce a screenplay, but we were through all that and into the casting phase. Our project had been going swimmingly—until I received a mysterious warning from a new acquaintance, and a pall dropped over the project. I was now on my way to confront Jerrie about all that had transpired.

The problem, unusual as it sounds, was that I was briefly befriended by a high-ranking woman from the Department of Defense who, by her own admission, worked in espionage. I’d met her on a weeklong beach-camping excursion, where she arrived after me and parked herself in the campsite adjacent to mine. She was intelligent, fun, and interesting, so my partner and I spent quite a bit of time sightseeing with her, during which she shared riveting details about her spying career, work she had conducted overseas fighting the war on terror. I’d met this extraordinary woman seemingly by happenstance, although in retrospect, I’ve wondered exactly why we met.

For a few weeks after that trip, we stayed in touch, and I even met up with her for lunch in Washington, D.C., while I was scouting locations for the film. But about then I noticed her habit of constantly dropping subtle warnings into the conversation about my film project. These comments took the form of non sequiturs that passed by so quickly, I wasn’t even sure I’d heard them. Initially, I wrote them off as odd comments from someone who knew nothing about the film business. That changed when she visited my hometown.

Claiming to be passing through Pennsylvania, she stopped by my studio, and I happily gave her a tour. Things were fine until we reached the research station for my film, where she began grilling me about the dates of the historical materials I had on hand and lecturing me about levels of government classification. I explained that I had nothing classified here, that this was fifty-year-old history. She quickly zeroed in on binders of materials I’d gotten from Jerrie herself, and without opening them, she claimed that those in particular were “classified and needed to be in a vault.”

This was outrageous on so many levels. I hadn’t told her much about the project and certainly nothing that would give anyone a concern. Not about to be pushed around in my own studio, I laid down the facts—that these were an older woman’s private letters, photos, and clippings, all of which I had legal access to and many of which were already public. It didn’t matter. The warning was given. Something about Jerrie’s documents was “classified,” and my project might have problems.

Her negativity about the film created a strain in the friendship, and she soon vanished from my life as quickly as she came. After her bizarre warning, the project did hit a quick series of hurdles. Hurdles are normal in films. Warnings about classified documents are not. I decided it was my duty to look into it, to see if we were on solid footing, or if something about this once-secret program had hit a tripwire even now. So one day, as I was sitting at my workstation pondering this mystery, I googled “Jerrie Cobb” together with “CIA.”

June Cobb

What came up was a woman named June Cobb. I had seen her name before while researching Jerrie on the internet but had never clicked on it. This time I did. The search paragraphs were filled with gibberish, subject lines like “HSCA CIA segregated collection, box 40,” that made no sense. I waded deeper. More gibberish. These were government documents—something to do with the CIA—something to do with assassination—something to do with the Kennedy assassination! I read on.

Whoever this June Cobb was, her name appeared in thousands of pages of government files that were part of the investigation into Kennedy’s death. The documents were dense, incomprehensible at first. I groped for a paragraph that made sense, that actually said something concrete. Slowly a picture of June emerged. Her full name was Viola June Cobb. She was three years older than Jerrie. She was a blond, like Jerrie, but a CIA employee. She was an agent. She knew Fidel Castro! This woman was interesting. She had evidently worked in Castro’s office as a translator while she was spying on Fidel Castro! Who was this woman?

And then with a few clicks of my mouse, I knew. June Cobb was from the same hometown as Jerrie—Ponca City, Oklahoma. She was the same height as Jerrie, same weight. June had also lived for a time in Jerrie’s other hometown, Norman, Oklahoma. She was in the Civil Air Patrol, so they were both in aviation. Both were fluent Spanish speakers. Both had lived extensively in Latin America. Both left home in their twenties for South America. And then the point of no return: when I saw that June Cobb lobbied on behalf of the Indigenous tribes at the Amazon headwaters—the same Andean mountain people to whom Jerrie had devoted her life. Both women had visited the isolated region in the early 1950s, when almost no white people had ever been there. Both advocated for causes related to the coca-leaf-chewing habits of the natives, and both had exited the jungle from their youthful expeditions burdened by a lifelong jungle-borne disease.

Consider, for a moment, the chances of any family allowing their college-age daughter to travel to the Amazon to contact Indigenous people in the 1950s, at a time when early expeditions were reporting that the jungle was riddled with cannibalistic headhunters. What was the statistical probability that two girls named Cobb of identical description and similar ages would be involved in aviation from Ponca and Norman, Oklahoma, with both in the Civil Air Patrol, both being Spanish speakers, both traveling to that remote tribal region and then leaving with a jungle-borne disease, while also being involved in top-secret U.S. government programs? I quickly imagined that those odds were about as good as two people sharing the exact same DNA, which I now suspected they did.

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