My Prouty Family Tragedies

I was painting kitchen cabinets in my brother Hugh’s garage in early 2018, remembering an illustrated book circa 1950 which I’d found among our Aunt Velma’s possessions about repairing and refinishing furniture. She’d had a small wooden secretary desk that I feel sure would have been her next project. But Velma died suddenly, and that book, along with the desk, antique furniture, opera recordings, linens, books, and more which had belonged both to her and my grandmother had ended up with Hugh, who had done nothing more with these items than store them in his garage for over 40 years.

So I painted those kitchen cabinets while thinking about Aunt Velma–not only Velma, but all four precipitous deaths of my family members which shocked us between 1972 and 1974. At last I began doing Freedom of Information Act requests, since my aunt had worked for the government, and now I write about what I regard as an assassination campaign directed at all four remaining members of my mother’s family (“remaining” after my grandfather Ross Prouty’s death in 1958). Yes, I know you will scoff at my suspicions, but hear me out. Henry Kissinger was involved.

The first victim was my poor mother, Emily Jeannette Prouty Maynard (“Emy”), who died at age 53 of a brain tumor after an intensely painful seven-month struggle in 1972, one week after I graduated from high school. Emy was followed in April 1974 by her younger brother Emery Mason Prouty, who lived in Capistrano Beach, California. Slim and fit, Uncle Mason had been playing golf with his father-in-law and another man. He got a bit ahead of the other players, and when they rounded a copse to their shock they found Mason lying on the ground, dead. He had not suffered from any malady, ever, in his life, and was only 53, yet no autopsy was done. It was simply assumed he had had a heart attack.

The next to go was my grandmother at age 82, Florence Morrison Prouty, who had also been in good health when she developed the cancer which took her life in July 1974, three months after the death of her son. I learned from Florence’s death certificate, curiously, that the type was adenocarcinoma, which is also the cause of death stated on my mother’s death certificate, despite the brain tumor. Adenocarcinoma is glandular.

Undoubtedly my aunt Velma, my mother’s older sister, had visited Grandma that summer when she was sick; the two of them also owned a property together in Leisure World, in Southern California. So after the shock of her sister Emy’s death in June 1972, followed by her brother Mason suddenly dropping dead in April 1974 and her mother Florence in July, after presumably settling her mother’s affairs in California Auntie Velma returned to Rome, Italy, where she was then living, in October 1974–and died. I learned for the first time, in 2018, the circumstances of Velma’s death. Her employer, the State Department, said simply that she was found dead in her apartment. She was 58.

Velma worked for the State Department in the Foreign Service, as a communications specialist and records supervisor. In around 1970, my mother told me Velma had called her long-distance to say she was being sent to Vietnam to “destroy records.” My mother told me this with such tremulous anxiety that it has been emblazoned on my memory for over 50 years. Of course destroying official records would be a crime. About three years ago, I asked my older brother Hugh, who was living in Utah in 1970, whether Mother had ever told him about Velma being required to destroy records in Vietnam, and he said she had.

Velma’s boss at State was Henry Kissinger. Kissinger sent this condolence letter to my Aunt Ginny, Mason’s widow, after Velma’s death, poor Velma not having any closer family members by that time.

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Two telegrams among the FOIA documents the State Department sent me indicated an autopsy was done, in Italy, but the State Department has not produced the autopsy report. I also have a typed form, “Death of an American Citizen,” which says the death was “certified as natural, due to cardio-circulatory deficiency,” by a doctor named Alvaro Marchiori of the Institute of Forensic Medicine. However, Marchiori’s signature is not on the form, so that statement is hearsay, and the form itself is something produced when an American tourist dies but is not a death certificate. I return, importantly, to the fact that State has not produced the autopsy report. What happened to it? I struck out trying to find Marchiori, undoubtedly no longer living by 2018.

Interestingly, Marchiori was one of three doctors who autopsied a bicycle racer, Knud Enemark Jensen, who died during the 1960 Olympics in Rome. These doctors had concluded heatstroke was the reason for death, and said no drugs were found in Jensen’s body; however, according to Wikipedia that original autopsy was not made public, and Marchiori said just the opposite later: that they had found traces of amphetamine. His false statement led to the institution of drug testing at the 1968 Winter Olympics. So…this doctor was not a paragon of uprightness.

I also asked the State Department for Velma’s personnel file and duty postings. While I did get some documentation, it is not complete–in fact, it ends in 1956. I am still trying to find out where the rest of the file is, but State has glibly told me to go to NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration. If documents are sent there, there should be documentation of the transfer of them within the State Department’s own records, but State has not produced any such documentation.

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Velma Prouty, 1945

Anyway, you may acknowledge, begrudgingly, that two family members simply dropping dead in their 50’s could be more than coincidence, even ignoring that Henry Kissinger was on the scene–and I point out he might have technically controlled Velma’s apartment, since it is likely the State Department owned or leased the building, and as her employer would know her comings and goings, too–but you don’t buy the two deaths from cancer being part of any assassination campaign. For many years in this blog I have linked to the 1975 video of the Church Committee, in the Senate, being told about the CIA’s heart attack gun. I’ve read it causes cancer, too, although now cannot find a reputable source for that assertion.

Just recently I remembered an event I had not previously connected to my mother’s death. Sometime in mid-1971, when we lived in Dallas, I came home from school and my mother told me she had lost consciousness and fallen down while standing in the checkout line at the supermarket! This was well before her cancer diagnosis. I know unequivocally when the cancer diagnosis was because I took her to Family Dinner Playhouse for her birthday on Nov. 19, 1971, to see “Fiddler on the Roof.” It was there she told me she had found a lump on the back of her neck, at the hairline, and I felt it. That was the cancer that killed her seven months later. At any rate, I am now surmising that her blacking out in the supermarket might have been due to an attack, which, instead of killing her immediately, caused the aggressive brain tumor. So it was, after all, very similar to Mason and Velma’s demise.

The order of dispatch of my beloved family members, assuming the real target was Velma–whom they got last–would make sense, since by first doing away with her sister Emy, with whom she was closest–not to mention subjecting Emy to the most agonizing and painful end possible, from cancer–followed by Velma’s brother and mother, the perpetrators could be assured there would never be any investigation of Velma’s own sudden death. Even more important to the sociopaths would have been the emotional distress caused Velma by seeing everyone in her family die over a short period of time. My siblings and I and our cousins, Mason’s daughters, were in our 20’s when we learned Velma died, hardly able to conduct an investigation, even if it had occurred to us to do so. Yet I remember being stunned by these three deaths within the space of six months in 1974. I had seen all three–Velma, Mason, and Florence–for a lunch in California in early January 1974 and they were fine.

I’ve felt heartsick about this chain of events for 50 years. Although my mother and I were not emotionally bonded her death had a huge negative impact on my life. I made a number of ill-advised decisions, with no adult input, and bollixed up this wonderful opportunity I had been given to go to an Ivy League college on scholarship. My time at Cornell should have been the best days of my life. Instead, I, who had been a star student, flopped around like a fish cast up on a pebbly bank, pursuing a course of study (physics) I had no talent or interest in, for sophomoric philosophical reasons prompted by my mother’s death. Part of the picture was that my father remarried in June 1974 to a woman who had four kids, two of whom were preteens, and they moved into a new house. I felt it was not my home. I did not know what I would do if I were not in school, and my dad did not want me to drop out.

I have no evidence that Velma went to Vietnam. Customs & Border Protection says no entry and exit records prior to 1982 are available. Based on her indignant call to my mother I am convinced Velma did not go and would not have participated in the illegal activity. Ironically, in CIA station chief Frank Snepp’s book Decent Interval about Saigon in 1975 during the chaos of the American evacuation, he blithely mentions shredders running full-time at the embassy. So a refusal by Velma to participate would not have held up the illegal destruction of records, anyway. Maybe chaos was even planned as cover for the records destruction, with nobody the wiser left to stop it, using the plausible-sounding excuse that the Americans didn’t want the Vietcong to have access to them. The documents probably revealed the bloody details of the Phoenix Program, the systematic assassination and torture campaign conducted by the CIA and American military, to obtain information and terrorize Vietnamese civilians on a wide scale, as described by Douglas Valentine in his books. Murder and torture, the real American legacy. Of course the Americans would want to keep that documentation from falling into Vietnamese hands.

The U.S. ambassador to Italy, one Graham Martin–who would’ve been Velma’s direct superior in Rome–in fact was appointed U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam in 1973, so there is that astonishing direct connection between the embassies in Rome and Saigon at the relevant time. Martin was accused of improperly removing official documents in the mad exodus from Vietnam, which then (he said) were in the trunk of his daughter’s car in North Carolina when the car was stolen and later found in a wooded area. I did a FOIA on the FBI to find out what was in those boxes, and FBI said there were no documents recovered. (NC Highway Patrol said any records they might’ve found would’ve been destroyed.) I found the daughter, Janet, and called her. She laughed about the theft.

I got Henry Kissinger’s residence phone number. I called it and the phone was answered by a woman who sounded old and feeble. I realized this must be Nancy, who now is 88. She said Dr. Kissinger (97) was sick and directed me to a person at his office, who was not there when I called; the woman who answered gave me the contact person’s email address, and I wrote her twice, but she has never responded. Nice blocking system they’ve put in place.

Anyway, I have this mental grab bag with little pieces of paper in it, each bearing a single clue, some of which stick together when I try to examine them; but they lead to only dead ends and dead people, while eternity closes in around all of us. How I wish I had had the sense and maturity to get on this investigation sooner in my life.

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Emy, Ross (holding Hugh), Florence, and Velma Prouty, in Mexico City, probably January 1944. Ross (“Roswell W. Prouty”), my grandfather, was a mining engineer who also worked for the Dept. of State in Mexico City, as Minerals Attache.

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