What Happened to Dorothy Hunt? How Did Howard Hunt’s Wife Die?

Image Credit: Phil Caruso/HBO

Portrayed by Lena Headey, Dorothy Hunt is arguably the most fascinating character in ‘White House Plumbers,’ the HBO series on the Watergate Scandal. She is the first wife of E. Howard Hunt (Woody Harrelson), and the mother to Lisa, Kevan, St. John, and David. The series depicts her as a former spy. She and Howard met while they were in China, fell in love, and got married.

As Howard becomes involved with the CRP’s (the Committee for the Re-Election of the President) attempt to spy on the DNC, he keeps her in the loop. When things start not going according to the plans, Dorothy is the first to observe that it feels like the Bay of Pigs invasion, another big blunder of Howard’s career.

The Mysterious Life and Tragic End of Dorothy Hunt

Born in Ohio on April 1, 1920, Dorothy Wetzel joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). She and Hunt reportedly met while she was posted in Shanghai, China. At some point, she was sent to Paris, France, where she served as the liaison between the American Embassy and the Economic Cooperation Administration. Dorothy and Howard later returned to the US and settled in Maryland, where they led an affluent life, even after Howard’s Bay of Pigs invasion blunder.

Dorothy died in the United Airlines Flight 553 crash in Chicago, Illinois, on December 8, 1972. According to The Washington Post, even though over 50 years have passed, it is still unclear whether foul play was involved in her death. ‘White House Plumbers’ quite accurately portrays her as a force of nature. In a taped conversation between John Dean and Nixon from February 1973, the former described Dorothy as the “the savviest woman in the world. She had the whole picture together.”

Allegations and Conspiracy Theories About Dorothy’s Death

Over the years, Dorothy’s death has been the subject of many speculations. After the crash, investigators found a packet of $100 bills totaling $10,000 inside a handbag belonging to Dorothy. Moreover, she reportedly took out a $225,000 flight insurance policy at Washington National Airport right before boarding. The Washington Post reported that Dorothy had been identified as the “paymistress,” who supplied hush money to the Watergate defendants and their families so they wouldn’t reveal sensitive information to the investigators.

In his 2007 memoir ‘American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate, and Beyond,’ Howard claimed that Dorothy was taking the money to a cousin in Chicago to invest in Howard Johnson hotels. According to H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, this was probably true. The US Congress, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the crash and ruled that it was caused by pilot error.

In ‘American Spy,’ Howard writes in detail how his wife met a man identifying as Mr. Rivers, who told her to gather information on the monthly expenses and attorney fees of everyone who had been arrested. Dorothy followed the instructions but later found the money she received was considerably less than the agreed-upon figure.

Howard writes that his wife grew dissatisfied “at the role she had been asked to undertake by Mr. Rivers. It was he who had solicited budget figures from her; they had been agreed to, yet the payments had never been fully met. Now Dorothy was dealing with a friend of Mr. Rivers,’ and she felt that with the election won, the White House would be less inclined to live up to its assurances. Moreover, she had the lingering feeling that because she was a woman, her representations were given less weight than those of a man – myself, for example.

For these reasons, she suggested that I call Colson and attempt to explain the situation to him. On instructions of Mr. Rivers, she had given specific financial assurances to the Miami defendants, but the money had been only partially forthcoming. And their lawyer was making disquieting sounds.” This prompted Howard to reach out to Charles Colson, Director of the Office of Public Liaison, and underscore why they need the money.

After his release, Howard relocated to Miami, Florida, where he met Laura, a schoolteacher. He was about 60 years old at the time. They got married and had two children together, Austin and Hollis. He died on January 23, 2007, of pneumonia. In 2015, St. John published a book titled, ‘Dorothy, “An Amoral and Dangerous Woman”: The Murder of E. Howard Hunt’s Wife – Watergate’s Darkest Secret,” in which he reportedly claimed the CIA killed his mother.

Read More: Was E. Howard Hunt Involved in the JFK Assassination?