Ellen Rometsch

Ellen Rometsch

Ellen Rometsch was born in Kleinitz, Germany, in 1936. At the end of the Second World War Kleinitz became part of East Germany. Romesch joined the Communist Party Youth Group.

In 1955 Rometsch fled to West Germany. Her first marriage ended in divorce. Her second marriage was to Rolf Rometsch, a sergeant in the West German air force. On 6th April 1961 she arrived in the United States with her husband who had been assigned to his country's military mission in Washington.

While living in Washington she became a regular visitor to the Quorum Club. This was a private club in the Carroll Arms Hotel on Capitol Hill that had been established by Bobby Baker. As Baker pointed out in Wheeling and Dealing its "membership was comprised of senators, congressmen, lobbyists, Capitol Hill staffers, and other well-connecteds who wanted to enjoy their drinks, meals, poker games, and shared secrets in private accommodations".

In 1961 Bill Thompson, a close friend of President John F. Kennedy, met with Baker. According to Anthony Summers (Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover) Thompson asked Baker if he would arrange a meeting between Romesch and Kennedy. Baker later said that: "He (Kennedy) sent back word it was the best time he ever had in his life. That was not the only time. She saw him on other occasions. It went on for a while."

J. Edgar Hoover received information that Kennedy was having a relationship with Rometsch. In July 1963 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents questioned Romesch about her past. They came to the conclusion that she was probably a Soviet spy. Hoover actually leaked information to the journalist, Courtney Evans, that Romesch worked for Walter Ulbricht, the communist leader of East Germany. When Robert Kennedy was told about this information, he ordered her to be deported.

The FBI had discovered that there were several women at the Quorum Club who had been involved in relationships with leading politicians. This included both John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. It was particularly worrying that this included Mariella Novotny and Suzy Chang. This was a problem because they both had connections to communist countries and had been named as part of the spy ring that had trapped John Profumo, the British war minister, a few months earlier. President Kennedy told J. Edgar Hoover that he "personally interested in having this story killed".

Hoover refused and leaked the information to Clark Mollenhoff. On 26th October he wrote an article in The Des Moines Register claiming that the FBI had "established that the beautiful brunette had been attending parties with congressional leaders and some prominent New Frontiersmen from the executive branch of Government... The possibility that her activity might be connected with espionage was of some concern, because of the high rank of her male companions". Mollenhoff claimed that John Williams "had obtained an account" of Rometsch's activity and planned to pass this information to the Senate Rules Committee, the body investigating Bobby Baker.

The following day Robert Kennedy sent La Verne Duffy to West Germany to meet Rometsch. In exchange for a great deal of money she agreed to sign a statement formally "denying intimacies with important people." Kennedy now contacted Hoover and asked him to persuade the Senate leadership that the Senate Rules Committee investigation of this story was "contrary to the national interest". He also warned on 28th October that other leading members of Congress would be drawn into this scandal and so was "contrary to the interests of Congress, too".

J. Edgar Hoover had a meeting with Mike Mansfield, the Democratic leader of the Senate and Everett Dirksen, the Republican counterpart. What was said at this meeting has never been released. However, as a result of the meeting that took place in Mansfield's home the Senate Rules Committee decided not to look into the Rometsch scandal.

Primary Sources

(1) Russell Kirk, Political Errors at the End of the Twentieth Century (1991)

During the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, probably the richest man in the Senate was the most corrupt of senators: Kerr of Oklahoma, whose devious enriching ways are candidly described by his lieutenant, Bobby Baker, in the latter scoundrel's memoirs. To perceive how deep in peculation was President Johnson himself, assisted by his agents Bobby Baker and Billy Sol Estes, one may turn to the recent memoirs of a Republican of integrity, Senator Carl Curtis, entitled Forty Years Against the Tide.

(2) FBI memo (26th October, 1963)

Information has been developed that pertains to possible questionable activities on the part of high government officials. It was also alleged that the President and the Attorney General had availed themselves of services of playgirls.

(3) Time Magazine (6th March, 1964)

Had Bobby Baker provided entertainment facilities for persons doing business with the Government, "and by entertainment facilities I refer to personnel, including party girls"?

There has been no testimony that Baker himself was involved in supplying party girls, although several of his Washington pals have been described as practitioners of the so-called "get-a-contract-with-a-girl" form of business promotion.

Had Baker been involved in deportation proceedings against one Ellen Rometsch?

Ellen Rometsch, a party girl of peculiar tastes, was sent back home to West Germany last summer after the FBI began investigating her sex habits. "Elly" is remembered as a sometime hostess at the Quorum Club, a Washington watering spot for lobbyists and Congressmen that Baker helped organize. Though Baker, as well as other men about Washington, probably breathed a sigh of relief when Elly left, he apparently had no part in getting her deported. She was subsequently divorced by her West German army sergeant husband on grounds of "conduct contrary to matrimonial rules."

(4) G. R. Schreiber, The Bobby Baker Affair (1964)

There was a great deal of going and coming at the townhouse, and there were parties inside and out back on the patio, but the parties were circumspect and there were no complaints from the neighbors. One of the guests who came over for parties was statuesque, twenty seven-year-old Mrs. Ellen Rometsch, wife of a West German army sergeant who was assigned to the German Military Mission in Washington. The curve some brunette arrived in the United States in April, 1961, with her husband and their three-year-old son. They rented a $200 a month brick house in North Arlington, Virginia, not far from the Washington Golf and Country Club. But Elly Rometsch spent very little time at home-especially after she discovered the Quorum Club.

The Quorum was an intimate drinking and eating spot hidden away on the second floor of the Carlton Arms Hotel, just across the street from the Senate office buildings. It was founded in 1961, the year Elly Rometsch arrived from West Germany. One of the Quorum Club's incorporators was Bobby's law associate, Ernest Tucker. The club's first president was Scotty Peek, Bobby's buddy, from Senator Smathers' office, and the first secretary of the club was none other than the indefatigable secretary to the senate majority, Bobby Gene Baker himself. As might be imagined, one of the members was North American Aviation's man in Washington, Fred B. Black, Jr. Another was Melpar's president, Ed Bostick. The membership of the club, all male, included many of Washington's top lobbyists, four Democratic Senators, two Republican congressmen, two top level aides to President Lyndon Johnson, several big business executives, and a smattering of congressional staff administrators from both political parties.

When a girl is new in town, as Elly Rometsch was, the Quorum Club could provide a springboard to a number of levels in Washington society including the sportier ones. Elly got herself a job as one of the Club's waitresses. Clad in a scanty black skin-tight uniform, with black mesh hose, the West German beauty compared favorably with the nude painting which adorned the plush back bar. Whether it was the Quorum Club outfit or her natural endowments, or both, Elly began moving in a real swinging set. Once, at least, she went along with Bobby and Nancy Carole and Paul Aguirre, a friend from Puerto Rico, on a jaunt to New Orleans.

The chief counsel for the Senate Rules Committee said that Bobby's Puerto Rican friend told committee investigators that if he were "asked anything about what took place [on the trip to New Orleans] he would take all the amendments, from 1 to 28." The Rules Committee did not call Paul Aguirre, but Senator Hugh Scott reported on some of what the Puerto Rican told the committee's investigators. "Mr. Aguirre admitted that Baker brought Carole Tyler and Ellen Rometsch with him from Washington to New Orleans on the May, 1963, trip."

(5) Seymour Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot (1997)

Bobby Kennedy soon had more on his mind than the Journal American and its uncooperative reporters. On July 3 Hoover informed him of yet another allegation about his brother-one involving Ellen Rometsch. Hoover reported, according to a summary written by Courtney Evans to an assistant FBI director, that a sometime bureau informant had spent time with Rometsch and been told that she was having "illicit relations with highly placed governmental officials." That phrase, Evans and Bobby Kennedy had to assume, included the president. There was an ominous new factor in Hoover's revelation, however: "Rometsch is alleged," Evans quoted Hoover as saying, "to be from East Germany and to have formerly worked for Walter Ulbricht," the communist leader of East Germany. The Profumo affair had arrived in Washington.

Bobby Kennedy quickly sought to minimize the report, telling Evans that "he was appreciative of the Director's sending this information to him on a confidential basis, and there always are allegations about prominent people that they are either homosexuals or promiscuous." But the attorney general was anything but casual about Hoover's allegation. "It was noted," Evans said in a memorandum to Hoover, "that the AG made particular note of Rometsch's name." Bobby Kennedy also expressed "his appreciation," Evans said, for the FBI's discretion in handling the matter.

That summer, the FBI's counterintelligence division opened an investigation into Rometsch as a possible spy. "I knew the allegations," Raymond Wannell, head of FBI counterintelligence, said in a 1997 interview for this book. "I knew it was a serious matter. I didn't know if they were proved" or disproved.

The Kennedy brothers did not wait for the FBI's report. On August 21, 1963, Rometsch was abruptly deported to Germany, at the official request of the State Department. She was escorted home by LaVern Duffy, one of Bobby Kennedy's associates from his days on the Senate Rackets Committee; the two flew to Germany on a U.S. Air Force transport plane. There are no known records documenting her departure, according to the State Department. Rolf Rometsch left the country a few days later; he was granted a divorce in late September on grounds of his wife's "relations with other men."

Duffy, a lifelong bachelor who died in 1992, had been dating Rometsch for months before she was deported; he was seen having drinks with her in the summer of 1963 at the Quorum Club. It was that connection, apparently, that prompted Bobby Kennedy to ask for Duffy's help in getting Rometsch out of Washington and in keeping her quiet. There is much evidence that Rometsch and Duffy were in love. Over the next few months, Rometsch sent Duffy a series of passionate letters, expressing her deep feelings about him - and also thanking him for sending her money. One of Rometsch's letters, dated April 8, 1964, and made available for this book, urged Duffy to send her money by personal check rather than by money order. "Which way you send it is up to you," Rometsch wrote in her fractured English. "The bank is telling me that it would be more easy for them and the money would be fester in my hands if you should make up a check payable to me. You ask your Bank about it. It was not clear whether Rometsch was referring to a token gift from Duffy or a substantial transfer of funds.

(6) Telephone conversation between Lyndon B. Johnson and George Smathers. They are talking about attempts by Carl Curtis, John Williams and Hugh Scott to get the Senate Rules Committee to investigate the Bobby Baker and Ellen Rometsch scandal. (10th January, 1964)

Lyndon Johnson: Have you heard about this tape recording that's out?

George Smathers: No.

Lyndon Johnson: Well, it involves you and John Williams and a number of other people.

George Smathers: You mean, some woman?

Lyndon Johnson: Yep.

George Smathers: Yeah, I've heard about it. And it involves Hugh Scott.

Lyndon Johnson: But it's a pure made-up deal, isn't it?

George Smathers: I don't know what it is. I never heard of the woman in my life... But she mentions President Kennedy in there.

Lyndon Johnson: Oh yeah, and the Attorney General (Robert Kennedy) and me and you and everybody. And I never heard of her.

George Smathers: Thank God, they've got Hugh Scott in there. He's the guy that was asking for it. But she's also mentioned him, (laughs) which is sort of a lifesaver. So I don't think that'll get too far now. (Everett) Jordan's orders.

Lyndon Johnson: Can't you talk to him? Why in the living hell does he let Curtis run him? I thought you were going to talk to Dick Russell and go talk to Curtis and make Dirksen and them behave.

George Smathers: Jordan has assured me over and over again.

Lyndon Johnson: Well, he's not strong enough though, unless someone goes and tells him now.

George Smathers: That's right. Now Dick Russell is the man that ought to do it. And I've asked Dick to do it and Dick has told me that he would....

Lyndon Johnson: They had this damned fool insurance man, in and they had him in a secret session and Bobby (Baker) gave me a record player and Bobby got the record player from the insurance man (Don Reynolds). I didn't know a damned thing about it. Never heard of it till this happened. But I paid $88,000 worth of premiums and, by God, they could afford to give me a Cadillac if they'd wanted to and there'd have been not a goddamned thing wrong with it.... There's nothing wrong with it. There's not a damned thing wrong. So Walter Jenkins explained it all in his statement. This son of a bitch Curtis comes along and says, well, he wouldn't take any statements not sworn to. They had their counsel come down and Walter Jenkins handled it, told him exactly what was done.... A fellow said Manhattan is the only company that would write on a heart attack man.... Bobby said, "Hell now, wait, let my man handle it and he'll get a commission off of it." So we said all right... Now he said - Walter - "I'll swear to it." "No, I want a public hearing so I can put it on television." Now that oughtn't to be. Now George, I ought not to have to get into that personally.

George Smathers: Absolutely not.... And Dick Russell has got to exercise his influence. He must do this and I think you've got to talk to him about it and just say you've got to do it. I'll talk to Jordan. Jordan thinks I'm guilty of something. So he thinks I may be covering up trying to protect myself. Hubert has been really good in this and, believe it or not, Joe Clark' has finally gotten the picture and he's trying to stop it now. But Hugh Scott and Carl Curtis are going wild, and Jordan doesn't have enough experience or enough sense to gavel them down and shut them up. But if Dick will talk to him-really talk to him and say

Lyndon Johnson: I think he needs to talk to Curtis too. Why don't you tell Dick to do that?

George Smathers: I will. I've already talked to him.

Lyndon Johnson: I hate to call him.... Get Dick to go see Curtis in the morning and just say, "Now quit being so goddamn rambunctious about this, Carl."

George Smathers: Can I tell Dick this is not right and you know about it? And naturally it makes you apprehensive and you've got all these damn problems and to have this little nitpicking thing. It's just not fair.

Lyndon Johnson: It's not.

George Smathers: So I'll do it.

Lyndon Johnson: Tell him he's the only one can do it. And he can do it. And if he was involved I'd damned sure walk across the country and do it.

George Smathers: Exactly. All right, that's a damned good thought and I'll do it. I've already talked to him about it, but I...

Lyndon Johnson: The FBI has got that record.' Now you know I think you ought to leak it. I don't know who you can leak it to. But I've read the goddamn tax report and I've read the FBI report and there ain't a goddamn thing in it that they can even indict him on. The only thing that they can do is that he puffed up the financial statement, which everybody's done. If he pays that off, they couldn't convict him on that....

George Smathers: They won't print that 'cause I tried to leak that the day before yesterday to ... two different sources and it hasn't been printed. They just want to print this ... ugly stuff.... That Curtis is mean as a snake. (Everett) Dirksen sat in the room the night of the day after you became President with me and Humphrey and agreed that this thing ought to stop and that he would get Curtis to stop it. ... You know, there's some statement about Dirksen and Kuchel with this German girl.' So he said, "It is just ridiculous and it ought to stop." I think we can handle everybody on our side. Howard Cannon is the smartest fellow over there, but he's a little afraid to do anything because he himself figures he was involved out in Las Vegas. So he's a little afraid to be as brave as he ought to be. ... I'll tell Dick this. I've already told him once, but

Lyndon Johnson: Tell him he ought to talk to Dirksen and Curtis both. Please do it, and also Jordan. He's just got his work cut out Monday 'cause they're going to meet Tuesday and they're going to want a public hearing.' And then that's a television hearing, and then a television hearing about my buying some insurance. And what in the goddamn hell is wrong with my buying insurance? I paid cash for it, wrote them a check for it, made my company the beneficiary, and they didn't deduct it. No tax deduction. We'll do it after we pay our taxes. We pay the premium-only reason being if I died, my wife would have to pay estate tax on me on account of she'd have to sell her stock and they want the company to have some money to buy her stock so she doesn't have to lose control of her company.