Mariella Novotny

Mariella Novotny

Mariella Novotny was born in London in 1942. Her father was born in Czechoslovakia. According to Christine Keeler, her real name was Stella Capes but she changed it to Mariella Novotny because it "had a more whiplash ring to it." She also claimed that she was the niece of the former President of Czechoslovakia.

After the death of her father she became a striptease dancer to support her widowed mother. Novotny also worked as a prostitute in London. Christine Keeler later recalled: "She had a tiny waist that exaggerated her ample figure. She was a siren, a sexual athlete of Olympian proportions - she could do it all. I know. I saw her in action. She knew all the strange pleasures that were wanted and could deliver them."

In 1959 Novotny began a relationship with Horace Dibben, a wealthy antique dealer and nightclub owner. He was 36 years her senior. She told a friend that: "I've met a lot of rich men in my time as a dancer, but none has shown me the care, love and attention that Hod (Dibben) has."

On 29th January 1960 she married Dibben at Caxton Hall. The journalist, Philip Knightley, reported that: "As one hundred guests drank champagne at Dibben's West End club, The Black Sheep, and cut slices from an 18-tiered wedding cake, Dibben announced that he had given Mariella a 20-room, sixteenth-century mansion in Sussex and a luxury flat in Eaton Place for a wedding present. Her engagement ring was a 200-year-old diamond and sapphire antique."

Horace Dibben and Mariella Novotny
Horace Dibben and Mariella Novotny

In 1960 she travelled to the United States with Suzy Chang. It is believed that both girls worked at the Quorum Club in Washington, run by Bobby Baker, and became involved in relationships with leading politicians. This included both John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. Recently released FBI files claim that Stephen Ward was involved in supplying these girls. The FBI investigation also suggested that a "Hungarian madam in New York" was also involved in what was called the "Bowtie" case.

In December 1960 a television producer called Harry Alan Towers, invited Novotny to join him in New York City. She later told a friend that "I wanted to be famous and show my mother that I could make a go of life myself."

Novotny was arrested on 3rd March 1961 by the FBI. Novotny was charged with soliciting. Three days later Towers was charged with violation of the White Slave Traffic Act, alleging that he had transported Novotny from England to New York for the purpose of prostitution.

On 31st May 1961 Novotny boarded the Cunard liner, Queen Mary, using the false name of Mrs R. Tyson. By the time the ship reached Southampton, the British immigration authorities had received word from the FBI that Tyson was really Mariella Novotny and that she was wanted in the United States in a "sex-for-sale" case which involved men in "high elective office in the United States government."

The FBI case against Novotny and Harry Alan Towers was eventually dropped. Novotny returned to running sex parties in London. So many senior politicians attended that she began referring to herself as the "government's Chief Whip". As well as British politicians such as John Profumo and Ernest Marples, foreign leaders such as Willy Brandt and Ayub Khan, attended these parties.

In December 1961 Novotny held a party that became known as the "Feast of Peacocks". According to Christine Keeler, there was "a lavish dinner in which this man wearing only... a black mask with slits for eyes and laces up the back... and a tiny apron - one like the waitresses wore in 1950s tearooms - asked to be whipped if people were not happy with his services."

In her autobiography, Mandy (1980) Mandy Rice-Davies described what happened when she arrived at Novotny's party in Bayswater: "The door was opened by Stephen (Ward) - naked except for his socks... All the men were naked, the women naked except for wisps of clothing like suspender belts and stockings. I recognised our host and hostess, Mariella Novotny and her husband Horace Dibbins, and unfortunately I recognised too a fair number of other faces as belonging to people so famous you could not fail to recognise them: a Harley Street gynaecologist, several politicians, including a Cabinet minister of the day, now dead, who, Stephen told us with great glee, had served dinner of roast peacock wearing nothing but a mask and a bow tie instead of a fig leaf."

On 14th December 1962, John Edgecombe, fired a gun at Stephen Ward's Wimpole Mews flat, where Keeler had been visiting her friend, Mandy Rice-Davies. Edgecombe was arrested and three months later he was jailed for seven years for having a gun with intent to endanger life. National newspapers reported that Keeler did not appear in court as the main prosecution witness and was believed to have fled the country.

On 21st March, George Wigg asked the Home Secretary in a debate on the John Vassall affair in the House of Commons, to deny rumours relating to Christine Keeler and the John Edgecombe case. Richard Crossman then commented that Paris Match magazine intended to publish a full account of Keeler's relationship with John Profumo, the Minister of War, in the government. Barbara Castle also asked questions if Keeler's disappearance had anything to do with Profumo.

The following day Profumo made a statement attacking the Labour Party MPs for making allegations about him under the protection of Parliamentary privilege, and after admitting that he knew Keeler he stated: "I have no connection with her disappearance. I have no idea where she is." He added that there was "no impropriety in their relationship" and that he would not hesitate to issue writs if anything to the contrary was written in the newspapers.

As a result of this statement the newspapers decided not to print anything about Profumo and Keeler for fear of being sued for libel. However, George Wigg refused to let the matter drop and on 25th May, 1963, once again raised the issue of Keeler, saying this was not an attack on Profumo's private life but a matter of national security.

On 5th June, John Profumo resigned as War Minister. His statement said that he had lied to the House of Commons about his relationship with Christine Keeler. The next day the Daily Mirror said: "What the hell is going on in this country? All power corrupts and the Tories have been in power for nearly twelve years."

Some newspapers called for Harold Macmillan to resign as prime minister. This he refused to do but he did ask Lord Denning to investigate the security aspects of the Profumo affair. Some of the prostitutes who worked for Stephen Ward began to sell their stories to the national press. Mandy Rice-Davies told the Daily Sketch that Christine Keeler had sexual relationships with John Profumo and Eugene Ivanov, an naval attaché at the Soviet embassy.

On 7th June, Keeler told the Daily Express of her secret "dates" with Profumo. She also admitted that she had been seeing Eugene Ivanov at the same time, sometimes on the same day, as Profumo. In a television interview Stephen Ward told Desmond Wilcox that he had warned the security services about Keeler's relationship with Profumo.

The following day Ward was arrested and charged with living off immoral earnings between 1961 and 1963. He was refused bail because it was feared that he might try to influence witnesses. Another concern was that he might provide information on the case to the media.

On 14th June, the London solicitor, Michael Eddowes, claimed that Christine Keeler told him that Eugene Ivanov had asked her to get information about nuclear weapons from Profumo. Eddowes added that he had written to Harold Macmillan to ask why no action had been taken on information he had given to Special Branch about this on 29th March. Soon afterwards Keeler told the News of the World that "I'm no spy, I just couldn't ask Jack for secrets."

The trial of Stephen Ward began at the Old Bailey on July 1963. Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, were both called as witnesses. Ward testified that he had informed MI5 about Keeler's affairs with John Profumo and Eugene Ivanov. This was denied by MI5.

Ward took an overdose of sleeping tablets on the night before the last day of the trial. He was in a coma when the jury reached their verdict of guilty of the charge of living on the immoral earnings of Keeler and Rice-Davies on Wednesday 31st July. Three days later, Ward died in St Stephen's Hospital.

In his book, The Trial of Stephen Ward (1964), Ludovic Kennedy considers the guilty verdict of Ward to be a miscarriage of justice. In An Affair of State (1987), the journalist, Philip Knightley argues: "Witnesses were pressured by the police into giving false evidence. Those who had anything favourable to say were silenced. And when it looked as though Ward might still survive, the Lord Chief Justice shocked the legal profession with an unprecedented intervention to ensure Ward would be found guilty."

At the end of the Ward trial, newspapers began reporting on the sex parties attended by Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. The Washington Star quoted Rice-Davies as saying "there was a dinner party where a naked man wearing a mask waited on table like a slave." Dorothy Kilgallen wrote an article where she stated: "The authorities searching the apartment of one of the principals in the case came upon a photograph showing a key figure disporting with a bevy of ladies. All were nude except for the gentleman in the picture who was wearing an apron. And this is a man who has been on extremely friendly terms with the very proper Queen and members of her immediate family!"

The News of the World immediately identified the hostess at the dinner party as being Mariella Novotny. Various rumours began to circulate about the name of the man who wore the mask and apron. This included John Profumo and another member of the government, Ernest Marples. Whereas another minister, Lord Hailsham, the leader of the House of Lords at the time, issued a statement saying it was not him. However, Time Magazine speculated that it was film director, Anthony Asquith, the son of former prime minister, Herbert Asquith.

Novotny refused to comment on her activities and the man in the mask remained unidentified. However, in 1971 she published a book, King's Road a Novel of London's Turned-on Jet Set. In 1974 she published several articles in Club International in which she described her affairs with several famous people.

In 1978 Novotny announced that she had started work on her autobiography which would include details of her work for MI5. In November 1980 she claimed that her book would include details of a "plot to discredit Jack Kennedy". She added, "I kept a diary of all my appointments in the UN building. Believe me, it's dynamite. It's now in the hands of the CIA."

The book never appeared. Mariella Novotny was found dead in her bed in February 1983. It was claimed by the police that she had died of a drug overdose. Christine Keeler later wrote: "The Westminster Coroner, Dr Paul Knapman, called it misadventure. Along with People in Moscow, I still think it was murder. A central figure in the strangest days of my life always believed Mariella would be killed by American or British agents, most probably by the CIA." According to Stephen Dorrel: "Shortly after her death her house was burgled and all her files and large day-to-day diaries from the early sixties to the seventies were stolen."

Primary Sources

(1) Time Magazine (1st May, 1989)

Britain's Minister of War John Profumo, husband of refined movie star Valerie Hobson, has been sharing the sexual favors of teen tart Christine Keeler with Soviet spy Eugene Ivanov . . . Keeler's blond pal Mandy Rice-Davies, 18, declared in court that she had bedded Lord Astor and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. . . . Mariella Novotny, who claims John F. Kennedy among her lovers, hosted an all-star orgy where a naked gent, thought to be film director and Prime Minister's son Anthony Asquith, implored guests to beat him . . . Osteopath and artist Stephen Ward, whose portrait subjects include eight members of the Royal Family, has been charged with pimping Keeler and Rice-Davies to his posh friends. Part of Ward's bail was reportedly posted by young financier Claus von Bulow.

(2) Christine Keeler, The Truth at Last (2001)

When the FBI investigated they were able to involve Mariella with a Hungarian madam in New York. What alarmed them further was my association with Eugene. You could see how two and two could add up to a very big number indeed with all this information. I believe the Americans were convinced that a worldwide sex-for-information network, an elaborate blackmail operation, was going on. And that the most powerful man in the world, their president, had sampled the pleasures of these female sex spies. Certainly, Bobby Kennedy did not conceal the concerns of himself and his brother.

The Bowtie files talk of Stephen's American connections such as Averell Harriman, the former US ambassador to London, and the billionaire Paul Getty. There is mention of the "Man in the Mask" party. Mariella's story was published on 29 June 1963, and she talked only of Chang and "a US government official who holds a very high elected post".

At 3.05 p.m. that same afternoon, the President's brother called Courtney Evans, a senior deputy of the FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, to tell him about the story and order an investigation. According to a memo, "the Attorney General stated that the President had expressed concern regarding this matter'. The FBI, which had been concentrating, foolishly, on the air force guys, now went all a flutter. Memos were circulated between Hoover and his deputies about the possibility of "an espionage-prostitution ring operating in England with American ramifications".

Bowtie files show that FBI agents were sent out all over America, where Suzy Chang and Mariella had worked. 'They identified Chang as Esther Sue Yan Chang, the daughter of two Chinese immigrants who lived in New York, but who had herself been refused a visa to live in America.

(3) Stephen Dorrel, Lobster (November 1983)

Maria Novotny knew little of her own background: it wasn't until this year that her husband learned her real name. Maria Stella Novotny was born on the 9th of May 1941 in Prague. Her father was brother to the President of Czechoslovakia, and they lived in the Royal palace until she was 6 years old, when the Soviet Union moved in. Because the President supported the Communists, this family tie would explain why Eddowes thought she had been chosen to destroy Kennedy. But what Eddowes didn't know was that Maria's father was actively anti-Communist. Although opposed to each other politically, the brothers remained friends, the President warning Maria's father that the Soviets were liable to arrest him, and advising him to leave the country. Instead, he joined the underground, making arrangements for Maria to leave the country with the family agent, called Rutter.

They escaped in a railway truck hiding under some corn, crossing the border into Austria. Unfortunately they ended up in the Soviet sector where they were put in a displaced persons camp.

In 1948 Maria was released, apparently through the efforts of a Mrs Capes, who had known her father when he was in England, studying at university. How this was achieved is not known, but Maria was brought to England where she lived as the daughter of Mrs Capes. When she became a teenager she went into modelling and was determined to make it into a successful career.

When only 18 she met Horace 'Hod' Dibden, then aged 57, at the Black Sheep Club in Piccadilly, which he helped run. An expert on English antiques and furniture, he had many friends on the London scene, including Stephen Ward, who he had known since the war; and, interestingly, Michael Eddowes, who had given up his solicitor's practice and become the owner of a chain of restaurants. Hod and Eddowes had known each other for twenty years.

Hod and Maria were married in January 1960. The marriage was conditional on her being allowed to carry on her own life. She appears to have been a highly intelligent, very beautiful young girl, determined to get on in the world, hoping to use Hod's contacts and money to climb the social ladder. In her personal account she claims to have been a virgin at the time, and, in reality, rather turned off by sexual relations. To her, sex was a 'game' designed to shock other people: she took her pleasure watching the reactions of people to situations she had organised. After the honeymoon they were regulars on the night club scene. One particular party in February 1960, given by an American millionaire, Huntingdon Hartford, was a turning point.

Among the guests were Stephen Ward and a more 'sinister' man, Harry Alan Towers, who claimed to be a film producer and owner of a modelling agency. Maria and Towers didn't meet at the party, but Towers must have recognised her: four days later a letter arrived suggesting a meeting at Claridges to discuss some possible modelling work. The letter was actually signed by Tower's mother, Margaret, who Novotny claims had an extraordinary influence over him, and from whom he took his instructions. At the meeting Towers was brisk to the point of rudeness. He told her that he could make her a top television model doing commercials in America. Although she didn't like Towers, she found it difficult to turn down the contract, which offered upwards of $50,000 a year.

Over the next days the contract was sorted out and Maria was introduced to some of Towers' friends, one of whom tried to have sex with her in Paris. Towers, over the next year, made no sexual advances towards Maria but didn't mind pushing his friends on her. She signed to Towers' modelling agency and he gave her a large deposit. The day she left for New York Stephen Ward went to a dinner party with her at which he made some sketches of her. Maria claimed that Ward and Towers knew each other. To Eddowes this provided a link between the Kennedy and Profumo episodes. Hod also thought that Ward and Towers knew each other at this time.

Towers flew ahead a few days earlier and met Maria at what became Kennedy Airport. Almost immediately they were arguing with each other, and Maria became doubly suspicious of him when he told her to sign a hotel register as Maria Novotny. Up til then she had been known as Maria Chapman, Hod's family name. Towers insisted that while she was in America she should use Novotny. What else, she thought, did Towers know of her background?

At first her modelling career went well and they went to the usual round of parties. But it seems that modelling offers were the result of her sleeping with television producers. After two weeks Towers arranged a lunch for her with Peter Lawford, the brother-in-law of President John Kennedy. Towers claimed that it would do her modelling career good if she got to know Kennedy. Maria didn't see the connection at the time; it was only later that she realised that Towers had engineered the meeting for other purposes. On reflection, it spelt blackmail to Maria and Eddowes.

Unknown to her at the time she was scheduled to be the replacement for Simone McQueen, a TV weather forecaster, who had just finished with Kennedy. Lawford took her to parties and she briefly met Kennedy at one and arranged to meet him again. They were more intimate at a party where the singer, Vic Damone, was the host. She was introduced to Kennedy and almost immediately shown into a bedroom where she went to bed with him. They weren't gone very long before there was a commotion in the main room. Damone's Asian girlfriend had made an unsuccessful suicide attempt and had been found in the bathroom with her wrists slashed. The apartment quickly emptied, Kennedy disappearing with a bodyguard and his associates.

The incident was hushed up. The quick departure may have had something to do with the fact that, according to Maria, one of J. Edgar Hoover' s men was known to attend these parties. Word would have quickly reached Hoover who would have no doubt added it to his files on the Kennedy brothers.

Maria continued to see Kennedy and his brother, Robert, though I doubt that there is much truth in the published accounts of her relationship with Robert. Her own account rarely mentions him - or, for that matter, the sensational claims of her involvement with UN officials. The latter appears to have involved Towers' other girls.

At the end of the year Hod arrived in New York to buy antiques. At this time Maria had had enough of Towers. Her modelling career was nowhere in sight. She decided to leave Towers and move into Hod's apartment near the UN building. Towers was extremely angry and determined to make her stay in his flat. But as he was commuting between London and New York at this time, he had little real control over her. She moved in with Hod.

During this period when Towers would later be accused of running a vice-ring at the UN building, he was in constant touch with his mother - and one other person, Leslie Chateris.