I Stole the Head of Prescott Bush! More Scary Skull and Bones Tales

What if I told you I’d stolen the skull of Prescott Bush, George W.’s grandfather? Snuck up to the Bush family burial plot in the depths of the night, dug up the coffin, cracked it open, yanked the skull off the skeleton and slipped away with it. How would you react? How would George W. Bush react?

I raise these questions to put in perspective the allegations against George W. Bush’s secret society, Skull and Bones, allegations that link the society and Governor Bush’s grandfather to the practice of grave robbing. I raise these questions to help put in perspective the bizarre-yet-true moment when George W. Bush’s uncle sought to offer the skull of a young child to an Apache tribal official in an apparent attempt to hush up a potential Bush family scandal. Should this skeleton in the Bush closet that was , in fact, part of a skeleton, be an issue in the Presidential campaign?

It seems like the grave-robbing allegation just will not die. A new source has come forward to substantiate a previous allegation involving Bush family patriarch Prescott Bush and to broaden the charge from one skull-snatching to a secret-society-wide Skull and Bones practice. And the source has added a further allegation: license-plate stealing. All of which paints a picture of a grave-robbing, plate-stealing crime spree of the privileged elite. Practices, including those of his own grandfather, candidate George W. should be called upon to disclaim or defend.

The new source, whom I’ll call (what else?) “Deep Skull,” came forward in response to my appeal in the pages of The Observer recently (“Inside George W.’s Secret Crypt,” March 27.) I had made a public appeal to the women of the legendary Skull and Bones all-girl break-in team. These were the intrepid women who had in the late 70’s slipped illicitly inside the sanctum sanctorum of the blue blood Old Boys network, the forbidding, windowless Egyptian-style crypt on the Yale campus in New Haven which Skull and Bones initiates call “the Tomb.”

Two decades ago, one of the all-girl break-in team’s confederates had shown me the pictures taken inside the Tomb during the break-in. And very fetching pictures they were, one of my favorite being a kind of mock pajama party featuring two of the break-in team in Laura Ashley-like nightclothes and one in men’s pajamas clustered around the base of the Skull and Bones grandfather clock, which featured a skeleton hanging inside the glass pendulum case. One bare toe nudging an actual skull.

For strictly journalistic reasons, I was hoping one of these brave women would come forward and supply to me the photos of their successful raid on the crypt of the secret society that has for nearly two centuries shaped the character of the men who shaped the American character. You know the roll call: The pajama-clad ninjas were lounging in a place that had been the secret retreat of Presidents such as William Howard Taft and George Bush; Supreme Court Justices such as Potter Stewart; Secretaries of State such as Henry Stimson; diplomatic mandarins such as Averell Harriman and Robert Lovett; National Security advisers (and Bay of Pigs planners and Vietnam war architects) such as William and McGeorge Bundy; Senators such as Cooper, Chafee, Boren and Kerry, to name just a few; publishing magnates with names like Luce and Cowles; C.I.A. recruits William F. Buckley and William Sloane Coffin. There in the bowels of the Skull and Bones Tomb, to the accompaniment of occult male bonding rituals that involved baring their souls and, some say, their bodies, they’d spill their guts to each other, share their sexual histories together … and rob skulls together?

That was the question raised again by Deep Skull. She’s a woman who was surreptitiously taken into the Tomb, contacted me, and her story is even more provocative because she was taken into the Tomb by an initiate–an unheard-of breach of the bloodcurdling vows of secrecy the Skull and Bones society demands of its members.

She was taken inside and was not only given a tour but given the secrets, which she has now passed on to me. But before we get to the question of stolen skulls, let me get to the story of the allegedly stolen license plates that I think helps put the grave-robbing charge against George W.’s society (and his grandfather) in context.

In my previous Observer piece on Skull and Bones, I’d spoken of the “the Room with the License Plates of Many States.” I’d spoken of it in a kind of tongue-in-cheek way as a kind of corrective to all the grand conspiracy theories that have made the Tomb of Skull and Bones the epicenter of the Hidden Hand that secretly rules the world. My point was that the power of Skull and Bones was far from hidden–it was out there, in your face. I mean, even with the decline of the traditional WASP establishment, they stand a good chance of getting two initiates into the White House in a single decade. My point was also to counterbalance the focus on the deep WASP voodoo, the overlay of exotic and occult rituals that initiates, future presidents, all had to undergo: the stories of the nude mud wrestling, the naked coffin sexual confessionals, the close encounters with guys from Greenwich and Locust Valley dressed up as skeletons–all the mumbo jumbo of crypto-Masonic homosocial (if not homoerotic) bonding rituals.

And so I pointed instead to the photographs the break-in team had shown me of “the Room with the License Plates of Many States,” as I dubbed it: “The kind of thing you’d expect to find in some second-tier midwestern frat house. A wall covered with a bunch of license plates. Gee, look at all the places the brothers have been! Get me a brewski!” But now I’m beginning to think I may have underestimated the true significance of the Room with the License Plates of Many States. Now I think it may, in fact, be the key to understanding the Skull and Bones mindset. What changed my mind was my encounter with Deep Skull, who sent me the following missive, some of whose identifying details I’ve removed:

“In the late 1970’s I had a boyfriend who was tapped [for Bones] although he didn’t really fit the profile because he seemed a bit of a loser in the way of a John O’Hara character … Anyway, he took me inside … Alas, I didn’t pay very close attention because perhaps not being a Yalie … I didn’t know what the big deal was, but in regard to the license plate room which was a kind of a foyer or mud room to the right of the entrance I seem to recall that the reason for the plates was that they all bore the numbers 322 [the mythical date of the founding of the Skull and Bones “order,” which traces itself to the death of Demosthenes in 322 B.C.], and that it was the obligation of the S&B boys to confiscate such plates when spotted … If I can be of any further assistance feel free to contact me at the above address and phone number.”

Needless to say, I did contact her. She is a well-regarded professional whose work has been praised by some well-known cultural figures, and she told me, on condition of anonymity, much more that was fascinating about her penetration of the sanctum of Skull and Bones–but let’s dwell for a moment on the license plates. No, it’s not the Bay of Pigs (we’ll get to the curious Skull and Bones connection to that tragedy in a moment). But it’s more than trivial. It’s a lesson in the immunity that privilege can confer. Say you’re an inner-city kid, not shielded by privilege, who’s sent to jail for a similar “confiscation.” It’s not trivial to you.

And come to think about it, what about all those judges, all those lawyers and legislators who pass through the Room with the “Confiscated” License Plates of Many States, the ones who are sworn to uphold the law, the ones who sentence kids to jail for thefts when they’re not protected by the shield of privilege and the padlocked doors of the Skull and Bones Tomb? Skull and Bones is supposed to be the place where the best and brightest of the elite and privileged develop character and breeding. But the practice of “confiscating” plates would suggest it breeds the kind of character with a contempt for the law, except when it’s applied to the transgressions of the lower orders.

Whose Child Do They Have?

Now let’s examine the controversy over the confiscated skulls to see if what we now know about confiscated plates can illuminate the question of confiscated pates, so to speak.

Consider first the prevalence of death, grave, skeleton and skull imagery at the heart of the psychic bonding ritual that has made Skull and Bones such a powerful influence on people like George W.

The skeletal grave-digging imagery of Skull and Bones was there from the 1832 beginning, imported from Germany by Skull and Bones founder General Alfred Russell, who seems to have adopted much of the iconography and death’s-head philosophy from the German Lodges of Freemasonry. The Germanic influence on Skull and Bones may have extended to some less savory secret societies than the Freemasons. Hitler’s SS was, of course, known for using skull-and-crossbones insignia, which some say derived from the same German Masonic sources–a connection that, according to one report, has not gone unrecognized by the initiates of “the Order.” Back in 1989, noted author, editor and raconteur Steven L. Aronson published an essay on Skull and Bones that quoted a member of what seems to be the same all-girl break-in team.

“The most shocking thing,” the source told Mr. Aronson, “and I say this because I do think it’s sort of important–I mean President Bush does belong to Skull and Bones … there is like a little Nazi shrine inside. One room on the second floor has a bunch of swastikas, kind of an SS macho Nazi iconography. Somebody should ask President Bush about the swastikas in there.”

Out of fairness it’s possible to conceive that what this woman saw was captured Nazi memorabilia rather than a shrine–several secret societies at Yale are said to boast of possessing Hitler’s silverware, for instance. But that does not appear to be the impression this woman got. And so her suggestion–”Somebody should ask President Bush about the swastikas in there”–might be just as relevant to George W., who would know about the nature of the “shrine” she describes.

On Sunday, two days before The Observer went to press, I faxed a detailed summary of the questions raised in this story to Bush press aide Dan Bartlett, and asked for comment by press time, midday Tuesday. No reply was forthcoming.

Now let’s proceed to the relationship between the Bush family and the skull of Geronimo–and the skull of an unidentified child. One of the sensational disclosures Deep Skull made to me, one of the secrets vouchsafed to her by the initiate who took her into the Tomb, was about the role of the skulls that decorate the inner walls of the Tomb.

Once having passed the Room with the (“Confiscated”) License Plates of Many States, she said, upon entering the main room of the Tomb, she noticed mantelpieces decorated with “loads of skulls.” Human skulls, each bearing a name plate. Her attention was immediately drawn, by her initiate escort, to what she described as a kind of “aquarium-like glass case filled with what looked like turquoise chips” surmounted by a skull. A skull she said was identified by her guide as the skull of a great Native American warrior. She recalled it as Cochise, but says after 20 years that it could well have been Geronimo.

Her initiate guide explained to her, she told me, that in order to prove their mettle and perhaps to bond them in mutual guilt over participation in an illicit act, each class of 15 new initiates to Skull and Bones were required to dig up, to “confiscate,” the skull of a famous person and bring it to the Tomb to be enshrined in its skull collection. It makes you wonder what other famous dead people are missing their skulls.

Here’s where the Bush family involvement in the grave-robbing allegation begins. In 1986, someone–a still-anonymous unknown source–sent an excerpt from a privately printed Skull and Bones document to the chairman of the San Carlos Apache tribe in Arizona, one Ned Anderson. The document was entitled A Continuation of the History of Our Order for the Century Celebration . Its author, I have since learned, was Skull and Bones member F.O. Matthiessen, later a Harvard professor renowned for his groundbreaking studies of classic 19th-century American literature. I’ve also learned that the original of the document reposes now in a Harvard library where, under an agreement with Matthiessen’s executors and Skull and Bones, it is not available to the public.

The document is an account of a “mad expedition” by George W.’s grandfather Prescott Bush and two other Skull and Bones men to the grave of Geronimo “to bring to the Tomb its most spectacular ‘crook,’ the skull of Geronimo, the Indian chief who had taken 49 white scalps. … [Prescott] Bush entered and started to dig. The skull was fairly clean, having only some flesh inside and a little hair.”

I was recently able to confirm, from a copy of an official Skull and Bones directory (whose provenance I can’t disclose), that in fact George W.’s grandfather Prescott was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, site of Geronimo’s tomb, in 1918 at the U.S. Army artillery training school there, along with Ellery James and Neil Mallon, the other two men mentioned as part of the tomb-raiding party.

Note the language: They say they’ll bring back to the Tomb “its most spectacular ‘crook.'” Which suggests that the Tomb contains an array of other somewhat less spectacular but similarly stolen skulls. In fact, shortly after the Geronimo-skull story appeared in print, and after Ned Anderson, the Apache tribal leader, had enlisted the aid of his senator, John McCain, to try to set up a meeting with then Vice President George Bush, another allegation about a similar raid for “crook” skulls surfaced. A group of men in El Paso claimed to have proof that, back in 1923, five Skull and Bones men put up a total of $25,000 to pay for the acquisition of the skull of Pancho Villa. Mark Singer investigated the El Paso-Pancho Villa skull-robbery allegation for The New Yorker in 1989 and ended up somewhat skeptical, as am I.

But in the course of his highly diverting account of the Pancho Villa skull claim, Mr. Singer lets drop an astonishing detail about the parallel Geronimo skull-recovery attempt: a remarkable report of a face-to-face, indeed face-to-skull, meeting between the Apache tribal representative, Ned Anderson, and representatives of Skull and Bones, including George Bush’s brother Jonathan!

According to Mr. Singer, Endicott Peabody Davison, a lawyer described as a designated spokesman for the Russell Trust Association, the Skull and Bones corporate shell, described the “Century Celebration” grave-robbing document as authentic–but the raid itself “apocryphal.” Nonetheless, “in 1986 [Davison] and other representatives of Skull and Bones–among them George Bush’s brother Jonathan–met with Anderson. They brought a skull and offered it to Anderson, but he declined because it seemed not to be the same one he had seen in photographs surreptitiously provided by an anonymous dissident member of Bones. The nose and eye cavities didn’t match. Also Anderson took offense at a document that Davison wanted him to sign, which stipulated that neither the Apaches nor Skull and Bones would publicly discuss the whole business.”

I was fascinated by this account: Soon to be President Bush’s brother offering the Apaches a skull their father was said to have stolen! Demanding the Apaches be sworn to silence presumably to protect the Bush family as well as Bones. But looking further into the episode I found an even more extraordinary detail about that face-to-skull meeting: the Skull of the Unknown Child. It appeared in an earlier account of the Geronimo controversy that first ran in 1988 in the Arizona Republic . In it, Republic reporter Paul Brinkley-Rogers reveals another fact about the document the Bush/Bones delegation asked the Apaches to sign: “Anderson called the document ‘very insulting to Indians.’ [He] also said he was confused and annoyed because the document said that Skull and Bones members had submitted the skull to ‘an expert in New Haven’ who determined that the remains were those of a child and therefore ‘cannot possibly be those of Geronimo.'”

Chilling! Now we not only have the mystery of the skull of Geronimo, we have the mystery of the skull of a child. What was George Bush’s brother doing with a dead child’s skull in his hands? (A message left at Jonathan Bush’s number in Connecticut was not returned.)

Chilling as well in its implication of the presumptions of privilege: Hey you naïve Apaches, we don’t have the skull you wanted, but if you sign this document and keep your mouth shut, we’ll give you another skull we happen to have lying around. Treating the Apache like a child.

But meanwhile, I want to know: Who was that child ? And how did his or her head end up in the Skull and Bones Tomb?

My attempt to get further information from the Skull and Bones shell corporation, the Russell Trust Association, resulted in my uncovering a fascinating corporate shell game that led back to the Bay of Pigs. These days any researcher who attempts to track down information from the Russell Trust Association will learn from the corporate filings office of the Connecticut Secretary of State that no such entity exists. This is a bit of a scam. It required some brilliant cross-referencing and close study of the secret Skull and Bones directories on the part of my research associate on this story, Peggy Adler, to discover that the Russell Trust Association changed its name nearly four decades ago and effectively erased its existence from corporate history.

It did so by abolishing itself and then reincorporating itself with the uninformative, anonymous-sounding name “RTA Incorporated.” And it chose a very peculiar moment in history to do so. The new papers of reincorporation that erased the century-old Russell Trust Association were filed at 10:15 a.m. on April 14, 1961. Two hours later, at noon on that day, the orders went out to begin the Bay of Pigs operations–the covert C.I.A.-financed invasion of Castro’s Cuba, a bloody fiasco that still haunts us four decades later.

Coincidence? Probably. But then it’s also true that one of the C.I.A.’s masterminds for the Bay of Pigs was a man named Richard Drain, Skull and Bones ’43. And the White House planner of the Bay of Pigs operation was McGeorge Bundy, Skull and Bones ’40. And the State Department liaison for the Bay of Pigs operation was his brother William P. Bundy, Skull and Bones ’39. And the man who filed the reincorporation papers that erased the Russell Trust Association from existence on the day of the Bay of Pigs was Howard Weaver, Skull and Bones ’45W (George Bush’s class), who retired from the C.I.A. in 1959. All of which might lead one to suspect that the Skull and Bones corporate shell had been used as a clandestine conduit of funds for the Bay of Pigs, and then erased from existence to cover up the connection as the invasion got underway.

Still, once again, it’s not any covert connection between Skull and Bones and the Bay of Pigs that’s so shocking and revealing, it’s the overt connection: Whether or not they used the Russell Trust Association as a pipeline, the fact that all these Skull and Bones geniuses devised such a patently idiotic plan in the first place is the scandal. Brave men died because of their elitist secret-society mentality. And then they went on to give us Vietnam. It makes you fear for the future of our country if George W. turns to these types for advice.

In any case, by using the secret new corporate name I was able to learn the identities of the current officers of RTA Inc. But as of press time, neither the president of RTA, retired attorney David George Ball, nor the treasurer, Henry P. Davison, have replied to my requests for further information.

Once again, to put this concern into context: The cover photo of my new book The Secret Parts of Fortune , which reprints my original 1977 investigation plus new revelations from Deep Skull, depicts me on the steps of the Skull and Bones Tomb holding a skull under my arm (see photo on page 13), and a number of people have asked me whose skull it is. If I were to say it was the skull of Prescott Bush, I would imagine everyone in the Bush family would come down on my skull for it. But somehow, the skull of an Apache or an unidentified child in the possession of Skull and Bones is considered just a harmless prank? I don’t think so.

There is a peculiar horror that attaches itself to depriving the bones of the dead of their proper resting place. A horror and a curse. On his own tomb Shakespeare ordered the curse to be carved in stone: “Blest be the man that spares these stones / And curst be he that moves my bones.”

I hereby offer my good offices to the Bush family to rectify the situation and exorcise the curse. I’m willing to meet with Jonathan Bush, my old Yale classmate George W., or indeed any member of the Bush family (except maybe Barbara) to arrange for the return of the skull of that poor child to its parents. And give all those other skulls a proper burial.