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Death in Thai hotel haunts Oklahoma City woman’s kin

BY ROBERT MEDLEY Published: March 14, 2010

Thirteen years after his sister was found dead wearing a black evening dress, lying on her back in a Bangkok five-star hotel room bed, John Joseph Kennedy says he’s still immersed in a mystery.

Cecilia Madeline Kennedy, 32, was in Thailand for the ninth time working to free her imprisoned brother when she was found dead at the Shangri-La Hotel. A single needle mark was found on her right hand.

She didn’t use drugs, her brother said, and was right-handed. There were no other needle marks reported on her and no drugs or signs of drug use were found in the room.

"Nothing added up from the very beginning,” John Joseph Kennedy said of her January 1997 death.

Before Cecilia Kennedy died, her brother Christopher Kennedy’s life sentence on a heroin-trafficking conviction was reduced in a Thai court to 40 years. After her death, he was extradited to the United States in 2000 where he was released from custody in 2003, federal prison records show.

He did not respond to a request for an interview.

The Bangkok Post reported in October 2000 that he was one of four Americans and a German extradited to their homelands who had been imprisoned on drug convictions.

He would never have gotten out if it had not been for his sister’s lobbying for extradition, John Kennedy said.

A former fashion model raised in Oklahoma City who writes crime-based fiction, John Kennedy, 55, said he is pressing for evidence in his sister’s death, which he thinks was a homicide.

Kennedy, who now lives in Orlando, Fla., has not been back to Oklahoma to visit since his sister’s funeral in 1997.

Deep roots
Cecilia and Christopher Kennedy were the youngest of 10 children, Cecilia younger by a year.

Cecilia Kennedy wanted to be a news anchor, her brother said, and studied at several universities while Christopher waited tables in Dallas.

Christopher Kennedy got involved in Dallas with a criminal racketeering operation that recruited people to travel worldwide to deliver suitcases, John Kennedy said.

"He had no idea what he was getting involved in,” John Kennedy said.

On June 28, 1992, U.S. Drug Enforcement officers and Thai law officers arrested Christopher Kennedy as TV cameras from CNN rolled at a Bangkok airport.

A suitcase full of heroin was found near him.

Christopher Kennedy was convicted in Thailand and sentenced to life in prison. He was held at the Bang Kwang Maximum Security Prison outside of Bangkok as his sister Cecilia, then working as a legal secretary in San Francisco, embarked on a campaign to free him.

"She was little but she was mighty,” John Kennedy said.

With her brother in a Thailand prison, she became a liaison between Thai officials and other families of about 50 Americans held in the 1990s on illegal drug charges. has disabled the comments for this article.