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Speaking the Unspeakable: The Assassination and Martyrdom of Thomas Merton

A Quasi-Review by Edward Curtin of The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton by Hugh Turley & David Martin

Thomas Merton, martyr?

Killing a man who says ‘No!’ is a risky business,” the priest replied, “because even a corpse can go on whispering ‘No! No! No! with a persistence and obstinacy that only certain corpses are capable of. And how can you silence a corpse?” Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine

Fifty years have elapsed since Thomas Merton died under mysterious circumstances in a cottage at a Red Cross Conference Center outside Bangkok, Thailand where he was attending an international inter-faith monastic conference. The truth behind his death has been concealed until now through the lies and deceptions of a cast of characters, religious, secular, and U.S. governmental, whose actions chill one to the bone. But he has finally found his voice through Hugh Turley and David Martin, who tell the suppressed truth of Merton’s last minutes on earth on December 10, 1968.

This is an extraordinary book in so many ways. First, because the authors prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Trappist monk and anti-war writer Thomas Merton was assassinated and did not die in a fabricated accident, as has been claimed for all these years.

Second, because it is so meticulously researched, sourced, documented, and logically argued that it puts to shame and the lie to so many works, including academic ones, that purport to be profound but fall apart once carefully inspected, especially all those that have been written about Merton and his alleged accidental death.

These false accounts of his death, obviously presented purposely by the key players – that he was electrocuted by a fan while wet from a shower – have been repeated ad nauseam over fifty years as if curiosity were reserved for cats and a writer’s job were to repeat commonplace absurdities. And of course the mainstream media, the prime organs of propaganda dissemination, have carried out their function by repeating these lies at every turn.

The transparency of Turley and Martin’s presentation is greatly enhanced by the presence of footnotes, not endnotes, which allow readers to easily check sources as they read. Most footnotes refer to primary documents – letters, police reports, etc. – that are reproduced in an appendix that is, however, in need of enlargement, but whose contents have, for some odd or not so odd reasons, escaped the thousands of writers who’ve penned words about Merton.

Third, because it greatly expands our understanding of that fateful year – 1968 – by adding the prophetic Merton’s name to the list of well-known anti-war leaders – MLK and RFK – who were slain that year by U.S. government operatives intent on crushing the growing opposition to their genocidal war waged on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The links between these assassinations are made manifest as one follows the authors’ brilliant analysis that allows an informed reader to see the template common to them all and one that clearly leads to intelligence agencies practiced in the arts of murder and cover-up.

Fourth, because it proves that in the long run the pen is mightier than the sword, and the spiritually powerful poetic words of a God-entranced man living in seclusion can rattle the cages of men who embrace the void of violence while rejecting the spiritual essence of all religions – that non-violence and love are the laws of existence. Merton may be dead for his killers, but not for those who hear his voice whispering on every page: “The very thoughts of a person like me are crimes against the state. All I have to do is think: and immediately I become guilty,” Merton wrote in “A Signed Confession of Crimes Against the State.”

Lastly, because The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton markedly forces the reader to face its harsh truths and examine one’s soul and complicity in evil as one learns of the perfidy and betrayal of Merton by friends, associates, and biographers whom a naïve person might assume are beyond reproach, until, that is, one reads this book. It is a very hard lesson to accept and understand. But Hugh Turley and David Martin sequentially force the reader to contemplate such matters; to conjecture why some have conspired and abetted in Merton’s murder and especially its fifty year cover-up.

Thomas Merton (Fr. Lewis) was a Catholic monk, poet, writer and theologian who became very well-known in 1948 with the publication of his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, which became a bestseller.

Over the next dozen or so years, he published many books on religious themes, mainly avoiding social or political subjects. But although he lived in a monastery, and eventually by himself in a hermitage nearby, he corresponded widely and was tuned in to worldly events. He became a friend and mentor to religious/political activists such as Martin Luther King, Fathers Philip and Daniel Berrigan, James Douglass, among many others. He was a friend of Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker. He corresponded with Boris Pasternak and Ethel Kennedy; wrote about Albert Camus and Eugene Ionesco.

During the 1960s his writing turned more overtly political while remaining rooted in a deep mystical and contemplative spirituality. He became a major inspiration for radical activists who opposed nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War, and the materialist way of life fostered by capitalism that relied on the spread of the American empire through world-wide violence.

Although living far away from the din and drama of day-to-day politics, his writing, encouragement, and influence were profound, and he became a major impediment to the propaganda and policies of the military-industrial-political-intelligence complex. He was an inspiration whose spirit disturbed church and state in the most radical way. Turley and Martin say of him:

Merton saw clearly that devotion to truth could not help but bring a person into conflict with sinister special interests. The effectiveness of the truth-seeker would, of course, be greater to the extent he could rally others to his cause, but ultimately, he said, the truth seeker’s strength lay in trust in God.

Merton died on the afternoon of December 10, 1968 when those sinister special interests snuck up on him. He had just given a talk, had lunch, and returned to his cottage shortly before 2 P.M., accompanied by Fr. Francois de Grunne, O.S.B. (Order of Saint Benedict) from Belgium, who shared the cottage with Merton and two others, Fr. Celestine Say, O.S.B. from the Philippines, whose room was across from Merton’s on the first floor, and John Moffit, a journalist editor whose room was directly over Merton’s on the second floor adjacent to de Grunne’s.

The walk from the dining hall to the cottage took 10-15 minutes. Say and Moffit were walking a good distance behind Merton and de Grunne and arrived at the cottage about 5-7 minutes after them. When they entered the unlocked building, they did not see Merton and de Grunne and presumed they had gone to their respective rooms.

Shortly after de Grunne and Merton entered the cottage, Merton was killed. The actions of de Grunne, a mysterious figure who, according to the authors, “seems to have fallen off the face of the earth” and whose “abbey will not even respond to our questions about him,” clearly make him a prime suspect in the crime. His actions and story are not believable and are contradicted by the most reliable witness, Fr. Say, whose statements have been absolutely consistent.

Beyond speculation, however, are the facts gathered by the authors that clearly prove that from the start there was a concerted effort to make a crime look like an accident.

These efforts were initiated by de Grunne, who was the first to call it an “accident,” but ably assisted by many others, including the Thai police or their surrogates, whose police report was released by the U.S. Embassy seven months after Merton’s death and has no title, author, date, photographs, laboratory reports, or investigators’ memos, and omits the testimony of the first two witnesses on the scene, Fr. Say and Fr. Egbert Donovan, who viewed Merton lying in a position and dressed in shorts totally inconsistent with the accidental death scenario.

Most importantly, this “report” omits an autopsy report since no autopsy was conducted, a dead giveaway that a cover-up was underway. When a person is found dead, the first assumption of a competent investigation is that a crime may have been committed, and when the victim is found with a sever gash on the back of his head, is lying in a position inconsistent with an accident, an autopsy becomes essential. But none was performed in Thailand or when Merton’s body arrived back at the Abbey of Gethsemani.

That the United States Embassy, at the request of Most Reverend Dom Rembert Weakland, O.S.B., who was presiding over the conference, had the U.S Army take possession of Merton’s body shortly thereafter, embalm it, and five days later fly it back to the U.S. aboard a military plane together with the corpses of American casualties of the Vietnam War is not only supremely ironic but downright suspicious. The first public report of Merton’s death was delivered on December 11, as Turley and Martin report:

On December 11, 1968, the Associated Press reported that Merton had been electrocuted when he touched a short in a cord while moving an electrical fan, according to anonymous [my emphasis] Catholic sources. The initial news reports did not include any important details such as who found Merton, the names of any witnesses or officials at the scene, or who determined it was an accident.

The Thai doctor’s cause-of-death certificate and the official death certificate said Merton died of sudden cardiac failure, but failed to mention the bleeding rear head wound seen by witnesses.

Most importantly, when Say and Donovan first saw Merton lying on the floor on his back, his legs straight, and his arms straight down by his side with palms to the floor as if placed in a coffin, with a floor fan lying across a thigh to the opposite lower waist, Donovan urged Say to take photographs of Merton before the crime scene was subsequently disturbed. They were very suspicious. Through great detective work, Turley and Martin have acquired a copy of these two photos, but they have been prohibited by the current abbot of Gethsemani from publishing them or even an artist’s rendering of them. The authors say:

The photographs taken by Say are the best available evidence of the actual scene of Merton’s death….The reason the monks took the photographs, as we have emphasized, was to document exactly how they found the body. As we have seen, people whom they would hardly have ever suspected, have consistently done their best to suppress those images. The photographs are an essential resource to anyone interested in knowing the truth about how Merton was killed.

But it is clear that many people would like to suppress that truth and have been hard at work doing so for half a century. But since this is intentionally a quasi-review because one must read this book from beginning to end to grasp the intricacies of this murder mystery and the cast of characters that comprise it (no review can do justice to such a detailed and brilliant investigation, and, even so, attempting one would spoil the book), I will end with the authors’ words:

Contrary to the common view, there is really no mystery about how Merton died. The best evidence indicates beyond any serious doubt that Merton was murdered. It’s a simple fact that the average person is far more likely to be murdered than to be killed by an electric fan, and Merton was no average person. The story that a fan killed Merton is so preposterous that a series of fantastic stories have had to be invented to make it believable….Who did it and why? The CIA had the motive and the means. 1968: It was a very dark year: MLK, RFK, and Thomas Merton – martyrs all.

If we want to see clearly and revive hope, the time has come to face the faces of the ghastly gallery of liars and deceivers guilty of these crimes. Only then can we live the truths their victims suffered and died for.

Then we too can confess with Merton that we have thought “Crimes Against the State.”

The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: an investigation, by Hugh Turley & David Martin can be purchased through Amazon at this link. Its website is http://www.themartyrdomofthomasmerton.com

39 Comments

  1. Lillian Dykes says

    Does any one know why the Say photos are not included? Their case is substantially based on these and, yet, they aren’t there or, as far as I have found, explained missing. ????

    • Richard Cameron says

      From the article Through great detective work, Turley and Martin have acquired a copy of these two photos, but they have been prohibited by the current abbot of Gethsemani from publishing them or even an artist’s rendering of them.

      • Lillian Dykes says

        What article explains this? How does the abbot have standing ?

        • The photographs and the negatives were given as a gift to the abbey, so the legal right to reproduce them belongs to the abbey. We checked with a copyright attorney who informed us that we could not even use the artist’s rendering–which we paid for–without the abbey’s permission. The originally assigned biographer, John Howard Griffin, made off with the negatives, and we found them among his papers at the library of Columbia University.

  2. Richard Cameron says

    No longer available on Amazon! It says “out of print – limited availability”!

    • Richard Cameron says

      Still available at Amazon.de (Germany) but not US or UK. Sold out?

    • Richard Cameron says

      Back in stock at Amazon US. That was a very strange glitch there. No announcemwnt ,”more coming soon”. Now it’s back!

  3. Thomas Merton, from WikiPedia:

     "By the 1960s, he [Merton] had arrived at a broadly human viewpoint, one deeply concerned about the world and issues like peace, racial tolerance, and social equality. He had developed a personal radicalism which had political implications but was not based on ideology, rooted above all in non-violence. He regarded his viewpoint as based on "simplicity" and expressed it as a Christian sensibility. His New Seeds of Contemplation was published in 1962. In a letter to Nicaraguan Catholic priest, liberation theologian and politician Ernesto Cardenal (who entered Gethsemani but left in 1959 to study theology in Mexico), Merton wrote: "The world is full of great criminals with enormous power, and they are in a death struggle with each other. It is a huge gang battle, using well-meaning lawyers and policemen and clergymen as their front, controlling papers, means of communication, and enrolling everybody in their armies."[26]
    

    Merton finally achieved the solitude he had long desired while living in a hermitage on the monastery grounds in 1965. Over the years he had occasional battles with some of his abbots about not being allowed out of the monastery despite his international reputation and voluminous correspondence with many well-known figures of the day.

    At the end of 1968, the new abbot, the Reverend Flavian Burns, allowed him the freedom to undertake a tour of Asia, during which he met the Dalai Lama in India on three occasions, and also the Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen master, Chatral Rinpoche, followed by a solitary retreat near Darjeeling, India. In Darjeeling, he befriended Tsewang Yishey Pemba, a prominent member of the Tibetan community. Then, in what was to be his final letter, he noted, “In my contacts with these new friends, I also feel a consolation in my own faith in Christ and in his dwelling presence. I hope and believe he may be present in the hearts of all of us.”

  4. sallysdad says

    Do you remember when the Iranian government called the United States “The Great Satan”? I was a lot younger then of course, and very, very uninformed. From all that I have learned over the past number of years, it turns out the Iranian government was correct. With that awareness cast back over recent history, the assertion of this reviewed book looks very likely.

  5. Sze says

    Forgot to mention Thich Nhat Hanh, who along with Thomas Merton, are two of the greatest spiritual teachers and writers of all ages. They met only once–at Gethsemani Abbey on May 26, 1966. Although their lives developed in different directions, they gave each other great insight and wisdom, through their sources of contemplation, meditation, compassion and action.

    • Sze: don’t forget the cross-fertilisation of peace through Thomas, Thai, and MLK. They were due to meet in Memphis but tragically never did. As a Buddhist, I don’t believe in a God, but nevertheless, the coincidence in space and time of three great spirits …it is as if someone was trying to tell us something? Peace.

  6. Richard Cameron says

    Thank you for this. Finally, the story gets out. I was in Thailand in 1972, sitting in the tiny house of Bishop Clarence J. Duhart, Catholic bishop of Udanthani, a city that hosted one of the major airbases of the Vietnam war. The bishop told me that “no one in the Catholic church in Thailand believed Merton died through electrocution”. He said eyewitnesses had heard an angry argument in Merton’s room some twenty minutes before he was discovered, followed by a shout. And that Merton had a bloddy gash across the back of his head. Its been 46 years since that conversation.

    • My brother lived many years in Udanthani, (back in the ’90’s) and given the levels of local gossip & surrounding village scandals of all sorts at all times of the day & night, in that border region, where people have a habit of talking particularly about any foreigners , I tend to believe every word you say ..

      • Richard Cameron says

        Was your brother a Redemptorist father by any chance? They staff the Catholic village churches of the region.

        • Sorry for the delay in responding: answer, No. My brother was married to someone from the region, (after they had met in Hong Kong). Shying away from the corruption of Bangkok & tourism, he was planting rubber trees amongst other things, in order to try and help create some alternative culture & ‘rhythm’ & work for the family unit as a whole, in order to cultivate something other than that of the previous U.S. influences on the region, which were pretty unimaginable & largely corrupt, (imo & my brothers’).

          I am not sure how much to say, in that sense or regard, because as with most experience in life, that is quite a subjective comment. But I think it is fair to say today, after what we have seen, you included, for those that don’t consume alcohol or drugs every single day in excess, the chances are that they reduce the levels of temptations & corruption in & of life, and the associated negative consequences: and they can balance themselves better, longterm when facing choices, in terms of compromising ones’ own principles & culture.. and therein avoid the inexorable spiral of ever decreasing circles, downwards.

          There is a great old Calypsonian Track from Lord Invader of Trinidad, that some corrupted folks from the USA tried to copyright and steal , after 1943. Given the UK ‘Windrush’ scandalous colonial behaviour most recent (sad, shameful & sic.), I thought you might enjoy this following amusing link to a real old social life, from back then with good ole’ school radio days edited in (& a hazy daze of military cloud seeded memories) , where real people were already far more clued into the reality of some aspects of real life, than today,
          it would seem ..

          Enjoy life: live healthy in mind body & soul ..

          Music magnetically helps ..
          whatever your disposition,
          or present location: ask George Pell .. 🙂 😉

          Best wishes,
          Balkydj

    • Interesting news about the Catholics in Thailand. The story about the argument is not true, though. The witness, Fr. Celestine Say, OSB, who was in essentially in the same room as Merton acoustically, because the room walls were temporary mesh screens, heard no such sound from Merton’s room. The book rests heavily on Say’s letters, and he is solid as a rock. There was an unexplained “bleeding wound” in the back of Merton’s head noted by several witnesses, but not noted in the Thai police report. It’s all in the book, and much more.

      • Richard Demma says

        Thanks. Ive ordered the book and canf wait to read it!

      • Richard Demma says

        Wow your book is no longer available on Amazon. Other buying options?

        • Richard Demma says

          Found it thru Amazon.de. US and UK Amazon sold out?

  7. bill says

    clearly an extraordinary man whom i only knew previously thro James Douglasses poetic classic on JFK //having just read Shane OSullivans impressive additions to his original work Who Killed Bobby including Sirhans last parole hearing and Dr Browns full findings,this must be next on the list …..

    • John Ervin says

      Don’t miss the blockbuster reportage at Washington Post by Tom Jackman on the eve of Bobby’s Golden Anniversary, June 4, 2018, “The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination: Was Sirhan Hypnotized to be the Fall Guy?” This is, finally, the first time the back-story of Sirhan as a programmed Manchurian Candidate has fully broken through the glass ceiling of denial that is politely known as US Media, and in a major “newspaper of record” no less. And in the original jewel of the CIA Mockingbird “Crown”, no less, WaPo.

      (Except that there is very strong evidence from eyewitnesses that his Iver-Johnson 22 was firing blanks. Witnesses suppressed at trial. In more recent hypnosis sessions by Dr. Brown of Harvard, Sirhan said that he saw the flash of a gun behind RFK.)

      It is a convincing read, especially for those who know about this. (Sirhan was transferred to Donovan Pen. in south San Diego on 11.22.13, better known as the Golden Anniversary of Bobby’s brother JFK. Coincidence or Conspiracy? We report, you decide.)

      As St.Teresa of Avila wrote lucidly, everything we have done will one day be known.

      So I suppose I should add, in advance,

      “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.”

      I know that Fr. Merton would. And I am sure Bobby would. As would MLK. All in the footsteps of their martyred Master.

      My only question is, ultimately, will these perps finally forgive themselves? (As seen by the timing of the prison transfer, they are still merely giggling, sociopathic children.)

      Maybe this is one reason why so many of like ilk will not show remorse even to the bitter end.

      At a level deeper than they can summon maybe they have lost that connection. Or “covered it up”.

      But James Jesus Angleton, the orchestrator of much of this deadly war on our peacemakers, tried but thought all of the other fallen founding archangels of CIA “would deservedly end up in hell.”

      And, sipping tea while he died of lung cancer in ’87, added his last opinion, “I guess I will see them there soon.”

  8. “Third, because it greatly expands our understanding of that fateful year – 1968 – by adding the prophetic Merton’s name to the list of well-known anti-war leaders – MLK and RFK – who were slain that year by U.S. government operatives intent on crushing the growing opposition to their genocidal war waged on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The links between these assassinations are made manifest as one follows the authors’ brilliant analysis that allows an informed reader to see the template common to them all and one that clearly leads to intelligence agencies practiced in the arts of murder and cover-up.”

    Conspiracy theory bunk. I won’t buy the book.

    • Thomas Prentice says

      So you confess to being an ignorant who believes a story BEFORE examining evidence? The Enlightenment and Reason have departed your mind, had they ever set up residence there in the first place. Don’t wanna be confused with the facts, eh? Believe official sources, eh? No conspiracies by ruling elites, eh? BUNK!.

    • Sze says

      why would you be on this site..? suggest you stick to your msm redneck ignorants… vade retro…

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says

      No surer sign of intractable stupidity, or malicious hypocrisy, is there than the use of the expression ‘ conspiracy theory’ in any but an ironic context.

      • Mulga – sorry about stealing the use of – “ironic” – from your post – I did it unconsciously after quickly scanning the responses to Carl’s post. I trust you’ll forgive me. 😉

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says

          Well, I’ll have to see, Inter. I have many enemies and detractors, and the queue to be forgiven is lengthy, and my time is precious-as am I, if the truth be known. Or did they say ‘specious’? Perhaps a token of your regret might oil the mechanism, as it were.

    • Carl – The fact that you are using a CIA created term designed to dismiss inquiry into the CIA’s many assassinations of the 1960’s – to actually dismiss inquiry into such assassinations 50+ years later – suggests that you either have a keen sense of “irony” – or perhaps are just woefully uniformed?

      • John Ervin says

        Let us never forget by far the most likely option: one of the numberless army of paid trolls with just enough live brain cells to spell their one size fits all impressive phrase: CONSPIRACY THEORY.

        I prefer my standing as Conspiracy Realist.

        As in: WHAT in our government ISN’T a conspiracy?

        The implicit “thought” behind their moronic reliance on those two words, laughable for their repetitive use as a term to diminish historical inquiry into discrepancies (!) of the official record, is that conspiracies can’t possibly be, everything occurs by Roberts Rules of Order, and according to Hoyle. Nothing to see here folks 50 years later!

        Jim Marrs said it best, heard on YouTube, something like, “In our country, in these times, unless it’s an outright Act of God, it’s probably a conspiracy.”

        Such trolls really give themselves away, and the whole Company agenda, when they imply, via OCD addiction to the CT words, that conspiracies barely exist! if at all! when we know that all of history is littered with the corpses of conspiracy victims dating back to Julius Caesar and centuries before. And we outgrew them?!

        The phrase is simply thrown into discussions to shame thoughtful people, and to try to waylay and detain whomever they can.

        Fewer and fewer. So now they supply their own risible theories, like Trump’s versions of the Deep State, with all left wing perps. (Like CIA trying ludicrously to pin evidence for the JFK hit on Castro-living commies, LOL.)

        They are shameful goose-stepping pimps and like Lady Macbeth will find themselves one day paying out more than they like, sleepwalking, muttering “Out damn spot!”

    • Been there, have you ? Obviously not, so what was it that stimulated your initial interest to read the whole article (if you actually did, which i sincerely doubt !?) and why bother commenting at all, when your disinterested attitude is clearly apparent ? !

      Frankly you made yourself sound really ignorant of any & all notions of conspiracy, including the quintessential meaning of the word! Also, by presuming anybody might interest themselves for your meaningless ridiculous irrelevant bunk, as a “theory” of sound nature & mind !

      Logic commands that I ask you directly, in the name of God , and the theory of a Holy Ghost :-
      Are you a member of the Catholic Church, Carl ??

    • dcdave2u says

      Idling Intellect

      Whenever “conspiracy theory” I hear,
      I know that a brain has just gone out of gear.
      The common phenomenon again I behold
      Of a person determined to believe what he’s told
      By the press and political powers that be
      Who have long had no credibility.
      It ‘s a sad thing to witness the widespread condition
      Of critical faculties out of commission,

      And a once-proud people cowed into submission.

      Anticipating the Carl d’Agostinos out there, who need to read the book more than anyone, we put that poem on the back cover.

    • John Ervin says

      Well, I never! I promise not to spin any conspiracy theories about you and like ilk. I leave such toil to the lofty pundits of Fox News.

      I’m just another humble Conspiracy Realist.

      Puppet Masters, or Master Puppets?

      We report, you decide.

  9. I am always surprised when I meet such violent opposition to my comments that the US fosters evil wherever it goes. To me it’s quite obvious and the truth. This article is just more evidence of my claim.

      • One day very soon, all will be revealed: as Chinese A.i. tops & crushes E.i. >>
        with fully encrypted Photon Transmissions & Quantum mechanics on the ‘GO’:-
        Already 1,200 KM Antenna to Antenna & from Space ..

        Judgement day looms for Evil incarnate:-
        deeply worried ‘States’ of mind control !!
        Not just U.S. .. 😉

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