When Carolyn Bessette died in 1999 alongside her husband, John F. Kennedy Jr. and her sister, Lauren Bessette, she was only 33-years-old. Her marriage to the fallen president’s son had only lasted three years, and they died together without leaving behind offspring.
However, Carolyn was survived by her mother, Ann Freeman; her father, William Bessette; her stepfather Richard Freeman; and her sister, Lisa, who was the twin sister to Lauren Bessette.
At the time of the tragedy, the Bessettes released a joint statement with the Kennedys, thanking the rescue teams who looked for the wreckage of the plane and the bodies of its occupants. (You can see more photos of the couple here.)
“Each of these three young people – Lauren Bessette, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr. – was the embodiment of love, accomplishment and passion for life,” the statement read, according to The Washington Post, adding that “John and Carolyn were true soul mates” and that the family took “solace in the thought that together they will comfort Lauren for eternity.”
However, since that time the family – after engaging in a wrongful death claims against the Kennedy estate – has vanished from the public eye into virtual obscurity.
“Biography: JFK Jr—The Final Year” will run on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 at 9 p.m. ET on A&E Network. “July 16, 2019 marks the 20-year anniversary of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s death. This two-hour documentary special, airing on the anniversary, reframes the last year of his life in an entirely new way,” A&E wrote in a statement.
Here’s what you need to know about Carolyn Bessette’s family.
The Kennedy Family Settled With Carolyn Bessette’s Family & They’ve Led Private Lives Ever Since
The deaths of JFK Jr., his wife, and her sister was not without financial or family fallout. The issue: Ann Freeman initiated wrongful death claims on behalf of her daughters – against Kennedy’s estate.
According to UK Telegraph, Bessette’s family received $15 million from the Kennedy family. “The agreement comes after months of legal wrangling. Negotiations between the two families began about 18 months ago, with the Kennedys offering $7 million, while the Bessettes were asking for at least $20 million,” Telegraph reported at the time. However, the family’s attorney in 2001 denied that settlement amount amidst reports that they had asked a judge to allow a settlement in the wrongful death case Ann Freeman brought against the Kennedy estate.
At issue was an NTSB report that essentially blamed pilot error for the crash; JFK Jr. did not have much time flying a plane at night without an instructor and was found to have suffered from spatial disorientation. You can read the NTSB reports here.
The Bessette family kept a very low profile after the deaths. However, The Irish Sunday Mirror claimed that Ann Freeman was so upset about the tragedy – which she blamed on JFK Jr.’s recklessness – that she wouldn’t utter his name.
The article reports that Ann Freeman was living in a Connecticut home and seeking privacy, and that her surviving daughter Lisa moved to Europe for a time because the trauma of being reminded of her sisters was too deep.
According to E News, “Diaries kept by John’s cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr. purportedly revealed later on that members of the Kennedy family told Bessette’s mother, Ann Freeman, that John would be buried in the family plot in Brookline, Mass., and ‘they could do with Carolyn as they pleased.'”
According to the Sunday Mirror article, Robert Littell, who wrote a book about John F. Kennedy, who was his friend, said that Lauren’s best friend confronted him at the funeral and blamed John’s recklessness for the deaths.
A 2000 article in the Courant reported that Carolyn’s mother, who lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, was mourning in private for her daughters.
According to the Courant, as the one-year of the anniversary of their deaths approached, she released a statement through a lawyer that read, “We have been besieged by requests for comments as the anniversary . . . draws near,” it read. “The loss of these three young people whom we loved so much has forever changed our lives. We continue to struggle with our grief and we choose to maintain what’s left of our privacy.”
Ann married Richard Freeman, a surgeon, after getting divorced from the girls’ father when they were young, the newspaper reported. This article said that, a year out of the tragedy, Ann was going out regularly but “is living a broken life.”
At the time of the deaths, according to The Guardian, Lauren Bessette’s twin sister Lisa “was reported to be flying back from Munich, Germany.”
Publicly, the Kennedys tried to remember the Bessettes. Ted Kennedy, in his eulogy to his lost nephew said, “We loved Carolyn. She and her sister Lauren were young extraordinary women of big accomplishment – and their own limitless possibilities. We mourn their loss and honor their lives. The Bessette and Freeman families will always be part of ours.”
People Magazine reported that Carolyn was more distant from her father, quoting an anonymous college friend as saying, “Carolyn never really talked about him. He traveled a lot, and she never had a lot of contact with him.”
Online records indicate that Ann Freeman is 79-years-old and still lives in Connecticut. Public records indicate that Lisa, who is now 54, has lived in Michigan. People Magazine reported at the time of Lauren’s memorial service that Lisa was “a doctoral student of art history at the University of Michigan.”
In 2010, The University of Michigan Ann Arbor reported granting, “Bessette, Lisa A., PH.D., Lecturer I in History of Art, effective March 1, 2010 to June 30, 2010, from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.”
At the time of the deaths, a friend told People Magazine that Ann Freeman “believes very strongly that ‘my children, my two daughters, will live through the lives of the people who love them.’”