The death of the 28-year-old woman and the subsequent cover-up was the biggest story of Damore's journalistic career. He pounced on it.
The fact that Senator Kennedy acted in a calculating and cowardly manner that night, leaving the young woman to drown and then attempting to alibi his way out of responsibility, became a part of the dark side of American political history.
It is one of the shadowy pockets of the Kennedy legend that Damore labored for years to uncover. It was June 1988--19 years later--when his best-selling book Senatorial Privilege: The Chappaquiddick Cover-Up was finally published.
Damore researched the story relentlessly. He interviewed everyone connected to the Chappaquiddick incident over and over again.
It wasn't until 1983 that Damore hit pay dirt in his investigation. It was then that he had a series of seven key meetings with Joe Gargan, Ted Kennedy's cousin and general factotum.
Gargan, who had been raised by the Kennedy family, was co-host of the party held the night of the incident in a rented cottage on the island. The guest list included six unmarried, female campaign workers for the late Senator Robert Kennedy. They were matched up with six married men, including the senator.
It was Gargan who finally revealed to Damore how Ted Kennedy had brought him to the scene of the sunken car minutes after the incident. While Kennedy lay on his back on the dock moaning in self-pity, Gargan dove repeatedly into the dark waters, attempting to free Miss Kopechne from the car.
But Gargan did not succeed in getting the doors open.
It was at this point that Kennedy suggested to Gargan that Gargan return to the party, still in progress, and come back to the scene to "discover" the body later.
Kennedy's plan was for Gargan to tell everyone that Kopechne was driving the car herself when it went out of control and plunged into the water.
Ted Kennedy might have been indicted for manslaughter. That he wasn't is mute testimony to the power of his family name in Massachusetts, as well as recognition of the family's highly connected lawyers and public relations fixers.
At that point, Damore had a $250,000 contract for the book with Random House. This was December 1983, and the advance had been paid in increments of $50,000. Damore had already collected $150,000.
Damore handed in the first 256 pages of his book, and went to New York for a meeting with the Random House president, Robert L. Bernstein, and Bernstein's acquisitions editor, Jason Epstein.
"Jason was ecstatic," Damore recalls.
"Leo,' he told me, 'with this book, we're going to outsell the Old Testament.'"
It was at this point, according to Damore, that Steve Smith, one of the Kennedy brothers-in-law, got hold of Damore's manuscript.
"Steve Smith is the Cardinal Richelieu of the Kennedy clan. Incredibly, Smith convinced Random House to kill the book."
When Random House rejected the book, Damore found it impossible to find any other publisher in New York willing to take it on.
"The knives were out against me in New York," he said.
"At that time, November 1984, Spy magazine did a cover story about what happened to me. They ran a full-page chart showing how various Kennedy allies were closely involved with every publishing house that turned down the book exposing Teddy's role in Chappaquiddick."
Random House sued, demanding the return of the $150,000 already advanced to Damore. The case went to trial, and on November 4, 1987, Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Burton Sherman ruled that Damore must pay the money back.
"I had to take a job, and spent a year editing the book down to its final form," says Damore.
Damore succeeded in selling the book to Regnery-Gateway in Washington, D.C., a firm that hadn't had a best seller in 50 years.
"I'll always remember the day the verdict came in and being ordered to pay the $150,000 back, because my manuscript was unpublishable.
"What's your reaction?' the media people asked.
"I'm surprised and I'm disappointed,' I said.
"But I'm here to tell you that this unpublishable book is being published in the bookstores in April 1988.'
"A reporter from Reuters then told me that after hearing all the testimony, he was anxious to buy it. The court stenographer came by and told me the same thing.
"This is great,' I thought. 'I've lost $150,000, but I had already presold two copies of my book.'"
When the book came out, Damore showed people how tough he really was.
"It was just me and the media and the book," Damore said. "I did 400 interviews promoting it. I went everywhere.