The Robert F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy

This report was written for my American History II class at Delaware County Community College.

“I think we can end the divisions within the United States. What I think is quite clear is that we can work together in the last analysis. In what has been going on with the United States over the period of the last three years – the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society, the divisions, whether it’s between blacks and whites, between the poor and the more affluent, or between age groups, or over the war in Vietnam – that we can start to work together again. We are a great country, an unselfish country, and a compassionate country. I intend to make that my basis for running over the period of the next few months.

Even though fatally wounded, Robert F. Kennedy asks if anyone else is hurt. (The Sikh Archives)

Even though fatally wounded, Robert F. Kennedy asks if anyone else is hurt. (The Sikh Archives)

“So my thanks to all of you, and on to Chicago, and let’s win there.” (1)

He flashed his smile that thousands fell in love with and help up his fingers in the familiar “V for victory” sign. He turned to exit the stage to the rear, jumping down through the gold curtains. The crowd surged forward, everyone anxious to have the chance to congratulate the Senator on his win and to shake his hand. The crowd caused the disbursement of the Senator’s men, including his wife, Ethel, and his bodyguard, Bill Barry. The Senator walked through the pantry doors and was greeted by a line of kitchen employees and cheering admirers. In the background, you could hear the crowd still chanting “We want Bobby! We want Bobby!”

Sirhan Bishara Sirhan walked towards the Senator from between the tray rack and the ice machine. He pulled out his pistol, cried “You son of a bitch,” raised it towards Robert F. Kennedy’s head and fired. It was 12:15 a.m., June 5, 1968. (2)

Special Unit Senator (SUS) was established on Sunday, June 9, 1968, as a unit completely detached from any other organizational branch of the Los Angeles Police Department. It’s goal was to make certain that “the investigation into the assassination would leave no questions unasked, no answers untested, no evidence unchecked, no possible conspiratorial door unopened.” (3) Special Unit Senator officially closed on July 25, 1969, after 4,818 separate interviews and interrogations; a mountain of paper including the official correspondence, daily logs, section reports, case preparations and conspiracy-potential investigations; 155 items of booked evidence; 1,700 photographs; 190 reels of tape; and twenty reels of sixteen-millimeter film. SUS published its findings in a ten-volume report, keeping it confidential and released only to the Attorney General and two copies kept within the Los Angeles Police Department. The main conclusions presented were: ( 1 ) Sirhan Sirhan fired the fatal shots that killed Senator Robert F. Kennendy and wounded five others. ( 2 ) Sirhan fired those shots with the intent to kill Senator Kennedy and his act was premeditated. ( 3 ) Sirhan was not under the influence of a drug of intoxicant at the time of the shooting. ( 4 ) Sirhan was legally sane at the time of the incident. ( 5 ) There was no evidence of a conspiracy in the crime. (4)

Many people were uneasy with the findings of the Special Unit Senator, so on August 12, 1975, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appointed Special Counsel Thomas F. Kranz to investigate independently the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. He conducted his research from January to March 1976. The conclusion Kranz came to sided with the work done by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Special Unit Senator. He stated that “there is always the remote possibility that Sirhan acted within a conspiracy, either overt or covert. But the weight of evidence is overwhelmingly against this possibility. Eyewitness testimony, ballistic and scientific evidence, and over six thousand separate interviews conducted by numerous police and intelligence agencies over the past eight years, all substantiate the fact that Sirhan acted alone.” (5)

The official diagram of Robert F. Kennedy's gunshot wounds. (California State Archives)

The official diagram of Robert F. Kennedy’s gunshot wounds. (California State Archives)

X-rays performed on Robert F. Kennedy at the Good Samaritan Hospital revealed gunshot wounds to the head, neck, chest and right shoulder. Two bullet wounds were found in the right armpit region, within half an inch of each other. One exit wound was in front of the right shoulder while the other bullet entered the right shoulder and penetrated the posterior lower region of the neck. The last bullet entered Kennedy’s right mastoid, fragmenting the soft bone behind the ear and into the tissue of his brain. (6)

An autopsy was performed after his death, roughly twenty-six hours later, supervised by Dr. Thomas Noguchi, the chief medical examiner of Los Angeles County. It was determined that Kennedy died from the bullet that reached his brain through the right mastoid. (7)

DeWayne Wolfer, the Department’s ballistic expert, laid out the trajectory of the eight bullets from Sirhan’s gun as follows: ( 1 ) The first bullet entered Kennedy’s head behind the right ear. ( 2 ) The second bullet passed through the right shoulder pad of Kennedy’s coat and traveled upward, striking Paul Schrade in the center of his forehead. ( 3 ) The third bullet entered Kennedy’s right rear shoulder. ( 4 ) The fourth bullet entered Kennedy’s right rear back. It traveled upward and forward and exited in the right front chest. The bullet then passed through the ceiling tile. ( 5 ) The fifth bullet struck Ira Goldstein in the left rear buttock. ( 6 ) The sixth bullet passed through Ira Goldstein’s left pants leg and struck the cement floor and entered Irwin Stroll’s left leg. ( 7 ) The seventh bullet struck William Weisel in the left abdomen. ( 8 ) The eighth bullet struck the plaster ceiling and then struck Elizabeth Evans in the head. (8)

Infrared photograph of Senator Kennedy's coat, showing the bullet holes and powder burns. (California State Archives)

Infrared photograph of Senator Kennedy’s coat, showing the bullet holes and powder burns. (California State Archives)

Wolfer’s ballistic report confirms the autopsy report, except for one thing. Eyewitnesses that were in the pantry at the time of the shooting say Sirhan fired at Kennedy from the front and never got closer than two to three feet before he was grabbed. Noguchi said that all three of the bullets entered Kennedy from the rear, in a flight path from down to up, right to left. Power burns around the entry wound indicated that the fatal shot to the head was fired less than one inch from the head, and no more than two to three inches behind the right ear. This would make it impossible for Sirhan to have fired the shots that hit Kennedy. Even allowing for the slim possibility that Kennedy twisted completely around, which is contrary to witnesses’ accounts that he threw his arms in front of his face as protection before falling back onto the floor, there still remained the point-blank shot. (9)

Noguchi was never able to testify his actual findings of the autopsy in court. He later revealed that before he entered the Grand Jury room, he was approached by an unnamed Deputy District Attorney who solicited him to revise the distance from “one to three inches” to three feet. Noguchi refused to cooperate. When Noguchi took the stand, his answers were cut short, claiming that it was “not necessary to go into gory detail” about the nature and location of the various wounds. (10)

CBS news employee Donald Schulman was behind Kennedy in the pantry and had sight of Sirhan and a uniformed security guard. He told radio reporter Jeff Brandt moments after the shooting: “A Caucasian gentleman stepped out and fired three times, the security guard hit Kennedy all three times. Mr. Kennedy slumped to the floor. They carried him away. The security guard fired back. I heard about six or seven shots in succession. Is this the security guard firing back? Yes, the man who stepped out fired three times at Kennedy, hit him all three times, and the security guard fired back…hitting him.” Schulman believed the security guard was aiming for Sirhan, but accidentally hit Kennedy. Schulman was interviewed extensively by the LAPD, but no mention of him was ever put on a witness list, insisting that he was mistaken in what he saw. (11) But what if Schulman saw the man who actually killed Kennedy? Thane Cesar, a security guard by Kennedy’s elbow in the pantry, pulled out his .22 pistol to fire at Sirhan, but claimed he never fired. Cesar sold the pistol to a fellow employee, Jim Yoder, three months after the assassination. Yoder informed the LAPD about Cesar selling him the gun and around roughly the same time after talking with the police, Yoder’s house was burglarized and the gun was stolen. If Cesar was to Kennedy’s immediate right and rear, as he stated, the entry angle of the three bullets line up consistently with his position. (12)

The official diagram of the pantry at the time of the shooting. (California State Archives)

The official diagram of the pantry at the time of the shooting. (California State Archives)

On June 20, 1968, Lieutenant Manuel Pena ordered sound-level tests to be conducted at the Ambassador. Wolfer conducted these tests with Sirhan’s gun, using the same caliber of mini-mag ammunition. Wolfer fired eight shots and found that the decibel reading registered no greater change than one-half decibel outside the pantry. (13) Late in 1970, after reading Wolfer’s findings, veteran criminalist William W. Harper obtained permission to examine the evidence bullets that were stored in the County Clerk’s office. Since the bullets could not be taken out, Harper used a portable Balliscan camera, which takes a series of photographs of a cylindrical object rotated in front of its lens. Harper focused on one bullet from the body of Kennedy and the other from Weisel. He concluded that he could not find any individual characteristics in common between the two bullets. Harper also compared the bullets to the ones Wolfer claimed to have test-fired from Sirhan’s gun. There was no match. Harpers’ findings contradicted Wolfer’s testimony that the bullets from the victims were fired from Sirhan’s gun “to the exclusion of all other weapons in the world.” (14) In early August of 1971, District Attorney Joe Busch said that the bullets Harper examined was “tampered with” sometime after the close of the Sirhan trial, and that employees of the Clerk’s office allowed “unauthorized persons” access to the exhibits which resulted in “altered” and possibly even “switched” evidence. (15) The day before Harper was to appear before the Grand Jury to testify his “second gun” theory and present the evidence of the non-matching bullets, a strange event happened. As he was driving downtown to pick up his wife, he noticed a blue Buick following him. After some evasive turns, and after hitting a “deep dip” in the road, Harper heard a muffled explosion from the rear and the familiar slap of a bullet striking metal. He then proceeded to drive to another prominent criminalist, Raymond Pinker, and after examining the dent in the rear bumper, they agreed it had been caused by a slug from a high-powered gun. (16) Harper still appeared the next day and stuck to his conclusion. The DA was unwilling to produce the “altered” bullets for inspection, so the Grand Jury had no other choice than to refuse to return indictments. (17)

On September 18, 1975, the Superior Court ordered a re-examination of the firearms evidence and a seven-man panel of experts was named. Once the panel began its research, they ran into problems. For one, the LAPD could not produce the laboratory records supporting its claim that in 1968 it test-fired eight bullets from Sirhan’s gun. Secondly, Sirhan’s gun bore was heavily coated with lead, but if he allegedly fired the copper-jacketed bullets, it would have left a lead-free bore. Thirdly, they found in the SUS investigation that on June 4, 1968, Sirhan practiced rapid-shooting at the San Gabriel Valley Gun Club range, using unjacketed “wad cutter” target bullets which deposit lead in the bore. If this was the source of the leading, Sirhan could not have fired the copper-jacketed bullets, which matched the type of bullets recovered from the victims, and Wolfer could not have test-fired bullets of that type, for each of these would have cleaned out the bore. (18)

After the panel test-fired Sirhan’s gun, they found that the test bullets did not have the same microscopic indentations that appeared on the Kennedy and Weisel bullets as well as on a bullet Wolfer introduced at the trial of Sirhan as having been test-fired. The indentations also did not appear in the photographs Harper had taken in 1971. They were, however, visible on the photographs taken for Baxter Ward’s (elected county supervidor) 1974 hearing. The indentations seen could have been made with any sharp object, including the tip of a pencil. These markings coincided on each bullet to make it appear as matching marks. The tampering must have been done sometime after Harper’s examination. A clerk in the Exhibit Section of the Supreme Court stated that in July of 1971, a contingent from the District Attorney’s office, the LAPD and California Attorney General’s office visited the California Supreme Court’s offices, where the bullets were now in custody, and spent several hours alone examining the Sirhan gun and the evidence bullets. The panel found that three bullets, one each from Kennedy, Weisel and Goldstein, were sufficiently undamaged by impact to permit comparison. They determined all came from the same model gun, a .22-caliber Iver Johnson, like the one taken from Sirhan, but the model was a popular one. The panel’s report of October 6, 1975, stated: “There is no substantive or demonstrable evidence that more than one gun was used to fire any of the bullets examined.” (19)

LAPD officers Rozzi and Wright inspect a bullet hole discovered in a door frame in a kitchen corridor of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles near where Robert F. Kennedy was shot. A bullet is still in the wood. (California State Archives)

LAPD officers Rozzi and Wright inspect a bullet hole discovered in a door frame in a kitchen corridor of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles near where Robert F. Kennedy was shot. A bullet is still in the wood. (California State Archives)

Looking back at the official LAPD ballistics report from Wolfer, the LAPD’s position was that “no bullets were found at the assassination scene” and other than the missing bullet that went through the ceiling, “there were no bullet holes on any of the doors or walls of the pantry.” Any bullets or holes observed other than the accounted eight would constitute evidence of a second gun, but the LAPD claimed Sirhan fired no more than eight bullets. Yet there is evidence to prove this wrong. Only hours after the assassination, the Associated Press showed a photograph of two LAPD officers inspecting an object embedded in a doorjamb behind the Embassy Room stage, located in a direct line from the pantry. Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi found the two officers in the photograph to be Sergeants Robert Rozzi and Charles Wright. Bugliosi visited Rozzi, who identified himself as the one holding the flashlight. Rozzi signed a statement saying that lodged in the hole was “the base of what appeared to be a small-caliber bullet.” Bugliosi then contacted Wright by phone and he declared that a bullet was in the hole and said that it was definitely removed by someone, but he was not sure who. Wright agreed to meet with Bugliosi the next day to sign a statement, but word got out and by the time he reached Wright, he said he was instructed not to give a statement and soon retreated from his original position and he wan not sure of what he saw. (20) In the spring of 1976, Bugliosi found more evidence of extra bullets from documents released by the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act. Photographs show different places in the pantry of possible and probable bullet holes. The score of bullets read:

FBI photograph - View taken inside the kitchen serving area showing doorway leading into the kitchen from the staging area. The lower right corner of the photograph shows two bullet holes, which are circled. The missing portion of the panel also reportedly contained a bullet. (California State Archives)

FBI photograph – View taken inside the kitchen serving area showing doorway leading into the kitchen from the staging area. The lower right corner of the photograph shows two bullet holes, which are circled. The missing portion of the panel also reportedly contained a bullet. (California State Archives)

Definite

2 in a jamb of the swinging doors
2 in the center divider post of the swinging doors
1 in a jamb of the stage door

Probable

1 in the triangular piece of panel
1 that struck the hinge

Victims

2 removed from Kennedy
5 removed from surviving victims (21)

This makes for a total of between thirteen to fifteen bullets that were fired that night, five to seven more than the capacity of Sirhan’s gun, or for that matter, the amount accounted for by the LAPD. They tried to write off the bullet holes in the center divider as “dents caused by food carts.” (22)

It is almost an impossible task to find out if there were more than eight bullets in the pantry. The LAPD disposed of evidence shortly after Sirhan was convicted, even though his case was still under appeal. (23) Almost all of the physical evidence in the case was destroyed, including ceiling panels, the center divider between the swinging doors and the doorjamb on the left side. Curiously enough, the left sleeves of Kennedy’s coat and shirt are missing. The most mysterious of all, the LAPD scientific reports in the case were “either lost or destroyed.” These included the spectrograph report on all the victim bullets. The purpose of the spectrographic test was to determine the metallic and chemical constituency of the recovered bullet. Since the LAPD contended that all eight cartridges came from the same box of ammo, which was discovered in Sirhan’s car, the spectrograph report could not have supported their scientific case, but it could also have refuted it. (24)

But what if Sirhan never actually fired any bullets? Witnesses who saw Sirhan fire the first shot say the tongue of flame emitted from the gun’s muzzle was about six inches to more than a foot in length. Firearms experts say that a regular mini-mag load, with a bullet, gives off a tongue of only an inch or so, and that one as long as was described by witnesses is a characteristic of a slugless cartridge. If Sirhan truly was firing “blanks,” the only logical reason would be to attract the attention of the crowd while at the same time not hitting the actual killer gunman who would have been immediately behind Kennedy. (25) If this were to be proven true, then not only would this prove that there was another gunman, but it would also show that there was an additional one as well, bringing the total to three guns.

Taking just all the firearms evidence as a whole, it virtually shouts conspiracy and is reason enough to reopen the investigation. After presenting this overwhelming amount of evidence, the press asked Bugliosi if this meant Sirhan was innocent. Bugliosi replied, “No, not at all. Sirhan is as guilty as sin, and his conviction was a proper one. But just because Sirhan is guilty does not automatically exclude the possibility that more than one gun was fired at the assassination scene.” (26) Now, forty year later, the nation still does not have an answer to what truly happened that night. It is time for the American people to push for the reinvestigation into the murder of Robert F. Kennedy.

At 1:44 a.m., June 6, 1968, at the age of forty-two, Senator Robert Francis Kennedy was pronounced dead.

The words he spoke would forever be immortalized beyond his lifetime: “It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” (27)

Thousands of people lined the tracks from New York to Washington, D.C. to see Robert F. Kennedy's funeral train. (NY Times)

Thousands of people lined the tracks from New York to Washington, D.C. to see Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral train. (NY Times)

On Saturday, June 8, millions of people watched as the funeral train carrying the body of Robert F. Kennedy made its way from New York to Washington, D.C. Thousands stood by the tracks in tribute as it passed by. The country looked on as the casket was lowered by torch light into Arlington soil, near the grave of his brother. (28) The dreams of thousands, of a better life and a better country, was shattered with his loss.

A nation’s loss was reflected in the words of his brother: “We loved him as a brother and a father and a son. From his parents, and from older brothers and sister – Joe, Kathleen and Jack – he received inspiration which he passed on to all of us. He gave us strength in time of trouble, wisdom in time of uncertainty, and sharing in time of happiness. He was always by our side.

“Love is not an easy feeling to put into words. Nor is loyalty, or trust of joy. But he was all of these. He loved life completely and lived it intensely.

“That is the way he lived. That is what he leaves us.

“My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

“Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.

“As he said so many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to tough him:

‘Some men see things as they are and say why,

‘I dream things that never were and say why not.’” (29)

Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Robert F. Kennedy Biography)

Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Robert F. Kennedy Biography)

(1) MacAfee, 148; (2) Houghton, 286-288; (3) Houghton, 93; (4) Houghton, 303-304; (5) Kranz, 59; (6) Houghton, 38; (7) Houghton, 81; (8) Kranz, 8; (9) Turner, 162; (10) Turner, 162-164; (11) Turner, 161-162; (12) Turner, 165-167; (13) Houghton, 118-119; (14) Turner, 159-160; (15) Turner, 168; (16) Turner, 157-158; (17) Turner, 170; (18) Turner, 172-173; (19) Turner, 173-174; (20) Turner, 178-181; (21) Turner, 186-187; (22) Turner, 182; (23) Conspiracy?; (24) Turner, 179; (25) Turner, 190-191; (26) Turner, 191; (27) MacAfee, 41; (28) Houghton, 93; (29) Houghton, 90-93.

Bibliography

“Conspiracy? RFK Assassination.” Video by The History Channel

Houghton, Robert A. Special Unit Senator. New York, New York: Random House, 1970.

Kranz, Thomas F. Robert F. Kennedy Assassination (Summary). Federal Bureau of Investigation: Freedom of Information Act, 1977.

MacAfee, Norman. The Gospel According to RFK. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2004.

Turner, William W. and John G. Christian. The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. New York, New York: Random House, 1978.

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Categories: Crime, History, Research

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