10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don't Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don’t Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don’t Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

Patrick Lynch - March 7, 2018

Robert F. Kennedy was a United States Senator, and the brother of former President, John F. Kennedy who was slain on November 22, 1963. Also known as Bobby, the younger Kennedy brother seemed destined to follow in John’s footsteps and become the nation’s President. Sadly, he could only follow him to an early grave as he was struck down by the bullets of an assassin on June 5, 1968.

It happened in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles as Kennedy was celebrating his victory in the Californian presidential primary. Much has been written about the assassination but let’s delve deeper by focusing on 10 of the most fascinating facts, theories and ‘what ifs’ about the death of RFK.

10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don’t Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
Sirhan Sirhan – Henry Makow

1 – Kennedy Was Murdered by a Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian/Jordanian Immigrant

According to the official story, Sirhan fired four bullets at Kennedy with a .22 caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet Revolver from close range. While one bullet passed through the victim’s jacket, one hit him in the head, and two more struck the senator in the back. A total of six people were shot at the scene, but Kennedy was the only one to die. After carrying out his mission, Sirhan continued to fire his weapon until he was disarmed by a group of people. After a minute, he broke free and tried to fire his gun again, but it was empty.

Sirhan was born in Jerusalem in 1944, but his family emigrated to the United States when he was 12. After a brief spell in New York, the family moved to California. His father, Bishara, was extremely strict and regularly beat his sons. Bishara returned to the Middle East alone soon after the family came to California. Meanwhile, Sirhan did not become an American citizen and kept his Jordanian citizenship. After changing church denominations several times in his twenties, Sirhan finally settled on the Ancient Mystical Order of the Rose Cross which he joined in 1966.

It is widely interpreted that he was motivated by politics in the Middle East. When police searched his apartment after the murder, they found an entry on May 19, 1968, which said that Kennedy had to die, specifically before June 5, 1968. It was a significant date because it marked the first anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day War between Israel and several of its Arab neighbors. At his trial, Sirhan claimed that his hatred of Kennedy began when he discovered that the senator was pro-Israeli.

However, this all overlooks the fact that Sirhan had obvious psychological problems. At his trial, Sirhan’s lawyers tried to defend their client’s actions by virtue of diminished responsibility. However, Sirhan claimed his actions were the result of “20 years of malice aforethought.” The trial lasted two months, and at its conclusion, Sirhan was found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1972, and at the time of writing, Sirhan is still languishing in San Diego County’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility.

10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don’t Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
Sirhan Sirhan in prison – NY Daily News

2 – Sirhan Claims He Has No Memory of the Crime

Initially, Sirhan confessed to the murder of Robert F. Kennedy, but the court judge refused to accept the confession. Later, Sirhan claimed that he had no memory of the shooting, the trial, or his confession. This has led to one of the most interesting if far-fetched, conspiracy theories surrounding the murder. It has been suggested that Sirhan was a victim of hypnosis and was ‘programmed’ to kill the senator. His Arab name apparently made him an easy scapegoat who allowed the real perpetrators to escape justice.

In a March 2011 parole board hearing, his defense team claimed that he was an involuntary participant because he was the victim of “sophisticated hypno-programming memory implantation techniques” which meant he wasn’t able to consciously control his thoughts and actions during the murder. While it seems like an absurd suggestion, U.S. government security agencies have researched the possibility of created so-called “hypnotic assassins.” The main issue surrounding Sirhan’s claim is the lack of a single scrap of evidence to support the outrageous hypno-assassin defense.

It seems like a classic ‘open and shut’ case. Sirhan walked up to Kennedy and shot him in front of dozens of witnesses. Moreover, he admitted his hatred of the senator and had written “RFK must die” over and over in his diary. He also wrote: “my determination to eliminate RFK is becoming more the more of an unshakeable obsession.” He even wrote down the ‘deadline’ for the assassination so there shouldn’t be any doubt over his guilt. His mental state, on the other hand, is open for debate.

Sirhan claimed that he didn’t even remember writing about his plans in his diary. He was apparently fascinated with hypnosis and believed he was learning to control different events with the power of his mind. Is there a possibility that somewhere along the way, Sirhan placed himself in a hypnotic trance and carried out his terrible crime without realizing? Or did he just make everything up to keep his name in the news? One thing’s for sure, the whole ‘Manchurian Candidate’ theory has little to back it up. As for it being a straightforward assassination, you won’t be surprised to learn that not everyone is happy with that suggestion.

10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don’t Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
Coroner Thomas Noguchi – YouTube

3 – It Is Alleged That There Was a Second Gun

According to this theory, there is eyewitness testimony of a second shooter. According to a Dr. Marcus McBroom, there was a man at the scene with a pistol partially concealed in his hand; this man apparently was running from the pantry. Evan Freed, a photographer, swore out an affidavit in 1992 that he had witnessed another gunman, not Sirhan, fire his weapon at the senator from behind. Sirhan was in front of Kennedy and no more than a few feet away from the victim.

The report of the coroner, Thomas Noguchi, makes for interesting reading. He wrote that Kennedy had been shot three times from behind at a steep upward angle. The powder burns suggest that the senator was shot from a distance of no more than a few inches. Sirhan never got that close. The apparent murder weapon, an Iverson .22 revolver contained a maximum of eight bullets. Two of the bullets were removed from Kennedy (another one had exited his chest), and five more from other people. Another bullet had grazed RFK and hit the ceiling but was never recovered.

According to the LAPD, one of the bullets ricocheted down from the ceiling and had hit some victims which means all eight bullets in the gun were accounted for. However, there were also bullet holes in the doorframe where the Kennedy party had entered the pantry. According to the author, Vincent Bugliosi, two police officers admitted seeing an additional bullet lodged in the wood of a door frame. Martin Patrusky, a waiter at the hotel, claimed that the officers told him they dug two bullets out of the center divider.

Photographers, and a carpenter who helped the police by removing the door frame for evidence, also claim to have either seen or been told about bullets being recovered. A pair of forensic audio specialists confirmed that there were more than eight gunshots fired (13 in fact) at the scene although other acoustic specialists dispute these findings. If more than eight shots were fired, and Sirhan did not get the chance to reload, was there a second gunman?

10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don’t Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
Police examine a bullet in a door frame – Medium

4 – The Mysterious Woman in the Polka Dot Dress Has Never Been Found

After his arrest, Sirhan says he doesn’t remember speaking with anyone before the assassination. However, several witnesses claim he was with a girl wearing a polka dot dress in several locations within the hotel, including in the pantry. Along with another man, this mystery woman was spotted running away from the pantry after the shooting. Sandy Serrano, an RFK campaign worker, having a break on a balcony at the time of the murder, says she saw the polka dot dress lady running from the hotel with a male companion; she was apparently shouting “We shot him. We shot him.”

It is easy to dismiss this story because there always seems to be a mysterious, unidentified individual involved in assassinations. However, an extraordinary number of people saw the same lady acting strangely and in the company of Sirhan. Paul Sharaga, an LAPD officer, and an elderly couple who were in the parking lot behind the Ambassador Hotel collaborated Serrano’s story. Practically every witness to the polka dot dress woman provided a similar description which is unusual in itself. They said she wore a white dress with black or blue polka-dots, was well-built and had a crooked nose and dirty blond hair.

After receiving descriptions from dozens of witnesses, the LAPD murder investigation team, named Special Unit Senator (SUS), spent a lot of time and resources trying to track down the mystery woman and her male friend. They desperately looked through news film archives to try and find photographic evidence of this woman’s existence but to no avail. The trouble is, there were several women in the hotel wearing a polka-dot dress although there was no evidence to link any of them to the assassin.

Some people try to latch on to the women in the polka-dot dress theory as ‘evidence’ of a conspiracy, but they fail to take into account the chaos of the scene. The United States Army has reported the inaccuracy of eyewitness testimony in the midst of a battle. Therefore, it is safe to assume that those who witnessed the mystery woman are unreliable because the assassination took place in a crowded room, and in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, there was mass panic.

Serrano and another eyewitness, Vincent DiPierro, both claimed they saw the woman in the polka-dot dress shouting “We shot him.” However, when police officers showed them multiple dresses with varying colors, sleeves, and polka dots, they gave different descriptions of the dress they saw. DiPierro later picked out Kennedy campaign worker, Valerie Schulte, as the woman he saw. Cathy Fulmer, who also wore a polka-dot dress, stated that she had a conversation with a stranger she later identified as Sirhan. Therefore, we should put the polka-dot theory to rest even though there is a suggestion that the SUS was far from thorough and transparent in the investigation.

10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don’t Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
RFK after being shot – History on the Next

5 – The SUS Was Criticized For its Investigation

A Special Unit Senator (SUS) group was set up by the LAPD to handle the investigation, but its tactics and overall conduct have been called into question by some. A prime example of ‘bully-boy’ tactics came from SUS member Enrique Hernandez when he interviewed Sandy Serrano. The interview soon became an interrogation as Hernandez continued to tell Serrano that she didn’t see anyone. Hernandez also said: “Don’t shame his death by keeping this thing up […] I want to know why you did what you did.”

Eventually, Serrano complied and retracted her story. Soon, the fact that Serrano had withdrawn her tale was used to discredit other witnesses at the scene. As a number of these eyewitnesses had similar stories to one another, it became easy to cast doubt on almost every witness statement. Those who have viewed transcripts of the SUS’ interviews with witnesses point out that the group used a pattern of isolation and intimidation to force each individual to backtrack.

A more serious allegation against the SUS is that it failed to include information that witnesses had volunteered. Evan Freed is one of those who claim that some of the details they mentioned were omitted from the record. There are also suggestions that the SUS deliberately misplaced, hid, or even destroyed key evidence. Paul Sharaga wrote a memo which included details of his interaction with the elderly couple who had allegedly seen the lady in the polka-dot dress fleeing the scene. It vanished from evidence, but Sharaga had retained the original mimeograph.

One of the most serious claims of misconduct surrounds the door frame evidence. Several witnesses claim to have seen bullet holes in the frames, but the LAPD supposedly destroyed the frames after the trial. Even more astonishingly, the frames were never even entered into evidence at the trial. A teenager named Scott Enyart claims that he took photographs in the pantry, but these too went missing. Overall, the SUS’ investigation carried on without scandal, but conspiracy theorists seem to believe the LAPD was involved in a cover-up.

10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don’t Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

6 – Sirhan’s Lead Trial Lawyer Was Accused of Ineptitude

Grant Cooper was the lead defense attorney in the murder trial and was accused of ‘throwing’ the case by Sirhan’s subsequent defense teams. One apparent reason for Cooper’s poor performance was the fact he was compromised. At the time, there was a pending indictment against Cooper for the possession of stolen transcripts of grand jury proceedings in another case; the Beverly Hills Friar’s Club card cheating case. There was a possibility of Cooper facing jail time, but instead, he was fined the paltry sum of $1,000. Did he deliberately mess up the Sirhan defense in exchange for a lenient sentence?

Sirhan seemed to think so. When he was on Death Row, the assassin wrote a letter to Cooper which included the following: “Don’t ever forget, you dirty son of a bitch that cost me my life.” While testifying for Sirhan in 1982, Cooper blamed mental illness for Sirhan’s anger at the time. It is alleged that Johnny Roselli, a defendant in the Friars Club case, planted the grand jury papers on Cooper’s desk. Roselli was apparently recruited by the CIA to kill Fidel Castro but was supposedly ‘turned’ by the Cuban leader who asked him to murder JFK.

It seems as if Sirhan’s defense team did not receive all the evidence at the trial. Omissions included the autopsy report which was only shared with the defense after it had stipulated Sirhan’s guilt. By this stage, the defense had settled on a diminished capacity defense and the autopsy did not change this tactic. To be fair, Sirhan behaved bizarrely at the trial and didn’t help himself or his defense team. He used the spotlight to focus on expressing his anti-Semitic views and forwarding the Arab cause.

His later defense teams have tried to get him freed on parole. They cite various omissions of evidence and new discoveries as their basis for Sirhan’s innocence. During his 2011 appeal, Sirhan’s attorneys argued that a bullet had been switched in evidence at the trial. William Pepper was one of the lawyers, and he said that the prosecution at the trial had put fabricated evidence into the court. Pepper said he was confident of overturning the verdict but parole was denied and over six years on, Sirhan remains in prison where he will surely die.

10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don’t Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
Shane O’Sullivan – Kingston University

7 – The CIA Has Been Accused of the Murder

What’s a conspiracy theory without the alleged involvement of the CIA? The Central Intelligence Agency has been accused of almost every bad deed to have occurred on American soil since its foundation, and numerous crimes abroad! For many conspiracy theorists, it is the prime suspect in the JFK assassination, so it makes sense that the CIA would also want to wipe Bobby out too, right? At least, it is the most likely scenario according to Irish filmmaker and writer, Shane O’Sullivan.

His documentary, RFK Must Die, was the first such program on the assassination since The Second Gun some 25 years previously. O’Sullivan also wrote Who Killed Bobby? The Unsolved Murder of Robert F. Kennedy, which was published on the 40th anniversary of the assassination. During his investigation, O’Sullivan pointed out several of the issues I previously mentioned in this article. For example, he is adamant that the autopsy report is proof of Sirhan’s innocence.

David Sanchez Morales, a legend in the world of CIA covert operations, was apparently involved in both Kennedy assassinations. O’Sullivan wrote that during a late-night drinking session with friends in 1973, the subject of both assassinations came up. Morales allegedly said: I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard.” O’Sullivan had a photo of Morales from 1959 which he used for the purposes of comparison. He says that he can see the CIA man standing at the back of the ballroom between the end of the senator’s speech and the shooting in 1968.

The footage he viewed was seemingly a treasure trove of information. With the aid of retired U.S. Army Captain, Bradley Ayers, O’Sullivan was able to identify Morales and Gordon Campbell, another CIA operative in the video. He also named a third agent involved in the killing, a man named George Joannides. The depth of O’Sullivan’s evidence that the CIA is involved is far too long to go into any detail here so if you’re interested, I would suggest you watch the documentary or read the book. If you believe it is more conspiracy nonsense, it is best to avoid both and save yourself an aneurysm.

10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don’t Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
Martin Luther King Jr. – Time Magazine

8 – The Assassination Was the Latest Event in What Had Been a Traumatic Year in the United States

More than one political commentator has written that the murder of RFK led to a ‘nervous breakdown’ in the United States. It was unquestionably a shattering blow that came just over two months after another tragedy; the assassination of the great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., who had been gunned down by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. The death of the preacher who begged for peaceful protest was too much for his supporters, and in the aftermath, riots erupted in several American cities including Detroit and Chicago.

With the assassination of RFK coming so soon afterward, the country’s sense of self-doubt deepened as its confidence was eroded. It began to feel as if violence had taken a firm hold in American society. Instead of being able to march down a peaceful road to progression, the people found the way to prosperity and tolerance barred by fanatics, racists, anarchists, and madmen. One of the greatest assets possessed by American society, a sense of optimism, was being sorely tested.

While there is no doubt that the murder of Kennedy would have rocked America to its core at any time, the fact it happened so quickly after the death of King was a blow that almost crippled the nation. In simple terms, both Kennedy and King were men who had shown a genuine commitment to change within the system. Instead of being successful in their efforts, both had been cut down in cold blood in rapid succession. While the 1960s had started with hope, the decade ended with cynicism replacing optimism as it became clear that ‘change’ was impossible without taking drastic measures.

Much has been written about what would have happened if RFK had not been murdered in Los Angeles on that terrible day in 1968. It has been suggested that he would have won the presidency which meant that American troops would have been withdrawn from Vietnam much earlier. It also means there would have been no President Nixon, no Watergate and no Nixon Shock, a series of economic measures that had a profound effect on the United States, and the world. However, is it certain that Kennedy would have become president had he lived?

10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don’t Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
Robert F. Kennedy – Biography.com

9 – RFK Was NOT a Shoo-in for the Presidency

Kennedy initially decided against running for president because President Johnson was preparing to run for re-election in 1968. After meeting Cesar Chavez, a civil rights activist, in California, RFK decided to run for the presidency. He told two of his former Justice Department aides that he would try to persuade Senator Eugene McCarthy to drop out of the race. He made his plan clear before the New Hampshire primary as a means of preventing the anti-war vote from getting split.

Senator George McGovern urged Kennedy to wait until after New Hampshire before announcing his candidacy. Meanwhile, President Johnson barely won the primary ahead of McCarthy; and this excellent showing only enhanced McCarthy’s standing and his confidence. Kennedy announced his candidacy on March 16, 1968 and was immediately criticized by McCarthy’s supporters for being an opportunist. On March 31, President Johnson shocked the nation by pulling out of the race, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey entered.

Kennedy had mixed success during the primaries, but he knew that victory in California in June would eliminate McCarthy and set up a showdown with Humphrey in August. He was victorious and marched onwards, but soon after his victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel, he was gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan. Although Kennedy had momentum, it is easy to forget that at the time, most political commentators believed he faced a difficult battle just to beat Humphrey, let alone Nixon.

Anti-war sentiment grew during the summer of 1968, so it is likely that he would have defeated Humphrey. Also, the Vice President’s popularity slid to the point where he was trailing Nixon nationwide by the time of the Democratic convention in August. Even though Humphrey’s popularity waned significantly, he only lost to Nixon by 0.7% in the popular vote although he was well beaten 301 – 191 in the all-important electoral college. It isn’t a stretch to say that Kennedy would have defeated Nixon, but it would have been mighty close.

10 Fascinating Facts and Theories You Don’t Know About the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
Richard Nixon – History.com

10 – Kennedy’s Death Changed American History

Whatever the difficulties we face trying to determine what would have happened had RFK avoided assassination and became the president, we do know that the face of history would have been changed. Kennedy’s anti-war stance was real, and there is simply no way he would have kept troops in Vietnam for so many years. Obviously, there would have been no Watergate scandal nor would Spiro Agnew have been allowed to darken the door of the White House. It is also likely that America would not have overthrown Chile’s democratically elected government.

During his presidential campaign, RFK continually said: “There must be a revolution.” He was not referring to a revolution on the streets. Instead, he meant a spiritual and mental revolution. His proponents maintain that he genuinely wanted to change the mindset of the American people for the better. It is also likely that Kennedy would have brought fresh impetus to the table with regards to John’s New Frontier initiative along with the Great Society programs of Lyndon B. Johnson.

The 1960s had been a turbulent decade which began with the Civil Rights Movement and ended with the moon landing. Although the Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965 and outlawed a variety of discriminatory voting practices that had plagued southern states since the aftermath of the Civil War, America was very much a nation divided along the lines of race. This was evidenced by the number of riots that occurred in the latter half of the decade, including the infamous Watts Riot which began just five days after the Voting Rights Act was finalized.

It is impossible to say how successful Kennedy would have been, but there seems little doubt that he would have tried to tackle the race issue head-on. As well as attempted racial reconciliation, Kennedy would probably have tried to reduce income gaps in the United States. There are those who will doubtless gleefully point out his flaws, but it is a safe bet that his presidency would have been significantly better than that of Nixon’s. Today, America faces many of the same social and racial issues as it did back then. Sirhan Sirhan ended Senator Kennedy’s life and robbed America of the chance to see what President Kennedy could have done.

 

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Robert Kennedy Assassination.” Mary Ferrell Foundation.

“Could Robert F. Kennedy’s Assassin Have Been Hypno-Programmed?” Eli MacKinnon, Live Science. December 2011.

“Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin ‘was real-life Manchurian Candidate.'” Jon Swaine, Telegraph. March 2011.

“The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the Girl in the Polka Dot Dress.” Mel Ayton, History News Network. May 2007.

“Sirhan Sirhan: Lawyers For RFK Assassin Allege New Forensic Evidence” Linda Deutsch, Associated Press. CS Monitor. 2011

“Lawyers: Bullet was switched at Sirhan’s Trial.” Linda Deutsch, The San Diego Union-Tribune. November 2011.

“Did the CIA Kill Bobby Kennedy?” Shane O’ Sullivan, The Guardian. November 2006.

“How Robert F. Kennedy’s Death Shattered the Nation.” Kenneth T. Walsh, U.S. News. June 2015.

“What If? [Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated?]” PBS. 2011

“What if Robert Kennedy Lived?” CBS News Staff. May 1998.

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