Robert Francis Kennedy, the son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1925. His great grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, had emigrated from Ireland in 1849 and his grandfathers, Patrick Joseph Kennedy and John Francis Fitzgerald, were important political figures in Boston. Kennedy's father was a highly successful businessman who later served as ambassador to Great Britain (1937-40).
Kennedy went to Harvard University but his studies were interrupted by the Second World War. In November 1944 he joined the United States Navy but the war finished before he was called into action. He returned to Harvard and graduated in 1948. This was followed by a law degree from the University of Virginia.
In 1950 Kennedy married Ethel Shakel and their first child, Kathleen, was born on 4th July, 1951. Joe McCarthy, the controversial senator from Wisconsin, was asked to be the child's godfather. Over the next few years Ethel gave birth to eleven children.
In 1951 Kennedy joined the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice but resigned the following year to help his brother, John F. Kennedy, in his successful campaign to be elected to the Senate. Kennedy returned to legal work in 1953 when Joe McCarthy appointed him as one of the 15 assistant counsels to the Senate subcommittee on investigations.
Kennedy's first task was to research Western trade with China. He discovered that Western European countries accounted for around 75 per cent of all ships delivering cargo to China. In an interview with the Boston Post Kennedy argued that: "it just didn't make sense to anybody in this country that our major allies, whom we're aiding financially, should trade with the communists who are killing GIs".
In a speech in the Senate Joe McCarthy praised Kennedy's research. He also controversially called for the United States Navy "to sink every accursed ship carrying materials to the enemy and resulting in the death of American boys, regardless of what flag those ships may fly."
On 29th July, 1953, Kennedy resigned from McCarthy's office. There is some dispute about why he took this action. In his book, The Enemy Within, Kennedy claimed he resigned because he "disagreed with the way that the Committee was being run". However, other accounts suggest that it was the result of a dispute with Roy Cohn. When McCarthy supported Cohn in the dispute, Kennedy resigned.
In 1954, after the demise of Joe McCarthy, Kennedy rejoined the Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations. The following year he became chief counsel and staff director and in 1957 was appointed as head of the team investigating the Trade Union movement. Kennedy emerged as a national figure when his investigation of James Hoffa was televised.
Hoffa was eventually charged with corruption. Kennedy claimed that Hoffa had misappropriated $9.5 million in union funds and had corruptly done deals with employers. However, the jury found Hoffa not guilty. George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO, did not agree with the verdict and Hoffa and the Teamsters Union were expelled from the association.
When John F. Kennedy was elected he appointed his brother as U.S. Attorney General. The first issue he had to deal with was civil rights. The Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) began to organize Freedom Rides in an attempt to bring an end to segregation in transport. After three days of training in non-violent techniques, black and white volunteers sat next to each other as they travelled through the Deep South.
James Farmer, national director of CORE, and thirteen volunteers left Washington on 4th May, 1961, for Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Governor James Patterson commented that: "The people of Alabama are so enraged that I cannot guarantee protection for this bunch of rabble-rousers." Patterson, who had been elected with the support of the Ku Klux Klan added that integration would come to Alabama only "over my dead body."
The Freedom Riders were split between two buses. They travelled in integrated seating and visited "white only" restaurants. When they reached Anniston on 14th May the Freedom Riders were attacked by men armed with clubs, bricks, iron pipes and knives. One of the buses was fire-bombed and the mob held the doors shut, intent on burning the riders to death.
The surviving bus travelled to Birmingham, Alabama. A meeting of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee decided to send reinforcements. This included John Lewis, James Zwerg, and eleven others including two white women. The volunteers realized their mission was extremely dangerous. Zwerg later recalled: "My faith was never so strong as during that time. I knew I was doing what I should be doing." Zwerg wrote a letter to his parents that stated that he would probably be dead by the time they received it.
During the Freedom Riders campaign Robert Kennedy was phoning Jim Eastland “seven or eight or twelve times each day, about what was going to happen when they got to Mississippi and what needed to be done. That was finally decided was that there wouldn’t be any violence: as they came over the border, they’d lock them all up.” When they were arrested Kennedy issued a statement as Attorney General criticizing the activities of the Freedom Riders.
Kennedy sent John Seigenthaler to negotiate with Governor James Patterson of Alabama. Harris Wofford, the president's Special Assistant for Civil Rights, later pointed out: "Seigenthaler arrived in time to escort the first group of wounded and shaken riders from the bus terminal to the airport, and flew with them to safety in New Orleans."
The Freedom Riders now traveled onto Montgomery. One of the passengers, James Zwerg, later recalled: "As we were going from Birmingham to Montgomery, we'd look out the windows and we were kind of overwhelmed with the show of force - police cars with sub-machine guns attached to the backseats, planes going overhead... We had a real entourage accompanying us. Then, as we hit the city limits, it all just disappeared. As we pulled into the bus station a squad car pulled out - a police squad car. The police later said they knew nothing about our coming, and they did not arrive until after 20 minutes of beatings had taken place. Later we discovered that the instigator of the violence was a police sergeant who took a day off and was a member of the Klan. They knew we were coming. It was a set-up."
The passangers were attacked by a large mob. They were dragged from the bus and beaten by men with baseball bats and lead piping. Taylor Branch, the author of Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 (1988) wrote: "One of the men grabbed Zwerg's suitcase and smashed him in the face with it. Others slugged him to the ground, and when he was dazed beyond resistance, one man pinned Zwerg's head between his knees so that the others could take turns hitting him. As they steadily knocked out his teeth, and his face and chest were streaming blood, a few adults on the perimeter put their children on their shoulders to view the carnage." Zwerg later argued: "There was noting particularly heroic in what I did. If you want to talk about heroism, consider the black man who probably saved my life. This man in coveralls, just off of work, happened to walk by as my beating was going on and said 'Stop beating that kid. If you want to beat someone, beat me.' And they did. He was still unconscious when I left the hospital. I don't know if he lived or died."
Some of the Freedom Riders, including seven women, ran for safety. The women approached an African-American taxicab driver and asked him to take them to the First Baptist Church. However, he was unwilling to violate Jim Crow restrictions by taking any white women. He agreed to take the five African-Americans, but the two white women, Susan Wilbur and Susan Hermann, were left on the curb. They were then attacked by the white mob.
John Seigenthaler, who was driving past, stopped and got the two women in his car. According to Raymond Arsenault, the author of Freedom Riders (2006): "Suddenly, two rough-looking men dressed in overalls blocked his path to the car door, demanding to know who the hell he was. Seigenthaler replied that he was a federal agent and that they had better not challenge his authority. Before he could say any more, a third man struck him in the back of the head with a pipe. Unconscious, he fell to the pavement, where he was kicked in the ribs by other members of the mob. Pushed under the rear bumper of the car, his battered and motionless body remained there until discovered by a reporter twenty-five minutes later."
Harris Wofford, the president's Special Assistant for Civil Rights, pointed out: "Seigenthaler went to the defense of a girl being beaten and was clubbed to the ground; he was kicked while he lay there unconscious for nearly half an hour. Again FBI agents present did nothing, except take notes." Robert Kennedy later reported: "I talked to John Seigenthaler in the hospital and said that I thought it was very helpful for the Negro vote, and that I appreciated what he had done."
The Ku Klux Klan hoped that this violent treatment would stop other young people from taking part in freedom rides. However, over the next six months over a thousand people took part in freedom rides. With the local authorities unwilling to protect these people, President John F. Kennedy sent Byron White and 500 federal marshals from the North to do the job.
Robert Kennedy was a close friend of Governor John Patterson of Alabama. Kennedy explained in his interview with Anthony Lewis: “I had this long relationship with John Patterson (the governor of Alabama). He was our great pal in the South. So he was doubly exercised at me – who was his friend and pal – to have involved him with suddenly surrounding this church with marshals and having marshals descend with no authority, he felt, on his cities… He couldn’t understand why the Kennedys were doing this to him.”
Robert Kennedy petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to draft regulations to end racial segregation in bus terminals. The ICC was reluctant but in September 1961 it issued the necessary orders and it went into effect on 1st November. However, James Lawson, one of the Freedom Riders, argued: "We must recognize that we are merely in the prelude to revolution, the beginning, not the end, not even the middle. I do not wish to minimize the gains we have made thus far. But it would be well to recognize that we have been receiving concessions, not real changes. The sit-ins won concessions, not structural changes; the Freedom Rides won great concessions, but not real change."
The two brothers worked closely together on a wide variety of issues including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the struggle to get Civil Rights legislation passed by Congress and the Vietnam War. Kennedy also attempted to tackle organized crime but found working with J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, difficult.
After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he worked briefly under Lyndon B. Johnson before resigning to begin his successful campaign to be elected to the Senate. As a New York senator, Kennedy was popular with young people and minority groups, but was distrusted by the business world.
On 3rd April, 1967, Martin Luther King. made a speech where he outlined the reasons why he was opposed to the Vietnam War. After he made this speech, the editor of The Nation, Carey McWilliams and the Socialist Party leader, Norman Thomas, urged King to run as a third-party presidential candidate in 1968.
William F. Pepper suggested that King should challenge Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. King rejected this idea but instead joined with Pepper to establish the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP). “From this platform, Dr King planned to move into mainstream politics as a potential candidate on a presidential ticket with Dr Benjamin Spock in order to highlight the anti-poverty, anti-war agenda.”
In June, 1967, J. Edgar Hoover had a meeting with fellow gambler, close friend, and Texas oil billionaire, H. L. Hunt in Chicago. Hunt was very concerned that the activities of King might unseat Lyndon B. Johnson. This could be an expensive defeat as Johnson doing a good job protecting the oil depletion allowance. According to William Pepper: “ Hoover said he thought a final solution was necessary. Only that action would stop King.”
It was King’s opposition to the Vietnam War that really upset J. Edgar Hoover. According to Richard N. Goodwin, Hoover told Lyndon B. Johnson that “Bobby Kennedy was hiring or paying King off to stir up trouble over the Vietnam War.” It is true that Robert Kennedy, like King, was growing increasingly concerned about the situation in Vietnam. Johnson became convinced that Kennedy was leaking information to the press about his feelings on the war. At a meeting on 6 th February, 1967, Johnson told Robert Kennedy: “I’ll destroy you and everyone one of your dove friends. You’ll be dead politically in six months.”
The following month Kennedy made a speech where he raised the issue of morality and the Vietnam War: “Although the world’s imperfection may call forth the act of war, righteousness cannot obscure the agony and pain those acts bring to a single child. It is we who live in abundance and send our young men out to die. It is our chemicals that scorch the children and our bombs that level the villages. We are all participants.”
In an television interview later that year Kennedy again returned to the morality of the war: “We’re going in there and we’re killing South Vietnamese, we’re killing children, we’re killing women, we’re killing innocent people because we don’t want a war fought on American soil, or because (the Viet Cong are) 12,000 miles away and they might get 11,000 miles away. Do we have the right, here in the United States, to say we’re going to kill tens of thousands, make millions of people, as we have, millions of people refugees, killing women and children, as we have.”
On 19th February, 1968, Cesar Chavez, the trade union leader, began a hunger strike in protest against the violence being used against his members in California. Robert F. Kennedy went to the San Joaquin Valley to give Chavez his support and told waiting reporters: “I am here out of respect for one of the heroic figures of our time – Cesar Chavez. I congratulate all of you who are locked with Cesar in the struggle for justice for the farm worker and in the struggle for justice for Spanish-speaking Americans.”
Chavez was also a strong opponent of the Vietnam War. Kennedy had begun to link the campaign against the war with the plight of the disadvantaged. Martin Luther King was following a similar path with his involvement in the Poor People’s Campaign. As William F. Pepper has pointed out: “If the wealthy, powerful interests across the nation would find Dr King’s escalating activity against the war intolerable, his planned mobilization of half a million poor people with the intention of laying siege to Congress could only engender outrage - and fear.”
On 16 th March, 1968, Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. “I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man but to propose new policies.” As Richard D. Mahoney points out in his book, Sons and Brothers: “If there was one reason why Bobby was running, it was to end America’s war in Vietnam…. Politically, however, this looked self-destructive. A substantial majority of Americans supported the president’s policy. The antiwar movement, though a significant new factor in American politics, was not yet a defining factor.” That was true, but that now had the potential to change. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King joining forces against the Vietnam War posed serious problems for Lyndon Johnson.
This decision by Robert Kennedy to take on Lyndon B. Johnson caused Jackie Kennedy great concern. A few days after Kennedy announced his candidacy, Jackie said to Arthur Schlesinger at a dinner party in New York: “Do you know what I think will happen to Bobby?” When Schlesinger replied that he didn’t, she said: “The same thing that happened to Jack.”
It is the view of William W. Turner that Robert Kennedy intended to reopen the investigation into the death of his brother once he had been elected president: “Throughout the primary (in California), Bobby Kennedy was asked by audiences whether he would reopen the investigation of his brother’s death if elected. He hedged, saying he would not reopen the Warren Report, but remained silent on the question of whether he would take action on his own. RFK was a pragmatist, if anything, knowing that he had to control the Justice Department to launch a new probe.”
Kennedy was deeply shocked by the assassination of Martin Luther King. Later that day he spoke in Indianapolis about the killing. He referred to the assassination of John Kennedy. When that happened he was “filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act” but pleaded with the black community not to desire revenge but to “make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.”
The assassination of King further radicalized Robert Kennedy. During a speech at the Indiana University Medical Center, one of the students called out: “Where are we going to get the money to pay for all these new programs you’re proposing?” Kennedy replied: “From you. I look around this room and I don’t see many black faces who will become doctors. Part of a civilized society is to let people go to medical school who come from ghettos. I don’t see many people coming here from the slums, or off of Indian reservations. You are the privileged ones here. It’s easy for you to sit back and say it’s the fault of the Federal Government. But it’s our responsibility too. It’s our society too… It’s the poor who carry the major burden of the struggle in Vietnam. You sit here as white medical students, while black people carry the burden of the fighting in Vietnam.”
The students reacted by hissing and booing Kennedy. His advisors warned him that if he was perceived as an extremist he would never win the election. However, Kennedy was no longer thinking like a politician trying to maximize his vote. Instead he was determined to say what he believed. Kennedy told Jack Newfield that he would probably not win the nomination but “somebody has to speak up for the Negroes and Indians and Mexicans and poor whites.” Despite this pessimism, Kennedy won the Indiana primary with 42% of the vote.
In an attempt to prevent Kennedy from being elected, J. Edgar Hoover leaked a report to Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson that when Kennedy was attorney general he had authorized the FBI to wiretap Martin Luther King. Despite this news, Kennedy continued to get the vote of the black community and his campaign went well in California.
However, rumours were already spreading that Kennedy would die during the campaign. The FBI had picked up reports of an overheard conversation between Jimmy Hoffa and a fellow prisoner in the Lewisburg penitentiary about a contract to kill Kennedy.
One of the more chilling stories appeared in American Journey. Jimmy Breslin asked several reporters around a table whether they thought Kennedy had “the stuff to go all the way”. One of the men at the meeting, John J. Lindsay replied: “Yes, of course, he has the stuff to go all the way, but he’s not going to go all the way. The reason is that somebody is going to shoot him. I know it and you know it, just as sure as we’re sitting here. He’s out there waiting for him.”
On 4th June, 1968, Harold Weisberg appeared on television in Washington where he discussed the possibility of Robert Kennedy being assassinated. Weisberg recalled a meeting with a Kennedy aide. Weisberg asked why Kennedy had supported the conclusions of the Warren Commission Report. He replied: “it is simple, Bobby wants to live.” Kennedy’s friend added that there were “too many guns between Bobby and the White House”. Weisberg asked who controlled these guns. The friend replied in such a way that Weisberg got the impression that he meant the CIA.
Robert Kennedy won the primary in California obtaining 46.3% (Eugene McCarthy received 41.8%). On hearing the result Kennedy went down to the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel to speak to his supporters. He commented on “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 on the war in Vietnam”. Kennedy claimed that the United States was “a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country” and that he had the ability to get people to work together to create a better society.
Robert Kennedy now began his journey to the Colonial Room where he was to hold a press conference. Someone suggested that Kennedy should take a short cut through the kitchen. Security guard Thane Eugene Cesar took hold of Kennedy’s right elbow to escort him through the room when Sirhan Sirhan opened fire. According to Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi, who performed the autopsy, all three bullets striking Kennedy entered from the rear, in a flight path from down to up, right to left. “Moreover, powder burns around the entry wound indicated that the fatal bullet was fired at less than one inch from the head and no more than two or three inches behind the right ear.”
An eyewitness, Donald Schulman, went on CBS News to say that Sirhan “stepped out and fired three times; the security guard hit Kennedy three times.” As Dan E. Moldea pointed out: “The autopsy showed that three bullets had struck Kennedy from the right rear side, traveling at upward angles – shots that Shiran was never in a position to fire.”
Kennedy had been shot at point-blank range from behind. Two shots entered his back and a third shot entered directly behind RFK’s right ear. None of the eyewitness claim that Sirhan Sirhan was able to fire his gun from close-range. One witness, Karl Uecker, who struggled with Shiran when he was firing his gun, provided a written statement in 1975 about what he saw: “There was a distance of at least one and one-half feet between the muzzle of Shiran’s gun and Senator Kennedy’s head. The revolver was directly in front of my nose. After Shiran’s second shot, I pushed the hand that held the revolver down, and pushed him onto the steam table. There is no way that the shots described in the autopsy could have come from Shiran’s gun. When I told this to the authorities, they told me that I was wrong. But I repeat now what I told them then: Shiran never got close enough for a point-blank shot.”
Chief of Detectives Robert Houghton asked Chief of Homicide Detectives Hugh Brown to take charge of the investigation into the death of Robert Kennedy. Code-named Special Unit Senator (SUS). Houghton told Brown to investigate the possibility that there was a link between this death and those of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
As William Turner has pointed out in The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: "Houghton assertedly gave Brown free reign in electing the personnel for SUS - with one exception. He specifically designated Manny Pena, who was put in a position to control the daily flow and direction of the investigation. And his decision on all matters was final." Lieutenant Manuel Pena was an interesting appointment. In November 1967 Pena resigned from the LAPD to work for the Agency for International Development (AID). According to the San Fernando Valley Times: "As a public safety advisor, he will train and advise foreign police forces in investigative and administrative matters. Over the next year he worked with Daniel Mitrione in Latin and South America.
Charles A. O'Brien, California's Chief Deputy Attorney General, told William Turner that AID was being used as an "ultra-secret CIA unit" that was known to insiders as the "Department of Dirty Tricks" and that it was involved in teaching foreign intelligence agents the techniques of assassination.
FBI agent Roger LaJeunesse claimed that Manuel Pena had been carrying out CIA special assignments for at least ten years. This was confirmed by Pena's brother, a high school teacher, who told television journalist, Stan Bohrman, a similar story about his CIA activities. In April 1968 Pena surprisingly resigned from AID and returned to the LAPD.
According to Dan E. Moldea (The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy), Houghton told the SUS team working on the case: "We're not going to have another Dallas here. I want you to act as if there was a conspiracy until we can prove that there wasn't one."
Lieutenant Manuel Pena argued that Sirhan Sirhan was a lone gunman. Shiran’s lead attorney, Grant Cooper, went along with this theory. As he explained to William W. Turner, “a conspiracy defence would make his client look like a contract killer”. Cooper’s main strategy was to portray his client as a lone-gunman in an attempt to spare Sirhan the death penalty by proving “diminished capacity”. Sirhan was convicted and sentenced before William W. Harper, an independent ballistics expert, proved that the bullets removed from Kennedy and newsman William Weisel, were fired from two different guns.
After Harper published his report, Joseph P. Busch, the Los Angeles District Attorney, announced he would look into the matter. Thane Eugene Cesar was interviewed and he admitted he pulled a gun but insisted it was a Rohm .38, not a .22 (the caliber of the bullets found in Kennedy). He also claimed that he got knocked down after the first shot and did not get the opportunity to fire his gun. The LAPD decided to believe Cesar rather than Donald Schulman, Karl Uecker and William W. Harper and the case was closed.
Cesar admitted that he did own a .22 H & R pistol. However, he claimed that he had sold the gun before the assassination to a man named Jim Yoder. William W. Turner tracked down Yoder in October, 1972. He still had the receipt for the H & R pistol. It was dated 6 th September, 1968. Cesar therefore sold the pistol to Yoder three months after the assassination of Robert Kennedy.
Cesar had been employed by Ace Guard Service to protect Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel. This was not his full-time job. During the day he worked at the Lockheed Aircraft plant in Burbank. According to Lisa Pease, Cesar had formerly worked at the Hughes Aircraft Corporation. Lockheed and Hughes were two key companies in the Military-Industrial-Congressional Intelligence Complex.
Thane Eugene Cesar was a Cuban American who had registered to vote for George Wallace’s American Independent Party. Jim Yoder claimed that Cesar appeared to have no specific job at Lockheed and had “floating” assignments and often worked in off-limits areas which only special personnel had access to. According to Yoder, these areas were under the control of the CIA.
Yoder also gave Turner and Christian details about the selling of the gun. Although he did not mention the assassination of Robert Kennedy he did say “something about going to the assistance of an officer and firing his gun.” He added that “there might be a little problem over that.”
Cesar was afraid that the assassination had been captured on film. It was. Scott Enyart, a high-school student, was taking photographs of Robert Kennedy as he was walking from the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel to the Colonial Room where the press conference was due to take place. Enyart was standing slightly behind Kennedy when the shooting began and snapped as fast as he could. As Enyart was leaving the pantry, two LAPD officers accosted him at gunpoint and seized his film. Later, he was told by Detective Dudley Varney that the photographs were needed as evidence in the Sirhan trial. The photographs were not presented as evidence but the court ordered that all evidential materials had to be sealed for twenty years.
In 1988 Scott Enyart requested that his photographs should be returned. At first the State Archives claimed they could not find them and that they must have been destroyed by mistake. Enyart filed a lawsuit which finally came to trial in 1996. During the trial the Los Angeles city attorney announced that the photos had been found in its Sacramento office and would be brought to the courthouse by the courier retained by the State Archives. The following day it was announced that the courier’s briefcase, that contained the photographs, had been stolen from the car he rented at the airport. The photographs have never been recovered and the jury subsequently awarded Scott Enyart $450,000 in damages.
One possible connection between the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy is that they were all involved in a campaign to bring an end to the Vietnam War. One man who does believe there is a connection is Edward Kennedy. NBC television correspondent Sander Vanocur, travelled with Edward Kennedy on the aircraft that brought back his Robert’s body to New York. Vanocur reported Kennedy as saying that “faceless men” (Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan) had been charged with the killing of his brothers and Martin Luther King. Kennedy added: “Always faceless men with no apparent motive. There has to be more to it.”
Lieutenant Manuel Pena remained convinced that Sirhan Sirhan was a lone-gunman. He told Marilyn Barrett in an interview on 12th September, 1992: "Sirhan was a self-appointed assassin. He decided that Bobby Kennedy was no good, because he was helping the Jews. And he is going to kill him." He also added: "I did not come back (to the LAPD) as a sneak to be planted. The way they have written it, it sounds like I was brought back and put into the (Kennedy) case as a plant by the CIA, so that I could steer something around to a point where no one would discover a conspiracy. That's not so."
Robert Kennedy was a strange, complex man, easier to respect than to like, easier to like than understand; in all, a man to be taken seriously. His love for humanity, however real, seemed greater in the abstract than in individual cases. He was no intellectual but he was more receptive to other men's ideas than most intellectuals. But even as you made excuses for his weaknesses, there was the fear that you were doing more than he would do for you.
At birth, it is a Teamster who drives the ambulance to the hospital. At death, a Teamster who drives the hearse to the grave. Between birth and death, it is the Teamsters who drive the trucks that bring you your meat, milk, clothing and drugs, pick up your garbage and perform many other essential services.
The individual truck driver is honest, and so are the vast majority of local Teamster officials - but they are completely under the control and domination of certain corrupt officials at the top. Picture this power, then, and the chaos that could result in these officials were to gain control over sea and other transportation outlets. Such a force could conceivably cause anyone - management and labor alike - to capitulate to its every whim. With Hoffa at the controls of the union that will dominate the transport alliance, this power would certainly be in the wrong hands.
Right now, all over the nation, the struggle for Negro equality is expressing itself in marches, demonstrations, and sit-ins. It seems very clear to me that these people are protesting against something more than the privations and humiliations they have endured so long. They are protesting the failure of our legal system to be responsive to the legitimate grievances of our citizens. They are protesting because the very procedures supposed to make the law work justly have been perverted into obstructions that keep it from working at all.
Robert Kennedy received credit as the first attorney general to gain control of the FBI. He got the Bureau to act on organized crime and civil rights. But what he really did was cede more power to Hoover as his price for doing so. Kennedy allowed the anti-Communist mania to continue. Although he let the department's Internal Security Division wind down, he didn't put his time and energy into it. And that anti-Communist hysteria that was still part of the American political is what later permitted the wiretapping of the phones of Martin Luther King and his associates.
The Kennedy's meant well, but they did not feel it. They didn't know any blacks growing up - there were no blacks living in their communities or going to their schools. But their inclinations were good. On Bobby, I had the impression in those years that he was doing what had to be done for political reasons. He was very conscious of the fact that they had won a narrow election and he was afraid that if they antagonized the South, the Dixiecrats would cost them the next election. And he was found to be very, very cautious and very careful not to do that. But we changed the equation down there, so it became dangerous for him not to do anything.
I don't think Robert Kennedy understood, when he started out, the extent to which segregation in the South was undergirded by violence and the threat of violence. By the end of the riots, 160 marshals had been wounded, 28 by gunfire, and a local jukebox repairman had been killed in addition to the English newsman.
Documents will be presented to show that:
1. There was a plan personally directed by Robert Kennedy (RFK) for a major coup in Cuba on in the Fall of 1963. This plan was farther along, much broader in scope, and reached much higher in the Cuban government that the AM/LASH plot.
2. There were government Contingency Plans designed to deal with any possible retaliation by Castro (including the assassination of US public officials), in order to keep the Coup Plan secret. Also, that the government had evidence of possible Cuban activity related to the planned attempts on JFK's life in Chicago, Tampa, and Dallas.
3. Persons associated with Trafficante and Marcello knew about RFK's Coup Plan, and discussed it in documented conversations before and alter JFK's assassination. Among these people are mobster John Roselli's roommate (John Martino), Carlos Prio, Frank Sturgis, a Cuban exile narcotics partner of Trafficante, and even Jack Ruby himself.
4. The Mafia was able to penetrate and compromise each of the five main exile groups associated with the Coup Plan.
5. Robert Kennedy controlled the activities at the autopsy for national security reasons.
6. Individuals who worked on the Coup Plan also worked on the Contingency Plans to keep it secret, thus allowing RFK to maintain a firm chain of control.
7. That National Security concerns about the Coup Plan are one of the main reasons that so many documents related to the assassination still remain classified.
8. That LBJ, in a recorded conversation with J. Edgar Hoover, was concerned that Oswald was linked somehow to the Coup Plan.
9. That Oswald-far from being a unique individual-had more than 16 parallels in his life and actions in 1963 with another Fair Play for Cuba member that the government suspected in JFK's death.
We call RFK's Coup Plan "Project Freedom" (the actual names for the operation are still classified), since his goal was freedom and democracy for the Cuban people Additional information from confidential sources close to these events will show how the secrecy surrounding "Project Freedom" was used by organized crime to force the government to cover-up even today) the mob's role in the death of JFK. It will also show that the swirl of intelligence- connected individuals around Oswald, and the unusual surveillance of Oswald (such as when he crossed the Mexican border) can be explained by his being under "tight surveillance" by a US intelligence agency - an agency which also conducted its own investigation into JFK's assassination and came up with a far different conclusion than Warren Commission.
Robert Kennedy perceived so much hatred about, so many enemies: the Teamsters; the gangsters; the pro-Castro Cubans; the anti-Castro Cubans; the racists; the right-wing fanatics; the lonely deluded nuts mumbling to themselves in the night. I do not know whether he suspected how much vital information both the FBI and the CIA deliberately denied the Warren Commission or whether he ever read its report. But on October 30, 1966, as we talked till two-thirty in the morning in P. J. Clarke's saloon in New York City, "RFK wondered how long he could continue to avoid comment on the report. It is evident that he believes that it was a poor job and will not endorse it, but that he is unwilling to criticize it and thereby reopen the whole tragic business.""
The next year Jim Garrison, the New Orleans district attorney, started making sensational charges about a conspiracy. I asked Kennedy what he made of them. He thought Garrison might be onto something; NBC, he added, had sent Walter Sheridan to New Orleans to find out what Garrison had. Garrison's villain turned out to be the CIA. Kennedy said to Sheridan something like: "You know, at the time I asked McCone . . . if they had killed my brother, and I asked him in a way that he couldn't lie to me, and they hadn't."" Kennedy asked Frank Mankiewicz of his Senate staff whether he thought Garrison had anything. "And I started to tell him, and he said, `Well, I don't think I want to know.' Kennedy told me later: "Walter Sheridan is satisfied that Garrison is a fraud."
I cannot say what his essential feeling was. He came to believe the Warren Commission had done an inadequate job; but he had no conviction - though his mind was not sealed against the idea of conspitacy - that an adequate inquiry would necessarily have reached a different conclusion.
Bobby's despair was in no small measure a result of survivor's guilt. JFK had been warned of a climate of hatred in Dallas. Senator William Fulbright, the target of vicious attacks by the Dallas News, had declined several invitations to visit the city and had pleaded with JFK to do likewise. Byron Skelton, the Democratic National Committeeman from Texas, had written to Bobby on November 4, 1963, "Frankly, I'm worried about President Kennedy's proposed trip to Dallas." The city wasn't safe, Skelton argued. But political commitments had been made, and RFK, preparing for his brother's reelection campaign, had favored keeping them. Moreover, it was RFK who suggested that the president ride through the streets of Dallas in a car without using the specially outfitted bulletproof bubble top. "It will give you more contact with the crowd," he had said.
Bobby's advice to visit Dallas, however, weighed less heavily on him than did his conduct over the whole of his brother's term in office, for he had been the driving force in the Kennedy administration's most aggressive operations. He had pushed the government to hound the mob, to chase down Hoffa, to destroy Castro. He had "taken care" of Marilyn Monroe. Less than a day after Jack was declared dead, Bobby told Larry O'Brien, "I'm sure that little pinko prick had something to do with it, but he certainly didn't mastermind anything. He should've shot me, not Jack. I'm the one who's out to get them." News about Jack's assassin, and about the assassin's assassin, was not slow in coming. By the day of the funeral, Bobby knew that Lee Harvey Oswald had Communist ties and had demonstrated in New Orleans as a member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. He knew that Jack Ruby was a Dallas racketeer connected to the national Mafia. As John H. Davis observed in his book Mafia Kingfish: Carlos Marcello and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, RFK "could not possibly have escaped the awful suspicion that his aggressive campaigns against Castro and the mob might have backfired on his brother."
The CIA's John McCone remembered conversations with the attorney general shortly after Jack's death: "He wanted to know what we knew about it and whether it had been a Cuban or perhaps Russian hit. He even asked me if the CIA could have done it. I mentioned the mob, but RFK didn't want to know about it. I suspect he thought it was the mob. He said, 'They whoever they were should have killed me. I'm the one they wanted.' He blamed himself because of all the enemies he'd made along the way and also because he'd advised his brother to go to Dallas." At the time of Jack's death, the pursuit of the Mafia was proceeding unabated. Indeed, when the telephone rang with J. Edgar Hoover's word of Jack's shooting, RFK was awaiting another call: one supplying news of the verdict in the federal trial of New Orleans godfather Carlos Marcello. (The don was acquitted that day.)
Over the next year, Bobby kept his distance from the Warren Commission, the blue-ribbon panel, headed by the chief justice, created to look into the assassination.' J. Edgar Hoover, whose Bureau was a key investigative arm of the commission, sent the attorney general none of the raw materials developed by FBI agents during the probe, but neither did Bobby seek to acquire them. Earl Warren's group issued its final report to Lyndon Johnson on September 24, 1964. Oswald and Ruby, the document concluded, had both acted alone. Did RFK maintain his odd detachment from the inquiry into his brother's death - an inquiry for which he, as master of the FBI, had significant official responsibility because he was too heartbroken to dwell on the grisly details? Or did he fear that a truly comprehensive investigation might uncover details of Marcello and Roselli, Giancana and Campbell, Monroe and Castro? Was his brother's assassination the act of a solitary lunatic, or an expertly devised reprisal for the administration's efforts and Bobby's vendettas? At a champagne party following Jimmy Hoffa's court convictions in early 1964, a glum RFK said, "There's nothing to celebrate." The labor leader had gloated after Jack's death, "Bobby's just another lawyer now." Hoffa was only one of the attorney general's enemies with a motive to see the president eliminated.
Jim Garrison, the flamboyant New Orleans district attorney who challenged the Warren Commission's conclusions, recalled a telephone conversation he had with RFK in 1964: "I told him some of my theories. He listened carefully, then said, `Maybe so, maybe you're right. But what good will it do to know the truth? Will it bring back my brother?' I said, `I find it hard to believe that as the top law man in the country you don't want to pursue the truth more ardently.' With this he hung up on me."
RFK expressed dismay over the Commission's report, saying it was "impossible that Oswald and Ruby hadn't known one another." He also said "Those Cuban c**** are all working for the mob. They blame us for the Bay of Pigs, and they're trying to make this look like a Castro Communist hit. I don't buy it. And I don't trust those guys at the CIA. They're worse than the Mafia." Bobby simply didn't want to know who did it. But at the same time, he couldn't put it behind him. He wanted to bring his brother's murderers to justice, but he didn't have the strength to do it. He must have felt tremendous guilt over his failure to act.
Through the years the most common question of all has been: "If there was a conspiracy in the JFK assassination, why didn't Robert Kennedy find out about it and take some action? And if there was a conspiracy in the RFK assassination why haven't Ted Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy done something about it?" No one except the Kennedys know the answers to these questions for sure. However, there are plenty of clues and some other Power Control Group actions to provide the answers to us.
First of all, thanks to Jackie Kennedy Onassis' butler in Athens, Greece, Christain Cafarakis, we know why Jackie did nothing after her husband's death. In a book published in 1972 (The Fabulous Jackie), Cafarakis tells about an investigation Jackie had conducted by a famous New York City detective agency into the assassination of JFK in 1964 and 1965. It was financed by Aristotle Onassis and resulted in a report in the spring of 1965 telling who the four gunmen were and who was behind them. Jackie planned to give the report to LBJ but was stopped by a threat from the Power Control Group to kill her and her children. Ted, Bobby and other family members knew about the report and the threat.
An hour or so before midnight, it was already clear that a wake was setting in at the Beverley Hilton Hotel, where the youngsters for McCarthy roamed in great numbers in and around the grand ballroom.
The percentage gap between McCarthy's lead over Kennedy was shrinking every quarter hour or so, as the returns form Los Angeles County began to overtake McCarthy's anticipated strength in Northern California. It was a young and doughty crowd, gamely but hopelessly trying to keep its spirit up.
In this country, at any rate, only the very pure in heart love a loser. And it seemed a good idea to move on to the victory boy at the Ambassador. Wilshire Boulevard is one of the longest of the long straight avenues that bisect the huge east-west spread of this city, and at such a time it seemed as long as a Roman road. The hotel's driveway was a miniature freeway in a traffic jam, and the human traffic inside the foyer was almost worse.
But at last, through the strutting cops and guards and the elated crowd and the din of whistles and cheers, it was possible to reach the north ballroom, a bone-white glare of light seen at the far end of the lobby.
Security is a fighting word at the Kennedy headquarters anywhere, and not without reason. You had to have a special Kennedy press card to acquire the privilege of being suffocated in the ballroom, and no other credentials for a reporter would do. I had only a general press card, a McCarthy badge, a driver's licence, and such other absurdities. So I turned back and thought of fighting the way back home.
But just alongside the guarded entrance to the north ballroom was another door, around which a pack of ecstatic faces, black and white, was jostling for some kind of privilege view. There was a guard there, too, and a Kennedy man who recognised me, caught in the general wash, squeezed me through into an almost empty room. It was like being beached by a tidal wave.
The place was no longer than about 40 feet. It was a small private dining room, fitted out as a press room. There was a long trestle table against one wall loaded with typewriters and telephones and standing by were a few middle-aged lady operators taking a breather.
In one corner was a booming television set switching between the rumblings of defeat at the McCarthy hotel and the clamour of victory in the adjacent ballroom. A fat girl wearing a Kennedy straw hat sucked a coke through a straw. There were 15 or 20 of us at most, exchanging campaign reminiscences and making the usual hindsight cracks at the Kennedys.
Kennedy's press secretary had promised that once the Senator had saluted his army he would go down from the ballroom stage and come to see us through the kitchen that separated our retreat from the ballroom.
It was just after midnight. A surge of cheers and a great swivelling of lights heralded him, and soon he was upon the rostrum with his eager, button-eyed wife and Jessie Unruh, his massive campaign manager. It took minutes to get the feedback boom out of the mikes but at last there was a kind of subdued uproar and he said he first wanted to express "my high regard to Don Drysdale for his six great shut-outs." (Drysdale is a base pitcher whose Tuesday night feat of holding his sixth successive opposing teams to no runs has made him legend.)
It was the right, the wry Kennedy note. He thanked a list of helpers by name. He thanked "all those loyal Mexican Americans" and "all my friends in the black community." Then he stiffened his gestures and style and said it only went to show that "all those promises and all those party caucuses have indicated that the people of the United States want a change."
He congratulated McCarthy on fighting his principles . He hoped that now there might be "a debate between the Vice-President and perhaps myself." He flashed his teeth again in his chuckling, rabbity smile and ended, "My thanks to all of you - and now it's on to Chicago and let's win there."
A delirium of cheers and lights and tears and a rising throb of "We want Bobby! We want Bobby! We want Bobby!"
He tumbled down from the rostrum with his aides and bodyguards about him. He would be with us in 20 seconds, half a minute at most. We watched the swinging doors of the kitchen. Over the gabble of the television there was suddenly from the direction of the kitchen a crackle of sharp sounds. Like a balloon popping.
An exploded flash bulb maybe, more like a man banging a tray several times against a wall. A half-dozen or so of us trotted to the kitchen door and at the moment time and life collapsed. Kennedy and his aides had been coming on through the pantry. It was now seen to be not a kitchen but a regular serving pantry with great long tables and racks of plates against the wall.
He was smiling and shaking hands with a waiter, then a chef in a high white hat. Lots of Negroes, naturally, and they were glowing with pride, for he was their man. Then those sounds from somewhere, from a press of people on or near a steam table. And before you could synchronise you sight and thought, Kennedy was a prone bundle on the greasy floor, and two or three others had gone down with him. There was an explosion of shouts and screams and the high moaning cries of mini-skirted girls.
The doors of the pantry swung back and forth and we would peek in on the obscene disorder and reel back again to sit down, then to glare in a stupefied way at the nearest friend, to steady one boozy woman with black-rimmed eyes who was pounding a table and screaming, "Goddamned stinking country!" The fat girl was babbling faintly like a baby, like someone in a motor accident.
Out in the chaos of the ballroom, Kennedy's brother-in-law was begging for doctors. And back in the pantry they were howling for doctors: It was hard to see who had been badly hit. One face was streaming with blood. It was that of Paul Schrade, a high union official, and it came out that he got off lightly.
A woman had a purple bruise on her forehead. Another man was down. Kennedy was looking up like a stunned choirboy from an open shirt and a limp huddle of limbs. Somehow, in the dependable fashion of the faith, a priest had appeared.
We were shoved back and the cameraman were darting and screaming and flashing their bulbs. We fell back again from the howling pantry into the haven of the pressroom.
Suddenly, the doors opened again and six or eight and police had a curly black head and blue-jeaned body in their grip. He was a swarthy, thick-featured unshaven little man with a tiny rump and a head fallen over, as if he had been clubbed or had fainted perhaps.
He was lifted out into the big lobby and was soon off in some mysterious place "in custody." On the television Huntley and Brinkley were going on in their urbane way about the "trends" in Los Angeles and the fading McCarthy lead in Northern California.
A large woman went over and beat the screen, as if to batter these home-screen experts out of their self-possession. We had to take her and say, "Steady" and "Don't do that." And suddenly the screen went berserk, like a home movie projector on the blink. And the blurred, whirling scene we had watched in the flesh came wobbling in as a movie.
Then all the "facts" were fired or intoned from the screen. Roosevelt Grier, a 300lb coloured football player and a Kennedy man, had grabbed the man with the gun and overwhelmed him. A Kennedy bodyguard had taken the gun, a .22 calibre. The maniac had fired straight at Kennedy and sprayed the other bullets around the narrow pantry.
Kennedy was now at the receiving hospital and soon transferred to the Good Samaritan. Three neurologists were on their way. He had been hit in the hip, perhaps, but surely in the shoulder and "the mastoid area." There was the first sinister note about a bullet in the brain.
In the timelessness of nausea and dumb disbelief we stood and sat and stood again and sighed at each other and went into the pantry again and looked at the rack of plates and the smears of blood on the floor and the furious guards and the jumping-jack photographers.
It was too much to take in. The only thing to do was to touch the shoulder of the Kennedy man who had let you in and get out on to the street and drive home to the top of the silent Santa Monica Hills, where pandemonium is rebroadcast in tranquillity and where a little unshaven guy amuck in a pantry is slowly brought into focus as a bleak and shoddy villain of history.
These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe.
For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged, and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that event.
The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.* Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live."
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 some day come to pass for all the world.
As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."
Although Hoover was desperately trying to catch Bobby Kennedy red-handed at anything, he never did. Kennedy was almost a Puritan. We used to watch him at parties, where he would order one glass of scotch and still be sipping from the same glass two hours later. The stories about Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe were just stories. The original story was invented by a so-called journalist, a right-wing zealot who had a history of spinning wild yarns. It spread like wildfire, of course, and J. Edgar Hoover was right there, gleefully fanning the flames.
When Bobby Kennedy was campaigning for the presidential nomination in 1968, his name came up at a top-level FBI meeting. Hoover was not present, and Clyde Tolson was presiding in his absence. I was one of eight men who heard Tolson respond to the mention of Kennedy's name by saying, "I hope someone shoots and kills the son of a bitch." This was five or six weeks before the California primary. I used to stare at Tolson after Bobby Kennedy was murdered, wondering if he had qualms of conscience about what he said. I don't think he did.
On 6 June 1968, the Los Angeles office called me at about two o'clock in the morning to tell me that Robert Kennedy had been killed. I had the damn phone in my hand, half asleep, and I asked the agent to repeat what he'd said. And then I woke up, really woke up.
There was another tremendous investigation of course, and we did finally decide that Sirhan acted alone, but we never found out why. Although he was fanatic about the Arab cause, we could never link Sirhan to any organization or to any other country. He never received a dime from anyone for what he did. We sometimes wondered whether someone representing the Soviets had suggested to Sirhan that Kennedy would take action against the Arab countries if he became president. But that was only a guess.
There were so many holes in the case. We never could account for Sirhan's presence in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. Did he know Kennedy would be walking through? Intelligence work is exasperating. You can work on a case for years and still not know the real answers. There are so many unknowns. Investigating Sirhan was a frustrating job, for in the end we were never sure.
Hoover's dislike of Robert Kennedy continued even after Kennedy's death. We had a positive identification on James Earl Ray, the killer of Martin Luther King, Jr., a full day before Hoover released the news to the world that he had been caught in London. He purposely held up the report of Ray's capture so that he could interrupt TV coverage of Bobby's burial, on June 8.
Hoover was as fond of Ted Kennedy as he had been of his brothers. It was the FBI which circulated the story that Teddy Kennedy was a poor student and had cheated on an exam. By rights the FBI should have had nothing to do with the Chappaquiddick affair, but the Boston office was put on the case right away. Although Hoover was delighted to cooperate, the order did not originate with him. It came from the White House.
Everything that came in on Kennedy and on Mary Jo Kopechne, the unfortunate young woman who drowned in his car, was funnelled to the White House. Hoover even assigned our local agent to dig into the affair. The White House asked Hoover to make the assignment and Hoover jumped through the hoop to do it.
Houghton expressed keen interest in the projected scope and nature of the Bureau's inquiry. He even proposed that two of his top men accompany the FBI agents on their rounds because, he said, he was planning on writing a manual about what local departments could learn from the FBI, and this would be a model case. The chief repeatedly insisted that the investigation was a "local matter" and that his men could handle it without day-to-day assistance from the FBI. LaJeunesse was somewhat disquieted by Houghton's uncharacteristic possessiveness. In his long experience with the LAPD, there had never been a "withholding" problem.
LaJeunesse paid a visit to a special squad of detectives, isolated on the top floor of Parker Center, who were setting up an investigation office. It was later to become SUS. He noticed that an old acquaintance from his days on the bank-robbery detail, Lieutenant Manny Pena, was very much in charge.
Within days the LAPD announced that the elite squad called Special Unit Senator had been formed to handle the investigation. According to Houghton, it was entirely his idea to create SUS, "a unit completely detached from any other organizational branch of the Los Angeles Police Department." He tapped Chief of Homicide Detectives Hugh Brown, with whom he had worked for fifteen years, to head SUS, telling Brown that if there was a "great conspiracy" linking the RFK murder with those of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., it had better be unveiled because their work would be subject to "much fine-comb study."
Houghton assertedly gave Brown free rein in electing the personnel for SUS-with one exception. He specifically designated Manny Pena, who was put in a position to control the daily flow and direction of the investigation. And his decision on all matters was final.
The official record states that senator Robert F Kennedy, like his brother before him, was killed by a crazed lone gunman. But the assassination of a man who seemed to embody so much hope for a bitterly divided country embroiled in an unpopular war still troubles this nation.
Little about the official explanation of the events at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5 1968 makes sense. Now a new forensic analysis of the only audio recording of the fatal shots has given new weight to a controversial theory that there were in fact two shooters, and that the man convicted of Kennedy's killing — Sirhan Sirhan - did not fire the fatal shots.
Following his victory speech to supporters after clinching a tight democratic primary victory in California, Kennedy left the podium in the Embassy ballroom to address a press conference.
But the shortcut he and his entourage took through the hotel's pantry quickly descended into bloody mayhem. As Kennedy turned from shaking hands with two of the kitchen staff, a gunman stepped forward and began firing. Kennedy was hit by four shots including one which lodged in the vertebrae in his neck and another which entered his brain from below his right ear. He died in hospital the following day. Five other people were injured but survived.
Sirhan - a Palestinian refugee who said he wanted to "sacrifice" Kennedy "for the cause of the poor exploited people" - was quickly apprehended. He was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment.
"Sirhan was apprehended at the scene with literally a smoking gun," said acoustic forensic expert Philip Van Praag of PVP Designs, who has carried out the new analysis. "At the beginning many people looked upon this as an open-and-shut case. It was one man, Sirhan Sirhan, who was observed by a number of people, who aimed and fired a gun in the direction of Kennedy's entourage."
But the lone gunman explanation has always looked shaky. The autopsy of Kennedy's body suggested that all four shots that hit him came from behind, and powder marks on his skin showed they must have been from close range.
But Sirhan was in front of Kennedy when he fired, and after shooting two shots was overcome by hotel staff, who pinned him to a table. Also, Sirhan fired eight shots in total, yet 14 were found lodged around the room and in the victims.
"There is no doubt in our minds that no fewer than 14 shots were fired in the pantry on that evening and that Sirhan did not in fact kill Senator Kennedy," said Robert Joling, a forensic scientist who has been involved with the Kennedy case for nearly 40 years. He and Van Praag have published a book on the killing this week entitled "An Open and Shut Case".
The inconsistencies in the case have bred numerous conspiracy theories, including the involvement of the CIA and the idea that Sirhan - who claims not to remember the shooting and pleaded insanity at his trial - was a "Manchurian Candidate" assassin who was hypnotically programmed to kill the senator.
Now Van Praag has added new weight to the 'two shooters' theory. He reanalysed the only audio recording of the shooting, which was made by an independent journalist, Stanislaw Pruszynski. "At the time Pruszynski was not even aware that his recorder was still on," said Van Praag.
The recording quality is poor, but it is possible to make out 13 shots over the course of just over 5 seconds, before what Van Praag describes as "blood-curdling screams" obscure the sound. That is more than the eight rounds that Sirhan's cheap Iver Johnson Cadet 55 revolver carried.
Also, there are two pairs of double shots that occurred so close together it is inconceivable that Sirhan could have fired them all. The third and fourth shots and the seventh and eighth were separated by 122 and 149 milliseconds respectively. In tests, a trained firearms expert firing under ideal conditions could only manage 366 milliseconds between shots using the same weapon. And he was not being pinned to a table at the time.
Lastly, five of the shots - 3, 5, 8, 10 and 12 in the sequence - were found to have odd acoustic characteristics when specific frequencies were analysed separately. Van Praag thinks this is because they came from a different gun pointing away from Pruszynski's microphone.
To recreate this he recorded the sounds made by firing the Iver Johnson and another revolver, a Harrison and Richardson 922. At least one member of Kennedy's entourage was carrying this weapon when the killing happened. In the acoustic tests it produced the same frequency anomalies Van Praag had seen in the original recording but only when fired away from the microphone.
He presented his results on Thursday at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences annual meeting in Washington DC.
Paul Schrade, a close associate of Kennedy's who was director of the United Auto Workers union, was at the senator's side in the pantry and was shot in the head. He told the meeting that America lost an outstanding leader and potentially great president that day.
"I think we were in a position of really changing this country," he said. "What we lost was a real hope and possibility of having a better country and having better relations around the world."
He wants to see the case reopened and properly investigated. "We're going to go ahead and do our best to find out who the second gunman was and that's going to take a lot of work," he said.
Van Praag also wants the case reexamined. "We would hope that the evidence that we have uncovered ... would make a strong enough case to get serious consideration once again by the authorities," he said.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is convinced that a lone gunman wasn't solely responsible for the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and said his father believed the Warren Commission report was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship."
Kennedy and his sister, Rory, spoke about their family Friday night while being interviewed in front of an audience by Charlie Rose at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas. The event comes as a year of observances begins for the 50th anniversary of the president's death.
Their uncle was killed on Nov. 22, 1963, while riding in a motorcade through Dallas. Five years later, their father was assassinated in a Los Angeles hotel while celebrating his win in the California Democratic presidential primary.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said his father spent a year trying to come to grips with his brother's death, reading the work of Greek philosophers, Catholic scholars, Henry David Thoreau, poets and others "trying to figure out kind of the existential implications of why a just God would allow injustice to happen of the magnitude he was seeing."
He said his father thought the Warren Commission, which concluded Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president, was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship." He said that he, too, questioned the report.
"The evidence at this point I think is very, very convincing that it was not a lone gunman," he said, but he didn't say what he believed may have happened.
Rose asked if he believed his father, the U.S. attorney general at the time of his brother's death, felt "some sense of guilt because he thought there might have been a link between his very aggressive efforts against organized crime."
Kennedy replied: "I think that's true. He talked about that. He publicly supported the Warren Commission report but privately he was dismissive of it."
He said his father had investigators do research into the assassination and found that phone records of Oswald and nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald two days after the president's assassination, "were like an inventory" of mafia leaders the government had been investigating.
He said his father, later elected U.S. senator in New York, was "fairly convinced" that others were involved.
The attorney and well-known environmentalist also told the audience light-hearted stories Friday about memories of his uncle. As a young child with an interest in the environment, he said, he made an appointment with his uncle to speak with him in the Oval Office about pollution.
He'd even caught a salamander to present to the president, which unfortunately died before the meeting. "He kept saying to me, 'It doesn't look well,'" he recalled.
Rory Kennedy, a documentary filmmaker whose recent film Ethel looks at the life of her mother, also focused on the happier memories. She said she and her siblings grew up in a culture where it was important to give back. "In all of the tragedy and challenge, when you try to make sense of it and understand it, it's very difficult to fully make sense of it," she said. "But I do feel that in everything that I've experienced that has been difficult and that has been hard and that has been loss, that I've gained something in it."
"We were kind of lucky because we lost our members of our family when they were involved in a great endeavor," her brother added. "And that endeavor is to make this country live up to her ideals."