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The Assassination of Robert Kennedy

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posted on Jan, 31 2003 @ 05:02 AM
June 4, 1968, was an important but nerve-wracking day for Robert Francis Kennedy, senator from New York. . A week earlier he had lost a vital race for West Coast votes in the state of Oregon to Senator Eugene McCarthy in the Democratic Primary, dampening the spirit of the Kennedy campaign. But, now, here in California, his supporters foresaw good things to come. With its 174 delegates as the prize, California was a very strategic ballot box for any one of the nominees to walk away with, and, best for RFK, it was believed to be a "Kennedy state". Taking a California victory into the Democratic Convention in Chicago would be powerful. And it was really no secret that the Democratic Party itself preferred Kennedy to win, for if anyone could beat Republican Richard M. Nixon in the upcoming Presidential run it would be a Kennedy. That had been proven in 1960.

Senator Robert Kennedy and wife Ethel at the California Victory celebration

With the ballot boxes having closed at sunset, and the California networks updating returns throughout the evening, nearly 2,000 campaign workers crowded the Embassy Ballroom, of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles; the mood was festive and the hopes high. As the evening progressed, and the monitors showed RFKís numbers taking the lead, his supporters on site went wild and started chanting for him. They wanted a speech. They knew he was upstairs and they were waiting for that delicious moment when he would join the party, flick on the podium microphones and officially announce what they expected all day ñ a Kennedy Victory!

Meanwhile, RFK remained watchful, cautious, glued to his television in the Royal Suite where good friends, political allies and a few celebrities encircled him. Football great Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier was there, and so was Decatholon champ Rafer Johnson. Occasionally, Kennedy leaned over to joke with one of these men or to seek advice from one of his aides and advisors ñ Pierre Salinger, Ted Sorenson or press secretary Fred Mankiewicz, for example ñ for an impromptu consultation. Wife Ethel, in her early pregnancy with their eleventh child, relaxed on the sofa near her husband.

Kennedy was tired. Despite his love for a good campaign brawl, he had earlier in the day considered remaining physically out of the limelight for the evening. He would have preferred that the media cover his part of the campaign from the home of movie director John Frankenheimer, where he and Ethel were staying. But, all the TV stations refused to move their equipment away from the central action, which meant that if he wanted coverage he would have to appear at his campaign headquarters.

By 11:30 p.m., a victory for Kennedy seemed imminent. With wife Ethel and his entourage, the senator moved to the ballroom where, upon entering, was greeted by frantic applause. Red-white-and-blue ribbons decorated the wall behind the speakerís podium and balloons colored the ceiling overhead, flashbulbs popped, and music from an orchestra sent the sea of heads before the stage bobbing in rhythm. Raising his arms for attention, a smiling "Bobby," as his fans called him, thanked the room for their great support and, adding a bit of humor, thanked pitcher Don Drysdale for winning his sixth straight shut-out that afternoon.

Then the speech turned serious. Kennedy addressed the fact that the nation needed to overcome racial divisions and other social evils (the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King had taken place exactly two months ago to the day), as well as an end to the unpopular war in Vietnam. Concluding his speech with a victory sign and the words, "Önow on to Chicago, and letís win there!" the house once again broke loose. "We want Bobby! We want Bobby!" sang the house. Grinning, he turned towards the side door that would take him through a food preparation area, a short cut to where the press was waiting in the Colonial Room beyond. It was now 12:15 a.m., June 5.

Odd as it seems, no formal security measurements were in effect during the event, despite the fact that a major political figure was exposed to some 2,000 people in the course of an evening. "The Secret Service was not there," William Klaber and Philip Melanson tell us in their investigative Shadow Play. "They would protect presidential candidates only after the events of the night. Also absent were the Los Angeles police."

Instead, only hotel security and a few hired guards from Ace Security, a local protection firm, protected the Kennedy group.

Bill Barry, an ex-FBI man, helped Ethel off the platform, but in doing so, fell steps behind the entourage. Because of the mass of onlookers who flushed forward and now separated him from the senator and his party, Barry found it impossible to catch up where he would have liked to have been, ahead of the main figure and not several feet behind him.

Crime scene diagram

Just outside the kitchen, 26-year-old Ace Security guard Thane Eugene Cesar took the senatorís right elbow and led him through the swinging doors. Inside, busboys and waiters craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the possible next President of the United States. The aisle Kennedy traversed was narrow, sided by steam tables, cart trays and dish conveyor belts. Media had already taken up some of the access area and Maitreíd Karl Uecker, leading the parade, found the pathway clogged and the route slow going. Klaber and Melanson estimate that there were some 77 people in that small diameter at the time and compared the situation to stuffing that number of people into a subway car.

If Senator Kennedy spotted the small, swarthy young man approach him at all, he would have figured he was just one of the many hotel personnel who wanted to shake his hand or beg an autograph. But as this comer neared, he leveled a gun in Kennedyís direction and opened fire.

At that moment, history blurred. A .22 caliber pistol flashed and Kennedy seemed to waver sideways. Some in the room froze at the sound, but others, recognizing it, dodged and ducked. The gun barked again, and in that instant, speechwriter Paul Schrade spun to the ground, hit in the forehead. By this time, maitreíd Uecker had been able to catch the shooterís gun arm and press it down on the steam table beside him. Nevertheless, the gun continued to explode, a third time, a fourth time, and more, its barrel aiming straight into the procession. Rosey Grier, Rafer Johnson and others struggled to disarm the assailant and corral him. But, in the 40 seconds it took to pry the gun loose, all eight cylinders of the weapon emptied. Kennedy sprawled on the floor, spread-eagled and in pain. Behind him, Schrade writhed. Seven-year-old Irwin Stroll was clipped in the kneecap; ABC-TV director William Weisel grabbed his stomach where a bullet had entered; reporter Ira Goldsteinís hip had been shattered; and an artist friend, Elizabeth Evans was unconscious from a head wound. Confusion and horror gripped the onlookers, some of them speechless, numbed.

Senator Kennedy mortally wounded with rosary in hands

"Come on, Mr. Kennedy, you can make it," pleaded busboy Juan Romero, who pressed a pair of rosary beads in the senatorís upward palm. He bent down to hear the victimís barely audible voice asking, "Is everybody all right?" The first doctor on the scene was Stanley Abo. He gently moved in between Kennedy and his weeping wife. Kennedyís breathing was sparse. Groping to find a wound, he discovered a hole behind the head, below the right ear. The doctorís finger prodded the wound to open the coagulation and allow free passage of blood. The senatorís breathing became more regular. "Youíre doing good, sir," the doctor comforted him, then signaled someone to call an ambulance.

Meanwhile, police appeared; two rookies, Arthur Placencia and Travis White. They gasped when entering the pantry, never before having seen anything like this massacre. Writer George Plimpton had been one of the men who had taken the gunman down; he told the police that the assailant seemed not quite aware of what was going on; even during the struggle with his captors, the man had, what he termed, "peaceful eyes". Still embracing the gunner in an armlock, huge Jesse Unruh of the California State Assembly, turned him over to the pair of cops. "I charge this man in your responsibility," he said, and followed them and their prisoner to the squad car curbed outside the hotel. Along the way, they encountered angry citizens shouting threats to the man in their possession.

Sirhan Sirhan in custody

When a series of ambulances arrived, attendants placed the injured, including Kennedy, on stretchers and rushed them to Central Receiving Hospital eighteen blocks away. Ethel accompanied her husband in the emergency van, as did some of his closest aides. At Central Receiving, doctors found the wound behind the ear and powder burns around it, which indicated that the shot that struck him was fired at an extremely close range. Not having a neurosurgeon on site, the administration rushed him to Good Samaritan Hospital where he would be better attended. It was now 1 a.m.

Doctors at Good Samaritan uncovered two more wounds on Kennedy ñ one in the right armpit and another several inches down. It wasnít long after that press secretary Fred Mankiewicz appeared out front the hospital to tell a curious press that Kennedy was about to undergo an operation. His condition? "Critical," Mankiewicz answered somberly
The operation took three hours. Surgeons removed a blood clot that had re-formed behind the brain, and as many "fragments of metal and bone as they could," Melanson and Klaber state. "The senator could now breathe unassisted (but) suffered an impairment of blood to the mid-brain." Afterwards, the patient was placed in critical care with round-the clock supervision. The next 12 to 36 hours were crucial, they reported.

By noon, RFKís brain waves read below normal on the electroencephelograph; by 5 p.m., his condition was "extremely critical". Crowds collected outside, between the hospital and a press center set up in an auditorium across the street. Darkness and a chill notwithstanding, public vigil remained steadfast long after midnight.

At 2 a.m., June 6, the crowd spotted Mankiewicz leaving the hospital, looking rather stolid, heading for the makeshift press room. It hushed. Then came the announcement they dreaded: "Senator Robert Francis Kennedy," Mankiewiczís voice cut the airwaves, "died at 1:44 a.m. todayÖHe was 42 years old."

The nation mourned. And it was bitter. A Gallup Poll showed that Americans believed "by a margin of 4 to 3 that the attack was a product of a conspiracy."

posted on Jan, 31 2003 @ 05:04 AM

Within weeks after the trial, the Los Angeles Free Press ran a story by reporters Lillian Castellano and Floyd Nelson that resurrected the possibility of another gunman at the crime scene. They had photographic "proof" of two extra bullet holes in the wooden divider between the sets of swinging doors at the west end of the Ambassador Hotel pantry. A freelance photographer taking generic crime scene pictures had taken the photos innocently, they said.

With all of Sirhanís alleged eight bullets already accounted for by the LAPD, wouldnít this mean, they asked, that another gun had shot that night? Dan Moldea agrees that such a find would have been the revelation of the ages: "The discovery of even one extra bullet could prove that more than one gun had been fired."

There was a catch. The police had removed the door jamb in question from the Ambassador Hotel kitchen on June 28, 1968, ten months before the Free Press saw the photos and published the article. The door jamb had been destroyed. When the Los Angeles City Council, under pressure, demanded an answer why the piece had been done away with, Assistant Police Chief Daryl Gates responded. True, he said, there had been holes on that particular section of the doorframe and, yes, the police thought they might have been bullet holes. They brought the section back to headquarters for x-ray examination, but after the tests proved (quote Gates) "absolutely nothing," there was no reason to hold onto dead lumber.

When the council asked to see the x-rays, Gates shrugged. They, too, had been done away with, he replied.

Confounding the issue was the incessant question as to how Kennedy was shot in the back by a man who approached him from the front. All witnesses testified that Kennedy fell facing Sirhan. The assassinís gun arm was pinned down by maitreíd Uecker after two shots; it continued to squeeze the trigger on impulse or otherwise; but, witnesses claim, even though the remaining shots went askew Kennedy at no time turned his back to the weapon.

"When confronted with this point, LAPD officials had referred instead to the panic and confusion that broke loose inside the pantry while Sirhan was emptying his .22 revolver into the crowd," Dan E. Moldea writes. "(The police said) eyewitnesses lacked the training and experience necessary to make their story credible."

As to any guesses who a "second gunman" could have been -- someone close enough to inflict a near "hit" on RFK ñ there was only one suspect: Thane Eugene Cesar, the Ace Security guard. Holding onto the senatorís right elbow and remaining virtually half-beside him, half-behind him in the procession through the pantry, Cesar was strategically positioned to pump a bullet or two into Kennedy when all hell broke loose. Moldea thinks Cesar was incapable of such a crime, but he does admit that the guard did have a "motive, means and opportunity".

When the firing began, Cesar was at point-blank range of Kennedy; and one eyewitness claims to have seen Cesarís gun smoking; although he carried a .38 caliber service revolver, he did own a .22 at the time; he had publicly denounced the Kennedys; and he was on duty when Sirhan Sirhan managed to slip into the out-of-bounds pantry.

But, in his behalf, many important facts support his innocence. He had no criminal record; volunteered to be questioned; offered to submit his gun for investigation; voluntarily told the police about the .22 he owned; easily agreed to be questioned and given a polygraph test; remained openly honest about his political sentiments; and, most important, he had not been scheduled to work that night, but was called in at the last minute.

Cesar had ñ you pardon the expression ñ come under fire many times for his fated time and place in history ñ what Moldea analogously calls being "caught in the crossfire of history." But, suspicion has weakened during the last decade. Tongue in cheek, Cesar once stated, "Just because I donít like the Democrats, that doesnít mean I go around shooting them."

Much of the controversy generating from the June 5, 1968, assassination has been kept alive because of the LAPDís reluctance to keep the case from the public and its case files under wrap. These "secret files," as they were called, were eventually opened to the public in the later half of the 1980s, thanks to the hard work by and pressure from Dr. Philip H. Melanson (political science professor at the University of Massachusetts and co-author of Shadow Play) and George Stone (research aide to attorney Lowenstein).

The LAPD released a heavily censored version of its records in early March 1986, but it was full of blackened-out lines and missing material. This probably did more to revive the tales of conspiracy than squelch them. On a second blast to the system, this time accompanied by Paul Schrade and leagues of others in the politics, arts and sciences, Melanson and Stone demanded the police unlock the files in entirety.

"On April 19, 1988, twenty years after the assassination, disclosure of the primary case file was finally achieved," write Melanson and his co-author, William Klaber in Shadow Play. "The archives were under the direction of state archivist John Burns, who oversaw the sorting and cataloging of the fifty-thousand pages of material."

But, the event proved to be less than expected. The files do not contain any reference to the tests done on the bullet-pocked pantry door frame nor the x-rays taken of it. Stranger, all records of the trial proceedings referring to the testimony of seven forensic experts about the crime scene have disappeared.

Los Angeles Coroner Thomas Noguchi conducted the official autopsy on the body of Robert Francis Kennedy on the morning of July 6. This very experienced coroner removed one intact bullet and fragments from another. The operation was witnessed by, according to writer Dan Moldea, "three forensic pathologists from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington and by two of Noguchiís associates."

In his resulting 62-page report, Noguchi stated that the shot that killed RFK "had entered through the mastoid bone, an inch behind the right ear and had traveled upward to sever the branches of the superior cerebral artery." The largest fragment of that bullet lodged in the brain stem.

Another shot had penetrated Kennedyís right armpit and exited through the upper portion of his chest at a 59-degree angle. The coroner determined that the senatorís arm must have been upraised when that bullet entered.

Yet, another, a third, shot entered one-and-a-half inches below the previous one and stopped in the neck near the sixth cervical. This is the bullet that was found intact.

Checking Kennedyís clothing, for other telltale signs, Noguchi followed the path between two bullet holes in his suit coat and announced that a fourth bullet had been fired at the senator. It entered and exited the fabric without touching the senator.

The autopsy, having clarified what bullet actually killed the publicís beloved Bobby, also created a controversy. Sirhan Sirhan had carried an Iver-Johnson eight-cylinder handgun, the chamber having expended all eight cylinders ñ in other words, fired all eight bullets. Four of those had been fired at RFK ñ the public accepted that ñ but there were five others who had been wounded in the pantry. Elizabeth Evans, Ira Goldstein, Paul Schrade, Irwin Stroll and William Weisel. Because there were more victims than accounted-for bullets, a "second gunman" theory was born

posted on Jan, 31 2003 @ 05:05 AM
The Great Waldo Pepper Bullets

The trajectory study conducted by the Los Angeles Police Department was so superficial for a case of this enormous magnitude and complexity as to be embarrassing to the professional reputation of that Department. ñ Paul Schrade3

One of the most ridiculed aspects of the John Kennedy assassination is the preposterous claim that one bullet created seven wounds. In that case, we are asked to believe that a bullet entered Kennedyís back at a downward angle, exited from his neck (at an upward angle), turned around and went back down into Connallyís back, exited Connallyís chest, entered and exited (and shattered) Connallyís wrist to land, in near pristine condition, in his thigh, only to work its way out and to end up, undiscovered until by accident, on a cot in the hall of the hospital. This bullet, known among researchers by its Warren Commission exhibit number, CE399, has been called, appropriately, the "magic bullet." Science had been changed. No longer did bullets fly in straight paths; they imitated instead the paths of stunt pilot barnstormers such as the Great Waldo Pepper of movie fame.

The Robert Kennedy assassination requires not just one but several magic bullets to reduce the bullet count to eight. Without even getting into the evidence that there were more bullets than Sirhanís gun could hold, letís focus first on the route those eight supposedly took, according to the official LAPD summary.

As you will recall, five people were shot besides Kennedy, one of whom was shot twice; Kennedy himself was shot four times. Doesnít that add up to ten bullets? Not if the LAPD could come up with some magic ones.

The bullet that pierced Kennedyís coat without entering him took a path of roughly 80 degrees upwards. The bullet was moving upwards in a back to front path (as were all of Kennedyís wound paths). But the LAPD figures this must be the bullet that hit Paul Schrade. Had Schrade been facing Kennedy, he would still not be tall enough to receive a bullet near the top of his head from that angle. But he was not standing in front of Kennedy. He was behind him by all eyewitness accounts, and as shown by the relative positions where the two fell after being hit.

For Sirhan alone to have made all the shots, we are asked to believe that one of the bullets that entered Kennedyís coat just below the armpit exited up and out of the coat just below the seam on top of his shoulders, and then pulled a U-turn in midair to hit Schrade in the head. Schrade has been one of the most persistent in calling for a new investigation of this case for precisely this reason. He knows the report is incorrect, and if itís incorrect, there had to be at least one more gun firing in the pantry.

Ira Goldstein had been shot twice, although one shot merely entered and exited his pant leg without entering his body. He was less fortunate on a separate shot, which entered his left rear buttock. But since there were no bullets to spare, according to the LAPDís strict adherence to the eight-bullet scenario, the pant-leg bullet was made to do double duty. According to the LAPD, after passing through his pants, the bullet struck the cement floor and ricocheted up into Erwin Strollís left leg. The only bullet that seemed to take a plausible path was the one that hit Weisel in the left abdomen.

One of the big problems the LAPD had with the crime scene was the number of bullet holes in the ceiling tiles. Based on witnessesí recollections, there were too many holes to account for. There are photos of the LAPD running strings through bullet holes in the ceiling to establish trajectories. Somehow, these had to be accounted for.

Elizabeth Evans had bent over to retrieve a shoe she had momentarily lost. Suddenly she felt something had hit her forehead. Medical reports confirm that the bullet entered her forehead below the hairline and traveled "upward", fitting the scenario she remembers. But because the LAPD needed to account for some of the bullet holes in the ceiling, they decided that a bullet from Sirhanís gun had been fired at the ceiling, entered a ceiling tile, bounced off something beyond the ceiling tile, reentered the room through a different ceiling tile, and struck Evans in the forehead. This bullet must have pulled more of a hairpin turn then a U-turn, if the LAPDís version and the medical reports are to be merged.

This left still one unaccounted for hole in the ceiling. Or rather, at least one. We donít know how many holes there were because the tiles were destroyed. But the LAPD knew that there were more than two holes in the ceiling. One of the bullets that entered Kennedy passed straight through on a near vertical path, parallel to the one that entered the coat, but not the body, of Kennedy (the one that supposedly terminated its path in Schradeís head). This bullet supposedly passed through Kennedy and continued on upwards into the ceiling. Since Kennedy was facing Sirhan, and the bullet entered back to front, that would aim the bullet into the ceiling nearly directly above Sirhanís head, according to witness placements of Kennedy and Sirhan. And indeed, there was a tile removed from that very spot. But Sirhanís arm is not the many feet long it would have taken to reach around Kennedy to shoot him from behind, while standing several feet in front of the Senator.

More than Eight Bullets = Two (or More) Guns = Conspiracy
As we have seen, the official police reports strove to present a plausible scenario for where each bullet went. And even if one accepts the accounts above as legitimate, despite the important difficulties in those trajectories, the problem is bigger still. There is a substantial amount of evidence to show that more than eight bullets had been fired in the pantry that night. And if there were more than eight bullets, Sirhan was not a deranged, lone gunman, but somehow part of a conspiracy which has yet to be officially acknowledged.

Evidence of additional bullets surfaced nearly immediately. On June 5, an AP photo was published showing two police officers pointing at something in the center frame of the swinging doors that led into the pantry. The caption read, "Bullet found near Kennedy shooting scene". In 1975, Vincent Bugliosi, who was then working with Schrade to get the case reopened, tracked down the two police officers depicted in the photograph. To that time their identity had been unknown. Bugliosi identified the two officers as Sgt. Charles Wright and Sgt. Robert Rozzi. Both Wright and Rozzi were sure that what they observed was not only a bullet hole, but a hole containing a bullet.

If the hole contained a bullet, then it would have been the ninth bullet, since seven bullets had been recovered from victim wounds and the eighth was to have disappeared into the ceiling (necessary to account for acknowledged holes in the ceiling tiles). So any additional bullet presented a serious problem for those wishing to state there was no conspiracy.


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