By: Robert Wilson, Professor Joseph McBride |
Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of the RFK assassination, had his latest parole request denied on February 10, 2016. The hearing included a plea from RFK political ally and fellow shooting victim Paul Schrade requesting a new investigation into Bobby’s murder, including a letter from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. being presented to the parole board. RFK Jr.’s request was written to then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. on September 25, 2012. These latest developments steered us to the expertise and wisdom of Prof. McBride to fill in the details.
**Dedicated to Michael Canfield, co-writer of Coup d’etat in America
Q: Many have said that Robert Kennedy would have prosecuted President Kennedy’s murder if it had been a conspiracy. Is there any validity in that statement?
McBride: There are indications he was considering a new investigation if he became president, though some of his actions in that regard were ambiguous or indefinite. Robert Kennedy was still a work in progress when he died at age forty-two; Arthur Schlesinger Jr.‘s moving biography showed how rapidly he had been evolving in his last few years from the hardboiled political operative he earlier had been. It’s now known that RFK quietly had aides looking into the case for him, and he did some investigating of his own. On the very day of the assassination he asked John McCone, the CIA director, if any of his people had done it (McCone of course denied it). RFK also had an aide look into Jack Ruby’s Mafia connections in Chicago and elsewhere. A week after the assassination, RFK and Jacqueline Kennedy had a friend of JFK’s, artist William Walton, deliver a message in Moscow to the Soviet government: They said the Soviets had nothing to do with it and that it was a domestic rightwing conspiracy. But RFK moved too cautiously and also took some steps to block aspects of the investigation, probably because it could have exposed some of his and his brother’s actions against Castro.
Researcher Joan Mellen believes RFK was also compromised because he had a team of trusted anti-Castro Cubans infiltrating the developing plot against his brother in New Orleans in the summer of 1963, and that Lee Oswald, whom the CIA was preparing as the patsy, was known to these men and RFK and was being watched by RFK’s agents. Maneuvering Oswald close to RFK, if that was the case, was a clever move on the part of the plotters to checkmate RFK. If that connection had come out in 1963 or ’64, who knows what effect it would have had on public perceptions of the case and of RFK himself? So part of the tragedy of both assassinations is that RFK was hampered and finally stopped in any concerted effort to punish those who had killed his brother.
Q: RFK’s son Robert Jr. recently made a plea to investigate his father’s death. He also came out and had said RFK believed President Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy. How did that come about, and what was requested more specifically in terms of his father’s murder?
McBride: Robert Kennedy Jr. has been a strong voice for justice in a number of important public controversies. He wrote an in-depth investigative article for Rolling Stone demonstrating that George W. Bush stole the 2004 presidential election in Ohio; most of the mainstream media have not acknowledged that, though no one has refuted his research. RFK Jr. told Charlie Rose in a live 2013 Dallas appearance that his father “was fairly convinced” that there had been a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, possibly involving “rogue CIA” elements, and that his father privately “was dismissive” of the Warren Commission findings of a lone gunman. RFK Jr. made clear he also believed that was the case, it was a highly significant development. It was the first important public statement by a member of the Kennedy family questioning the official story. Predictably, it received little national coverage. The mainstream media remain adamantly wedded to the official accounts of both murders. In a 2012 letter to then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., RFK Jr. also asked for a reopening of the case of his own father’s murder, but even such a statement from a victimized member of the family of the deceased has failed to achieve results. That shows the extent of corruption in this country and the powerful interests’ stake in denying the truth about that case. People should listen to what RFK Jr. has to say.
Q: Paul Schrade made an appearance at Sirhan Sirhan’s recent parole hearing. What was involved in that, and what was Schrade seeking as an end-game in these circumstances?
McBride: More than with the assassination of President Kennedy, the RFK assassination has usually seemed to most people as an open-and-shut case since Sirhan was indeed firing a gun and was apprehended at the scene. Most people therefore believed the LAPD’s claim that he was the lone gunman, and they have not studied the evidence. But Schrade, a labor activist and RFK volunteer who was wounded in the head during the shooting, has long maintained that Sirhan did not shoot the senator. Schrade was one of the five other victims of the shooting that night. He is now 91 and has been seeking justice in the case for many years. He appeared at the California parole hearing in February to urge the board to release Sirhan. Schrade said, “I am here to speak for myself, a shooting victim, and to bear witness for my friend, Bob Kennedy . . . . Gentlemen, the evidence clearly shows that Sirhan Sirhan could not and did not shoot Senator Bob Kennedy. . . . What I am saying to you is that Sirhan himself was a victim. Obviously there was someone else there in that pantry also firing a gun. While Sirhan was standing in front of Bob Kennedy and his shots were creating a distraction, the other shooter secretly fired at the senator from behind and fatally wounded him. . . . Indeed, the LAPD and L.A. County District Attorney knew two hours after the shooting of Senator Kennedy that he was shot by a second gunman and they had conclusive evidence that Sirhan could not — and did not — do it. . . . Sirhan, I forgive you.” The board rejected his detailed and eloquent plea, the fifteenth time Sirhan has been denied parole. As Schrade was speaking, a member of the board asked him to wrap it up, saying, “Quite frankly, you’re losing us.” Schrade responded, “I think you’ve been lost for a long time.”
Q: Sirhan Sirhan claims to remember nothing of the alleged crime of shooting RFK, and yet at some point confessed to it “with twenty years of malice aforethought” (he said later that the time frame referred to the creation of the state of Israel; Sirhan is a Palestinian American, but he was only four when Israel was founded). Can you please unravel what lies underneath those seeming contradictions?
McBride: There is a wealth of evidence that Sirhan was a programmed shooter. He had evidently been subject of extensive hypnosis before the event. He has always claimed not to remember clearly what happened during the shooting. He could have been programmed to shoot and then to forget that he had done so. His statements are credible. He was influenced by a mysterious woman in a polka dot dress and a man in a suit who both helped guide him into the kitchen where the shooting took place, and he had been influenced by strong drinks shortly before the shooting. The CIA’s MKUltra program of using hypnosis and drugs to control assassins most likely had pinpointed him as a useful subject. Sirhan was induced by his corrupt legal team to confess to the crime. He should not have done so, but it’s hard for us to blame him considering the pressures he was under to buckle under to the system in hopes of some clemency down the road that has never been granted him.
Q: A recording exists that is said to show thirteen shots at the scene of RFK’s murder, yet Sirhan’s Ivor Johnson held only eight bullets. Evidently the FBI has attacked the analysis of the tape. At the end of the day, what seems to hold water regarding this situation?
McBride: The tape is good evidence. It was made by a freelance newspaper reporter named Stanislaw Pruszynski and recorded at least thirteen sounds consistent with shots in less than six seconds. It is consistent with the wealth of physical evidence that indicates more shots were fired than Sirhan could have fired. Lisa Pease, who is writing a book on the case, said recently on Black Op Radio that she has found Sirhan actually was firing blanks. He apparently was set up as a diversion to draw attention away from the real assassin shooting from behind the senator. Scott Enyart’s photographs of the shooting, taken from behind RFK, were seized by the LAPD and not returned. After a long legal battle to get them returned to him by the California State Archives, they were sent to Los Angeles in 1996 but reported “stolen” from a courier. That was of course highly convenient and suspicious. Enyart’s photographs probably would provide further evidence that Sirhan did not shoot Kennedy and might show the gunman who did.
Q: Can you speak to the validity of DeWayne Wolfer’s work with ballistics in the conviction of Sirhan?
McBride: The ballistics work that the Los Angeles Police Department and criminalist Wolfer introduced in an attempt to prove that Sirhan shot RFK is thoroughly unreliable and almost staggeringly messed-up. Every effort was made to twist the evidence to try to fit Sirhan’s gun, even though it could not have fired all of the shots. There were at least two other guns seen by witnesses in the kitchen — one belonging to “security guard” Thane Eugene (Gene) Cesar, who was walking immediately behind the senator — but they were not tested. A bullet was lost in the ceiling space and never recovered. It would have further demonstrated how Sirhan could not have fired all the shots, and it could have been linked to another gun. When the Ambassador Hotel unfortunately was demolished in 2006, with the complicity of the Kennedy family, no attempt was made to find that bullet. Other bullets evidently had been pried out of parts of the kitchen, as indicated by photographs taken by the police, but were not admitted into evidence. As in the murders of JFK and Officer J. D. Tippit, the ballistics evidence in the RFK case has been so compromised and is so inconclusive that it exonerates the people officially accused of the crimes.
Q: What did you make of the recent statements of Nina Rhodes-Hughes, and her allegations that two shooters fired at RFK?
McBride: She was an actress and Kennedy campaign volunteer who said she heard twelve to fourteen shots and that some came from a location other than Sirhan’s position. She said the FBI changed her story to make it seem as if she had heard eight shots. Her account matches other evidence and should be taken seriously.
Q: If the FBI twisted the initial statements from the time of the killing, can we trust their work in this case overall?
McBride: FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover hated RFK, who was his boss at the Justice Department as attorney general and had diametrically opposite political views on most issues. The FBI covered up both the killings of JFK and RFK and was probably complicit in those murders along with the assassinations of Dr. King and Malcolm X. So the FBI is not worthy of trust in the RFK case because they were corrupt and hardly qualified as disinterested investigators.
Q: Did any eyewitnesses claim to have seen more than one gunmen fire, or more than one person with a gun?
McBride: Four witnesses saw another gun pulled in the kitchen besides Sirhan’s. One such witness was Donald Schulman, who told his employer, CBS News, on camera shortly after the shooting that Sirhan “stepped out and fired three times; the security guard hit Kennedy three times.” Another witness, television producer, Richard Lubic, said, “I was there next to Senator Kennedy’s right side after he hit the floor. While I was kneeling, I looked up and saw a guy in a security guard’s uniform a few feet to my left, standing behind Senator Kennedy. He had his weapon in his hand and was pointing it down in Kennedy’s general direction.” Cesar said he was knocked to the floor at the time of the shooting. Cesar admitted having drawn his gun, but denied firing it. There are also allegations that a third gunman fired in the kitchen.
Q: How well developed was mind control in our government agencies by the time of RFK’s killing?
McBride: Project MKUltra was an extensive CIA mind-control experimental program that was begun in the early 1950s, exposed in 1975 by the Church Committee, and officially terminated in 1973. Among its projects was to develop programmed assassins. It helped inspire the marvelous and eerily prophetic 1959 Richard Condon novel The Manchurian Candidate and the two film versions, the classic 1962 version and the so-so 2004 version. Many of the documents on MKUltra were destroyed at the order of CIA Director Richard Helms, who is a prime suspect in the murder of President Kennedy.
Q: Some say RFK would not have won the nomination regardless of California’s victory. Was this actually true, as it is used to say a conspiracy was not needed to stop his presidential bid?
McBride: It was not certain RFK would win the nomination, and he was trailing Hubert Humphrey even after the California victory, but RFK’s California win and momentum made it seem likely that he could get the nomination. Humphrey was tarnished by being Lyndon Johnson’s vice president and by supporting the Vietnam War, unlike RFK at that time. So RFK’s California victory was the tipping point that caused him to be killed. Eugene McCarthy was not a particularly strong candidate, despite having beaten RFK in Oregon, the first time a Kennedy had lost an election. RFK probably would have gone on to receive the nomination and to win the general election. The war would have been ended. His brother had been starting to deescalate the war when he was killed in 1963. The military-industrial complex needed to get rid of both Kennedys to continue the war. Noam Chomsky’s book on JFK and the war is hostile to JFK but makes the intriguing point that although it’s generally believed the war was lost by the United States, those who backed it “won” in a sense because they made so much money from it. They didn’t care about the Americans who were killed, let alone the millions of Vietnamese and Cambodians.
Q: The autopsy was performed by Dr. Thomas Noguchi, then the chief medical examiner-coroner of Los Angeles County. What were his conclusions, and was he in any way pressured by the system that he served?
McBride: Noguchi’s exemplary autopsy showed that the fatal shot was fired at close range on an upward angle from behind Kennedy, entering below his right ear. Explaining what he meant by close range, Noguchi said, “When I say ‘very close,’ we are talking about the term of either contact or a half inch to one inch in distance.” Sirhan was always in front of Kennedy, at a distance variously estimated at between one and six feet. Noguchi’s autopsy also showed that Kennedy was hit two other times from behind, and a fourth shot fired from behind went through his suit coat without hitting him. Noguchi was later run out of office for his unorthodoxy.
Q: Who is Thane Eugene Cesar, what happened to him, and what do you come away from all of this thinking about him?
McBride: Cesar at the time of the assassination was a rightwing American who was an avowed hater of the Kennedys and supported George Wallace (Cesar’s ethnicity has been variously reported; it has been claimed he is Cuban American, but Dan Moldea [see below] claims Cesar is “a mixture of English, French, and German stock”). Cesar was working for the defense contractor Lockheed and had a security clearance. He was supposedly doing crowd control at the Kennedy victory event as a private security guard for Ace Guard Service, his part-time employer, and was immediately behind Kennedy when the shots were fired, holding the senator’s arm with his left hand as they moved through the crowd. Cesar later went to work for Hughes Aircraft, another leading defense contractor, and he also had a security clearance there. Cesar disposed of the gun he had the night of the assassination, but it later was found. Cesar is still alive — last accounted for in the Philippines, after living in the Simi Valley area of Southern California — but was never charged and has never been properly investigated. Although Dan Moldea originally suggested he thought there was a conspiracy, his book on the case, The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy: An Investigation of Motive, Means, and Opportunity (1995), attempts to exonerate Cesar. Moldea relies on a lie-detector test (a notoriously unreliable methodology) despite the wealth of other evidence he details that shows Cesar had the motive, means, and opportunity to kill Kennedy. Ever since the book was published, Moldea has gone so far as to control Cesar’s access to the media, which is nil.
Q: Two women were important on the scene, Sandra Serrano, and the girl in the polka dot dress. What can we glean from the events involving them, and what Ms. Serrano said under very intense interrogation?
McBride: Serrano was a Kennedy volunteer who saw the girl in the polka dot dress coming down an outside staircase saying excitedly, “We’ve shot him! We’ve shot him! We’ve shot Senator Kennedy.” Serrano said a young man was with him. An older couple also saw and heard the two young people run past them and make those statements. The girl had been seen with Sirhan and was seemingly directing him. His own account seems to back that up. Serrano was subjected to unusually harsh treatment by the Los Angeles Police Department when she tried to tell her story. The girl in the polka dot dress has never been identified conclusively, although some have made speculations about who she was.
Q: Has Sirhan served ample time compared with someone else who may have committed a similar crime?
McBride: I would think so, since he did not kill Robert Kennedy. He has served a long time for someone who wounded but did not kill five people and who clearly suffered from diminished capacity at the time of the crime. Moreover, he never had an adequate trial, and much of the evidence was compromised or destroyed. The fact that he genuinely cannot remember the shooting clearly is used by the parole board to show that he doesn’t have sufficient remorse to be released. That is a Kafkaesque non sequitur. I would think the parole board should have listened to the impassioned plea for justice and forgiveness Paul Schrade offered at the most recent parole hearing. It’s also absurd to think that Sirhan is a threat to the public safety today.
Q: At this point in time, could any chain of events turn this around? Can any truth and justice still be had at this point in time? What are the best and worst scenarios?
McBride: A genuine investigation could still be done, and the existing evidence evaluated, and surviving witnesses (including Cesar) called to testify, but I’ve learned to be skeptical of the government’s ability to judge this kind of case fairly. The House Select Committee on Assassinations did valuable work unearthing information about the murders of JFK and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but none of that resulted in Justice Department action. And the HSCA’s own work was compromised in many ways. I believe the only way the truth about these cases can be served is through the work of independent researchers who write about them and through the statements for the historical record of witnesses such as Paul Schrade and others.
Q: What was Special Unit Senator, and who were the men who ran it? Is there anything unusual in the choice and backgrounds of these men?
McBride: The Los Angeles Police Department has long been a notoriously corrupt institution. Its task force to investigate the crime, called Special Unit Senator, was a sham and a whitewash, like the Warren Commission. The head of the LAPD unit, Chief Robert A. Houghton, even wrote their “Warren Report” on the case, Special Unit Senator, published in 1970. Members of the department were linked to the CIA, notably Lieutenant Manuel Pena, who was involved as well in activities surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy. The LAPD was complicit in the RFK assassination and should not have been allowed to investigate itself. The crime should be an open case, but nothing is done about it by the LAPD.
Q: Are there good films and books on this case?
McBride: Theodore Charach, a dogged early investigator, made an excellent low-budget documentary with Gérard Alcan called The Second Gun (1973). It can be seen on YouTube. Shane O’Sullivan did a more sophisticated, partly flawed, but fascinating documentary called RFK Must Die: The Assassination of Bobby Kennedy (2007); he also wrote an excellent book on the case, Who Killed Bobby?: The Unsolved Murder of Robert Kennedy (2013). Other valuable books include The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (1978) by Jonn Christian and William Turner and The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination: New Revelations on the Conspiracy and Cover-Up, 1968-1991 (1991) by Philip Melanson.
Independent filmmaker Barbara Frank made a brilliant and moving feature documentary on Kennedy’s California campaign, The Last Campaign (1978), that for mysterious reasons has long been unavailable. She was in the ballroom when the shooting took place in the kitchen. She began shooting again and smuggled her film footage out of the hotel in her underwear. Her film is important and should be in circulation. Orson Welles in 1975 rewrote a Donald Freed screenplay that portrays a conspiracy involving Sirhan as a programmed shooter. In that project, Assassin (or The Safe House), Welles would have played the programmer, who was based on Dr. William Joseph Bryan Jr., a hypnotist who was accused by Turner and Christian of programming Sirhan for the CIA. Sal Mineo would have played Sirhan (Mineo was murdered in 1976). That script should be filmed.
Bob Wilson is a researcher who has studied the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, and written numerous articles on all of the cases.
Professor Joseph McBride of San Francisco State University has written eighteen books since 1968, ranging from biographies of famous film directors to Into the Nightmare: My Search for the Killers of President John F. Kennedy and Officer J. D. Tippit (2013) and The Broken Places: A Memoir (2015). Prof. McBride has studied the murders of the Kennedy brothers since President John F. Kennedy was lost to bullets on November 22, 1963, and Robert Kennedy was shot shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, following his victory in the California presidential primary.