Robert Kennedy

Robert Kennedy

Attorney General Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy, arguably the voice of moral conscience in the JFK administration, had to live with a most terrible secret for the remaining four and a half years of his life: that he not only knew who killed his brother and why, but may have been unwittingly complicit in the assassination.

On the afternoon of November 22, 1963, just hours after the assassination of JFK, Robert Kennedy spoke with Enrique “Harry” Ruiz-Williams, a Bay of Pigs veteran who was his most trusted ally among the exiled Cuban political leaders, and Bobby told him point-blank, “One of your guys did it.”

That evening, Kennedy phoned Julius Draznin in Chicago, an expert on union corruption for the National Labor Relations Board, asking him to look into a possible mob angle on Dallas.

Walter Sheridan, his ace Justice Department investigator, quickly turned up evidence that Jack Ruby had been paid off in Chicago by a close associate of Hoffa. The list of men whom Ruby phoned around the time of the assassination, RFK later told aide Frank Mankiewicz, was “almost a duplicate of the people I called to testify before the Rackets Committee” (the Mafia kingpins Johnny Rosselli, Santo Trafficante and Sam Giancana).

Bobby told family members the weekend after the assassination that JFK had been killed by a powerful plot that grew out of one of the government’s secret anti-Castro operations. There was nothing they could do at that point, Bobby added, since they were facing a formidable enemy and they no longer controlled the government.

Bobby’s press secretary, Frank Mankiewicz, began gathering information about the assassination for the day when they could reopen the investigation. Mankiewicz later told Bobby that his research led him to conclude it was probably a plot involving the Mafia, Cuban exiles and rogue CIA agents (in other words, the super-clandestine group that Bobby was ostensibly orchestrating for Operation Mongoose to kill Fidel Castro).

Justice would have to wait until the Kennedys could regain the White House. If RFK succeeded in taking the presidency, he would resume his brother’s quest for détente with the Soviets and Castro, ending the Vietnam War, exposing the truth about his brother’s death, and reining in the CIA and Hoover’s FBI. That quest, however, was also nipped in the bud when RFK got too close to winning the White House in 1968, after LBJ dropped out in shame.

Bobby Kennedy election Victory

RFK Victory Speech in CA Primary 6/5/1968

Just after midnight on June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy finished his acceptance speech, having just won the California primary in the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency. Kennedy exited the Embassy Ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles and crossed east through the pantry area, an almost hall-like room, on his way to speak to the press in the Colonial room. Sirhan Bishara Sirhan stepped forward with an odd smile on his face and fired two shots before men began to tackle him and force his gun hand to the metal table.

Pantry Floor PlanThe slightly-built gunman seemed to have super-human strength and, with pro football tackle Rosey Grier and Olympic decathlon athlete Rafer Johnson (the two RFK personal bodyguards) as well as several other men trying to restrain him, Sirhan was able to continue firing his Iver Johnson .22-caliber revolver until he emptied all eight bullets.

Rosey Grier and others subduing Sirhan

Rosey Grier and others subduing Sirhan

RFK was mortally injured with one bullet to his head behind the right ear and two more in his right armpit and shoulder. Five others were injured by gun fire, but survived.

Kennedy was taken to the hospital, where he died a day later. And thus began one of the greatest police coverups in history.

Busboy Juan Romero Comforting Kennedy

Busboy Juan Romero Comforting Kennedy

At that time, presidential candidates were not given Secret Service protection, and killing a presidential candidate – even one who was a sitting US Senator – was not a federal offense. So, while the FBI assisted in the investigation, the LAPD and District Attorney had sole jurisdiction.

From the start, LA law officials said they didn’t want “another Dallas” in which the lone-nut assassin would be killed before his guilt could be established at trial, and the entire investigation was aimed at proving that predetermined outcome.

Unlike the JFK assassination, which was investigated almost immediately by a presidential commission, and then again by multiple Congressional committees (in part because they were denied a trial once mob-connected Jack Ruby eliminated the sole suspect), the local authorities made sure there was “an open and shut case” against Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan that they hoped would forestall any conspiracy allegations.

LA officials kept the records sealed for twenty years and, when they were finally released in response to Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) suits, much of the record had either been destroyed or was simply missing – conspicuously including any evidence of a second gunman or the complicity of others beside Sirhan.

As is common in these high-profile political assassinations, the hidden story has been slowly revealed through the hard and persistent efforts of citizen investigators, investigative journalists and Sirhan’s new legal team, which is now led by attorney William F. Pepper, the barrister who successfully proved a conspiracy to kill Martin Luther King in a 1999 civil suit on behalf of the King family.

As was evident in the JFK assassination as well, the MLK conspiracy included the local police, the CIA, the FBI, the US Army, and local and regional Mafia figures.

But, unlike the JFK and MLK assassinations, the evidence so far revealed in the RFK killing does not present a definitive answer to the conspiracy question. There are, however, enough clues to thoroughly disprove the lone-gunman story and to at least sketch out a rough outline of the scope of the conspiracy to stop yet another idealistic Kennedy from achieving a level of power that would represent a threat to the Shadow Government and the military-industrial-intelligence complex.

Shadow Government

Here is a list of the known facts which contradict the official lone-gunman story.

[from “The Other Kennedy Conspiracy” by Lisa Pease and other sources]

Fact: The medical examiner reported that Kennedy was shot four times from behind from a distance of 1 to 6 inches, with powder burns on his jacket and head, and all at an upward angle. The fatal shot entered Kennedy from 1 to 1½ inch behind his right ear.

Bullet Wound Trajectories

Bullet Wound Trajectories

Fact: All witnesses placed Sirhan in front of Kennedy. Not one witness put Sirhan’s gun muzzle closer than a foot to Kennedy, and most witnesses placed the muzzle at least 3 feet away.

Based on these two facts alone, Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi wrote in his memoir, “Thus I have never said that Sirhan Sirhan killed Robert Kennedy.”

Fact: Seven bullets were recovered from six victims, and another bullet was lost in the ceiling space. Sirhan’s gun could hold only eight bullets, but an FBI agent photographed four additional “bullet holes” in the pantry, some with evident bullets embedded. This so worried Los Angeles County officials that, nine years later, they asked the FBI essentially for a retraction. The wood removed from the double entry door frame that contained the marked bullet holes and the ceiling tiles were later destroyed.

Marked Bullet Holes in Door Frame

Marked Bullet Holes in Door Frame

An audiotape recorded by Stanislaw Pruszynski, a Polish reporter covering the 1968 presidential campaign for Canadian newspapers, that supported the FBI’s finding was found in the California archives. Sound engineer Philip Van Praag used sophisticated equipment to analyze the tape and found at least 13 shot sounds on the tape. He also found that two pairs of shots came too close together (122 and 149 milliseconds respectively) to have been fired from a single gun. In field tests, a trained firearms expert firing under ideal conditions could only manage 366 milliseconds between shots using the same weapon.

Van Praag also found that five shots were fired opposite the direction of Sirhan’s eight shots, and those five shots – the 3rd, 5th, 8th, 10th and 12th shots in the sequence – which included one of each of the double-shot pairs, displayed an acoustical “frequency anomaly” indicating the alleged second gun’s make and model were different from Sirhan’s weapon.

Fact: Richard Lubic, a televison producer, was standing behind Kennedy during the shooting, and saw an arm to his right with a gun but could not see who was holding the gun. After Kennedy fell, Lubic knelt to help Kennedy and saw a security guard, Thane Eugene Cesar, with his gun drawn and pointing toward the floor. The Los Angeles Police Department later put enormous pressure on Lubic to change his story. Lubic was visited at home by LAPD investigators, who told him, “Don’t bring this up, don’t be talking about this.”

Thane Eugene Cesar

Thane Cesar claimed he never fired his gun, but it was never tested by any of the investigators. While his service revolver was a .38 caliber, he also owned an H&R .22 caliber revolver which he claimed to have sold prior to the assassination, but Jim Yoder, the man who bought it, had a sales receipt dated three months after the assassination. Cesar also stated that he had been employed with Ace Security for six months, but his employment records indicate he had just been hired.

Though Cesar has often been considered a likely suspect for the second gunman, as he expressed hatred for the Kennedys, investigative journalist Dan Moldea wrote that Cesar submitted years later to a polygraph examination performed by Edward Gelb, former president and executive director of the American Polygraph Association, that Cesar denied any involvement in Kennedy’s assassination, and passed the test with flying colors. Additionally, Sirhan’s current attorney, William F. Pepper (the man who successfully proved the MLK assassination conspiracy in a 1999 civil trial for the King family), does not believe that Cesar is the second gunman.

Fact: Donald Schulman, a young runner for a local TV station, claimed he saw security guard Cesar fire his gun. Schulman also told the LAPD he saw three guns in the pantry (some authors have mistakenly suggested Schulman wasn’t in the pantry, but LAPD records confirm that he was).

Fact: Jamie Scott Enyart, a 15 year old high school student, was taking photographs of Robert F. Kennedy throughout the evening. Enyart was standing on a table in the pantry snapping pictures as fast as he could, and watched through his viewfinder as Kennedy twisted and fell to the floor. His were the only photographs that would show exactly where everyone was standing around Kennedy as the shots rang out, and very possibly where the shots came from.

Scott Enyart

As Enyart was leaving the pantry, two LAPD officers accosted him at gunpoint and seized his three, 36-exposure rolls of film. Later, he was told by Detective Dudley Varney that the photographs were needed as evidence in the trial of Sirhan Sirhan. The photographs were not presented as evidence but the court ordered that all evidentiary materials be sealed for twenty years.

In 1988 Scott Enyart requested that his photographs 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 courier from 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.

Fact: The efforts of Congressman Allard Lowenstein (D-NY), assassination researchers Lillian Castellano and Floyd Nelson, Union officer and RFK aid Paul Schrade (who was wounded during the shooting) and the LA County Board of Supervisors and CBS, led to a court-appointed panel to re-examine the evidence. While the panel found no positive evidence of a second gun, it did find that Sirhan’s gun could not be matched to any of the bullets recovered from the crime scene. While the three bullets allegedly retrieved from Kennedy’s neck, William Weisel and Ira Goldstein matched each other, they did not have the original identification marks that coroner Thomas Noguchi swore he etched into them.

Fact: Sandy Serrano, a Kennedy campaign volunteer, told NBC News reporter Sander Vanocur on live TV about seeing a young woman in a polka dot dress and a male companion who had passed her on a fire escape. They were two of the three who had passed her earlier, going up the stairs, and the third she later identified as Sirhan Sirhan. The woman in the polka dot dress said, “We shot him, we shot him!” Serrano asked whom they shot. The woman said, “Senator Kennedy,” and ran off.

Sirhan and Accomplice

Sirhan and Accomplice

LAPD officer Paul Sharaga was told the same thing by an elderly couple named Bernstein in the parking lot behind the hotel minutes after the shooting, and immediately put out an All Points Bulletin (APB) on the suspects, but it was later cancelled by a superior officer.

A witness in the pantry, Vincent DiPierro, told the LAPD about a woman in a white dress with dark polka dots who seemed to be “holding” Sirhan just before the shooting. Several other witnesses also saw the polka-dot dress woman at various times that evening, and the girl was described consistently by most of the witnesses: dirty blond hair, well-built, with a crooked or “funny” nose, wearing a white dress with blue or black polka-dots.

The police were so interested in this “girl in the polka dot dress” that they asked nearly all the witnesses interviewed whether they had seen anyone fitting her description. But when the story started to gain traction in the press, the LAPD declared that a blond girl on crutches in a bright green dress with yellow lemons dotting it was “the girl in the polka dot dress” and closed the book on this subject.

Fact: Lieutenant Manuel Pena, who was in control of all “day watch officers” in the Special Unit Senator investigation, and responsible for signing off on every witness interview transcript (many without the name of the interviewing officer), had been in military intelligence in Korea. In November 1967, Pena resigned from the LAPD to work for the Agency for International Development (AID).

Charles A. O’Brien, California’s Chief Deputy Attorney General, told author 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 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, that he was proud of his brother’s CIA activities.

In April 1968 Pena surprisingly resigned from AID and returned to the LAPD.

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) but he specifically designated Lt. Manny Pena to control the daily flow and direction of the investigation.

Fact: Lieutenant Enrique “Hank” Hernandez was the sole polygraph operator for the SUS unit, and the final arbiter of the veracity of witnesses (though only those witnesses who claimed to know something that would suggest a conspiracy were forced to take the tests). While no court in America allows the results of polygraph tests to be used as evidence, Hernandez’s polygraph results became the sole factor in the SUS’s determination of the credibility of witnesses.

Hernandez had also worked with AID. During his session with Sandy Serrano, he told her that he had once been called to Vietnam, South America and Europe to perform polygraph tests. He also claimed he had been called to administer a polygraph to the dictator of Venezuela back when President Betancourt came to power.

Fact: Hernandez was brutal and manipulative in his questioning of witnesses who claimed to have known things that did not fit the lone-gunman theory, badgering them until they changed their stories, as was the case with RFK aid Sandy Serrano. His written reports also significantly changed the testimony of several key witnesses.

Fact: Sirhan Sirhan has never had any memory of either carrying a gun or shooting Kennedy, but remembered only a “pretty girl” at a coffee urn, and then being choked [after the shooting].

Sirhan also had no memory of writing in a notebook, over and over, “RFK must die”, which appears to be what is called “automatic writing” as is performed under hypnotic trance.

Manchurian CandidateWilliam Bryan, a renowned hypnotist who consulted on the making of the film The Manchurian Candidate, called a radio show shortly after Kennedy was shot to suggest Sirhan had been hypnotically programmed.

Several witnesses, including some of the Los Angeles police officers who interacted with Sirhan immediately after the shooting, commented on Sirhan’s preternatural calmness before, during and after the shooting. LAPD officer Randolph Adair said in later years, “The guy was real confused. It was like it didn’t exactly hit him what he had done. He had a blank, glassed-over look on his face – like he wasn’t in complete control of his mind at the time.”

Both Sirhan’s defense team and the prosecution tried and failed to get Sirhan to recall shooting Kennedy under hypnosis. Both, however, presumed his guilt and tried to get him to “admit” it while in a trance, which Sirhan never did.

Dr. Eduard Simson-Kallas, the chief psychologist at San Quentin Prison, remains convinced that Sirhan was hypnoprogrammed. He spent hours getting to know Sirhan, and when Sirhan talked about the case Simson-Kallas said it was as if he was “reciting from a book”, without any of the little details most people tell when they are recounting a real event. Sirhan came to trust the psychologist, and asked him to hypnotize him. At this point, the psychologist was stopped by prison authorities who claimed he was spending too much time on Sirhan, and Simson-Kallas resigned from his job because of that.

Sirhan’s current attorney, William Pepper, recently had an expert hypnotize Sirhan in an open-ended fashion, during which Sirhan finally recalled that the touch of a girl in the pantry sent him into a mode where he thought he was firing at a target on a range.

William F. Pepper

William F. Pepper

The CIA was, by 1968, extremely experienced in various mind-control scenarios that involved drugs, hypnosis and a combination of the two. One of the CIA’s initial forays into this area came through a project code-named ARTICHOKE. One ARTICHOKE document presents the question: “Can an individual…be made to perform an act of attempted assassination involuntarily under the influence of ARTICHOKE?” This program later evolved into the MKULTRA program, an umbrella designation for hundreds of experiments that involved drugs, hypnosis and biological and chemical warfare.

Operation Artichoke

Operation Artichoke

Fact: The CIA was so concerned about Robert Kennedy in the last year of his life that it put spying on him on a par with spying on the Soviet Union, according to a report in the Washington Post after it obtained this data.

Perhaps the CIA was also anxious about RFK because, as David Talbot (the founder and current CEO of Salon) recounted in his 2007 book, Brothers, Robert Kennedy harbored suspicions about the CIA’s possible complicity in his brother’s death. One of Robert’s first calls after JFK’s assassination was to the CIA to ask if the agency had killed his brother. If members of the CIA were involved in the death of JFK, could they afford to let Robert ascend to an office where he’d have the power to do something about that?

CIA Role in Robert Kennedy Assassination

While researching a documentary, Shane O’Sullivan discovered a news film of the Ambassador Hotel on the day Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Bradley Ayers and other people who knew them, identified David Sanchez Morales, Gordon Campbell and George Joannides as being three men in the hotel that day. An article about this story appeared in The Guardian and on BBC Newsnight on November 20, 2006.

It reveals that three known CIA operatives were at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, in the moments before and after the shooting on June 5, 1968.

The CIA had no domestic jurisdiction and some of the officers were based in South-East Asia at the time, with no reason to be in Los Angeles.

Gordon Campbell & George Joannides

Gordon Campbell & George Joannides

Three of these men have been positively identified as senior officers who worked together in 1963 at JMWAVE, the CIA’s Miami base for its Secret War on Castro.

David Morales (behind)

David Morales (behind)

David Morales was Chief of Operations and told friends, with his tongue loosened by alcohol, in 1973:

“I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard.”

Morales might have been the “Latin-looking” man seen with Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans during the summer of 1963.

Gordon Campbell was Chief of Maritime Operations and George Joannides was Chief of Psychological Warfare Operations at JM/WAVE

Joannides was called out of retirement in 1978 to act as the CIA liaison to the Congressional investigation into the JFK assassination, in spite of having had an undisclosed role in Oswald’s setup.

Bradley Ayers, a retired US army captain who had been seconded to JM-Wave, the CIA’s Miami base in 1963, was the case officer for Morales on training Cuban exiles to run sabotage raids on Castro. Ayers was 95% sure that the first figure was Morales and equally sure that the other man was Gordon Campbell, who worked alongside Morales at JM-Wave in 1963 and was Ayers’ case officer shortly before the JFK assassination.

David Rabern, a freelance operative who was part of the Bay of Pigs invasion force in 1961 and was at the Ambassador hotel that night, did not know Morales and Campbell by name but saw them talking to each other out in the lobby before the shooting.

Ed Lopez, a respected lawyer at Cornell University, who came into regular contact with Joannides when he was a young law student working for the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in 1976-78, is 99% sure it is Joannides in the picture. When told where it was taken, he was not surprised: “If these guys decided you were bad, they acted on it.”

Wayne Smith, a state department official for 25 years who knew Morales well at the US embassy in Havana in 1959-60, said: “That’s him, that’s Morales.” He remembers Morales at a cocktail party in Buenos Aires in 1975, saying Kennedy got what was coming to him. Smith said Morales hated the Kennedys, blaming their lack of air support for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

Morales suddenly became sick after drinking with some of his CIA buddies and died of an apparent heart attack in 1978, weeks before he was to be called before the HSCA. Joannides died in 1990. Campbell may still be out there somewhere.

Morales Grave 2

Sirhan’s current attorney, William Pepper, who also served as James Earl Ray’s final lawyer and believed that Ray had been set up as the MLK patsy, has filed a motion with the US District Court for the Central District of California to reopen the RFK murder case and release the man wrongfully convicted.

Sirhan Sirhan in 1968

Sirhan Sirhan in 1968

Although Sirhan pled guilty at his original trial in 1969, Pepper contends that Sirhan was betrayed by a lead member of his original legal team, Grant Cooper, who Pepper notes was himself under federal indictment at the time for illegally possessing grand jury proceedings in another famous case, involving card cheating at the Beverly Hills Friar’s Club. Cooper, who faced possible jail time for that, ended up being let off with a $1000 fine. Intriguingly, his client in the Friar’s affair, John Roselli, was an organized crime figure with CIA ties often named as a possible conspirator in the death of President John F. Kennedy.

The defense had Sirhan admit guilt and sought to portray him as both mentally deficient and acting on impulse. Pepper notes that the attorney’s personal vulnerability was known to the judge and prosecution, and that they nevertheless said nothing while Sirhan’s real interests were not represented, and exculpatory evidence was suppressed.  Although Sirhan confessed to shooting at Robert Kennedy, he later said that he could remember nothing at all of that tragic day.

Now, Pepper is requesting a chance to come to court and offer two kinds of evidence – facts known at the time but not presented to Sirhan’s jury, and facts that have come to light since the trial.

Pepper and his experts believe that Sirhan was selected to be the patsy in RFK’s death, distracting everyone while a professional assassin fired the fatal shots unobtrusively from inches behind Kennedy – from a crouched position in the crush of people so his actions would not be noticed, milliseconds after Sirhan shot and missed and was immobilized.

Sirhan Today

Sirhan Today

Significantly, Pepper brings in the recent testimony of Nina Rhodes-Hughes, who says that Kennedy was not turned around, but was facing forward, when the shots were fired. Rhodes-Hughes is certain there was a second shooter.

Former union official and RFK aide Paul Schrade, who was walking six to eight feet behind Kennedy and was himself wounded by a stray bullet, insists, and told the FBI at the time, that Kennedy was facing Sirhan when the shooting began.

Nina Rhodes-Hughes was just steps behind Kennedy when he was shot in 1968.

Nina Rhodes-Hughes (left) with RFK in 1965

Nina Rhodes-Hughes (left) with RFK in 1965

William Pepper believes the testimony of Rhodes-Hughes, a B.C.-based actress who has, until recently, lived in virtual anonymity on Bowen Island, may be pivotal in winning a new trial for his client, Sirhan Sirhan, Kennedy’s convicted assassin.

On Feb. 22, 2012, Pepper filed a petition for a new trial on behalf of Sirhan in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Pepper is arguing there was a second gunman, that fraudulent evidence was presented at trial, and that key witness reports, like that of Rhodes-Hughes, had been altered or ignored.

Rhodes-Hughes met RFK at an NBC studio and, like so many others, she admired Kennedy’s commitment to education, to housing and social justice, and that he wanted the Americans out of Vietnam.

“I became convinced that this was the man who could save our country.”

Nina Rhodes-Hughes at 78

Nina Rhodes-Hughes at 78

When Kennedy announced he would run for president, Rhodes-Hughes went down to the local campaign headquarters to volunteer.

She became a fundraiser. She knew entertainers and celebrities – Nancy Sinatra was a close friend – and quickly pulled together an event at a local disco, The Factory. “We called it a ‘happening’ back then,” she says. The event was a huge success, and Kennedy sent her a personal telegram, thanking her.

She produced other fundraisers: a wine and cheese for Ethel Kennedy, a train ride called the Kennedy Cannonball that ran from L.A. to Bakersfield.

When Kennedy was giving his victory speech at the Ambassador, Rhodes-Hughes was standing behind him. To her right was the Pierre Salinger press room, where Kennedy was slated to go after his speech. To her left, through a kitchen pantry, was another press room called the Colonial room.

Rhodes-Hughes was waiting – she had been asked to “get” Kennedy and direct him to the Salinger press room as he came offstage.  But the entourage swept him in the other direction, through the kitchen toward the Colonial room. She waved and called out: “No, no, that’s the wrong way, he’s supposed to come over here.”

She ran after them as he was moved offstage, down a ramp toward the kitchen. She could see the back of the senator’s head, surrounded by his entourage, and ran down the ramp toward him.

“He turns to his left a little bit and starts to greet some of the kitchen staff,” she says. “Suddenly, he turns to his right and went straight ahead towards the Colonial, the other press room … then, as I’m looking at him, I heard ‘pop, pop’, ”

“I see Rafer Johnson and Rosey Grier running toward Sirhan Sirhan to tackle him.” Rhodes-Hughes was six to seven feet behind the senator, to his left. She saw Sirhan twist and crouch as Johnson and Grier lunged to tackle and subdue him.

Only two shots had been fired. As they brought him down, more rang out to her right, close behind  Senator Kennedy.

“The shots are pop, pop, pop, pop, pop ….” Rapid gunfire, 12, maybe 13 in all. “People are falling, people are sliding down the wall, people are ducking and I’m screaming. Then I look down and I see the senator has fallen. He’s lying on the floor. He has been shot.”

She remembers screaming, “Oh my God, no, oh my God, no.” Then she collapsed and fainted.

According to autopsy reports, Kennedy died from a gunshot wound in the back of his head, behind his right ear, shot at close range – close enough to leave powder burns on strands of his hair.

Sirhan – Rhodes-Hughes is sure – had been positioned in front of him.

She will never forget the rhythm of the gunfire. The first two shots, she says, came from the direction of the dusky-skinned man with the curly hair that stood at the steam table. Then some more shots, from her right-hand side. No law enforcement official spoke to her that night at the hotel; the FBI didn’t interview Rhodes-Hughes until about a month had passed.

“I told them everything,” says Nina Rhodes-Hughes.

“I told them if you need me to testify I would be most happy to testify because I really would like to see whoever the other person was, I would like the other person to be found because it was more than just Sirhan Sirhan.”

She insists she recounted the number of shots to the FBI agents. She was asked to describe Sirhan, whom she had seen clearly. Then she was asked if she had been wearing a polka-dot dress.

The agents took notes, but didn’t tape record anything.

Rhodes-Hughes was never called to testify, and she never knew what those FBI agents wrote in the transcription of their interview. Had she known, she would have been livid. The report stated she had heard eight shots, the exact number of bullets that Sirhan’s gun held, and that she saw bright red flashes emanating from the gun. None of that, she says, is true.

Rhodes-Hughes was a delegate at the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention, but after that she dropped out of politics. She had been forever changed by the assassination, as had the political landscape.

That night at the Ambassador Hotel wasn’t something she often talked about. But in the early ’90s, a Dartmouth professor, Phil Melanson (author of The Robert F Kennedy Assassination), contacted her with a stunning revelation. He had obtained the FBI reports from the assassination, including her statement, through an FOIA request. She agreed to look it over.

“I was flabbergasted. Devastated … I never said I saw red flashes. I never said eight shots.”

There were numerous other fabrications attributed to her in the FBI report.

Rhodes-Hughes gave Melanson the story as she remembered it, which he included in a book about the assassination, Shadowplay. Rhodes-Hughes never read the book, and heard nothing more from the professor. Nor did she seek to bring the story to public attention.

“As soon as you say ‘conspiracy’ it sounds like you’re a nut, that all of your intelligence is gone and you’re some kind of thrill-seeking crazy person who wants some notoriety,” she says.

Again, the story slipped below the surface of her life. She had no idea lawyer William Pepper – who is not afraid to use the word conspiracy, and who believes Sirhan was hypno-programmed, possibly by the woman in the polka-dot dress – wanted to find her. Or that a tape recording corroborating her version of the number of gunshots had surfaced.

She may never have come forward, but for a recent call from CNN reporter Brad Johnson. Now, in spite of the unwanted notoriety, she believes it is her duty to Kennedy, and to history, to tell – and ask – what really happened that night. Until the call came, even her closest friends in her small Bowen Island community had no idea that she had been witness to Kennedy’s assassination, close enough, almost, to reach out and touch him as he fell.


Unlike the JFK and MLK assassination stories, which were very well researched and covered in a number of books, there is no single book that I’m aware of that adequately covers the whole  story of the assassination of RFK.

But, perhaps the best single source for those who want a riveting introduction to the research is the DVD documentary, RFK Must Die, by Shane O’Sullivan, an Irish writer and filmaker based in London. His book on the case, Who Killed Bobby? The Unsolved Murder of Robert F. Kennedy was published by Union Square Press to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the assassination on June 5, 2008.

RFK Must Die

by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced with attribution for non-commercial purposes

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