My review of The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy by Tim Tate; Brad Johnson
This was one of the most fascinating and well-researched books I have ever read. It’s a story that has always intrigued me along with the other assassinations of the same era: JFK and Dr. Martin King.
There are no spoilers in my review. It contains my opinion on various aspects of the book. I know it will not spoil your enjoyment of it as you may come to some very different conclusions.
I first turn to the end of the book as a place to start this review. The author quotes Robert Kennedy Jnr., “So let’s look at the evidence and the science; and it appears now that the forensic evidence, the acoustic evidence, the ballistic evidence, are all inconsistent with the hypothesis that Sirhan Sirhan fired the shots that killed my father…. If the police or District Attorney’s Office can’t explain those inconsistencies, I think it’s clear that we ought to have another investigation …”
That is what this book is about. Kennedy Jnr. added, “If the science is inconsistent there needs to be a further investigation. If you can’t square the science with Sirhan’s guilt then we should find out who was guilty.”
The authors conclude the book by saying, “We agree. Which is why we wrote this book.”
You don’t have to be a law enforcement veteran like me, to realize that the LAPD investigation into a slaying that probably changed the course of history was woeful. It was worse than woeful. It was incompetent and clearly stage-managed to ensure Sirhan was found guilty, whether or not he was. There was no attempt to follow up on other sensible leads of inquiry.
I kept an open mind always reading this book. What did impress me was the sheer dedication of the authors who have spent about a quarter of a century investigating, writing about, and making documentaries all about this self-same subject. It culminated in this excellent book.
I still have one reservation and found the authors skipped over that a little too quickly for my liking. I will return to that. First let me catalogue the main planks of their “case” to open another investigation. An investigation that would have to result from politicians as the legal process has truly been exhausted.
The authors deal with much old material as well as new. The Licher story is one good example of the old. In this book, that story is demolished but as the authors write: some books “continue to adduce the Licher story as evidence of Sirhan’s pro-Arab, anti-Israel “terrorist” intentions.” The LAPD had this rebuttal evidence but either buried it or ignored it. Something they chose to do on many occasions if the evidence didn’t fit the case as they and the DA saw it.
The best piece of evidence uncovered in this book came from a tape-recording made by a Montreal reporter. It clearly demonstrated that more than eight shots were fired in the hotel pantry where Kennedy was killed. Sirhan had an eight-shot .22 caliber handgun. Those tapes, known as the Pruszynski tapes after the name of the reporter, were examined by various experts. It’s clear to me that more than eight shots were fired. It’s a pity that it would be 35 years before anyone realized the significance of these tapes.
This book also solves the mystery of the woman in the black polka dot dress. She was identified by way of photographs as Elayn Neal. This identification was made by no less than seven witnesses who claimed to have seen the mystery woman in the Ambassador Hotel on the night of the assassination.
This woman is and was important to the investigation for several reasons. First, Sirhan said he was with this woman shortly before the shooting happened. Second, an important witness, Sandy Serrano, was the first to mention her and in a most dramatic way. She had seen this woman fleeing the scene with a male companion and reported the black polka dot dress woman as saying words to the effect, “we shot him.” Note the use of “we.”
Sandra Serrano was subsequently browbeaten, hectored and bullied by the LAPD to change her story as it didn’t fit their case. She refused but was never called to testify in any hearings.
The authors then move on to a thorough and believable exposure of the CIA’s involvement in brainwashing and the MKULTRA and ARTICHOKE schemes. They posit the question: was it possible that Sirhan was brainwashed into shooting Kennedy through hypnosis? I, for one, at first skeptical, think there was a real possibility that actually happened.
I now turn to the one reservation I mentioned earlier in this review. It was about a reporter called Moldea. Moldea saw Sirhan several times in prison and took up the cudgels on his behalf until one day he felt Sirhan had “hoodwinked” him. This followed a fiery exchange between the two when Sirhan allegedly protested he hadn’t received a fair trial. Moldea decided this outburst within the context of the whole case indicated a clever strategy on Sirhan’s part. The authors attempt to discredit Moldea but, to me, it is a weak attempt.
The authors record that Bobby (Kennedy) was the “last best hope” for many in America and across the world. That may have been so. His assassination certainly changed the course of history. Sadly, we may never know the true story behind it. How can we trust the original investigation? It was flawed beyond words.
A final thought: if it was true Sirhan was turned into a would-be assassin through brainwashing, which I accept could have happened, then why recruit another shooter to be in the pantry with Bobby Kennedy on that night of June,1968? That doesn’t make sense.
I received a free galley copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.
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