(Read more about conspiracy theories on the death of MLK here.)
Well, another year has come and gone, and on June 4th, we will mark the 43rd anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, just moments after Kennedy claimed victory in the California primary.
And, as happens so often in America, conspiracy theories sprouted before RFK was laid to rest beside his brother in Arlington National Cemetery. And they were legion. The famous girl in the polka dot dress shouting, “We killed him! We killed Kennedy!” Too many bullets in the pantry. Medical Examiner Thomas Noguchi’s finding that the fatal bullet struck Kennedy behind his ear, when, by all accounts, Kennedy was facing Sirhan Sirhan when the shots were fired. And gasoline was poured onto the firestorm when it emerged that Hank Hernandez, one of the LAPD detectives who seemed intent on discrediting any witness giving credence to the notion of multiple shooters or other conspirators, had done a stint with the country’s greatest governmental bogeyman, the CIA.
Just as in the death of his brother, President John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy’s death has remained unresolved for nearly a half century. And Sirhan Sirhan has sat in a California prison for the same amount of time. But even this late in the game, some really strange twists have occurred.
In early March of this year, Sirhan appeared before a California parole board for his 13th hearing. And, in something approaching the bizarre, he was represented by Dr. William Pepper, the attorney who championed James Earl Ray’s innocence in the killing of Martin Luther King Jr., but who also represented the King family in their wrongful death suit against former Memphis restaurant owner Lloyd Jowers, a suit that Pepper won at trial.
Now, after nearly a half a century of imprisonment, Sirhan claims that the infamous girl in the polka dot dress was his “control.” She was the one that guided him to kill RFK. And it’s only taken him 43 years and hypnosis to remember!
I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Pepper. He has been fighting for a redefinition of the King assassination nearly since it happened. But Sirhan’s recent revelations remind me of something he said to investigative reporter Dan Moldea several years ago. I paraphrase, “As long as there are people who think I didn’t do it, I’ll never admit anything.” This most recent claim seems to fit in that mold.
And governmental bodies continue to do things that simply inflame conspiracy theorists. The LAPD destroyed physical evidence in what is admittedly one of the three great murders of the 20th century. Perhaps they had what seemed to them a logical reason, but were they so dense as to be ignorant of how that destruction would appear to the public? On a tape of a Hank Hernandez interview—called typical by some police officials—Hernandez goes beyond the rational to change the interviewee’s story. I’ve sat in on a number of police interrogations and never heard anything approaching the coercion of Hernandez. It was simply not proper. No wonder the tape was marked “do not release.”
For those who want to call conspiracy theorists “nuts” and “wackos,” they might be right. But conspiracists do not operate without reason. Governmental bodies from the FBI, CIA, and the LAPD provide tons of grist for the conspiracy mills by their ill thought-out actions. I’m reminded of former CIA Director Richard Helms. “We are honorable men. You just have to trust us,” he told the nation, even as he was lying about CIA contact with Lee Harvey Oswald after his return from Russia. Give me a break.
That parole board denied Sirhan Sirhan his release, and rightly so. Whatever his motivations, whatever his rationale, Sirhan Sirhan was in that pantry and he fired bullets at Robert F. Kennedy. Whether his weapon fired the fatal shots does not matter. And he can invoke the unknown girl in the polka dot dress all he wants. No matter how many conspirators there may have been, one has spent his life behind bars. And I’m okay with that.
When Tony Hays isn’t traveling the world, teaching students, and adopting puppies, he takes time out to write the Arthurian Mystery series from Tor/Forge.