January 17, 2000:
The History Channel on the RFK Murder
Copyright © 2000 by Dan E. Moldea
Tonight on the History Channel, Arthur Kent hosted a heavily-promoted documentary about the 1968 murder of Senator Robert Kennedy, which was also the subject of my 1995 book, The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy: An Investigation of Motive, Means, and Opportunity (W. W. Norton). The theme of the program tilted heavily towards the possibility that more than one gun had been fired at the crime scene.
Frankly, I've already been there and done that. And I was wrong when I believed it, just like the History Channel is wrong now. However, when I finally put my findings between the covers of a book, I made sure that I had fully investigated--and reinvestigated--the case. Significantly, in an effort to make their pitch for a conspiracy, the producers of this show relied on some of the same evidence I had earlier developed--but have now explained away.
As in past documentaries that attempted to show a conspiracy, the producers of this latest program--without producing any new evidence about anything--featured several perennial questions about this case, including: Whom did Sirhan hit with the first shot? What was the sequence of the shots hitting Kennedy? How did Sirhan manage to hit Kennedy at point-blank range? Were there bullet holes in the door frames? And why didn't the 1975 firearms panel conclude that the victim bullets came from Sirhan's gun?
I believe that I responsibly answered all of these questions in my Epilogue, "What Really Happened?"
Here is my specific response to the question of whether extra bullets were found in the walls and door frames in Sirhan's line of fire, which appeared to be the centerpiece of the History Channel's case:I no longer believe that the holes in the door frames, particularly in the center divider, were bullet holes. And I now think I understand how this controversy began.
After the arrest of Sirhan and the removal of Kennedy and the other five victims from the pantry, a handful of LAPD officers, along with a contingent of LASO (Los Angeles Sheriff's Office) deputies, attempted to preserve an already messy crime scene.
As part of the LASO's human wedge to clear out the pantry, LASO deputy Tom Beringer told me that he had witnessed a man in a tuxedo trying recover a souvenir by prying out what he believed to be a bullet from the wooden center divider between the two swinging doors at the west end of the pantry. Deputy Beringer stopped the man and reported the incident.
Whether acting on his own or ordered to mark this evidence, LASO deputy Walter Tew saw what he believed to be bullet holes in the door frames at the same location. Without any experience in criminalistics or firearms identification, Tew, I discovered, had marked what he erroneously believed to be bullet holes, circling the holes and placing "LASO," his badge number "723," and his name "W Tew" inside each hole.
Significantly, despite all of the holes in the woodwork all over the kitchen, the only known ones that law enforcement personnel later positively identified as bullet holes were the ones circled by Tew. And those who worked at the hotel and claimed that they had never noticed the holes before, particularly in the center divider, more likely had never even noticed the holes before they were circled. These employees included: maitre d' Angelo DiPierro, waiter Martin Patrusky, and carpenters Wesley Harrington and Dale Poore. (DiPierro, who had accompanied non-SID personnel through a cursory crime scene search, does believe he saw the bases of bullets in the holes. However, his experience with bullet holes is limited to his service in the infantry and does not include criminalistics.)
LAPD sergeant James Jones, who directed the LASO's crime scene sweep, immediately noticed Tew's markings and told me that he believed a bullet hole had been identified--a natural assumption after a shooting.
Then, at 2:00 A.M., after the crime scene had been secured, Officer DeWayne Wolfer and Sergeant Bob Lee of the Scientific Investigation Division arrived at the kitchen pantry, along with their staff. LAPD photographer Charles Collier, who was so sure during his interview with me that bullet holes were present in the door frames might have been confused by the circled holes--which he repeatedly photographed--as were other SID staffers who told me that they thought they had seen bullet holes in the door frames.
Significantly, LAPD Officer Pete Despard--who appears in numerous official photographs, aiding the crime scene search--told me, "I saw suspected bullet holes, but I never confirmed that they were bullet holes."1
Sergeant James MacArthur, the experienced Rampart detective who had been responsible for the overnight security of the crime scene, told me that he had nothing to do with the crime scene search--yet he told me about bullet holes at the crime scene. He, too, probably read too much into the circled holes, as did those who guarded the crime scene-- who also told me that they had seen bullet holes: LAPD Officers James Wilson, Edward Crosthwaite and Albert Lamoreaux; as well as Rampart watch commander Ray Rolon, Sergeant William Unland, Lieutenant Albin Hegge, and Inspector Robert Rock.
None of these honest police officers were criminalists; none of them had actually seen bullets in the wood; and none of them had witnessed the physical recovery of any bullets.
Later on the morning of the shooting, Chicago Tribune crime reporter Robert Wiedrich appeared at the crime scene to do a story for his newspaper. According to Wiedrich, Sergeant MacArthur told him that two bullets "gone wild" had been removed from the center divider. MacArthur, again not being a part of the crime scene search, had unwittingly misled Wiedrich.
Coroner Noguchi also executed a 1976 affidavit for Vincent Bugliosi, claiming that he had suspicions that the holes in the door frames had been caused by bullets. However, during my 1993 interview with Noguchi, I asked him whether he had specifically asked Wolfer if bullets had gone into the door frames during the crime scene search several days after the murder. Seemingly contradicting his earlier affidavit, Noguchi replied, "Yes, and it was for more than just curiosity. I felt that in order to understand what had happened and the specific sequence of events, I needed to know the direction of the gunshots. I wanted to know how the trajectories would be determined.
"I remember that I asked for photographs to be taken at each [reconstructed shooting] sequence so we could analyze the scene. One of the pictures was of a center door divider.
"I asked Mr. Wolfer, 'Is this a bullet hole?' And he said, 'No.' He said that they had done x-rays or something to that effect, and that no bullets were there. Of course, I have no reason to doubt that."
On June 6, the day after the shooting, John Shirley and John Clemente walked through the crime scene and Clemente took a photograph of the circled holes on the center divider--which had been pointed out to them not by a criminalist but by a hotel employee; these same circled holes were viewed by CBS radio reporter Bob Ferris two days later.
These accounts of bullet holes were featured in Lillian Castellano and Floyd Nelson's 1969 article in the Los Angeles Free Press, initiating suspicions that extra bullets were present. Consequently, the can of worms had been publicly opened, and the LAPD did nothing definitive to close it.
The 1975 discovery during the Schrade litigations that SUS had destroyed the door frames, along with the supposed x- rays of these items, only enhanced the suspicions that the door frames had contained extra bullets, which would prove the existence of a second gunman.
Further complicating the controversy over the alleged bullet holes was Greg Stone's discovery in 1976 that FBI special agent Alfred Greiner had identified and FBI photographer Richard Fernandez had photographed four "bullet holes" in Sirhan's line of fire.
As FBI Special Agent Frenchy LaJeunesse told me, both Greiner and Fernandez had been sent to the crime scene to provide "orientation" information to the FBI. Neither Greiner nor Fernandez was a criminalist or a firearms identification expert.
Further, according to a recently discovered June 8, 1968, FBI memorandum prepared by Greiner, the person who gave Greiner and Fernandez their tour through the crime scene the day before was not a criminalist, a firearms identification expert, or even a police officer. Instead, according to the report, he was Frans Stalpers, the assistant manager of the Ambassador Hotel.
Greiner's report clearly stated, "Stalpers directed [Special Agent] Greiner and Photographer Fernandez over the entire area where Senator Kennedy had been immediately prior to the shooting and the route taken by him to the point where he was hit."
There is no mention of anyone else accompanying Greiner and Fernandez on this tour. Clearly, the FBI men learned what they had learned about the crime scene from Stalpers, a civilian.
For years, many of us have wondered why Greiner has been so averse to settle the controversy over how and why he had identified the four circled bullet holes in the door frames. In light of his own memorandum, showing that he had received all of his information from a hotel clerk, Greiner might well be a little reluctant to recount the circumstances under which he drew his conclusions and wrote his report.
Then, in January 1990, SID staffer David Butler, a LAPD Medal of Honor recipient, told me that he had witnessed DeWayne Wolfer remove two .22 caliber bullets from the center divider. Butler equivocated on his version, telling me during our second interview- -after he realized that he had given me evidence of more bullets in the room than Sirhan's gun could hold--that he had only seen evidence packages of bullet slugs on the steam table.
On this matter, Butler has self-destructed.2
However, what etched in stone such sightings as Butler's, as well as Greiner's FBI report, was attorney Vincent Bugliosi's accidental discovery in November 1976 of FBI special agent William Bailey, who said that he had actually inspected the two bullet holes in the center divider and found the base of a .22 slug in each hole during his fifteen-to- twenty minute pass through the crime scene on the night of the shooting.
Bailey's story is harder, if not impossible, to discredit-- even though Bailey has become an ardent and vocal supporter of the two-gun theory. Like many others, I had used him for years to bulk up my own evidence of at least two shooters at the crime scene.
Thus, if Bailey--for whom I have great respect--is correct, then there is no doubt that at least two guns were fired that night. But I now believe that Bailey simply made a mistaken identification during his quick examination of the crime scene.
If Bailey is right, it would mean that DeWayne Wolfer had literally perjured himself on numerous occasions during his sworn statements about whether bullets had been recovered at the crime scene. And Wolfer has hung tough all of these years, and even filed a defamation suit, insisting that he found no bullets in the walls and the door frames of the kitchen pantry. Was he capable of committing this monumental act of obstruction?
To continue to suggest that Wolfer lied is also to suggest that Wolfer, the officers in SID, and the LAPD wittingly engaged in a conspiracy to permit the escape of Sirhan's coconspirators. And that defies the evidence, as well as all logic.
Indeed, Wolfer has a well-established record in this case, alternating between flawless work, such as his muzzle distance tests, and obvious errors, such as the mislabeled test bullets.
Although it is clear that the bullet fragments found on the floor of the crime scene and identified by the SID's Dave Butler, crime lab photographer Charles Collier, and LAPD officer Kenneth Vogl were never booked as evidence, I contend that there is no evidence to suggest that Wolfer either committed perjury or intentionally destroyed evidence that would have proven that two guns had been fired at the crime scene.
In short, Wolfer's detailed crime scene search on the morning of the shooting--during which he was specifically searching for bullet holes--must outweigh Bailey's cursory examination of two circled holes, especially when Bailey did not appreciate the significance of his alleged discovery until eight years later when he met Bugliosi.
The reaction to my work on this case? Here are some of the reviews, including two from the New York Times:Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 1995): "Moldea has reexamined every piece of available evidence and, in an example of indefatigable journalism, tracked down virtually every policeman and FBI agent who worked on the case, is still alive, and would agree to talk to him. He also interviewed Sirhan and Thane Eugene Cesar, a security guard the night of the shooting often named as the second assassin. . . . Moldea's [storyline] works, holding the reader riveted as he reconstructs the crime scene and reviews the investigation. . . . Moldea has left no stones unturned in his examination of the Robert Kennedy assassination, uncovering many worms and perhaps, finally, the true smoking gun."
New York Times (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, May 25, 1995): "Carefully reasoned . . . ultimately persuasive . . . dramatic. . . . The author meticulously dissects how the various disputes arose and how critics were drawn into the orbit of the case. . . . The cleverness of [Moldea's] strategy in the book lies in his playing so effectively the part of devil's advocate. . . . His book should be read, not so much for the irrefutability of its conclusions as for the way the author has brought order out of a chaotic tale and turned an appalling tatter of history into an emblem of our misshapen times."
San Francisco Chronicle (Bill Wallace, June 8, 1995): "To investigative reporter Dan Moldea, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy is a sort of 'magic eye' murder case. In The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy, Moldea lays out a detailed picture of a murder conspiracy concealed by inept investigators, then deftly turns the image inside out in what can only be described as literary sleight of hand. . . .
"Moldea has structured it like a mystery novel and does not reveal his personal views about the crime until the very end. . . Moldea examines the evidence supporting [various conspiracy theories] at length and then concludes that what appears to be discrepancies flow not from contradictory facts but from an inaccurate prosecution theory of the crime. He provides a new hypothesis that loosely incorporates the existing evidence--and that does not require a conspiracy, second assassin or any of the other trappings associated with alternative explanations of the crime. . . . Moldea's book is an act of courage. . . . Many writers would have simply abandoned the project when they discovered that their fundamental views about a subject they had researched for years were wrong. That Moldea did not is greatly to his credit. His book will serve future historians well."
Newsweek (Steve Waldman, June 12, 1995): "If there had been a conspiracy to assassinate Robert F. Kennedy, as many people believe, Dan Moldea probably would have found it. . . . [I]n 1987 Moldea had written an influential article in Regardie's magazine demanding that the RFK case be reopened because of mounting evidence that a second gunman was involved. But after doing extra research for a book, Moldea concluded that he was wrong the first time--and that the sole killer of Robert Kennedy on June 5, 1968, was a deranged Sirhan Sirhan. . . . [T]he dramatic first two thirds of Moldea's book describes disconcerting inconsistencies in testimony and evidence; bullets that didn't match, and the conspicuous absence of key police records. But through interviews with police officers involved in the original investigation--some of whom had never talked about the case before--Moldea shows that simple (and sometimes hilarious) human error explain these suspicious coincidences. . . . If this reporting doesn't seal the case, Moldea's chilling prison interviews with Sirhan do."
New York Times Book Review (Gerald Posner, June 18, 1995): "In The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy, a persuasive reexamination of the assassination, Mr. Moldea does what many journalists would lack the courage for--admit that his earlier work was wrong. . . . His new conclusion . . . is amply supported by prodigious research, including many first-time interviews with dozens of police officers involved in the investigation.
"This book presents a remarkable turnaround for a writer who had partly staked his reputation on the existence of a second shooter. But because of the honesty and logic with which he approaches his study, Mr. Moldea's journalistic instincts have never looked sharper.
"If students of the assassination or fans of Mr. Moldea's earlier work think that this less sensational resolution of the case is not as interesting as a conspiracy theory, they're mistaken. . . . How Mr. Moldea separates good leads from bogus ones, how he eliminates key suspects, and his climactic prison confrontation with Mr. Sirhan in 1994 make for far more interesting reading than any conspiracy theory based on hearsay and speculation.
"Beyond presenting what is likely to be the best understanding of what actually happened on June 5, 1968, Mr. Moldea is stinging in his criticism of shoddy work by the Los Angeles Police Department. . . . [T]his is the best written of his books, finished in a clear and easy style."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Steve Weinberg, July 9, 1995): "The book is a triumph in several ways. The first triumph is stylistic. . . . The second triumph is ethical. . . . The third triumph is substantive. . . . Readers who want to reward responsible investigative journalism ought to buy this book."
1. Although both LAPD Officers Robert Rozzi and Charles Wright believe they were photographed by the Associated Press examining a bullet hole in a door jamb, independent firearms experts--even those critical of the LAPD's investigation--who have studied the LAPD's photographs of the "object," have rejected the officers' conclusion, insisting that the object is simply too small to be the base of a .22 caliber bullet.
2. When I called Butler to give him an opportunity to amend and expand upon his quotes, I asked him to pick a position and stand by it. However, he refused to say anything further--other than to stand by what he had already stated during my tape recorded interviews with him--in which he had claimed to have, and then recanted having witnessed Wolfer remove two bullets from the center divider.