Part Three: "They are all fibbing..."
by Larry Hancock, 29 May 2008
In any consideration of accessories or conspiracy, key witnesses were those individuals who reported Sirhan, or someone looking a great deal like him, in company with other individuals prior to the actual shooting. Such witnesses existed and they certainly were not ignored by the LAPD investigation. Detective Chief Houghton himself thought that there were definite indications of conspiracy - the lack of any personal identification on Sirhan, his total unwillingness to talk or even acknowledge the act - he felt those were more the signs of a hired killer than signs of impulse or passion.  Indeed Houghton devotes several chapters in his book to discussing conspiracy leads and theories; he even mentions a few of the names introduced in these essays.
What he does not do, and what SUS apparently did not do, was to evaluate any of them for mutual confirmation or mutual pattern. An integrated response to the more credible observations would seem to have been to bring the individuals in to observe Sirhan (and possibly even his brothers) in police line-ups. Certainly the witnesses could have been tested first with the preparation of “identikit” image workups of the people they had seen, a standard police practice. They could all have been asked to view a standard series set of photos; instead, we find if they could identify one photo of Sirhan but not another version, they were dismissed. And each witnesses report would have been paired with and referenced against other witnesses from the same incident for corroboration. There is no record of any of these things being routinely done with any of the key observations of incidents. Instead, each witness was contacted individually and their reports independently dismissed.
It is the combination of witnesses' observations which seems to present a clear picture of Sirhan being assisted in collecting information about Senator Kennedy’s appearances, purchasing ammunition, performing shooting practice and possibly in one or more abortive attempts before the actual assassination. Many of these witnesses and incidents were introduced and referenced in the two earlier essays; the following is a sampling of some of the most significant, with commentary as to why LAPD rejected each witness (see Part Two for more details):
1) On May 20, at Robbies Restaurant in Pomona, Albert LeBeau observed a young woman and man attempting to crash a private speaking appearance of Senator Kennedy. LeBeau identified the man as Sirhan. His observations were corroborated by William Schneid, an off duty Pomona police officer working security at the restaurant. LeBeau picked Sirhan’s photo from among 25 mug shots but was never shown Sirhan in person. His case file was closed with a statement that “he later admitted he had lied” although there is nothing in the files to support anything of the sort. LeBeau and Schneid were both interviewed by the FBI but Schneid was never interviewed or contacted by LAPD.
2) On May 30, Laverne Botting observed a young woman and two young man, one she identified as Sirhan, enter a Kennedy campaign office in Azuza. Ethel Creehan was an independent witness to the incident. Neither women was shown Sirhan; no line up was conducted although Creehan did pick Sirhan’s photo out of a mug shot file. LAPD rejected the incident based on the fact that each of the women’s height estimates differed and were not an exact match for Sirhan’s actual height.
3) Individuals who had observed a young women in a polka dot dress in the company of young men, including individuals resembling Sirhan, at the Ambassador hotel received similar treatment in LAPD reports. Ace Guard Jack Merritt’s observation simply received no comment or attention. Pauline Walker’s observation and detailed description (virtually exact matches for Sandra Serrano’s descriptions including the greasy hair and clothing of one young man) were simply ignored. George Green’s observation of Sirhan and the young women disappears as a point of focus between his FBI and LAPD interviews. The same is true for Lonny Worthy. Marcus McBroom’s observation of the polka dot dress girl disappears and his observation of Sirhan is refuted by a statement that he had retracted it (which McBroom adamantly denied). The LAPD final summary report mentions Booker Griffin and states that he had admitted the story was a total fabrication – there is no support for the statement and Griffin also was adamant in stating that he had never lied nor made any statement that he had fabricated the story.
At first reading, this sort of record seems hard to accept - why would there be so little apparent effort to correlate the reports of these witnesses? Why were all of them considered only individually, with no apparent effort to evaluate patterns? Why did LAPD so casually accept Sirhan and his family’s simple denials that he didn’t really know any people and that he hardly ever left his room? Was it a matter of too many leads and too little time? Perhaps it was the result of the strict secrecy and the internal LAPD gag rule on the case? Or did it occur because of the rigid compartmentalization of information within a very isolated investigative team – SUS/Special Unit Senator?
Perhaps it was all of that, perhaps it was exacerbated by the lack of any need to complicate a straightforward case, one in which the obvious killer was already in custody. Whatever the combination of other elements may have been, there does seem to have been a bit of an “attitude” in play as well.
During Sgt. Hernandez’ polygraph testing of Jerry Owen, Hernandez seemed to display something of that attitude:
“I’ve talked to twenty three people that say they saw a girl in the polka dot dress. They are all--they're all fibbing.”  (Tape #29272, July 3, 1968; Lt.Hernandez of SUS interrogation of Jerry Owen, page 46 of transcript).
We will return to Sgt. Hernandez, his interviews and the issue of SUS' “attitude”, but one person that Hernandez didn’t interview about a girl in a polka dot dress was LAPD Sgt. Sharaga, the first person to report her as a suspect. Nor did SUS locate and interview the witnesses questioned by Sharaga, who described a polka dot dress girl and male companion behaving just like the pair observed by Sandra Serrano. The LAPD handling of Sharaga and his information seems to raise an issue that goes considerably beyond overwork, compartmentalization or even attitude.
“That interview is a phony!”
There is material on Sgt. Sharaga in the SUS files; there is a detailed description of his activities as first officer on the scene and a full report on his activities that evening. The record states that it was taken from a detailed SUS interview with Sgt. Sharaga. That is a problem because, according to Sharaga, there was no such interview, the contents in the official record do not reflect actual events, the entire thing is a fake – and he has proof. Unless otherwise referenced, the following discussion of Sgt. Sharaga is taken from investigative work and interviews with Sharaga performed by Christan and Turner and published in Easy Reader, California Assassination Archives, November 17, 1988.
Sharaga had taken the notes from his brief interview with the individuals he first encountered and passed them by runner to Sgt. William Jordan from Ramparts Detectives. Jordan was assigned to SUS, returned to Ramparts in late summer with a promotion to Lieutenant and in 1969 abandoned twelve years of tenure to take a job with a private security consulting firm.
Sharaga had received word that Jordan had set up a command center inside the hotel pantry area and had taken charge of the initial investigation. After that evening, Sharaga went on with his routine duties; he was not assigned to be a part of the SUS team and was never contacted by Jordan in regard to his message and notes. Later he was ordered to write out a full report on his actions of that evening and used his Command Post log to do so. The report was approximately a dozen pages; he dictated it to a secretary who typed out master mimeograph sheets from which copies were made. Sharaga made multiple copies, keeping one in the Watch Commanders desk, two copies in the Sergeants mail area, and most importantly, keeping the mimeograph master at home (a common practice within LAPD, for reasons that will become apparent). Some time later he wanted to refer to his report and found that his desk copy, mail copy and “Records Filed” copy were all missing. The Night Watch Sergeant told him that SUS investigators had been at the station and picked up all the copies; they were upset that the full mimeograph master was not available. Sharaga called downtown and was told nobody knew anyting about his report being picked up. 
Since SUS claimed not to have it, Sharaga made another copy and personally delivered it three days later. A friend of his working at SUS would not even allow Sharaga to enter, the report was passed though a cracked door. It was the tightest security Sharaga had ever seen at LAPD. That was the end the matter as far as Sharaga was concerned. Or it would have been if Turner and Christian had not eventually have come across a SUS microfilm file titled “Interviews: Sharaga, 9-26-68, 3 pm. File I-4257 was officially a SUS personal interview with Sharaga and contains considerable detail on events of the early morning of June 5, 1968.
With that file in hand, Christian and Turner tracked Sharaga down deep in the foothills of Arkansas, near the Lake of the Ozarks. Sharaga was still interested in the case and agreed to review the material they had brought. However, his first reaction to the file was abrupt:
After reading it, Sharaga was just as forceful, calling many of the purported statements in it pure lies. And as it turned out, Sharaga was fully prepared to prove that, as he had saved the original mimeograph master of his official report to SUS.
Sharaga noted many issues with the “file report”, however, the most obvious one was that the SUS file states that in regard to the older couple he encountered, Sharaga “believes that due to the noise and confusion at the time what was said was misinterpreted and what was probably said was “”they shot him.”” Sharaga was adamant that such a statement was a total misrepresentation of the encounter, of his evaluation, of the radio call he initiated and the note he sent to Jordon at the scene. On July 14, 1988 Sharaga executed a sworn statement on the SUS file copy:
“To whom it may concern: The L.A.P.D. report on the reverse side is not based on any interview with me by anyone in the LAPD at any time. Further, it also contains false and deliberately misleading statements. It is obviously derived from a much longer report personally prepared by me in September of 1968, which disappeared from the L.A.P.D. files later on under entirely suspicious circumstances. I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing statements are correct and truthful.”
In following years, Sharaga would twice write directly to LA Mayor Tom Bradley, outlining the circumstance and asking for an investigation. His letters produced no positive response.
Given this particular event with a SUS file report and other claims by witnesses that their information was misrepresented, there certainly seems to be an outstanding question as to whether or not personnel in SUS consciously “managed” the information that they were reporting. It does not seem to be a matter of the data that was reported, it is more a matter of what was left out or how conclusions are presented. Based on Sharaga’s sworn statement, it certainly appears that SUS reports sometimes did not accurately or fully represent the actual investigations.
Putting the “Spotted Ghost” to rest
During the LAPD investigation of Senator Kennedy’s murder, the public didn’t know about Sgt. Sharaga’s encounter with the Bernsteins nor about his official report to SUS. Sharaga's report would have been a key element in confirming Sandra Serrano's information because it involved independent witnesses describing the same people, making the same remarks Serrno reported. It would even have placed them in the same location as described by Serrano. And it occured well before Serrano made her first contact with Assistant District Attorney Ambrose and long before Serrano's description was broadcast on television.
In turn, Sharaga and most all of the officers interviewing individual witnesses had no idea of the number or quality of witnesses observing a young woman and young men with Sirhan Sirhan, not only the evening of the murder but prior to it. There were scattered press reports of such individuals but they appeared over several months' time and there was no single, massive press outcry on the issue. But Sandy Serrano had gone on TV; she had become identified with the mysterious polka dot dress girl (less so with the possible male accessories, they made much less interesting copy).
As Deputy LAPD Chief Houghton would eventually say in his book on the RFK case, Manny Pena (SUS chief) knew that “as long as Miss Serrano stuck to her story, no amount of independent evidence would, in itself, serve to dispel the story. ….she alone could put the spotted ghost to rest.” 
Exactly how Pena and Sgt. Hernandez put the ghost to rest has been covered in detail in books on the RFK investigation. Serious issues have been raised about Hernandez’s interview and interrogation of Serrano as well as the manner in which he actually managed to her to retract her story. Melanson and Klaber present considerable background on the issues of polygraph testing in general and the circumstances which tend to produce “false positives,” indications that the person is not telling the truth. 
This author submitted samples of the Serrano interview to a nationally known polygraph specialist. The expert expressed concern that certain of the comparison benchmark questions used in the interview were faulty and might have produced false positives (indications that the examinee was not truthful). He also cautioned that errors are far more likely in terms of false positives, especially if the interviewer and examinee are not in total agreement on the nature of the question. Of course any professional analysis of this and other SUS polygraph interviews is something beyond the scope of this book and would require the electrical tape of the interview, not just the questions themselves. Actually, we do not even have an official transcript of the Serrano interview; SUS specifically ordered that no transcript would be prepared of it. The tape itself was eventually released and researchers and others who have listened to it express shock and dismay at both the tone and content. [ed note: an unofficial transcript of the June 20 interview is Exhibit 69 to the 1992 Request to the Los Angeles County Grand Jury].
It does seem clear that Sgt. Hernandez shifted from being an detached polygraph interviewer to an aggressive police interrogator during the course of the interview. That can be seen in samples of his remarks to Serrano as quoted from pages 163 and 164 of Shadow Play:
Hernandez……“Nobody, “”We shot Kennedy””!
- Serrno responds, “Yes, somebody told me “we have shot Kennedy””
“One of these days you’re gonna be a mother, you’re gonna have kids and you know you can’t live a life of shame, knowing what you’re doing now is wrong.”
- she responds, “But I seen those people.”
“Sandy, you know this is wrong.”
- she responds, “That’s what she said.”
“No it isn’t Sandy, please don’t!”
“I love this man (Senator Kennedy) and you’re shaming him,…
- she responds, “Don’t shout at me.”
“You know, I don’t know if he is a witness right now in this room watching what you’re doing in here….Please in the name of Kennedy, don’t shame his death….
“One of these days, if you’re woman enough, you will get a letter from Ethel Kennedy – personal – thanking you for at least letting her rest on this aspect of the investigation.
It is also interesting to consider this sort of interview dialog goes against the current guidelines for polygraph testing. These guidelines specify that the examiner is required not to display or express bias in any manner regarding the truthfulness of the examinee prior to the completion of the testing as failure to do so may generate false positives. 
I said what they wanted me to say:
In the end, Hernandez gave Sandy Serrano a choice, she could accept his appeal to recant or she would be talking to police forever…and possibly worse.
Hernandez – “There’s two ways to approach this thing. The first is for me to appeal to you as a decent woman who campaigned for Senator Kennedy. The other way is for me to hold up this paper (polygraph results) ….and tell these people…and they are going to want to talk to you again and again….
Serrano – “To tell you the truth….I just don’t know any more. It’s all such a big mess.”
Hernandez – “Sandra, look. I don’t know how we can do it to stop this thing. The easiest way for you, so we can stop it, nobody ask you anything else, you go home, be relieved of all this thing. I don’t know how we can do it. Possibly if I ask you right now, and I get a report and we dictate it to someone, you and me, maybe we can stop it here.” 
Serranno followed that lead and shortly afterwards she quit her job and moved back to Ohio. Much later, in 1988 after the LAPD files were made public, Serrano had one more comment. In a brief radio interview she said simply:
“I don’t ever want to have to go through that again….that sort of everyday harassment…being put in a room for hours with polka dot dress all around you. It was a bad scene and one that as a young person I was totally unprepared to handle. I was just twenty years old and I became unglued. I said what they wanted me to say.”
It is should be mentioned that a great many of the witnesses which LAPD discounted were rejected based on interviews with Sgt. Hernandez. Perhaps one of the most significant was Larry Arnot and his description of Sirhan in company of other men when he purchased the ammunition for his weapon. Hernandez’s polygraph test was used to reject Arnot’s version of the incident and was even introduced in court when Arnot again tried to tell his story of the incident under oath. Prosecution attorney Fitts stopped Arnot, reminded him of the polygraph, and abruptly ceased his questioning. He presented Arnot's "confusion" as a fact proved by Hernandez' polygraph testing. However polygraph specialists confirm that polygraph charts show no such thing as “confusion”, they would simply reflect inconclusive or inconsistent results. Any determination of the cause of that inconsistency is strictly a subjective decision of the polygraph operator. 
Polka dot dress story phony?
Serrano’s recantation proved to be a key in SUS’s handling of the matter of accessories. From that point on any observation of a polka dot dress girl at the Ambassador or even a young woman with Sirhan in the weeks before is simply dismissed. A host of reports can be found in the SUS files, all with cover sheets attached indicating that no further inquiry is needed because “Polka Dot Story of Serrano Phony”. Virtually all these notations were added by Lt. Manny Pena. Beyond concern over the treatment of Serrano, there is the issue that there was an obvious decision to leverage her to close down further investigation of a potential young female accessory (and other male accessories as well). The summary report on Serrano reveals yet another example of how SUS cannot be trusted to fully and accurately address all the data in hand.
On December 16, 1968, Lt. Hernandez wrote a final report on the polygraph examination of Sandra Serrano. The report was addressed to Captain Hugh Brown, Homicide Division Commander. The final paragraphs of the report relate that Miss Serrano was interrogated extensively and she finally admitted that the story about the girl in the polka dot dress and gunshots was not true. Of course Serrano had consistently maintained that while she had heard sounds she assumed were car backfires, she never stated that they were gunshots and in fact consistently denied that she would even know what a gun shot sounded like. The reference to gun shots was an addition by FBI and police investigators, not Serrano, so representing that she had admitted they were not gun shots was misleading at best. Another element introduced to discredit Serrano was the fact that an LAPD fire department Captain had made rounds checking stairways and exits and had not seen Serrano on the flight of stairs in question. A close reading of Serrano’s many interviews shows that she certainly was not constantly on the stairs but rather in a downstairs room, watching TV for a period of time, then returning upstairs and finally sitting on the stairs for a time. During the course of the interviews that period of time seems to be extended by her questioners, but the simple fact is that there is nothing to confirm that the Fire Captain had observed her location during the specific time frame in question, since the time frame itself was impossible to determine with any exact precision.
The report goes on to state that she admitted that she had no personal knowledge of a woman in a polka dot dress and that she stated that she had heard that from a kid in the police holding area. “...she heard a kid making reference to a girl in a polka dot dress. She talked to the young man and each of them inquired of each other concerning the description of the dress and the girl. According to Miss Serrano, there must have been a mutual agreement between them as to the description of the girl and the polka dot dress.” 
This report was accepted as the official conclusion to the Serrano lead. However, SUS’s own files clearly show multiple pieces of correspondence including its own and FBI interviews of Assistant DA Ambrose, who clearly describes having been given all the details of the polka dot dress girl and the young man coming out with her before Ambrose took her to police. There was no doubt that the incident and the description of the girl had not originated with the young man in the holding area!
Clearly, SUS officers should have known that Henandez’s conclusion in regard to the source of her information was false. And, if it was false, and Hernandez certified it as a true statement, then her entire recantation and the polygraph testing itself should have been called into question - a series of known false statements were being officially represented as the truth.
Given the Sharaga interview issue, the Serrano polygraph incident and a number of witness challenges to information in SUS reports, a reasonable person is forced to conclude that SUS reports cannot be completely trusted. It appears that the SUS investigation of potential accessories was not simply a matter of overwork on compartmentalization but that in at least some cases there was a conscious decision to make leads disappear.
Which of course raises the question of what else might SUS have made disappear?
Next in the Incomplete Justice series - Part Four: "No there were no other guns..."
 Hernandez to Brown, Polygraph Examination of Sandra Serrano, December 16, 1968 file reference A-74 and A-75.