Part Four: "No, there were no other guns..."
by Larry Hancock, 16 Jun 2008
Sirhan Sirhan was charged, prosecuted and convicted as the sole individual involved in the murder of Robert Kennedy – just one more “lone nut.” Both the District Attorney’s office and Sirhan’s defense studiously avoided any trial activities or testimony which would have probed Sirhan’s involvement with others.
The LAPD itself did actively pursue reports suggesting conspiracy in the first hours and days of its investigations. However, as the investigation continued, a certain attitude seems to have developed within SUS, possibly influenced by the District Attorney’s case development, possibly by political climate and career considerations among certain senior city officials. Certainly we find ample evidence that witness information began to be “filtered” during the creation of the LAPD Summary Report; individual witnesses were discounted or rejected on questionable grounds. When informed of the details in the report, many of the witnesses were appalled by how their observations had been presented.
Even the judges in the case was made aware that the information provided to the defense during discovery had been “sanitized.” This can be seen in the transcript and analysis of a post-trial meeting in which Assistant D.A. David Fitts and Deputy LAPD Chief Houghton made the following remarks to Assistant Presiding Judge Loring, in the presence of presiding Judge Walker:
Fitts – “They asked for interviews and interviews they got, but when it came down to embodying conclusions of investigative personnel you know, we believed after examining this, that and the other, that even this (particular witness with information relating to a possible Sirhan accomplice) is a self seeking son of a bitch – let it stay in the record. Material of that kind I abstracted from the file. 
Houghton – “We got a lot of actually what was summaries of interviews, not the Q’s and A’s…”
Fitts – “Where possible the stuff was not made a matter of record.”
SUS officers seem to have had the attitude that they could determine who was a “self seeking son of a bitch” and that they would deal with that issue themselves rather than burdening defense counsel or allowing a jury to reach its own conclusions. Chief Houghton describes one instance of this in his description of how the police handled Sandra Serrano’s observations. He relates that supervisor Manny Pena knew that if Serrano stuck to her story nothing could dispel the polka dotted dress girl “fever”, only Serrano herself could “put the spotted ghost to rest”. 
Rather than letting the evidence itself speak to the jury, SUS decided to deal with the matter directly. In his book, and with no apparent concern, Houghton described their tactics, beginning with Manny Pena calling the SUS polygraph specialist and asking him to take Ms. Serrano out for a “SUS bought steak” dinner. He did just that, first with an informal dinner with Serrano and her Aunt, then isolating Serrano at the police station for a impromptu series of aggressive and emotional interviews, including a lengthy polygraph interrogation lasting until very late that night. 
Conflicting statements and evidence (which the D.A.’s office may not have known of or felt would not necessarily assist their prosecution), which the defense seems not to have been aware of (or certainly did not take up in court) did not become public knowledge until years and in some cases decades had passed. It became public only as the result of almost constant pressure from private investigators and researchers.
Other guns in the pantry
Dr. Marcus McBoom saw a man in a suit run out of the pantry; the man was attempting to conceal a pistol under a newspaper. McBoom and ABC Cameraman Sam Strain pulled away from the man after observing the pistol in his hand.
Moments after the shooting, Don Schulman gave Dave Brant a live radio interview of what he had just seen in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel; Schulman reported that he had seen an Ace Security Guard pull a gun during the attack. Although he had not actually seen Sirhan shoot Kennedy nor the security guard fire back, he did have the impression that the guard might have fired. 
An LAPD memorandum refers to an August 9 1968 interview with Schulman, conducted by Sergeant Paul O’Steen. This memo describes a re-interview on July 23, 1971 in which Schulman was described as being approximately twelve feet away from RFK in the pantry and having no view of the shooting due to the crowd. The 1971 memo also contains a skeptical remark that his memory seems to have improved since the first interview in 1968. Unfortunately there are no reports, transcripts, or tapes of either police interview. And Schulman was not even listed in the Summary Report as being in the pantry.
Independent interviews with Mr. Schulman may explain the police reluctance to present him as a witness to the shooting. Schulman has been consistent about not actually seeing Sirhan shoot RFK, however, he was one of the very few witnesses observant enough to note that the Security Guard had drawn a pistol (admitted by Cesar himself). In a 1973 interview with the District Attorney’s office Schulman repeated that he was “absolutely positive” the security guard had drawn his gun and also felt that the guard might have fired back at Sirhan. Schulman was also certain that he had seen men in regular clothes with drawn guns inside the pantry.
In response to the remark about other men with guns, the police interviewers passed on exploring further questions about the men, their clothing, where they might have gone. Instead, the following response is recorded on the interview tape:
Interviewer: “No, there were no other guns.”
Schulman: “I thought I saw em.”
Interviewer: “Nope, you didn’t.”
After Schulman left the room, the tape continues to run, there is further discussion.
“….he really has not changed his (story), he’s sticking with….he still sees guns and this kind of shit…I think if this thing is going to go anyplace and he’s going to be a problem, I’d like to call him back in and we’ll interrogate him.” As author Melanson observes, given that Schulman had just been questioned for an hour and a half, the nature of any further “interrogation” seems to be more on the order of “intimidation” rather than “investigation!” 
Schulman was not the only witness in the pantry who became a “problem.” Evan Freed, a part-time news photographer, was near Robert Kennedy when the shooting started. Freed had been in the fifth floor Kennedy suite, one of the newsmen covering the Kennedy party, and had come downstairs with the Senator. Kennedy had chosen to use the service elevator in order to avoid going through the crowds in the hotel corridors and ballroom. He entered the Embassy room through the kitchen service area at the rear of the ballroom.
In Freed’s first police interview, June 14, he described seeing two men and a woman leave the pantry in a hurry after the shooting; the woman was described as possibly wearing a polka dot dress. In a “re-interview” on August 1, his presence in the pantry is described but there is no mention of the three individuals. In a September interview by the FBI, Freed is described as identifying the man doing the shooting as Sirhan.
In 1992, Freed swore an affidavit in support of a Grand Jury petition on the RFK murder. In it he provided a good deal of detail about his experience that evening in June. Freed related that a few minutes before the Senator concluded his remarks to the crowd, Freed had wondered back into the service area and kitchen pantry. There he observed two men “very similar in appearance” moving around in the pantry area, not standing together but looking at each other occasionally. Freed thought they might be brothers, he positively identified one of the men as Sirhan.
Freed followed along with RFK as he came into the pantry and was about four feet from him when the shooting started. Freed saw that the second man (not Sirhan) who had been in the pantry was pointing a gun at an upwards angle towards the Senator and believed that man might have fired the first shot; in the background he also saw Sirhan begin to fire towards RFK. As the crowd rushed forward to towards RFK and on to grab Sirhan, the other man with the gun backed away from the Senator and began running out of the pantry. Another man attempted to grab him (yelling “Stop that guy, stop him!") and both continued running out of Freed’s sight.
Freed has stated that when interviewed by police detectives he had told them the same story. They suggested that he might have heard someone yelling for a Doctor or an ambulance and insisted that he had been incorrect in what he heard. He was never requested to produce a drawing of the man or look for him in photographs. 
The police and FBI handling of Freed’s interviews obviously raises questions about his observations (although it is quite consistent with the “filtering” of a great number of other witness reports). In 1996, after accepting a position as a L.A. deputy city attorney, Freed began to qualify his remarks on the second man, stating that he could no longer swear under oath that he was holding a weapon or had been shooting.
However, confirmation for Freed’s version of the shooting comes from the crime scene itself. An objective review of the Senator’s wounds and of the number of shots fired (and bullets recovered) paints a picture virtually identical to Freed’s remarks.
First, Country Coroner Thomas Noguchi, who had performed the RFK autopsy, testified that all three of the bullets striking Kennedy entered from the rear, following an upward path. Powder burns around the entry point of the fatal wound indicated that bullet was fired from a distance of between one and two “inches.” All four bullets that entered Kennedy’s body were fired at a distance of no more than six “inches.”
Nouguchi later described being approached by an unnamed deputy LA District Attorney who solicited him to revise his estimate of distance from “from one to three inches” to “three feet.”  It is also of note that the official autopsy report was not provided to the defense until after Sirhan’s trial had commenced; the autopsy had been performed immediately upon Kennedy’s death but withheld for nearly six months.
There seemed to be little doubt that the fatal shot had been fired virtually with the pistol at the Senator’s head, Detective Chief Houghton describes an early staff meeting in which the department’s ballistics expert, Wolfer, informed the in investigators that his preliminary examination had shown the bullet was fired from “less than one inch”. 
The problem with these findings is reconciling them with witness statements. Witnesses in the pantry described RFK as throwing his hands up as Sirhan’s gun became visible, then slumping back into the arms of the people immediately behind him as the shooting commenced. Several eyewitness reports placed Sirhan from one and a half to three “feet” from RFK. Lisa Pease details the statements of the “five best” witnesses who were described by LAPD as being in a position to see both RFK and Sirhan.  All confirm a distance between them of “three” to “several” feet.
The closest man to both, Karl Uecker, later went on record as stating that “There is no way that the shots described in the autopsy could have come from Sirhan’s gun. When I told this to the authorities, they told me I was wrong. But I repeat now what I told them then: Sirhan never got close enough for a point-blank shot.” 
The coroner’s report on the wounds, the eyewitnesses to Sirhan’s distance from RFK and the witnesses who reported other men with guns in the pantry – all suggest an alternative scenario of the shooting:
Robert Kennedy entered a relatively long hallway with side doors and progressed into the section of the hallway which served as a pantry and equipment storage area, outside the hotel kitchen. As he moved through the pantry he passed a number of people including a girl and men in suits or jackets and trousers. As he approached Sirhan, Sirhan moved out from against the wall as if to shake his hand and began firing a pistol at Kennedy. As Kennedy fell back and down, one of the men whom Kennedy had passed, stepped up behind him and fired with a concealed weapon (a weapon probably held at waist level where it had been concealed under a newspaper). Kennedy was fatally wounded from one of these shots fired at extremely close range and sagged to the floor. At that point the shooter and the women withdrew as others ran forward; they slipped out one of the side corridor doors into the Embassy room, observed by several witnesses in the corridor and around the doors. Sirhan, drawing attention because he was firing a now very visible weapon into the oncoming crowd, was wrestled down, his pistol coming out of his hand. Demonstrating total focus and intensity, he struggled, recovered the weapon and managed to fire several more rounds at random into the crowded pantry, wounding a number of bystanders.
Of course that scenario is nothing at all like the official police summary and reenactment of the crime. Then again, that reenactment was nothing at all like the real shooting according to Karl Uecker. He is on record as having protested the filmed reenactment he was directed to participate in, calling it “phony” and saying he objected even as he was being directed in the filming. Perhaps that is why the film was never released to the public and only became available in 1986, obtained by accident by Gregory Stone. Officially the film still does not exist, fortunately it is discussed in considerable detail by Klaber and Melanson in Shadow Play. 
Interestingly, at least some detail of the actual shooting may actually have been captured on film. A young high school student was in the pantry that night, continuing to take photographs as he had all evening. Scott Enyart had positioned himself on top of a steam table to film Kennedy coming through the pantry; he took pictures throughout the shooting. As he left the area, police stopped him at gunpoint and confiscated his film. His photos were held as evidence, not used in Sirhan’s prosecution, never made available in evidence nor for defense discovery.
Enyart eventually got back 18 prints, no negatives and none of the photos taken in the pantry. After years of legal struggle, he was awarded the photos - which were then “stolen out of the back seat of a courier’s car” when the courier stopped to inspect a problem with a tire on the way to deliver them. 
An embarrassment of evidence
The contrarian shooting scenario described above suggests several elements of evidence that should have been found at the crime scene.
With a man shooting into Robert Kennedy from behind and Sirhan firing from the front, there should be evidence of Sirhan’s bullets ending up in people, in the pantry opposite him and possibly in the ceiling. There should also be indications that more bullets were fired than the eight rounds in Sirhan’s gun. That appears to be exactly what was found at the crime scene following the shooting.
Photograph of Los Angeles Coroner Thomas Noguchi pointing to two bullet holes in doorframe. (click to enlarge)
On June 5, an AP photo was published showing two police officers pointing at something in the door frame at the rear of the stage door of the Embassy room, the door through which RFK had exited to enter the corridor leading to the pantry. The photo’s caption read, “Bullet found near Kennedy shooting scene.” An LAPD exhibit of this photo is captioned “Bullet is still in the wood.” The location of this “bullet” is very low in the stage door frame, on the side of the door facing down the pantry corridor.
If it was indeed a bullet it would align with a shot down that corridor from Sirhan’s position after he had been grabbed and wrestled towards to floor. It would correspond quite well to one of the final wild shots made down the corridor as the Kennedy supporters were struggling for control of Sirhan’s pistol.
LAPD crime scene photos also show something of interest in the center frame of the swinging doors that led on from the stage corridor into the pantry. RFK had come through these doors on his way into the pantry area. This doorway was directly in front of Sirhan as he was shooting. The frames and divider were removed by police and booked into evidence (clearly suggesting that they represented something positive in regard to the shooting).
In 1975, author Vince Bugliosi managed to track down the two police officers depicted in the panty photographs, Sergeants Wright and Rozzi. Both told Bugliosi that they were certain that they had observed not just a bullet hole, but an actual bullet embedded in the wood of the center door frame. Both officers were certain a bullet had been recovered from the hole; Wright stating that “There is no pretty sure about it. It definitely was removed from the hole, but I do not know who did it.”
Turner and Christens describe Bugliosi’s interviews with the officers and relate that once they became known to LAPD Chief Ed Davis, he immediately had the officers contacted (including a call by Deputy City Attorney Larry Nagen) and ordered not to give any statements. The officers were also clearly encouraged to qualify their earlier remarks. 
Bugliosi went on to locate and interview other witnesses to the bullets in the divider. They included hotel maitre d Angelo DiPerro who gave a statement on December 1, 1975:
“…that same morning, while we were still looking around, I observed a small-caliber bullet lodged about a quarter of an inch into the wood on the center divider of the two swinging doors. Several police officers also observed the bullet. The bullet was approximately 5 feet eight or nine inches off the ground.”
One of the hotel waiters, Martin Patrusky, related that a few days after the assassination, he and others who had been in the pantry at the time were summoned to participate in a reconstruction of the shooting. “…one of the officers pointed to two circled holes on the center divider of the swinging doors and told us that they had dug two bullets out of the center divider.” 
Confirmation of the un-named officer’s remarks can be found in two additional sources. On the morning of June 5th, only hours after the murder, amateur photographers John Shirley and John Clamente took photographs of the pantry and doorframes. Shirley provided a statement about the center divider:
“In the wooden jamb of the center divider were two bullet holes surrounded by inked circles which contained some numbers and letters. I remember a manager pointing out those particular bullet holes to another person who appeared to be a press photographer. It appeared that an attempt had been made to dig the bullets out from the surface. However, the center divider jamb was loose, and it appeared to have been removed from the framework so that the bullets might be extracted from behind.”
Phillip Melansen actually located the individual who had assisted police with the extraction outlined by Shirley. Dave Poore, a carpenter employed by the hotel, described helping remove the wood on the jamb, “It looked like the bullet had went (sic) in at an angle, as it was traveling this way. So it made a bit of an oblong hole and the fiber of the board closed in some after it went in.” 
Another description of bullet holes came from Robert Weidrich, a crime reporter for the Chicago Tribute. He entered the pantry later in the morning, talked with officers about the bullet holes and observed the wood molding which had been removed from the divider:
“On a low table lay an 8-foot strip of molding, torn by police from the center post of the double doors leading from the ballroom……Now the molding bore the scars of a crime laboratory technicians probe as it had removed two .22-caliber bullets that had gone wild.” 
The LAPD later explained that the marks in the doorjamb were “dents caused by food carts.” Bugliosi examined the same food carts, which were still in use, finding that they had no protrusions, being totally flat on all sides. The food carts were also not five feet eight or nine inches high.
FBI photo E3, one of several pictures of circled bullet holes (click to enlarge). See other FBI pictures in full set of pantry photos.
The FBI had also participated in the crime scene survey and had also taken photos of the pantry. Three of the FBI photos (E-1, E-2 and E-3) show a view of the pantry doorway with two circled holes and close ups of the center door jam as seen from inside the pantry – also showing the two circled holes. Clearly the FBI considered that the holes to be evidence in the shooting. During a follow up inquiry on the LAPD investigation, a Los Angles County investigator wrote to the FBI. His letter makes it clear that the photographs and their captions imply that the FBI was documenting evidence of bullets (unknown to both police and FBI investigators at that early date) which would imply that Sirhan was not the sole shooter. 
The FBI was requested to take an official position on their photographs – there is no record that the investigator ever received a response. Phillip Melanson pursued the issue with the FBI in 1985, only to receive a response from Assistant Director Baker that “neither the photographs nor the photographic log were ever purported to be a ballistics report.” A response, but clearly not an answer to the question being asked.
Fortunately, there is a better source than the Assistant Director of the FBI - an FBI agent who was in the pantry that evening. William Bailey was in the pantry within hours of the shooting, inspecting the crime scene in preparation for witness interviews. When interviewed by Melanson in 1993, he was very specific. “As I toured the pantry area I noticed in a wood doorframe, a center divider between the two swinging doors, two bullet holes. I’ve inspected quite a few crime scenes in my day. These were clearly bullet holes; the wood around them was freshly broken away and I could see the base of the bullet in each one.” 
On the night of RFK’s murder, the bullets in the door divider were treated as important crime scene evidence, observed, photographed in place, removed in situ and then extracted. The bullets and the divider were taken into evidence. As with the various witnesses to other guns, other people and the polka dot dress girl, all this was important, widely discussed and investigated on that night and for the next few days.
Eventually five bullets would be recovered from wounded bystanders and RFK was found to have been wounded three times (two bullets remaining in him and one passing up into the ceiling).
Sirhan’s pistol had contained only eight bullets. When the totals were in, there were at least two and possibly three more shots in evidence than Sirhan’s bullets could have made. At that point the extra bullets, the door frame and molding, the crime scene photos, the Enyart photographs all began to be an embarrassment of evidence.
In regard to the bullets dug out of the wood below the framing, it is also interesting to review notes which accompanied the LAPD Initial Joint Report on the investigation. These notes summarize the study of Exhibit 38, consisting of two spent bullets supposedly recovered from the front seat of Sirhan’s car. Seven different experts studied the two bullets and all found that they had “wood” embedded in the nose, sides and base. 
As observed by William Turner in an extended discussion of the bullet evidence, those findings provide a perfect match for the description given by the hotel carpenter who had helped officers remove the wood from the door divider - a bit of an oblong hole and the fiber of the board had closed in some on each bullet after it went in. 
On the night of the assassination an APB was issued for multiple suspects in the murder of Robert Kennedy. Based on a study of “first day” witness and crime scene observations it would seem that APB was fully justified.
Next in the Incomplete Justice series - Part Five: Mind Games?
 IBID, p. 120. See Hernandez report of 20 Jun 1968 polygraph interview of Serrano. There is an unofficial transcript made from the untranscribed interview tape, showing Hernandez' aggressive and badgering questioning (the tape has a label noting "do not play or have transcribed without permission of Capt. Brown"). This session was followed that same evening by a second interview which began at 10:15 PM, transcribed in LAPD files, where Ms. Serrano retracted her earlier statements.