Home/ Archive/ Essays/ RFK Essays/ Selected Essay/ Incomplete Justice: At the Ambassador Hotel

Incomplete Justice

Part One: At the Ambassador Hotel

by Larry Hancock, 19 May 2008

Sirhan Sirhan

The California campaign had been hard on the Senator. Everyone knew it was make or break for him. He had to win California to be able to have any chance of gaining the Democratic presidential nomination. Southern California had been especially difficult; he been unable to complete an election eve appearance in San Diego due to sheer exhaustion. [1]

But by late in the evening on June 4th, 1968, after watching election returns seemingly trickle in all evening, Robert Kennedy was in an upbeat mood, ready to claim victory. He would do so before a jam-packed crowd of campaign workers in the Embassy ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel. The crowd loved the short speech. They especially enjoyed a parting remark, directed towards Mayor Sam Yorty – “Mayor Yorty has just sent us a message that we’ve been here too long already!” [2]

Yorty, the outspoken right-wing mayor of Los Angeles, was no friend of the Senator. Kennedy had chided him for his racial insensitivity and his handling of the Watts riots during congressional hearings. The mayor, with his own presidential ambitions, had adamantly continued to support everything that RFK was opposed to in 1968 – and Yorty’s ultra-conservative power base in southern California was even more volatile than the mayor of Los Angeles. In the hours immediately following the Senator’s murder, Mayor Yorty made several efforts to focus the media on connecting Sirhan to Communists; he also revealed Sirhan’s private notebooks to the press. [3]

Security at the Ambassador

Whether or not Mayor Yorty’s attitude had anything to do with it, one thing was abundantly clear about the security surrounding Robert Kennedy that evening – the Los Angeles Police Department had no part in it. In fact, with over 1,800 Kennedy people packing into the Embassy ballroom and three other political functions going on in surrounding areas of the hotel, not a single LAPD officer was on the premises. A small number of hotel security, hired Ace Security guards and LA fire department personnel were trying to deal with the huge crowds in the hotel. [4] The only officers in the general area were driving their regular neighborhood patrols.

Bird's-eye view of Ambassador Hotel complex
Bird's-eye view of
Ambassador Hotel complex.

There remains considerable controversy about the lack of police involvement at the Ambassador Hotel. Following the assassination, un-named LAPD sources suggested off the record that the Kennedy staff had rejected offers of police security. In Special Unit Senator, Chief of Detectives Houghton writes that no protection had been requested; “in fact it had been discouraged.” [5] Kennedy staff members denied any security offers from the LAPD. William Turner relates that Mayor Yorty himself stressed that RFK had told LAPD that he wanted no protection in Los Angles and that Kennedy’s campaign staff refuted Yorty. [6]

There is further background to the controversy over security. The first LAPD officer to arrive at the Ambassador had been on local car patrol that evening and his encounter with witnesses in a rear parking lot of the hotel would become critically important in both implications of conspiracy and of suggestions of suppression of evidence by LAPD personnel. During a debriefing after his activities at the Ambassador, Sgt. Sharaga was told by Rampart Division Commander Capt. Floyd Phillips that the Kennedy’s and specifically Ethel Kennedy had violently rejected offers of LAPD security. More dramatically, Phillips seemed very agitated on the subject, remarking “the hell with them, they got just what they deserved!” [7]

Ambassador Hotel
Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles.

Phillip’s remarks supported similar information that had been expressed to Sharaga in the Ambassador rear parking lot around 12:30 by Watch Commander Robert Sillings. Sillings had informed Sharaga that no police were stationed in the Ambassador because two days before (which could be interpreted as either been Saturday or Sunday) Sillings and Phillips had personally met with the Senator and his wife. The Kennedy’s had adamantly refused police security and Ethel Kennedy had insulted the officers, swearing at them as she rejected police security. Study of the trip schedule for the Senator has so far revealed no indication of a meeting between Ethel Kennedy and the LAPD, over that weekend or at any other time during the California campaign. And the RFK staff members most involved in the California campaign Jessie Unrah and Frank Burns adamantly denied any meetings or offer from LAPD. [8]

On August 29, 1976, the LA Herald-Examiner bannered a front page story under the title “Did RFK’s Order Seal His Death.” That story repeated the line that RFK ordered police bodyguards to stop protecting him. Turner and Christain interviewed retired LAPD security specialist Marion Hoover on the subject and quoted him as saying that LAPD had created a special “hot-squad” to guard Kennedy but they had been ordered off by the Senator. Hoover also described special Secret Service protection for the Senator and inferred that RFK preferred to depend on them over LAPD security.

That seems to be an elaboration of the story initially related to Sgt. Sharaga, but with the addition of the Secret Service element - which seems improbable since at that time the Secret Service was not legally authorized to provide security for Presidential candidates. That was only ordered and made into law after the Senator’s murder. SUS (Special Unit Senator, the LAPD murder investigation special group to investigate RFK’s murder) files obtained by Christian and Turner do reflect a pre-assassination meeting between Phillips and Sillings with two retired LAPD detectives, both of whom held key security positions at the Ambassador Hotel. [9]

RFK’s movements

Layout of Ambassador Hotel
Layout of Ambassador Hotel (click to enlarge).

Fortunately the crowds at the hotel were happy, enthusiastic and largely cooperative. Even so, the ten or so hotel security personnel and a handful of guards hired for the evening from the Ace Guard Service were stretched to the limit just controlling access at the main doors and hallways of the huge hotel. [10] Some of the Ace guards were at the public doors leading into the Embassy ballroom where Robert Kennedy was to speak to his presidential campaign supporters around midnight. But as with most hotel banquet rooms, there was easy access via service doors at the rear, doors normally used by catering and set-up staff. Few of these doors were secured and what guards were in those areas circulated from place to place throughout the evening.

The lack of effective security can be seen in the movements of one young man who had no press or Kennedy campaign connections. Evan so, Michael Wayne managed to enter not only the Embassy Room but also the Kennedy suite (Royal suite) on the fifth floor. He ordered a scotch and soda at the bar, and then followed the Kennedy party downstairs. [11]

As the party prepared to leave the suite, Robert Kennedy had expressed a desire not to have to cope with the crowds in the hotel lobby and corridors; in response, an Ambassador hotel manager led the party down in a freight elevator and then out through the kitchen. From there they moved into the service pantry and on through a corridor which led to the stage for the Embassy ballroom. The pantry and corridor were filled with people, and young Mr. Wayne managed to confront RFK and talk him into autographing a poster. Later, Wayne would end up standing in the pantry, immediately behind Sirhan Sirhan, as the Senator’s party left the stage via the service hallway. Wayne (whose real name was Wien) fled the pantry at the time of the shooting, claimed not to have seen neither either or the shooting and was dragged down by suspicious bystanders while running though the hotel.

It seems clear that anyone interested enough to monitor Kennedy’s movements might well have expected him to leave the Embassy ballroom the same way he had come in – via the service corridor and pantry area. The corridor also offered an alternative route to the adjacent Colonial Room, set up for the press contingent, in case Kennedy didn't want to move off the stage into a crowded and wildly celebrating room.

Layout of Ambassador Hotel in vicinity of Embassy Room
Layout of Ambassador Hotel in vicinity of Embassy Room (click to enlarge).

There has long been considerable controversy over the Senator’s departure through the service hall rather than through the crowd in the ballroom. Even Kennedy campaign staff members have claimed the plan was to exit though the crowd and that the exit though the service hall and pantry was a last minute decision. Given the crush of people in the room and the Senator’s earlier request, an exit to avoid the crowds does not seem terribly suspicious. After the assassination, the LAPD and the FBI interviewed security personnel who stated that Kennedy staff had told them, well before the Senator arrived to make his address, that RFK would be exiting though the pantry.

Fred Murphy (aka Pat Murphy) was interviewed by the FBI on June 13, 1968. Murphy, a retired LAPD Lt., was employed by the Ambassador as Hotel on its own security staff. He told the FBI that the evening of June 4, he had been stationed in the general area of the pantry during the Senator’s speech. He stated that he learned from an un-named female member of the Kennedy campaign staff that following the speech the Senator would exit from the rear of the stage, proceed through the service hall and pantry and go directly to the Colonial room which was being used as a press room. Murphy stated that this Security Officer William Gardner was present at the time he was given this information. Gardner was also identified as the head hotel security staffer by Thane Cesar, a part time Ace Security guard, who was to end up leading the Senator into the pantry and was holding his arm immediately prior to the shooting. [12]

In an LAPD interview, Cesar described getting his evening assignments from Mr. Gardner. Cesar also described being moved to the pantry area some time around 10 p.m. At that time he was told that Kennedy would be coming in the back entrance to the stage via the service pantry (this appears to be in direct contrast of most reports which state that the Senator only requested at the last moment that they not use the crowd packed main hallways into the ballroom). Cesar gave a more detailed description of his own movements, stating that at first (circa 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. or midnight) he had stayed near the doors which give access to the service hall and kitchen (these doors are adjacent to the side hall by the Colonial room which contains rest rooms and dead ends in the service hallway doors).

Cesar described stopping a number of people trying to use these doors to sneak into the Ambassador ballroom though the rear service entrances. Various individuals interviewed by police describe trying to go that route, some being stopped by security and some passing through. One witness describes an individual closely resembling Sirhan talking animatedly with a security guard in the vicinity of those doors.

Ace security guard Thane Cesar
Ace security guard Thane Cesar.

Cesar described being moved further back in the service hall around 11 p.m. and being positioned by the double doors which are between the kitchen/serving pantry and the portion of the service hall which provides access to the rear of the Embassy ballroom stage. Cesar was there as RFK came into address the crowd and remained there until he exited after the speech, taking his arm as they moved forward into the serving pantry. In one police interview, Cesar went further, stating that the security officer had ordered him to “stay next to Bobby and try and clear the press so that they don’t gang up on him.” [13]

Fred Murphy’s own statement does not confirm these details from Cesar but does acknowledge being informed in advance of the Senator’s planned route after his speech. Murphy stated that about half way through the speech (circa 12:15 p.m.), he observed that there was not guard on the service hall doors (by the Colonial room) leading into the kitchen, so he stationed himself by those doors to prevent the crowd from rushing into the service hall and blocking the Senator. This does make some sense if Cesar was ordered off those doors and back further into the service hall by Gardner, or even if Cesar had moved at his own initiative. It also suggests that there was a window of about an hour when any number of people could, and apparently did, enter the service hall from the side hallway in front of the Colonial room. Just such a window of opportunity is confirmed by Leonore Moser, a student worker for Kennedy, who attempted to enter the main Embassy room door but was stopped; she in turn went into the kitchen hallway through the doors by the Colonial room and from there into the Embassy room through side doors in the service hall. She observed no uniformed guards or security personnel at the doors or in the kitchen hallway; this was only a few minutes prior to the beginning of the Senator’s speech. However, about half way through the Senator’s speech, this access was blocked by Murphy positioning himself at the doors. [14]

All units, ambulances, shooting, 3400 Wilshire Blvd.

Sgt. Paul Sharaga had arrived at Rampart Station shortly before midnight on June 4th, 1968. By sheer coincidence he happened to be almost immediately across from the Ambassador when the all units message was broadcast. He immediately took the 8th street entrance and entered the rear parking lot; at approximately 12:21 he slammed on his breaks about 150 feet from the hotel complex. [16]

He had just stepped out of the police cruiser when a woman ran past him yelling “He’s been shot!” Sharaga turned to chase her down but at that point a middle aged couple ran up to him, also yelling that Senator Kennedy had been shot. Sharaga immediately asked them how they knew the Senator had been shot. The woman pointed toward the dimly lit backside of the hotel complex, to a fire escape ending in a concrete walkway. She said she and her husband had just come from the Embassy ballroom where Kennedy had spoken. They had taken a side door out and on to the fire escape balcony – where they encountered a young couple rushing out of the ballroom.

Accessories, first report – 12:23 a.m.

The young woman was yelling “We shot him! We shot him! The older couple was mystified, the wife asking “Who did you shoot?” The young man said nothing but the girl replied “Kennedy! We shot him! We shot him!”

The young people proceeded on down the fire escape stairs, leaving the older couple terrified and in shock.

LAPD Officer Paul Sharaga
LAPD Officer Paul Sharaga.

Sharaga took notes on the couple (he recalled them saying they were the Bernsteins) and their basic descriptions of the young people, early 20’s, medium height and build, the girl wearing a black and white polka dotted dress. And the older couple were certain about what they had heard, as the girl was talking, both she and the young man had big smiles on their faces – they appeared absolutely gleeful. At 12:23 a.m. Sgt Sharaga radioed LAPD headquarters that Senator Kennedy had been shot at the Ambassador hotel, describing two suspects and calling available units to the rear parking lot.

Eventually Sharaga received word that a senior officer (Remparts Detective Sgt William Jordon) had taken charge of the crime scene in the kitchen pantry of the hotel. Sharaga tore out the notebook pages with the Bernstein information and sent it off to be hand carried by one of his own officers to Jordon. Shortly afterwards he was approached by Inspector John Powers who told him the shooting suspect was in custody so radio alerts for other suspects were unwarranted.

Sharaga didn’t really agree with that and discussed it with Captain Carroll Kirby; Kirby told him to go ahead and continue radio alerts every ten minutes. However, about half an hour later, Inspector Powers (Acting Chief of LAPD Detectives) contacted Sharaga, told him the shooter was in custody so there were no other suspects. Powers himself called Control, instructing them to disregard Sharaga’s earlier broadcasts – the radio log records Powers instruction that there was only one man “and we don’t want them to get anything started on a big conspiracy.

Later, Powers would again call Sharaga, ordering him to return the officers that Sharaga had collected to active duty; Powers had brought his own personnel onto the scene. In the following days, Sharaga would hear more about the polka dot dress girl; he assumed the information he had passed to Sgt. Jordon that evening had become part of the suspect file on her.

Accessories, corroboration - 12:35 p.m.

John Ambrose, LA Deputy District Attorney, was in the area of the Ambassador hotel when he heard a news bulletin on the Kennedy shooting. He arrived at the hotel in approximately 15 minutes.

Upon entering the hotel’s main entrance, a young woman (Sandra Serrano) came running up to him and asked for his help in informing the proper authorities in regard to an encounter she had experienced. She described meeting two young people in the vicinity of the emergency stairway outside the Embassy ballroom at the rear of the hotel. In passing her, the girl had stated “We just shot him! When Serrano asked who had been shot the girl replied “We just shot Senator Kennedy!” [17]

Ambrose immediately asked Serrano if the woman could have actually said “They just shot Senator Kennedy” and Serrano replied that she was sure the girl said “we” and used the name “Kennedy”. Serrano gave Ambrose the following descriptions – the girl a Caucasian, early twenties, very “shapely”, wearing a black and white polka dot dress. The young man was Latin in appearance (Mexican-American as perceived by Serrano) with black hair and a gold sweater.

In his follow-on letter to the LAPD, Ambrose stated that Serrano impressed him as a very sincere person and although she was very alarmed and excited, Serrano was positive about the girl’s statements. Ambrose had taken down contact information on Serrano and had personally taken Serrano to the shooting scene and turned her over to investigation officers as a witness. Upon identifying himself to officers and presenting Serrano as a witness, the two were led to a room with LAPD detectives. The detectives talked with Serrano and another witness in the room (Vincent Diperro) listened to the conversation, Diperro commented that he had also seen a girl in a polka dot dress in the pantry at the time of the shooting. Not long after this, Serrano was interviewed on television by the press. Ambrose expressed his concern to the officers about this but they took the attitude that it was too late to do anything about it. [18]

Ambrose was informed by the police they were going to take Serranto to Ramparts for questioning; Serrano requested that Ambrose come along and he followed after calling her Aunt and Uncle with whom she lived. Upon arriving at Ramparts and identifying himself he was told he would not be needed; the following day he called Ramparts and gave detectives the information Serrano had given him. They took his number but made no further contact with him, resulting in his writing a letter to his supervisor on June 7th. In it he mentions being impressed by Serrano and felt that she was not at all impressed with publicity. He had called her at her home the following day and she had expressed regret that she had been interviewed on TV and was in fear for her safety. She told him she was actually about to leave the hotel when she saw him enter and felt compelled to tell someone her story. [19]

Over the next few days, additional witnesses would emerge. They would further corroborate the existence of this particular young woman in a polka dot dress. They would also place her in the vicinity of other people, including someone who looked a good deal like Sirhan Sirhan.

“Somewhat out of place”

Lonny Worthy had brought his wife and a friend to the Ambassador Hotel, hoping to join in the Kennedy victory celebration. Unable to enter the Embassy Room without official campaign or press credentials, they settled for mixing in a first floor room set apart for campaign workers. At about 10 p.m. Lonny went to the bar to get his wife a Coke and accidentally bumped into an individual he would later identify as Sirhan Sirhan. Lonny apologized but received no reply. Later he saw a young woman standing beside the same man; the two weren’t talking with each other, they weren’t talking with anyone.

Worthy described this encounter in an interview with the FBI on June 7, 1968, two days after the attack in which Robert F. Kennedy was fatally wounded. His and several other FBI witness interviews were included in an August 1969 FBI Summary Report – which remained classified until released after FOIA action in 1976. However, Worthy’s observation about the woman and identification of Sirhan didn’t make it into the LAPD’s own Summary Report.

Booker Griffin also lacked campaign credentials; he ended up in the same room as Worthy. Later Griffin recalled eventually noticing two people in the room who “seemed out of place…because everyone else but these two were celebrating.” One was a small, shabbily-dressed man that Griffin would identify to police as Sirhan Sirhan; the second was a girl slightly taller, in a white dress with designs of another color, possibly polka dots. Sirhan and the girl were in proximity to each other but not speaking; Griffin simply had the feeling that they might have been together. [20]

Outside the Colonial Room

As the evening progressed, George Green began to look for his friend Booker Griffin, who he thought would be able to come up with credentials or passes. He found Griffin, who had gotten a press pass, but Griffin was unable to get anything for Green. However, Griffin found that he could enter the Colonial (Press) room by going down the adjacent hall, though the service doors and into the kitchen service hall which ran behind both the Embassy ballroom and the Colonial room. While in the hallway, he observed a group of photographers and press interviewing Frank Mankiewicz; this would have been between 11 and 11:30 p.m.. At that time he noticed the young man whom he would later identify as Sirhan (wearing jeans, a shirt and jacket) standing at the edge of the crowd, along with a taller, thin Caucasian (about 22 years of age) and a female Caucasian (good figure, wearing a polka dot dress). [21]

By 11 p.m., Booker Griffin had managed to obtain a press pass from Pierre Salinger, an acquaintance, which gained him access to both the Embassy ballroom and the Colonial (Press) Room on the second floor. Due to the crowds and heat in the ballroom, Griffin made several trips to the Colonial room which was much cooler and less crowded – using the rear kitchen/service corridor to avoid the crowds trying to enter the ballroom. At around 11:30 he observed the same small man (Sirhan) in the kitchen corridor. [22]

Later, during the Senator’s speech, Griffin encountered Sirhan, a taller white male and a young, blonde haired woman, all standing in proximity to each other. There was now a third person with the two – a young man who was muscular and rather tall, over six feet tall. Griffin would notice Sirhan again a short while later and remark to a friend that he seemed to keep running across this same fellow.

Griffin, Green and Worthy weren’t the only ones that had noticed Sirhan that night – or the young woman. There were also witnesses to the young women in the company of other men, not identified as Sirhan. Pauline Walker tried unsuccessfully to enter the ballroom beginning around 10:30 p.m. When blocked there, she tried the rear kitchen access but was blocked by guards before she could enter the ballroom. Returning to the lobby outside the Embassy room, she waited some time until she recognized a friend who eventually managed to get her into the ballroom. Walker’s LAPD interview of June 6, 1968 relates that she observed a young woman in a polka dot dress, in the company of a young, dark skinned male. The woman was in her 20’s, hair a bit unkempt and described as “busty”. The man was in jeans, a windbreaker and sneakers – with dark hair that appeared greasy. Walker’s independent descriptions are noteworthy for being almost identical to those provided by Sandra Serrano.

Blocked in the service hall?

Griffin and Green’s observations suggests that Sirhan, the young woman in the polka dot dress and the young man were quite familiar with using the service hall. However, the movements of Cesar, Gardner and Murphy may not have allowed them simply to remain in the hallway. Eara Marchman reported to the LAPD that before the assassination, she observed a man in a short blue coat arguing with a uniformed guard who was standing by the swinging kitchen doors. She identified the man as Sirhan although she had only seen him in profile.

In the Embassy Ballroom

Closeup of layout of Ambassador Hotel in vicinity of Embassy Room
Closeup of layout of Ambassador Hotel in vicinity of Embassy Room (click to enlarge).

Just before RFK and his party entered the Embassy Room for his speech, campaign worker Susanne Locke had noticed a young woman standing between the stage and the main door. She described the woman as "expressionless" and "somewhat out of place," noting that she had no badge and wore a white dress with blue polka dots. [23] Locke was concerned enough about the girl to report her to Carol Breshears, the woman in charge of the “Kennedy Girls” support organization. Breshears is said to have alerted a security guard on the matter, but there is no record that later investigators sought further information about the security guard and what he may or may not have done about this. [24] Locke’s observations on the polka dot dress girl, comprising about a third of her FBI interview, did not make it into the LAPD reports.

Although the girl observed by Susanne Locke might be considered suspicious, it appears that she is not the same girl observed in other locations, in proximity to Sirhan, the tall young man or the darker skinned young man. That girl is generally described as having dark “dishwater” blonde or light brown hair, with a bouffant appearance in the front, having a “good” figure and when seen up close, something “different” about her nose. The girl seen by Locke in the ballroom was described as having long brown hair, tied in the back.

TV footage from the Embassy ballroom and numerous other witness reports make it clear that there were multiple women in polka dotted dresses of various sorts in the hotel the evening of June 4th. Clearly this proved to be a distraction for the LAPD investigation, however there is also no indication that the police attempted to plot the observations, differentiate or collate them in any meaningful fashion. In fact, all follow-up of the various observations regarding a polka dot dressed girl were discounted from further investigation based on the highly questionable police rejection of a single witness – Sandra Serrano.

Outside the ballroom – on the rear stairs:

The next sighting of a suspicious “polka dot dress” girl (not in the company of Sirhan) was made by Sandra Serrano, a “Youth For Kennedy” volunteer. [25]

As previously mentioned, “Sandy” Serrano had been working as a Kennedy volunteer for some time. She had heard the Senator speak many times and had met him briefly in person. The Embassy ballroom was packed with people and extremely warm, so Serrano had left before the Senator arrived for his speech, going downstairs for a drink. While in the lower ballroom she saw the television monitors and realized his speech had begun.

At that point she went back upstairs but decided to wait by the outside stairs at the rear where it was cooler. In two separate police interviews between 2 and 4 am the morning of June 5th, Serrano was interrogated at length and provided a number of additional details. She stated that she had initially seen a three people come up the stairs and that within 15 to 20 minutes they returned.

The people seen going up the stairs included a girl in her 20’s, medium height, Caucasian, brown hair in a polka dot dress. The two men were both short and dark skinned (Serrano assumed they were Mexican). The young man had on a white shirt and gold sweater while the other man had “messed up” clothes and longer (greasy) hair. The girl and the man in the gold sweater came back to exit down the stairs later.

Serrano’s description of the young woman and man with greasy hair is corroborated by the LAPD June 6th interview with Pauline Walker. Mrs. Walker stated that about an hour before the Senator’s speech, prior to her entry into the Embassy room, she had observed a male accompanied by a woman in a polka dot dress. She described the woman as being in her early twenties, medium height and “busty”; the young man was short, dark skinned, and had dark hair slicked down with grease. He was wearing a windbreaker and faded jeans.

“They seemed to be smiling.”

Layout of pantry and surrounding area
Layout of pantry and surrounding area (click to enlarge).

In an FBI interview, RFK campaign worker George Green described following the Kennedy party into the service hall and pantry area. He had just entered the pantry as the shooting broke out, and immediately noticed a young woman in a polka dot dress and a man attempting to get out of the pantry area while everyone else was still moving in behind Senator Kennedy. The two were running away and had their backs to him at that point. Green’s observation was supported by Evan Freed, a press photographer. Freed also observed a young woman and man rush out of the pantry immediately after the shooting. [26]

Booker Griffin had also trailed the Kennedy party towards the pantry; as he entered the pantry itself, he too observed a girl and a man rush out together, followed by a second man who seemed to be chasing them. Griffin recognized the first man and the woman as the same individuals he had seen earlier in the evening, standing in the corridor between the Colonial and Embassy ballrooms - along the man he later identified as Sirhan Sirhan.

The LAPD Summary Report dismisses Griffin’s information by stating that “the story of a male and female escaping was a total fabrication on his part.” However, nothing in the tapes, transcripts or summaries of Griffin’s interviews mentions any indication of this. In 1987, Griffin was shown the statement in the Summary Report and angrily rejected the charge; he described being a trained newsperson and his ability to note details. Since the report was held secret for some twenty years, Griffin and many other witnesses were in no position to know what had been done with their information at the time; as far as they knew, each of their observations was unique. [27]

Dr. Marcus McBroom had been standing outside the access doors to the service pantry corridor when he heard the first couple of gunshots. A young woman immediately ran past him into the Embassy room; she was wearing a polka dot dress and shouting something as she passed. McBroom thought it sounded like “We got him!” or “We shot him!” but at that instant he was not certain. It became clearer to him as he saw the girl quickly followed by a young man. The man had a newspaper over his arm, but McBroom could see a pistol underneath. McBroom and an ABC cameraman both drew away upon seeing the gun. McBroom described the young man as an “Arab looking person” wearing a blue suit and sweating noticeably; when later shown some mug shots, McBroom actually picked out one of Sirhan’s brothers. [28] (Evan Freed had also noted that the man he saw was similar in appearance to Sirhan.)

The LAPD Summary Report does not mention McBroom’s observations about the girl, but does mention that he retracted all additional statements he made other than his noticing that Sirhan Sirhan seemed “out of place.” When interviewed in 1986 by Greg Stone, McBroom denied that he had ever retracted any statements and reviewed the details of the incident, including the partially hidden gun. [29]

Ace Guard Jack Merritt reported to both the LAPD and FBI that he had observed “two men and a woman leaving the kitchen,” the woman wearing a polka dot dress and both of the men in suits: “They seemed to be smiling.” [30]

Far from being unique to each witness, these observations about a young woman and other men were in fact very consistent and mutually corroborative. They appear to demonstrate an ongoing association of individuals with Sirhan Sirhan, and show their movements through the Ambassador Hotel.

After the attack on RFK, the movements of the young woman and at least one man are seem clear. They fled back out of the pantry as the crowd rushed towards Kennedy and other injured bystanders, then out towards the service hall corridor which provided access to the rear emergency stairs. It appears that as they moved down the hall, they first met the Bernstein’s and as they moved down the stairs they encountered Sandra Serrano.

Sirhan Sirhan in custody
Sirhan Sirhan in custody.

Two days after the shooting, a woman whose called the police and told them she had found a brown paper shopping bag in an alley near her home in west Los Angeles. The bag contained a full set of brand-new women’s clothing: a bra and underpants, a slip, a pair of nylons, black shoes, a black purse with cosmetics and a nine-ounce can of hair spray, and a polka dot dress. An outfit seemingly worn only one time, never laundered. Of course this find may strictly have been a coincidence but the clothing sizes were described and they would be a good match the descriptions of the “well built” young woman seen at the Ambassador Hotel late on the night of June 4th, 1968.

Authors William Klaber and Philip Melanson have noted that the LAPD’s assertion, that in thousands of interviews they discovered no evidence to support the story of the polka dot dress woman, is clearly untrue. It is also apparent that neither the LAPD nor the FBI ever effectively consolidated their investigations, collated accounts, diagramed observations, or attempted to construct any patterns in these observations. When that is done, there is a clear suggestion is that there may well have been accessories to the murder of Senator Kennedy.

That suggestion becomes even stronger when individuals with the same descriptions are found to have been observed “stalking” the Senator in the weeks before the murder – and in company with an individual strongly resembling Sirhan.

Thanks to D.W. Dunn, Pat Speare, David Boylan, Alan Kent, and Stu Wexler for their assistance in the development of this essay.

A special thanks to Sherry Fiester for her work developing the illustrations and graphics of the Ambassador Hotel.

Next in the Incomplete Justice series - Part Two: Stalking RFK


[1] RFK Must Die, Robert Blair Kaiser, p. 15 - Kennedy had sagged, been unable to finish his speech in San Diego. Also Shadow Play, Klaber and Melanson p. 2 - Kennedy had nearly collapsed.

[2] Shadow Play, p. 7 also Special Unit Senator, Robert Houghton, pp. 89 and 95.

[3] RFK Must Die, pp. 96-97 and 119-120.

[4] IBID, p. 19.

[5] Special Unit Senator, p. 173.

[6] The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, Turner and Christian, p. 54.

[7] California Assassination Archives special report, Easy Reader, November 17, 1968 by John G. Christian and William W. Turner; copy from Dartmouth RFK archives. This material also includes a copy of a letter written by Sharaga Mayor Tom Bradley in 1988; this letter quotes the remarks of both Sillings and Phillips.

[8] IBID.

[9] IBID.

[10] Special Unit Senator, pp. 173-173 and 284-286. Houghton describes a SUS investigation of security at the hotel, conducted after the murder. That interview found that a total of 16 security staff (both hotel and Ace Security) were on duty that evening, under the command of William Gardner, Ambassador Hotel security chief. Nine guards were deployed in the Embassy room itself, two men were at the foot of the stairs where RFK was expected to descend for his appearance, two uniformed guards were outside the ballroom doors (Merritt and Stowers) and two more (in plain clothes, Maddox and Murphy) in the hallway leading to the main lobby. He states that one guard, Thomas Perez, was stationed in the anteroom behind the speakers platform in the ballroom and that two guards were assigned to accompany RFK through the pantry – Stanley Kawalee and Thane Cesare. Houghton’s description of the guard assignments seems to show some varience with the detailed statements of individual guards and adds more confusion as to whether RFK’s movements were planned or not - two guards could not have been assigned to escort RFK through the pantry and to the rear of the stage if he was expected to come down the stairs where two other guards were assigned. Two guards could not have been assigned to escort RFK out though the pantry if that route was strictly a last minute decision, as Houston describes at some length on pages 284-286.

[11] RFK Must Die, pp. 20-21.

[12] FBI interview with Fred Murphy, June 13, 1968.

[13] District Attorney Statement of Thane Cesar, July 14, 1971, also Voice Stress interview with Thane Cesar by C.R. McQuiston, February 21, 1977.

[14] LAPD interview with Leonore Moser, July 11, 1968.

[16] Information on Sharaga’s activities is taken from California Assassination Archives special report, Easy Reader, November 17, 1968 by John G. Christian and William W. Turner; copy from Dartmouth RFK archives.

[17] Information on the Ambrose encounter with Serrano is taken from Ambrose’s letter to Allan McCurdy, Chief Branch and Area Offices, June 7, 1968 and also from an FBI interview of Ambrose on June 10, 1968.

[18] Robert Houghton, Chief of Detectives with LAPD wrote a book, Special Unit Senator, in which he records great detail of the investigation. The book makes no mention of DA Ambrose, his encounter with Serrano or the details of how she came to be a witness. He introduces her simply as another of the dozens of witnesses taken from the hotel for police interrogation. Special Unit Senator, p. 27.

[19] IBID.

[20] FBI interview with Booker Griffin, June 11, 1968; also see John Christian and William Turner, The Assassination of Robert Kennedy, p. 68. The FBI Summary Report should not be confused with the Summary now available at the FBI’s FOIA site.

[21] FBI interview of George Green, July 16, 1968.

[22] Christian and Turner, pp. 68-89 and 73.

[23] Christian and Turner, p. 69; Kaiser, pp. 20-22.

[24] Klaber and Melanson, p. 148. Also FBI interview with Susanne Locke, June 7, 1968.

[25] Turner and Christian, p. 70. Also Klaber and Melanson, pp. 14-15.

[26] Turner and Christian, pp. 72-73.

[27] Klaber and Melanson, p. 150.

[28] IBID, pp. 145-151.

[29] IBID, p. 150.

[30] IBID, pp. 146-147.

The Incomplete Justice series

Part One: At the Ambassador Hotel

Part Two: Stalking RFK?

Part Three: "They are all fibbing..."

Part Four: "No there were no other guns..."

Part Five: Mind Games?

Part Six: "I don't know any other people..."


Cited Interviews

June 13 FBI interview of Fred Murphy, a hotel security guard who told the FBI he had learned from the Kennedy campaign that the Senator would be exiting the ballroom via the pantry.

July 11 LAPD interview of Leonore Moser. Moser went through the kitchen prior to Kennedy's speech.

June 10 LAPD interview of John Ambrose. Deputy District Attorney Ambrose was the first person to talk to Sandra Serrano about her encounter with the man and woman who had said "We just shot Senator Kennedy!" while fleeing the hotel.

June 11 FBI interview of Booker Griffin. Griffin saw a man he identified as Sirhan in the company of a girl in a polka dot dress, along with another male. He saw them in multiple locations, including the kitchen corridor near where RFK was shot.

July 15 FBI interview of George Green. Green also saw Sirhan in the company of a girl in a "dress which was white with black polka dots."

June 7 FBI interview of Susanne Locke, a Kennedy volunteer who saw in the Embassy Room a girl in a polka dot dress who seemed "out of place" - not wearing a yellow press badge and "expressionless." She said she pointed out the girl to "Kennedy Girls" supervisor Carol Breshears, who in turn alerted a security guard. But note that Breshear's LAPD statement describes the girl as having a McCarthy dress (at an RFK rally!), and omits mention of contacting a security guard.

Document Collections

Special Unit Senator LAPD Collection. Microfilmed files of the LAPD's Special Unit Senator investigation, plus later hearings on the RFK case.

FBI LAFO Files. FBI Los Angeles Field Office files.

Sirhan Sirhan Trial Transcript. Transcript of court proceedings, including pre-trial hearings, trial testimony, and closing arguments.

Appeal Documents. Court filings and other documents related to the appeal of Sirhan Sirhan's murder conviction and death sentence.

Request to Los Angeles County Grand Jury. 1992 request for investigation based on issues arising from release of LAPD files.

Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. Petition for a new trial for Sirhan Sirhan, submitted by the late attorney Lawrence Teeter.

Report on the Medicolegal Investigation of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Autopsy report by coroner Thomas Noguchi.

See all RFK Assassination Documents.

Books of Interest

    "R.F.K. Must Die!": A History of the Robert Kennedy Assassination and Its Aftermath
Robert Blair Kaiser
E.P. Dutton and Co., 1970
    The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
Jonn G. Christian and William G. Turner
Random House, 1978
    Shadow Play
William Klaber and Philip H. Melanson
St. Martin's Press, 1997
    The Assassinations: Probe Magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK, and Malcolm X
James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, editors
Feral House, 2003
    The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination
Philip H. Melanson
Shapolsky Publishers, Inc., 1991
    Special Unit Senator
Robert A. with Taylor Houghton, Theodore
Random House, 1970

See all RFK books.


Sirhan and the RFK Assassination, Part I: The Grand Illusion, by Lisa Pease.

Sirhan and the RFK Assassination, Part II: Rubik's Cube, by Lisa Pease.

See all RFK essays.

Other Links

The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Archives Collection. This archive at the University of Massachusetts was created by Professor Philip Melanson, who wrote several books on the assassinations of the 1960s.

California State Archives: Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Investigation Records. The California State Archives holds the physical evidence of the crime as well as voluminous reports.

Real History Archives - RFK Assassination. Lisa Pease website includes essays on political assassinations, including RFK's.

Sirhan's longtime research Rose Lynn Mangan has a website devoted to the case, with many scanned primary source materials.

© Mary Ferrell Foundation. All Rights Reserved. |Site Map |MFF Policies |Contact Us