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Incomplete Justice

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

by Larry Hancock, 15 Jul 2008

Sirhan Sirhan

“I’ve caught him lying about things that he said he did before the assassination, things that can be proven conclusively…..he’s a smart little bastard, you know. He’s been playing games with me from the very start of our sessions. I can feel it down deep. I know he’s concealing the actual facts – the identities of those who put him up to it.” [1]

- Robert Kaiser, Sirhan defense investigator and biographer, in interview with William Turner

Sirhan Sirhan did talk, after his capture, during interrogation, to the psychologists, to his lawyers and to Kaiser, who was writing a book about him. It’s just that Sirhan would not talk about the shooting – much less the subject of others influencing or being involved with him. Perhaps the only real lead he gave was in response to questioning the first time Dr. Diamond put him under hypnosis. His first words were “I don’t know any people”…followed by “What they Hell did they do!”, an exclamation followed by sobbing. [2]

Certain remarks by Sirhan’s family only added to the mystery. Robert Kaiser related that Sirhan’s brother Sharif remarked that a few days before the 5th of June, Sirhan had told his brother Adel, “soon I’ll be famous and you’ll be famous too.” Adel countered to Kaiser that Sharif was lying. Sirhan’s family and his defense team believed that Sharif was prepared to blurt something out on the stand that would have hurt Sirhan’s defense – they made sure that he was not called to testify at the trial. [3]

Adel also stated that Sirhan (who clearly traveled frequently to race tracks around L.A., to Corona where he had worked and apparently continued to visit, to gun ranges and other unknown locations) spent virtually all his time at home, in his room – “he stays home much of the time, usually reading in his room”, “he very seldom went anyplace.” [4] Adel stated that Sirhan would not discuss political views with his family and when news came on TV about the Arab-Israel conflict, Sirhan would refuse to watch it.

On the other hand, in a June 25th, 1968 LAPD interview with Sirhan’s younger brother Munir, Munir told police that “Sirhan had been acting strange prior to the shooting” and he remembered Sirhan becoming outraged when he saw Senator Kennedy on T.V. making speeches, saying that all the Jews should be killed. Munir himself had become the subject of a series of LAPD interviews immediately following the assassination; he was being investigated for his role in the purchase of the pistol used in the attack on Senator Kennedy and also faced a renewed deportation effort (based on an earlier drug conviction).

The gun and other people

The LA police and Marin county police officers did a quick and efficient job of tracing the weapon taken from Sirhan in the pantry the evening of the shooting. Based on the pistol’s serial number they tracked it to the original registered owner (Albert Hertz) who had given the gun to his daughter. The daughter (Dana Westlake) stated that while living in Pasadena she had given the gun to a neighbor boy (George Erhard).

Erhard was picked up and stated that Mrs. Westlake had given him the gun around the first of the year (1968). He had kept it a short time and then sold it to a person that worked with him at the Nash Department store. The person was known to him only as “Joe”, had a “male latin” appearance but his speech sounded like an Arab. Erhard was taken to the Nash Department store in Pasadena where “Joe” was identified as Munir Sirhan and taken into custody. At that time officers were informed that Munir and Sirhan’s brother Adel was being held in custody at the Pasadena police department. [5]

Much later, in court, Sirhan described getting the gun in March, 1968 and practicing with it possibly six times. He gave no details and did not mention Munir at all. [6]

LAPD mugshot of Munir Sirhan
LAPD mugshot of Munir Sirhan.

Adel was at the police department because, according to the two brothers, Munir had rushed home from work to wake him up after recognizing Sirhan on television broadcasts that morning. Adel stayed there while Munir took a borrowed car back to his boss at work, only to be visited by the detectives tracking the gun using in the murder. [7]

A Pasadena Police Department investigation report of June 19, 1968 presents a different version of these events, stating that both brothers contacted Pasadena police at 9:35 a.m. and were requested to wait for LA officers who would question them. It records that LAPD Sgts. Brandt and Lodolo arrived to conduct the questioning at 10 a.m. It also states that both brothers were transported to their home for a search and further investigation.

In any event, the information obtained from Erhard indicated that the gun had been purchased by Munir (“Joe”) Sirhan early in 1968. In later interviews, Munir distanced himself from the gun, telling police that Erhard and visited in the Sirhan home on a social visit, and had talked with Sirhan Sirhan. Some two weeks later Sirhan had told Munir of a desire to purchase a gun for target shooting and asked if Erhard would have a gun for sale. Munir described asking Erhard about it and Erhard coming to their home, meeting Sirhan in the street to purchase the gun, with Munir only an observer. [8] Munir was interviewed again on June 25th, with questions asked pertaining to his involvement in the shooting. He denied any knowledge of the shooting but became evasive on the purchase of the gun. The police felt that he was afraid of being incriminated because he was still on probation from a conviction relating to the possession and sale of narcotics. [9]

Munir’s background file recorded him as a suspect in “malicious mischief” in 1959, as a suspect in “suspicious circumstances” in 1963, involved in a “missing persons” case in 1964 (he was arrested as a run-away on vagrancy in Arizona), reported in “suspicious circumstances” in 1963, and for “sale of marijuana” in 1966. The conviction on the narcotics charge had been referred to a Juvenile Court, even though in 1966 Munir was 20 years old. Munir had served 9 months in jail for the felony conviction. Correspondence between William Howell of the Immigration Department and Assistant District Attorney William Ritzi indicates that as of June, 1968 the Immigration department was still actively engaged in efforts to deport Munir over his narcotics charge and conviction.

Given that Munir was still on probation and facing deportation it is hard to understand his involvement in the gun purchase; it is also easy to see why he would want to distance himself from the gun and from Sirhan. In fact, he told the LAPD that he had quarreled with Sirhan and had not spoken with him for three months before the assassination (the period immediately following the gun purchase and including Sirhan’s finally receiving almost $2,000 in cash from his compensation claim only weeks before the shooting.) However, he did also note that Sirhan had begun going out and staying out late at night. [10] The RFK case file and summary report seems to contain no further information on Munir’s drug arrest and conviction.

The Lock Stock 'n Barrel
The Lock Stock 'n Barrel, where Sirhan bought ammunition in the company of others.

It also lacks a full discussion of a report made by Larry Arnot, the employee who sold Sirhan ammunition for the gun on June 1. Arnot worked at the Lock, Stock and Barrel and said that Sirhan had come in about 3 p.m with two other men. They were very serious, not talkative and left quickly after Sirhan bought two boxes of .22 caliber mini-mag hollow points. One of the other men had bought two boxes of Super-X Westerns and Arnot recorded the four boxes on one sales slip. He identified Sirhan Sirhan as the buyer and one of the young men with him as Munir Sirhan. He could not identify the third young man. [11]

Discovery of Arnot and the ammunition sale came from police work on a sales receipt found in the glove compartment of Sirhan’s car. The owners of the store, Ben and Donna Herrick, backed up Arnot’s statement. In fact, Donna said that she had previously seen Sirhan in the store with two companions. Chief Houghton elaborated, writing that Mrs. Herrick had described Sirhan’s associates were “similar-looking” and specifying the earlier date as April 3. Her husband also recalled the young men; he described them as “foreign looking.” [12]

Apparently the police seriously considered the report of Sirhan buying ammunition in the company of others. Police had called Sirhan’s lawyer, advising him they were going to call in Sirhan’s brothers for a line up with the store employees. Houghton relates that the lawyer (Parsons) remained “non-committal” on the line up so the police went to visit the Sirhan house and found Adel and Munir Sirhan at home. The police informed them of the report and that the men with Sirhan were reportedly similar in appearance and a line up was needed to “dispel” that identification.

LAPD mugshot of Adel Sirhan
LAPD mugshot of Adel Sirhan.

Adel Sirhan responded for the two brothers, stating that he would not want to go for something like that. The police reassured the brothers that even if they were identified, the witnesses would be given a lie detector test to ensure they were telling the truth. They were also ensured that the other people in the line up would look like them so as to “make it difficult” for the witnesses – but it was very important to resolve the issue. The brothers continued to demur and no line up was ever held, even after Larry Arnot expressed the fact that it was very difficult for him to be absolutely sure with just a photo – “If I could seem them in person…” [13] Sgt. Hernandez explained to him that the Sirhan brothers had refused to participate in a line up so SUS felt it would be a good idea to administer polygraph tests to the witnesses instead.

Arnot was put on the stand during Sirhan’s trial (Donna Herrick and her husband were not) and began to tell his story under oath. However, he was stopped short by the prosecution attorney when he began to mention Sirhan’s companions. The prosecution fell back on the fact that LAPD polygraph operator Enrique Hernandez had managed to persuade Arnot that he was confused and that the men were not together, despite the evidence of the sales slip. He didn’t really convince Arnot though - Arnot was prepared to stand with his original story under oath, but the prosecutor closed out his questioning.

This entire incident of Sirhan’s apparent purchase of ammunition on June 1 (a date in which multiple witnesses had separately reported Sirhan in the company of other individuals) provides an interesting insight into the LAPD investigation.

“Do something terrible!”

Sirhan himself was generally not much help to anyone investigating the crime. He didn’t remember anything about the shooting, not much about the hotel that night, he didn’t recall anything in notebooks he had written in over several years and on a number of occasions he was simply caught in lies. But there was one thing that he was adamant about with his defense team; had others interested involved in the occult steered Sirhan into killing? - ”Oh, said Sirhan, hell, no, no!” Sirhan gave a similar strong reaction to suggestions that his friend Tom Rathke might have influenced him. At another time when Rathke was being discussed, Sirhan he was even more specific – “He’s the one I want to protect, but he’s not crazy, I’m not crazy!” [14]

Rathke had probably the longest relationship with Sirhan of any of his known associates, meeting him in 1965 when Sirhan began to work as an apprentice groom at Hollywood Park and later at Santa Anita. It was Rathke who introduced Sirhan to and helped develop his interest in psychic powers and the use of mental influence to control both horses and people. The beginning of their relationship seems to have started with Rathke’s complementing Sirhan over his ability with horses, suggesting he had an almost mystical power with them. Sirhan was quite pleased by this and he and Rathke became very good friends while Sirhan was working as a groom; after he quit that job they spent a good deal of time together at the tracks until Sirhan got a new job at the Granja Vista del Rio Farms near Corona California. This ranch was owned by a group of investors reportedly including Dezi Arnaz, Buddy Ebsen and Dale Robertson; it was used for breeding and training race horses and was managed by Bert Altfillisch.

Sirhan obtained the job through the efforts of Frank Donneroummas, with whom he had become acquainted at the Santa Anita track when Sirhan was working there as an assistant groom. Donneroummas worked at the ranch and was reported to be a relative of the manager, Bert Altfillisch. Donneroummas was Sirhan’s boss at the ranch and obviously another significant influence on him; Sirhan’s diary notebook contains the following entry:

“happiness hppiness Dona Donaruma Donaruma Frank Donaruma pl plese ple please pay to 5 please pay to the order of Sirhan Sirhan the amount of 5…” [15]

Donneroummas was actually an alias for his real name of Henry R. Ramistella; he used the alias because he had been denied credentials at Santa Anita due to a former suspension by the New Jersey Racing Commission. Donneroummas had ridden as a jockey on the east coast but had been arrested in 1956 for possession of marijuana (plea of guilty, 60 day suspended sentence) and also released on a dismissed charge of possession of marijuana. More importantly he had made an unsatisfactory ride and given false testimony about the ride afterwards, resulting in his suspension. An FBI report on him discloses that he had been let go by Alfillisch a few months after Sirhan was hired. Altfillisch stated that Donneroummas had a significant drinking problem. He had been gone for several months when Sirhan had his accident and left the ranch in early 1968. [16]

Over the months at the ranch, Sirhan apparently developed a dislike for Bert Altfillisch. After Sirhan’s injury in a racing accident, he left his job there but continued to spend time at the tracks developing his “powers”. As his practice in mental control continued, Altfillisch’s horses became a target. Eventually when one of the horses (Press Agent) crashed into a retaining wall while being mentally targeted, Sirhan became convinced that he had mastered mind control. His notebook contains the following line:

“I believe I can effect the death of Bert Altfillisch”

This appears to have been written after Sirhan had begun to practice his mental influence on humans, as well as intensive practice of telekenisis at home (with candles and string weights). He related to friends that he had also been able to influence his mother’s movements. Sirhan apparently made no attempt to hide his psychic efforts from his family and related them to friends as well, describing the fact that he had reached the point where he could obtain glimpses of angels. [17]

Rathke stands out as possibly the greatest long-term influence on Sirhan; they were friends for a period of three years, even after Rathke had moved away from Los Angles and into the Livermore valley area east of San Francisco. Rathke even made trips back to Los Angeles to visit Sirhan. Tom Rathke’s name shows up in Sirhan’s notebook, in one place it’s followed by the phrase “Let’s do it” written four times in succession.

Despite this the LAPD seems to have paid little attention to Rathke, even after searching for and locating him in Pleasanton, a small town east of Oakland. They found that Rathke had gone to college, married, worked for a telephone company - but by 1968 lived alone in stables, working as a groom, satisfied with just getting along and with his occult studies (which the LAPD failed to explore). [18]

After confirming that Rathke had known Sirhan, the LAPD left it at that. Robert Kaiser comments that by the time they located Rathke (based on entries in Sirhan’s notebooks), LAPD had come to believe that none of Sirhan’s associates had anything to do with the case. The FBI did a little better - an FBI report of June 14, 1968 confirms that Rathke had known Sirhan over a three year period, and notes that Sirhan never exhibited any leanings towards Communism, or any signs of potential violence. Rathke told the FBI he had not seen Sirhan since June, 1967. He remarked that he understood that Sirhan had joined the Theosophical society and elaborated at some length on that group. There is no detail from Rathke on specifically what occult beliefs he himself had or what beliefs that he discussed with Sirhan. Rathke (as “Tom”) shows up on multiple pages in Sirhan’s notebook; one page containing his name has repetitive references to God, sketches of crosses and also a number of references to “Black Magic”. [19]

The report concludes by noting that Rathke felt that if Sirhan was bitter at anyone he would have thought it would be the insurance company, which refused to do more than pay his hospital bill from the horse accident. [20] Actually, Sirhan had received a compensation check from Argonaut Insurance only weeks before the shooting of Senator Kennedy. The amount was $1,705, more than enough to buy the Mustang that Sirhan mentions frequently in his notebooks, more than enough to buy new clothes and return to school. Yet Sirhan seems to have spent most of the money in those weeks, not on a car or clothes – and when taken into custody still had four $100 bills with him.

LAPD didn’t really get much out of Tom Rathke, someone who had spent entire days and weeks with Sirhan over three years. The FBI apparently took his word that he had not seen Sirhan for a year and had no regular communication with him. And they accepted his comment that Sirhan showed no potential or sign of violence. Unfortunately, they had no idea that Sirhan’s mother had found a letter from Rathke to Sirhan, warning him to quit his practices before they led to something terrible.

Sirhan’s defense team had independently determined Sirhan to have had a “previous history with hypnosis….hypnosis was solitary, self induced”; he had read Rosicrucian books on self hypnosis with a mirror. However, Sirhan was extremely sensitive about the Rosicrucians, about Tom Rathke, and about an article with the title “Write It Down.”

Rathke had not told either the police or the FBI that he had made two trips back from San Franciscio to visit Sirhan, one in December, 1967 and one in March, 1968 (the month Sirhan began to practice shooting his new pistol). He had not told them about his exchange of letters with Sirhan or the warning he had given him in the spring of 1968 – when Sirhan seems to have committed himself in regard to Robert Kennedy. Sirhan’s notebook entry on killing Kennedy before June 5, 1968 was thought to have been made in May, 1968.

Rathke’s disclaimer of any detailed knowledge of Sirhan is also hard to accept given the fact that the two had spent much of 1967 in each other’s company (apparently visiting the Santa Anita tracks and discussing the occult but with no real details on their association provided by either Rathke or Sirhan), after Sirhan left his job at the Corona ranch at the end of 1966. Also of interest in this regard is the fact that in late 1967 Sirhan had virtually dropped out of sight. SUS efforts to trace his location and activities for approximately three months in the period after he left his job at the Corona ranch drew a blank. In fact his mother began to be concerned as even she did not know his whereabouts for a period of time. And when he returned, his interest in the occult had seriously deepened. [21]

All of which leaves us with serious questions:

What might Rathke really have known about Sirhan’s activities or associates in the spring of 1968. What did he really know of Sirhan’s potential for violence, for doing something terrible driven by his involvement in hypnosis? What might he really have known about Sirhan’s feelings and politics or his attitude towards Robert Kennedy. What might have Sirhan shared with his only long term friend and occult mentor? Was the letter from Rathke warning Sirhan about the dangers of hypnosis was a real warning – or an effort to create some sort of defense based on diminished capacity. That was the only obvious defense left to Sirhan after the murder of RFK; Sirhan had even told one of his Doctors that he figured it might just get him and early release from prison, perhaps after only a couple of years.


Tom Rathke and other people known to Sirhan were found through a study of his notebooks. On one page in the notebook is a reference to “Jeerry”; the word “feed” appears repetitively on the page as do various numbers and Sirhan’s name. Unlike several other names from the notebook, LAPD never tracked down “Jeerry”. But they did spend a great deal of time refuting the claims of one person named “Jerry” – that particular Jerry came to them, claiming to have met Sirhan shortly before the assassination. [22]

Jerry Owen, the Walking Bible
Jerry Owen, the "Walking Bible" who went to the LAPD in the aftermath of the assassination with a story of his having met Sirhan and arranged to sell him a horse at the Ambassador Hotel.

Jerry Owen ran horses at a ranch out in Orange County, near Santa Ana. The ranch was about 20 miles down the road from where Sirhan had worked in Corona. Eventually, a private investigation by Bill Turner and Jonn Christian turned up a number of people who stated that they had personally heard Jerry Owen mention Sirhan and even saw Jerry with Sirhan (or someone looking very much like him). These people understood that Sirhan was doing minor jobs for Jerry, handling and feeding his horses. Their stories were a good bit different than what Jerry told LAPD and they don’t show up in the internal police reports dealing with Jerry Owen.

There may be many other relevant associations and contacts which developed during Sirhan’s work in the Corona/Santa Ana area. For example, interviews revealed that Sirhan had attended and promoted the Circle City Baptist Church in Corona (listed as the Riverside Baptist Temple in a directory of right wing groups and individuals of that period). Sirhan referred a co-worker to the pastor of that church, Reverand Leo Hill, for counseling on personal matters. Hill confirmed that Sirhan had attended church services but denied ever personally counseling him. And of course Sirhan eventually admitted to going to the Corona area twice immediately before the murder of Senator Kennedy and a witness reported him in the Santa Ana foothills, engaged in pistol target practice with three other individuals including a young woman.

The police eventually concluded, for the record, that Owen was lying about the story he told them of how he had met Sirhan, discussed subsequently. However, they could come up with no particular reason other than self-promotion. The problem with that explanation was that Owen had not gone to the media with his story, and at first tried to maintain a very low profile. They also failed to investigate a witness he offered who would have confirmed that Jerry had told him part of his story before the assassination itself. In their internal discussion of Owen’s motive, the police consciously refused to consider the more obvious explanation – that Owen had indeed associated with Sirhan, that he knew things about Sirhan that were very dangerous, and that he was terrified that Sirhan might start talking about him at any time after his arrest.

Jerry Owen on the day after

The day after the RFK murder, as soon as Sirhan’s picture showed up on TV and in the papers, Jerry Owen began talking about the fact that he had met Sirhan and that he had apparently just missed becoming a patsy – or possibly a victim – in Senator Kennedy’s murder. It appears his first conversation may have been with waitress Mabel Jacobs at the Morse Café in the Coliseum Hotel. Jerry had spent the night in the hotel and it was at breakfast where he encountered the media coverage of Sirhan’s arrest.

Mabel Jacobs confirmed that Owen told her of his encounter with a young man who he felt was Sirhan and about his dropping him off by the Ambassador hotel. She also told police that she had encouraged Owen to go to the police with his story. [23]

Owen’s next move seems to have been to call and then visit a long time friend of his in Los Angeles, the Reverend Jonothan Perkins. In an interview with Jonn Christian, the Reverend related that Owen showed up visibly agitated at his apartment, stating that he was about to become mixed up in the RFK shooting. Perkins also explained that Owen had visited him the day before, describing his meeting a former race track exercise boy who was going to buy one of his horses. Perkins also said that Owen had actually gone to the Ambassador hotel the evening of the assassination to receive a payment of $300 for the horse and when the young man did not show up Owen ended up staying overnight in L.A. [24]

Perkin’s remarks that Owen had planned on actually going to the Ambassador the evening of the Senator’s murder seem to be confirmed by a SUS statement give by “Rip” O’Reilly, the fighter who Owen co-owned at the time. O’Reilly told police that Owen had picked him up at 6:30 that evening and they had gone to an event, with O’Reilly being dropped off at home at 11:30 p.m. O’Reilly clearly stated that Owen had been driving a pick-up and pulling a horse trailer - with a horse in it that evening and had left it parked during the event they attended. [25]

Jerry Owen's pickup trick
Jerry Owen's pickup trick, recently purchased from Bill Powers, who said that Owen had made a final payment on June 3 in the company of someone who resembled Sirhan.

For the record, Owen’s pickup (which had been purchased, with full payment pending, from Bill Powers of Wild Bill’s stables in Santa Ana) was later recovered out in Barstow California after the assassination; Owen offered no explanation for how it got there and there is some reason to believe that LAPD dusted it for prints and may well have discovered something suspicious in the investigation of the pickup. That part of the Owen investigation was not well documented by LAPD. [26]

Perkins would eventually accompany Owen to an interview and polygraph examination with Special Unit Senator. There is no record of an actual interview or a police inquiry into Perkin’s support of the pre-assassination remarks by Owen.

On the day after the assassination, Owen apparently related this story to a number of friends, including a business partner (Owen and Edward Glenn managed a prize fighter named O’Reilly). Christian was even able to confirm that the wife of a good friend of Glenn had received a call from her husband relating that Owen had had a “brush with history” by picking up Sirhan. [27] Owen co-managed O’Reilly with Glenn, who was President of Midland Oil company of Wyoming. Glenn had bought into the fighter by assigning Owen stock in Midland. Midland Oil was registered as having headquarters in Littleton Co.; it was also under investigation by the Attorney General of Wyoming. William Turner relates that Glenn was a friend of a man named Eugene Braden, of Empire Oil. [28]

By 5 p.m. that day, Owen was at the University Detective Division, offering a statement describing his encounter with some young people at a stop light on the afternoon of June 3rd. According to the story, one young man came over and touched the large chrome horse on Owen’s pickup. He then asked for a ride and two young men jumped in the rear. They stopped at a light at Western and Wilshire and one young man jumped out and asked to ride up front. At first Owen thought they were Mexican but the one who rode in the cab with him spoke English with no Mexican accent. Owen felt the two young men looked enough alike to be cousins or possibly brothers.

The young man asked if Owen could stop for a moment at a big hotel so that he could see a friend who worked in the kitchen there. When he came back he started talking about horses and having been an exercise boy. The young man asked Owen if he were Jewish, saying he had no use for Jews and that he had lived in Jordon as a young boy. They discussed a horse Owen had for sale and the man said he could come up with cash that evening and would buy the horse.

Four $100 bills found on Sirhan at the time of his arrest
Four $100 bills found on Sirhan at the time of his arrest.

In his initial statement Owen talked about selling the horse for $250; later he cited the amount as $300. When arrested, Sirhan had four $100 bills, a $5 and four $1 dollar bills on his person. In addition, at one point during interviews of the Sirhan family’s, his Mother Mary mentioned that Sirhan had asked her for $300 in cash a day or so before the shooting of the Senator.

She had been holding Sirhan’s insurance payment for him as he had spent most of the of it by that time. Adel Sirhan was present during the same interview and stated that “I think Sirhan wanted the $300 to buy a horse with”. [29]

Owen had returned for payment that evening, encountering one of the young men, in company with a different man and a blonde girl. The young man from that morning came over and said that “Joe” had not been able to get all the money yet but he would have it by the next evening. He also mentioned something happening at the Ambassador hotel then and inquired about getting a job at Owen’s ranch. [30] Owen’s independent reporting of the resemblance of the two men and the use of the name “Joe” was made before he could have possibly learned from the media of Sirhan’s brothers - and especially of the fact that one of them was known as “Joe” by his co-workers.

Owen also made a statement to the FBI in San Francisco on June 10, 1968. His remarks were very consistent with his original police statement; however, that is when he described the price for the horse he was to sell as $300. Owen also mentioned to the FBI that one of the young men said that his name was “Joe” and he had given a surname that Owen did not fully understand. Owen elaborated, offering a few more details on the second meeting including mention that the young man offered him a $100 down payment (which he refused) and wanted him to deliver the horse that evening - Owen could not because of a prior engagement. Owen left the men with a number for future contact; at no point in the first two interviews did Owen describe returning to the Ambassador the evening of June 4th as Reverend Perkins related to Christian. [31]

Owen on the spot

LAPD spent a good deal of energy investigating Owen; so did William Turner and Jonn Christian (although Owen had made no initial move to take the story to the press, he did eventually talk at length with Ramparts magazine editor and former FBI agent William Turner). Both LAPD and Turner quickly determined that Jerry Owen had a checkered legal background and a number of things in his past that would not bode well for his ministry given broad press coverage. His FBI file showed that in 1963 he had been charged and convicted for arson in conjunction with his Phoenix church building. He had also been charged with disorderly conduct (a morals charge involving a young woman) in San Francisco in 1945 and investigated for robbery in Long Beach. [32]

In addition, police files showed a San Francisco Grand Theft charge going back to 1939. And there were other problems with young women, some going to court and some not. None of it could be considered good publicity. The police felt it all weighed against Owen’s credibility. But they found no history of his being a publicity seeker. Beyond that, it's reasonable to argue that Owen was risking major media exposure of his past (not only public exposure to his followers but also to his financially well-to-do wife, who was a key monetary supporter of both Owen and his ministry). As we will shortly see, Owen himself was not lacking an extended personal network, including powerful friends such as the Mayor of Los Angeles.

Interested readers should definitely study Turner and Christian’s book for an appreciation of Owen’s saga and his associates. Both an evangelical minister and a boxing promoter, Owen was also strongly connected to horse racing circles, to a variety of right-wing political personalities and even to Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty. Mayor Yorty, well known as a champion of the right wing in California, a rabid conservative with racist overtones in his politics, was an avowed opponent of the Kennedy civil rights agenda. He had supported Nixon against JFK and his own political position had been heavily attacked by Robert Kennedy in 1966 congressional hearings. RFK had lambasted Yorty over Watts and riots in L.A. [34] Yet Yorty was close enough to Jerry Owen not only to make a personal appearance on Owen’s evangelical TV program but to authorize loans to Owen of horse trailers and other LA city property.

Christian’s investigative work also suggests that someone associated with the LAPD may have engaged in intimidating witnesses who clearly did place Sirhan in Owen’s company prior to the assassination. However, all parties seem to have shared one conclusion – Owen was not being truthful about picking up Sirhan and his companion as hitch-hikers. What appears more likely is that Owen had a much closer relationship and far more significant contacts with him prior to the assassination.

Back at the ranch

In the spring of 1968, Owen was living in the Santa Ana area of Orange county, something like 20 miles from where Sirhan had lived and worked in the Corona area. Among his horses, Owen kept a set of ponies that he took around to malls and other locations which would allow him to offer rides to children and promote his ministry. He frequented Wild Bill’s Stables, less than a mile down the river from his own ranch. The stable was managed by an old cowboy named William (Bill) Powers. Owen would stop to visit Powers, buy feed or hay and talk horses. He also used one of Power’s employees to break horses, but complained to Powers that the man (Johnny Beckley) was too rough with them. But, Owen said, he had someone who was much better with horses, someone named Sirhan. Sirhan knew how to handle horses and didn’t “cowboy” around like Beckley. [35] Beckley also reported having seen Owen and Sirhan riding together in the area near Owen’s ranch and Power’s stable. [36]

In May Powers sold an old pick-up to Owen for only $50 down. On June 3 Owen showed up and offered to pay off the pick-up, flashing big bills that Powers couldn’t possibly break. Sirhan, or someone very similar to him, was in the back seat of Owen’s car during the visit. Three of Power’s employees (Johnny Beckley, Danny Jackson and a man named Brundage) later confirmed the incident, as well as Owen’s earlier mention of Sirhan. [37]

The identify of the individual in Owen’s car on June 3 was addressed at length in the courtroom (but not Sirhan’s trial), as part of a libel suit by Owen against a TV station which had decided to drop his religious program. Owen’s attorney took the risk of introducing a friend of Owen’s (a black ex-boxer named Johnny Gray). Gray had admitted to being with Owen on the day of June 3 and to being at Power’s ranch - thereby substantiating a great number of the statements made by Powers and his employees and establishing their credibility.

The introduction of Gray was part of an effort to prove that Gray’s son was actually the individual in the car, not Sirhan. The TV station’s attorney (Vincent Bugliosi) demonstrated that Gray’s son was only 13 years old at the time (Sirhan was 23) and that the son’s sole visit to the stables had been a month earlier.

Unfortunately for Owen, Bugliosi’s examination of Gray’s son (Jackie Gray) produced further statements that his father had known Sirhan and that Jackie been introduced to Sirhan through Owen. While the son’s statements can be challenged, it seems certain that he was not with Owen that day and that Owen and Gray both were under extreme pressure to cover up matters pertaining to their visit to Powers and to the information about Owen and Sirhan which had surfaced from the people associated with Wild Bills stables. Later, Jackie's sister would even tell Turner that her brother’s hair had been dyed black for the trial, in order to match Sirhan’s hair color. [38]

We will return to Bugliosi’s examination of the young man - beyond establishing Owen’s apparent desperation in covering up a relationship with Sirhan, it may have provided a key insight into other people’s knowledge of Sirhan’s practice of self-hypnosis, including his potential for being manipulated.

Sirhan on June 3?

In regard to Jerry Owen, we are left with two options as to his contacts with Sirhan. In Owen’s police story, Sirhan and someone who looked a great deal like him met Owen while hitchhiking in Los Angeles on June 3. Alternatively, according to the people at Wild Bill’s, Sirhan (or someone that looked very much like him) was at the stables in Santa Ana a short time (a day or so) before the assassination. Beyond that Sirhan had been in company with Owen and doing chores on his ranch at least a few times in the two to three months before the assassination. Of course Owen denied that Sihan was with him at any point in Santa Ana and Sirhan denied ever knowing Owen. Sirhan, however, did make an interesting “casual” remark to Robert Kaiser:

“maybe he (Owen) could lead to someone who was playing with my mind?” [39]

The LAPD took information from Sirhan’s family and Sirhan himself to refute Owen’s statements. But there is good reason to question Sirhan’s information on his own movements. For example, he first told Kaiser that he was home all day on Sunday June 2 and certainly had not gone to the Ambassador Hotel that day – but later “remembered” that he had driven out to Corona. [40] Eventually Sirhan admitted that he had indeed gone to the Ambassador, to a Kennedy rally, that evening. Why had he gone to Corona on June 2? Sirhan said he liked the scenery out there. Sirhan had also apparently lied to his brother, telling him he had not gone to the Ambassador. [41]

As to June 3rd, the day of Owen’s reported hitchhiking incident (and possibly the day of Sirhan’s visit with Owen to Powers at Wild Bill’s), Sirhan changed his own story on his movements that day three different times. First he was home all day; that was his Mother and brother’s story as well, with Adel Sirhan saying he had asked Sirhan and that “Monday he was here all day long. All day and all night long. He was here Sunday also. That’s what he told me.” [42]

Later Sirhan himself admitted that he had gone to Corona on both June 2 and June 3rd.

Even later Sirhan said that he had not gone to Corona but “some place in that direction.”

Still later he told investigator Michael McGowan that he had put 350 miles on his car that day

and that no one knew where he had gone. [43]

Owen in summary

Owen’s hitch hiking story produced two results.

First, it gave Owen a preemptive alibi. At the time Owen went to the police he only knew that Sirhan was alive, uninjured and in custody. He had no way of knowing what Sirhan might say about Owen or others.

Second, Owen’s evolving dialogs with police were used as by the LAPD as an example of how thoroughly they had investigated all suggestions of conspiracy and how they had all been traced to cranks and liars. The SUS report mentions Owen’s arrests and questionable background. However it totally fails to mention Owen’s ultra right-wing connections. More importantly, it gives no mention of his apparent personal friendship with the Mayor of Los Angeles. On the face of it, the official investigation seems to have studiously ignored the possibility that Owen might have represented a link to ultra-right or other influences on Sirhan.

Beyond that, Owen’s lawsuit and Bugliosi’s trial work with Jackie Gray surfaced some potentially explosive remarks by the young man. He stated that he had heard his father and Owen discuss Sirhan a number of times. The discussions included minor things like Sirhan’s desire to go back to school (a wish verified by Sirhan’s mother and brothers) and his need for new clothes and a new car to make that possible (also verified by the family). The conversations also included remarks that Sirhan spent lots of time in a room by himself, that he could put himself into a trance. The young man described hearing that Sirhan would go into a room, alone, put himself into a trance and think about something he liked to do or wanted to do. [44]

Such a remark is not unique; it appears that people who became close to Sirhan, people that he trusted and most likely individuals who showed an interest in him would easily come to learn of his occult practices, of his interest in and susceptibility to hypnotism. They would also have very likely learned of his avowed hatred of Jews and any form of support for Israel.

“What they Hell did they do!”

Sirhan Sirhan in custody
Sirhan Sirhan in custody.

Sirhan did know other people - he was not a loner, constantly staying in his room, with no outside contacts. He had an extended relationship with Tom Rathke and was very concerned with implicating Rathke or in any way connecting him with his actions. However, Rathke apparently knew that Sirhan’s occult practices were taking him into dangerous territory. It is obvious from this distance in time that Rathke was not effectively or thoroughly investigated by either LAPD or the FBI. Both failed to develop any comprehensive insight into Sirhan’s occult studies or activities, much less any other associates he might have developed in those pursuits.

By 1967, Sirhan’s occult interest had diverged from simple self help and personal development studies to include a focus on the blacker elements including the development of the ability to control and even bring about the deaths of targeted individuals. Rathke was aware if Sirhan’s path and in the spring of 1968 warned him in writing against “doing something terrible.”

Rathke continued his contact with Sirhan, returning from San Francisco to visit Sirhan in December 1967 and March 1968. This was a key period in the evolution of Sirhan’s occult interests and includes the period in which he obtained a gun through his brother and began shooting practice. According to its owner, the pistol which Sirhan used was actually sold to Munir Sirhan, whom he knew at their mutual work place only as “Joe.” Witnesses reported Sirhan in the company of two other men during his purchase of ammunition eventually used in the shooting. He was also reported to have been there with at least one of them on an earlier occasion.

Sirhan frequented the Corona and Santa Ana areas for an extended period and very likely contacted associates/accessories there twice during the 48 hours prior to the assassination. He initially lied about his travels during that time.

Multiple witnesses reported that Sirhan was known to and associated in some fashion with Jerry Owen; this appears to be confirmed by an entry in Sirhan’s notebooks. Owen pre-empted any confirmation of this association by immediately going to police with a false story in regard to a contact with Sirhan and other young people. One of the young man Owen claimed to have talked to the day before the assassination used the name “Joe”. There seems to be a definite possibility that Owen knew far more about Sirhan than he was willing to reveal and that he may have created a form of defense for himself by taking a false story (or at least false elements of a real story) to the police.

What seems clear is that both Rathke and Owen very likely knew more about Sirhan, his motives and possibly people who might have been influencing him, than they were willing to share. That knowledge must have been dangerous but at the least both men could very easily have been charged with withholding information and obstructing justice. They were simply not effectively investigated in 1968.


It seems virtually certain that there was a conspiracy involved in the murder of Senator Kennedy.

He had been stalked in the weeks and days immediately before his death; Sirhan himself had been present at the Ambassador the prior weekend, reported in both areas where the Senator was to speak and in the general area of the hotel kitchen. Credible witnesses place Sirhan in the company with the same set of individuals throughout the evening of the assassination and Sirhan was clearly “positioned” on the route which the Senator had used to enter the stage on which he gave his victory speech. The fatal encounter was no random accident. In addition, Sirhan’s notebook entries clearly reveal a focus on the Senator and specifies the date at which he would have to be killed (an obvious date given the timing of the California primary [45]

Sirhan’s knowledge of the actual shooting may be debated, his claim to have no recollection at all of any of his notebook entries, of various notes about RFK on other pieces of paper or of other events is questionable. Beyond that, his history in the courtroom and contradictions in his remarks about his own activities suggests it is unwise to use Sirhan himself as a reliable source of information.

The same can be said for many aspects of the LAPD investigation. There is substantive reason to challenge a good deal of their ballistics and forensics data. Much of their witness investigation work raises questions, including witness evaluations based on department polygraphs.

All of this leaves us with a most unsatisfactory situation, with ample evidence to recognize a conspiracy, with clues to possible accessories, with profiles of the people who were repeatedly reported in association with Sirhan – and with justice very definitely incomplete.

Robert Kennedy


[1] Turner and Christian, The Assassination of Robert Kennedy, p. 95.

[2] Kaiser, RFK Must Die!, p. 296.

[3] Ibid., p. 167 also LAPD interview with Adel Sirhan, June 5, 1989 (I-321).

[4] Ibid., pp. 256 and 422.

[5] LAPD interview with Munir Sirhan, June 5, 1968, 9:30AM; Investigating officer – Evans/Homicide.

[6] Kaiser, RFK Must Die!, p. 426.

[7] IBID, pp 87-88.

[8] LAPD interview with Munir Sirhan, June 24, 1968, officer Hernandez, I-152.

[9] LAPD polygraph interview with Munir Sirhan; June 25, 1968 4 p.m., SUS Final Report, p. 350.

[10] Munir Sirhan interview, June 10, 1968, I-152.

[11] Kaiser, RFK Must Die!, pp. 118-119.

[12] Klaber and Melanson, Shadow Play, pp. 128-131.

[13] Houghton, Special Unit Senator, pp. 214-220 and 226-227. At some point the reader may begin to wonder if the LAPD and SUS were less demanding of persons of interest than they seems to have been towards witnesses?

[14] Kaiser, RFK Must Die!, p. 343.

[15] This quote, as well as others, may be found in the pages of Sirhan’s notebooks reproduced in the appendix of Kaiser’s book, RFK Must Die!. This particular example suggests to the author that Sirhan’s repetitive, visualization type writing was certainly not a new practice in the spring of 1968 and had been going on for over two years by the time the repetitive entries on RFK begin to appear.

[16] FBI LAFO interview of April 4, 1969; initial FBI interview of June 11, 1968, LAPD background file I-1931.

[17] Kaiser, RFK Must Die!, p. 209.

[18] IBID, p. 191.

[19] IBID, p. 560 in the Appendix.

[20] FBI report, June 14, 68, agent name redacted; LA field office file 56-156.

[21] Turner and Christian, The Assassination of Robert Kennedy, pp. 221-224.

[22] Kaiser, RFK Must Die!, appendix, page 548 (23) also Turner and Christian, The Assassination of Robert Kennedy, Chapter 9: The Weatherly Report.

[23] LAPD follow-up of Jerry Owen; I-205; interview with Mabel Jacobs on June 11, 1968.

[24] Turner and Christian, The Assassination of Robert Kennedy, pp. 98-99. Interestingly, this means that early on the morning following Senator Kennedy's shooting, Owen was talking about Sirhan going to the Ambassador Hotel with an amount of cash very close to the amount Sirhan actually had in his pockets when taken into custody - and one of Sirhan's brothers would later casually and independently remark that he had heard Sirhan ask their mother for a similar amount of cash, for the purchase of a horse.

[25] IBID, p. 48.

[26] IBID. p. 132.

[27] IBID, pp. 141-143.

[28] IBID, pp. 141-143, Braden is a name well known to many JFK researchers. Legal problems over naming Braden are described by Turner as a major factor limiting the circulation of Turner and Christian’s book by their publisher. It was apparently allowed to go out of print with significant orders pending.

[29] IBID, p. 46; see also the 21-page SUS summary report on their Owen investigation. The summary report by Hernandez and Pena would eventually debunk the entire Owen story, with no mention of certain corroborating remarks from Sirhan’s family members.

[30] Statement of Jerry Owen, University Detective Division, I-26.

[31] FBI interview with Oliver B. Owen also known as Jerry and Curley; June 10, 1968, SA Herrington.

[32] Department of Justice, FBI file record 4 261 906; June 12, 1968.

[33] Turner and Christian, The Assassination of RFK, pp. 89, 98, 99, 141-143, 155.

[34] IBID, pp. 118-120.

[35] IBID, p. 12.

[36] IBID, p. 127.

[37] IBID, p. 13.

[38] IBID, pp. 10-19 and also Turner, Rearview Mirror, Penmarin Books, 2001, p. 251.

[39] Kaiser, RFK Must Die!, pp. 285 – 286.

[40] IBID, p. 238.

[41] IBID, p. 534.

[42] IBID, p. 166.

[43] IBID, p. 534.

[44] IBID, pp. 287-290.

[45] June 5, 1968 was also the anniversary of Israel's launching of the Six-Day War a year earlier.

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..."


Gun and Ammunition

Pasadena Police Dept. Report of Sep 19, 1968. "On June 5, 1968 at 9:3 A.M., Adel and Munir Sirhan contacted this office in the Detective Bureau....The Sirhan brothers were requested to wait for the arrival of the Los Angeles Officers for further questioning".

George Erhard and Munir Sirhan interview, June 5, 1968, I-152. "....he (George Erhardt) sold it (the gun) to a person that works with him at the Nash Department Store....This person was known only to him as Joe and described as a Male Latin appearance that he thought he sounded like an Arab....Subject Erhard stated he could recognize and point out Joe, he was then taken to the Nash Department Store in Pasadena where Joe, who was later ID as Sirhan, Munir, was taken into custody. At this time officers received information that Adel Sirhan also in custody at the Pasadena Police Department."

LAPD interview with Munir Sirhan, June 5, 1968, 9:30AM. "So George came up with the gun....and he gave it to my brother."

LAPD interview with Munir Sirhan, June 24, 1968, officer Hernandez, I-152. "George had a gun....we made arrangements to meet in front of my house....And Sirhan and I came out to the front. And George gave the gun to Sirhan."

LAPD polygraph interview with Munir Sirhan; June 25, 1968 4 p.m.. "His responses to many of the relevant questions indicate that Munir was answering these questions untruthfully."

Testimony of Larry Kenneth Arnot at trial of Sirhan Bishara Sirhan. Arnot: "Approximately 3:30 in the afternoon three individuals entered the store....I approached them, asked them if I could be of assistance, and in turn was given the request for .22 ammunition. One of the individuals asked for two boxes of CCI or Mini-mag...." Mr Fitts: "If the Court please, I don't think I'm going to let this one go any further....Mr. Arnot, do you recall having a conversation with Lieutenant Enrique Hernandez of the Los Angeles Police Department with reference to selling ammunition to three individuals?"

Tom Rathke

FBI interview of Walter Thomas Rathke, June 14, 1968. "Rathke stated that if Sirhan was bitter at anyone he thought it would be the insurance company as Rathke understands Sirhan received little more than payment of hospital bill as a result of the accident."

LAPD interview of Walter Tom Rathke, I-3105. "Rathke last saw Sirhan in the summer of 1967 in the home of Mrs. Sirhan in Pasadena. At that time he noticed a big difference in Sirhan's personality. Sirhan appeared very serious where as before he was a jovial person."

FBI interview of John Hanson re: Henry Donald Ramistella, June 11, 1968. "He (Ramistella) was denied credentials for Santa Anita because of a former suspension by the New Jersey Racing Commission for making an unsatisfactory ride as a jockey and giving false testimony before the track Stewards."

LAPD background file on Henry Donald Ramistella aka Frank Donneroummas, I-1931. "The subject's last address (1967) was at 13200 Citrus, Corona living with a Bert Altfillisch who is a horse owner and poss. related to Ramistella through a marriage in the family."

Jerry Owen

Statement of Jerry Owen, University Detective Division, June 5, I-26. "He (Sirhan) said something was happening at the Ambassador Hotel and he would take the horse..."

interview with Mabel Jacobs on June 11, 1968. "Mrs. Jacobs is a waitress for for John Bert Morse. Mrs. Jacobs stated that on June 5, 1968 at approximately 3 P.M., Jerry Owen was in the cafe with Rip O'Reilly. Owen pointed to a picture of Sirhan Sirhan in the paper and said that was the person he picked up hitch-hiking on Hill Street. He stated that he took Sirhan to the Ambassador Hotel."

FBI interview with Oliver B. Owen also known as Jerry and Curley; June 10, 1968, SA Herrington. "...two individuals approached his truck....Owen stopped for a traffic light and as he did so, both men got out of the truck...and greeted a man and a woman....The woman was dressed in slacks with long dirty blond hair, light complexion, possibly a hippie....When Number two got back in the truck, Owen again began making conversation and asked the man if he was Mexican. He told him that he was not, saying that he was from Jordan....He said that his name was Joe..."

LAPD follow-up of Jerry Owen; I-205. "He was then taken to SFPF and given a polygraph test. He failed the test substantially, made several changes in his story."

Department of Justice, FBI file record 4 261 906; June 12, 1968. Lists charges against Owen, including "robbery" and "arson."

21-page SUS summary report on their Owen investigation. "Oliver Brindley Owen, aka Jerry Owen, was an ex-prize fighter turned minister who became involved in an intricate and contradictory series of events which allegedly involved Sirhan and Jerry Owen and the attempted purchase of a horse by Sirhan. The falsehood of Owen's allegation was clearly established through a separate and independent investigation."

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.

See all RFK books.


Book Review: The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, by James DiEugenio.

The Real Manchurian Candidate, by Carl Kozlowski.

Sirhan Sirhan: Assassin of Modern U.S. History, by Denise Noe.

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.

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