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A Lie Too Big to Fail

Lisa Pease’s recently-published book, A Lie Too Big to Fail: The Real History of the
Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (Feral House) is well-researched and digs up
plenty of interesting new leads, but is undermined by implausible theories and
conclusions based on a very selective interpretation of the evidence.

Lisa recently endorsed my book Who Killed Bobby? The Unsolved Murder of Robert
F. Kennedy (2008) on Black Op Radio but said it “didn’t go far enough” and inspired
her to write her own. While she conducts an exhaustive survey of the witness
testimony, some of her theories go too far, in my opinion, and may be damaging to
our hopes of getting the case reopened. I feel obliged to point out the shortcomings
of these theories, so that readers new to the case can get a more balanced view of
the evidence and make up their own minds.1

As two of the handful of surviving authors on the case, we share some common
ground. We agree that convicted Palestinian assassin Sirhan Sirhan did not kill
Robert Kennedy; that Sirhan was a hypnotically programmed patsy; and that a
second gunman fired the fatal shot which killed the senator.

But Lisa’s book goes well beyond the second gun theory espoused by other authors
on the case. Where Phil Van Praag’s analysis of the Pruszynski recording (the only
known recording of the shooting) suggests thirteen shots were fired in the pantry,
Lisa suggests there may have been seventeen. Where most authors believe there
were two shooters in the pantry – Sirhan and a second gunman – Lisa believes there
may have been four or five. While it’s generally accepted that Sirhan fired eight shots
from his .22-caliber revolver, injuring Paul Schrade and four other bystanders, Lisa
argues Sirhan didn’t shoot anybody as he was firing blanks.2

What happened?

Shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, after winning the California Democratic
primary, Bobby Kennedy gave his victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel, Los
Angeles. After leaving the stage, he was led by maître d’ Karl Uecker through a
dimly-lit kitchen pantry en route to a late-night press conference.

Kennedy stopped by the edge of a steam table and turned to his left to shake hands
with some kitchen workers. Given a cue by a girl in a polka-dot dress beside him,
Sirhan stepped down from a tray-stacker and crossed the room. As Kennedy
finished shaking hands and turned to walk east again, Sirhan tried to reach around
Karl Uecker to fire at the senator. After two shots, Uecker slammed Sirhan’s gun arm
down onto the steam table as Sirhan kept firing during the struggle to disarm him.
Until Lisa’s book, there have been two main theories of the assassination: that
Sirhan did it alone, angry at Kennedy’s campaign pledge to sell jet bombers to Israel;

1 Pease Black Op Radio interview, 17 January 2019. I use first name rather than
surname in this essay as I know Lisa personally and the intended audience is the
research community.
2 Pease, A Lie Too Big to Fail: The Real History of the Assassination of Robert F.

Kennedy (Port Townsend, WA: Feral House, 2018), 266-7, 498.


or that Sirhan was hypnotically programmed to act as a distraction while the real
assassin fired the fatal shot from an inch behind Kennedy’s right ear.

According to the witness testimony, Sirhan was standing in front of the senator and
the barrel of his gun never got closer than a foot and a half to two feet from
Kennedy’s head. One suspect for the second gunman is security guard Thane
Eugene Cesar, who helped guide Kennedy through the pantry and was standing
behind the senator and to his right when the shooting started – the position from
which the fatal shot was fired, according the autopsy. When Sirhan started shooting,
Cesar drew his gun and one witness saw him fire.

Towards the end of her book, Lisa lays out her own theory of the assassination. She
believes that when Sirhan started firing blanks, Cesar “got off a quick three shots
under Kennedy’s arm while he held Kennedy firmly in place for the man in the white
busboy outfit to make two quick shots to Kennedy’s head. With Sirhan firing blanks,
someone else had to fire from near Sirhan’s position to make it look like Sirhan was
firing actual bullets…The man on the [steam] table resembled Sirhan and was
dressed in a blue suit. As the shooting began, a short, bearded man ran out, possibly
breaking Virginia Guy’s tooth in the process. He carried a gun partially hidden under
a poster or a newspaper. Michael Wayne pulled focus in the lobby as at least two
other people with guns – the short man in the blue suit and a tall sandy-haired man –
made their escape.”3

There is a lot to unpack here but Lisa’s theory adds two extra shooters to the usual
suspects – the man on the steam table in a blue suit, and a man in a white busboy
outfit who fired the fatal shot which killed Kennedy – and claims three men ran guns
out of the pantry.4

Her book also contains multiple doppelgangers and lookalikes. While Sirhan and the
girl in the polka-dot dress wait for Kennedy to leave the stage upstairs in the pantry,
another woman in a polka dot dress and a Sirhan lookalike with a “pronounced acne
condition” wait near the downstairs ballroom, where Kennedy was due to speak to an
overflow crowd until a last-minute route change sent him through the pantry to a late-
night press conference.5

A recent uncritical Washington Post piece on Lisa’s book mentions its central thesis
– that Sirhan was firing blanks – without analyzing the evidence for this claim or
discussing its implications. Before the public are led down a completely unnecessary
rabbit hole, it’s important to highlight the lack of credible supporting evidence for the
blanks theory and these extra shooters. This is the purpose of the essay that follows.

3 Ibid.
4 Lisa reiterated her point about two guns being run out of the pantry in her recent
presentation at the “Political Assassinations of the 1960s” conference at Olney
Central College, IL, available to view on C-SPAN.
5 Pease, 497-8.
What did Sirhan fire? The blanks theory

According to Sirhan’s former researcher Lynn Mangan, in the early seventies, an


LAPD source allegedly told criminalist William Harper that Sirhan was firing blanks. 6
Mangan has had a big influence on Lisa’s approach to this case and Lisa’s premise
for Sirhan firing blanks is the following:

If you were an assassin, would you take the gig if you knew some guy off the
street was going to be shooting in your direction?

This refers to the firing positions of Sirhan and the second gunman, who on the
evidence of the autopsy, were facing each other, in front of and behind Kennedy.
Even if Sirhan’s involvement was withheld from the real assassin, Lisa asks: “Would
you put one shooter in a position to kill the other shooter before your ultimate target
was taken out? No. A two-shooter scenario is not a reasonable explanation for the
evidence.”7

In the late seventies, William Turner and Jonn Christian’s book proposed a hypno-
programmed Sirhan firing “slugless cartridges.” They claimed, “witnesses who saw
Sirhan fire the first shot uniformly attest that a tongue of flame was emitted from the
gun’s muzzle – a tongue they variously described as six inches to more than a foot in
length…[more] characteristic of a slugless cartridge than the Mini-Mag bullets Sirhan
was allegedly firing.” But, crucially, they don’t name any of these witnesses.8

Lisa claims the flame some witnesses saw coming from Sirhan’s gun was evidence
of blanks: “Bullets do not create much of a flash when fired, but blanks or slugless
cartridges contain paper that flash-burns when the gun is fired, producing a long,
highly visible flame.” Unfortunately, Lisa doesn’t cite the witnesses who saw a flame
coming out of a gun either. While many witnesses saw the muzzle flash, I can find
only two in the record who mentioned a “flame.” 9

ABC sound engineer Ralph Elmore was walking into the pantry behind Paul Schrade
when the shooting started. He heard “four sounds in rapid succession that sounded
like Chinese firecrackers exploding” and looked down to see Schrade lying on his
back beneath him. Elmore told the FBI, “he had the impression that about 25 to 30
feet in front of him, there was a hand resting on a serving table holding a small
barreled gun pointed directly at him and that it was ‘spitting flame.’” This is consistent
with witness descriptions of Sirhan continuing to fire as Karl Uecker tried his smash
his gun arm against the steam table to disarm him.10

The other witness, Ronald Panda, was 5 foot 2 and twelve years old on the night of
the shooting. He was following Kennedy through the pantry, 10 to 15 feet behind,

6 Pease, Sirhan and the RFK Assassination, Part I: The Grand Illusion, 15 April
1998.
7 Pease, 286.
8 Turner and Christian, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (New York: Random

House, 1978), 190.


9 Ibid, 238.
10 Elmore FBI interview, 6 June 1968.
and “could just see the top of the Senator’s head.” He saw “a man holding a gun and
saw the flame from the gun as he shot it.” He told the LAPD “it seemed to him that
the suspect was standing on something and he was pointing down.” 11

In an earlier LAPD interview, Panda claimed “he saw a man with a gun in his right
hand step from behind a wall and he then heard a shot…he picked out the photo of
Sirhan as the person…he saw that night with a gun in his hand…12

While it’s true many witnesses thought the shots sounded like firecrackers or a cap
pistol, that’s not uncommon when witnesses hear gunshots, especially from a
small .22-caliber revolver like Sirhan used.

When I discussed the blanks theory by email with Phil Van Praag in 2008, Phil made
some excellent points about the CCI mini-mag long rifle ammunition found in
Sirhan’s gun, and the bullets fired by Sirhan on the firing range on election day:

• The shell casings retrieved from Sirhan’s gun bore the CCI logo (the "C" on
the bottom), therefore (if one believed the possibility existed that Sirhan shot
blanks) it would have to be determined that CCI actually produced blank
rounds back in 1968 (I have no evidence to suggest they did) and that they in
fact packaged their blank rounds in "long rifle" shell casings (it would seem
that blanks would be packaged in "short" casings, which were not found in
Sirhan’s gun). Now, while the Iver Johnson Cadet 55 series was capable of
firing .22 cal. "short" rounds, again it would have to be explained why none
such shell casings were found in his gun.

• Earlier on June 4, Sirhan fired many rounds at a practice range with his Iver
Johnson; one could easily surmise he was not firing blanks at that time and so
one would then have to conclude that he consciously inserted blanks before
taking the gun into the Ambassador, or someone switched Sirhan’s gun with
another like-model prior to the shooting and then switched the gun again
(back to Sirhan’s) just after the shooting (so as to provide empty long rifle
casings). This all seems to stretch credibility somewhat…So, even without
getting into conjecture regarding the possibility of a third gun being fired…it
just doesn’t seem credible to consider a "blanks" option.13

In a previous article on the case, Lisa questioned the model number of the gun taken
from Sirhan and handed over to LAPD by Rafer Johnson on the morning of the
shooting. Sergeant McGann described it as an “Iver Johnson Cadet, model 55-
A…model number 56-SA. The serial number is H-53725.”14

11 Panda LAPD interview, 29 August 1968; Ronald Panda – Case Preparation for
Trial.
12 Panda LAPD interview, 8 June 1968. As Lisa points out, this wall was probably

“the dividing wall between the west end of the pantry and the ice machine” (Pease,
277) which obscured Sirhan from view until he stepped down from the tray-stacker,
crossed the room and started shooting.
13 Van Praag email to author, 16 November 2008.
14 Pease, Sirhan and the RFK Assassination, Part I: The Grand Illusion; Transcript of

Rafer Johnson LAPD interview, 5 June 1968.


As you can see from the product catalogue below, Sirhan’s Model 55S-A Cadet
looked very different from Model 56-A, which was a starter pistol which fired blanks.
As Phil notes, the starter pistol is “very easy to distinguish as it has a shortened
cylinder (something any law enforcement officer would quickly recognize and I’m
sure even Sirhan would quickly note).”15

15 Van Praag email to author.


Aside from the sound of the gunshots and the flame from the gun, Lisa cites maître
d’ Karl Uecker’s Grand Jury testimony, during which he described seeing “some
paper flying” after the gunshots – “paper or white pieces of things.” While Lisa claims
this was debris from slugless cartridges, it’s more likely to have been paper from the
pantry ceiling tiles, into which several bullets were fired. 16

According to Phil Van Praag, in the late sixties, ceiling tiles were most commonly
“composed of compressed paper products” and would shred easily, giving the effect
Uecker described. Phil believes the paper fragments mentioned by Uecker were
probably caused by “the bullets that struck the two tiles behind Sirhan.”17

There’s another possible explanation. As mentioned in my book, before the speech,


when Sirhan asked kitchen porter Jesus Perez whether Kennedy would be coming
through the pantry, “Perez watched Sirhan twist and fold some papers in his hand,
then wander over to a tray stacker by the ice machines.”18

All of this leaves the evidence that Sirhan was firing blanks looking pretty thin but
there’s a further problem. During the struggle for Sirhan’s gun, his barrel was pointed
west, towards the double swinging doors through which Kennedy had entered the
pantry. The blanks theory must fit the irrefutable evidence that five bystanders
between Kennedy and the pantry doorframes were hit by bullets and all were in
Sirhan’s line of fire.

If Sirhan was firing blanks, another shooter close to him, facing in the same direction,
must have done that damage. If we include the four alleged bullet holes in the pantry
doorframe and center divider, the third shooter must have fired at least eight bullets
instead of Sirhan but where from?19

The shooter on the steam table

Lisa argues that a third shooter standing on the steam table fired the bullets which
injured these five bystanders and left bullet holes in the pantry door frame and center
divider. This raises several questions.

How could this mystery shooter, standing on the steam table next to Sirhan, have
fired eight shots – missing Kennedy and inflicting wounds on those behind him – and
somehow escaped? How did he fail to hit Kennedy with any of his bullets, even
though he was standing over him? Was his sole purpose to shoot the five bystanders
in Sirhan’s line of fire, so that everyone would subsequently assume they were shot
by Sirhan?

16 Pease, 288.
17 Van Praag email to author.
18 O’Sullivan, Who Killed Bobby? The Unsolved Murder of Robert F. Kennedy (New

York: Union Square Press, 2008), 10.


19 The Hearst film footage of these holes is not newly-discovered, as claimed in the

book. I found it at the UCLA Film and Television Archive in March 2006 and included
it in my film RFK Must Die in 2007.
The struggle for Sirhan’s gun took place on the steam table. It was a focus of
attention in the room and yet only two witnesses, both standing outside the pantry,
saw shots from such an elevated position. Lisa compares this to a magic trick:

By putting a shooter on the table, you’d almost guarantee that few, if any,
witnesses could see the shooter. People were looking straight ahead or down
at their feet. Few would have reason to look up as they crossed the pantry.
From a conspirator’s point of view, that would be an excellent place to fire
from, especially if you put a shooter there who looked like Sirhan and wore a
similar color.20

As I explain below, I find this completely implausible but without a shooter on the
steam table, the blanks theory does not fit the evidence or make any sense.

For the third shooter on the steam table, Lisa relies on two main witnesses – fireman
Harold Burba and Nina Rhodes-Hughes. Burba told the Grand Jury “the gunshots
sounded like a cap pistol.” He “saw flashes,” jumped up and started taking pictures
with his camera. He told the FBI “he saw what appeared to be flashes from the
shots…[and] had the impression of someone standing on a table firing a gun at a
downward angle.” He subsequently took pictures of the struggle for Sirhan’s gun.21

20Pease, 285.
21Burba Grand Jury testimony, 7 June 1968, cited in Pease, 176; Burba FBI
statement, June 7, cited in Pease, 282.
Standing at the swinging doors into the pantry, Nina Rhodes-Hughes saw gun
flashes coming “from a high elevation…approx. 12 to 16 inches above the level of
Senator Kennedy’s head…When the flashes stopped, she saw…the back of a man
wearing a powder blue jacket, with his head ducked forward so his head wasn’t
visible to her…[She] stated the person in the powder blue jacket must have been
standing on something as he was much taller than the other people in the room…” 22

Sirhan was wearing a powder blue sweater, so how did he gain the elevation
described by these two witnesses? This is explained by two witnesses referenced in
my book – Freddy Plimpton and Richard Lubic, who Lisa also quotes extensively.

Freddy Plimpton

In her book, Lisa states that at the time of the shooting, Freddy Plimpton was behind
and to the right of Kennedy. While this was true at the time Kennedy was turned to
his left to shake hands with kitchen workers, she was in front of Kennedy, to his right,
when he turned to walk forward again through the pantry and the shots rang out.
According to LAPD, she had walked ahead of Kennedy and was “at the end of the
first stainless steam table, or the middle of the second one, when she heard the
shots.”23

In her first interview with LAPD hours after the shooting, she describes hearing the
shots and turning around to see what happened:

I saw a guy being pushed up against [the steam table] by the crowd…I saw
this guy being pushed back. His hand was held up like this, right next to
Kennedy’s head.

She described him as a male Filipino with dark hair in his early thirties: “he wasn’t
very big…his eyes were squinted, nearly shut.” 24

Confusingly, Lisa interprets this as: “From her position behind and to the right of
Kennedy, she saw someone being pushed up against the steam table who was likely
Sirhan but…she also saw someone who looked Filipino with his hand right up to
Kennedy’s head.”25

My reading of her testimony is that the short, squinting “Filipino” being pushed up
against the steam table and the person with his hand up to Kennedy’s head were the
same man – Sirhan. Plimpton didn't see a gun but “knew this guy was shooting
Senator Kennedy.” Three minutes later, Rafer Johnson and her husband George
were holding the man down and Harold Burba was photographing them.26
It’s clear to me that Plimpton is describing Sirhan. Lisa quotes Plimpton’s testimony
extensively but somehow concludes the Filipino was not Sirhan but a “remarkable

22 Rhodes-Hughes LAPD interview, 9 July 1968, incorrectly cited as FBI interview in


Pease, 279.
23 LAPD Progress Report: Case Preparation for Trial; Pease, 334-5.
24 Transcript of Plimpton LAPD interview, 5 June 1968, 66-7.
25 Pease, 334-5.
26 Transcript of Plimpton LAPD interview, 5 June 1968, 71.
lookalike.” You can read the transcript of Plimpton’s LAPD interview and decide for
yourself here.27

Lisa does not reference Plimpton’s later FBI interview, which I quote extensively in
my book. Plimpton states she “saw an arm go up towards Senator Kennedy’s head,
but did not see a gun, heard shots and it was obvious to her that the Senator had
been shot…She saw Sirhan very clearly. She saw his arm go up towards Senator
Kennedy’s head but did not see the gun. She saw Sirhan’s arm working and his eyes
were narrow, the lines on his face were heavy and set and he was completely
concentrated on what he was doing.” She was barely five feet tall but could see
Sirhan very clearly and so thought “he was raised in some way…He may have been
sitting on a table or the [dense] crowd may have pushed him onto or against a table
…before the shooting.”28

As I wrote in my book, Plimpton’s testimony suggests Sirhan may have acted alone
but she was never questioned about muzzle distance and is at odds with other
witnesses who were closer to Kennedy and insist the barrel of Sirhan’s gun never
came closer than a foot and a half to two feet from the Senator’s head.29

Richard Lubic

TV producer Richard Lubic told the LAPD that when Kennedy “stopped to shake
hands with part of the help, I was only an arm’s length away from him and was
reaching over to try and shake hands with him when I observed an arm with a gun
come up and point at the Senator’s head. I did not see the flash of the gun, but I
heard one shot, short pause, five more shots…I turned to my right and ducked down
near the ice machine. When I looked up, the Senator’s head was lying right next to
my leg…I did not see the suspect’s face when he fired the shots.”30

Lubic told the FBI he heard a voice say, “Kennedy, you son of a bitch,” and heard
two shots that sounded like a starter pistol at a track meet. He looked up to see a
man with a gun on the left side of the pantry, with “his knee on a small table or air-
conditioning unit [who] had lifted himself up on this knee to obtain elevation while
shooting.” He did not see the suspect’s face but saw the gun and the arm of the
assailant and noted the jerk of the gun and the arm caused by the recoil action. 31

In a later LAPD interview, Lubic states that, at first, he could see a hand with a gun
but not the face of the shooter: “He had one leg on [the steam] table like
this…because he seemed higher than anybody else, and he had a perfect view of
everything.”

“Did you ever see the face, connect the face with the arm and the hand and the
gun?” asked Sergeant McArthur.

27 Pease, 341.
28 O’Sullivan, 76-7, citing Plimpton FBI interview, 27 June 1968.
29 Ibid.
30 Lubic LAPD statement, 17 July 1968.
31 O’Sullivan, 77, citing Lubic LAPD interview, 17 July 1968 and FBI interview, 25

June 1968.
“Oh yeah, I saw it afterwards…When I was down [by the ice machine], I could see
him very [well]…He was still shooting the gun.”

“You could identify that he was the one that had the gun?”

“Sure, he still had the gun in his hand because they all jumped on him…you could
tell that was the same [man]…nobody could change places with him…The first shot I
couldn’t tell; but after the crowd started to move and I went down, then you could see
him standing right there.” Lubic was absolutely sure the man with one leg raised on
the steam table firing was Sirhan Sirhan.

Lisa includes this lengthy quote in her book but seizes on a minor discrepancy –
Lubic thought Sirhan was wearing a short-sleeve shirt rather than a long-sleeved
jacket – to conclude Lubic “just assumed Sirhan and the gunman were one and the
same.” Lubic implies Sirhan had one knee on the table, which is completely
consistent with Uecker pushing him up against the table and Sirhan twisting his
ankle in the ensuing struggle.32

The testimony of these four witnesses strongly suggests Sirhan may have used his
right leg to try to raise himself up on the steam table, reach around Karl Uecker and
shoot Robert Kennedy.

Lisa’s claims that Frank Burns “could have been describing two or even three
different shooters” in his witness statement about the shooting is also mystifying. I
interviewed Burns for my film in 2006. He clearly stated he saw Sirhan firing but
never close enough to match the fatal shot described in the autopsy. 33

The powder burns on his left cheek are explained by Burns looking from right to left
and back again, from the gun to Kennedy. Lisa’s claim that “Burns may have been
sandwiched between two other shooters while noticing Sirhan in front of Kennedy” is
bizarre and if she had contacted Burns, I’m sure he would have told her so. Her
confusion seems to stem from her not understanding where Burns was in relation to
Kennedy at the time of the shooting. Burns told me he was off Kennedy’s right
shoulder, in between the senator and Karl Uecker.34

There is no indication in Lisa’s book that she spoke to Freddy Plimpton (who died in
2015), Lubic or Burns about her theories.

32 Lubic LAPD interview, 9 August 1968; Pease, 280-2.


33 Pease, 274-5; Burns is interviewed in my film RFK Must Die (2007).
34 Ibid.
The Busboy

Lisa believes security guard Thane Cesar “got off a quick three shots under
Kennedy’s arm while he held Kennedy firmly in place for the man in the white busboy
outfit to make two quick shots to Kennedy’s head.”35

Lisa cites three main witnesses for the busboy shooter: Freddie Plimpton – who
thought the shooter was wearing white because he seemed to blend in with the other
kitchen workers wearing white kitchen jackets; an extra Lisa got chatting to on the
set of the movie Bobby but whose name and number she subsequently mislaid; and
John David Wright, who claimed he was a witness to the shooting and told a tall
story to hotel desk clerk Winfred Holder and RFK volunteer Caroline Pettinato but
was never located by investigators.36

Wright claimed he was a “kitchen reporter” at the Ambassador Hotel; that a couple of
kitchen workers were offered one million dollars to assassinate Kennedy; that some
people in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen “had been talking for two weeks about how
they planned the shooting of Senator Kennedy” and seven men were involved in the
killing. He also claimed, “he was married to an actress but he could not tell who she
was" and was leaving for Florida soon to do construction work:

As Senator Kennedy came through the kitchen, he saw one man try to hold
Senator Kennedy’s arm to keep him still. This was the man in the dark
glasses whose picture was in the paper. He saw Sirhan with a pistol but he
did not see him pull the trigger and he thinks somebody else did the actual
shooting…37

Lisa uses these second-hand reports of a pretty flakey-sounding story to support her
extra-shooter theory. The idea that Cesar held Kennedy “firmly in place for the man
in the white busboy outfit to make two quick shots to Kennedy’s head” seems to be
based on Wright’s second-hand stories:

Recall how one witness felt someone was “holding” Kennedy in place while
someone else shot him in the head…The more reasonable supposition is that
Cesar held Kennedy long enough for someone to get off a shot or two to his
head, while Cesar fired three shots into Kennedy from behind and to his
right…It makes much less sense that Cesar fired all four or five shots into
Kennedy. He would have been much more exposed for a head shot… 38

In a recent conference presentation now streaming on C-SPAN, Lisa explained that


while Cesar’s shots at close range to Kennedy’s armpit were masked by his body, a
gun held to Kennedy’s right ear would have been more visible to witnesses, so she
argues the man in a white busboy uniform fired these shots instead:

35 Pease, 498.
36 Pease, 333-9; Holder FBI interview, 24 June 1968; Pettinato FBI interview, 10
June 1968.
37 Ibid.
38 Pease, 495.
Kennedy was shot three times under his arm but he was shot by a different
kind of bullet in the head…The bullets that went through his body didn’t
explode in fragments. The one that was shot in his head did…As I researched
it, it looked like there was actually yet another shooter who manages to sneak
in next to Kennedy’s head…There was a couple of very credible witnesses
who thought a guy in a white busboy uniform shot Kennedy in the head at
close range. And Sirhan was not wearing a white busboy uniform. He was
wearing a blue velour shirt with a zipper and blue jeans… 39

The bullet trajectories recorded during the autopsy strongly suggest one shooter
fired all the bullets that hit Kennedy. I find it inconceivable that Cesar fired some of
the shots and held Kennedy in place while a third gunman fired others.

Lisa does raise an interesting question about the fatal bullet, however. Coroner
Thomas Noguchi could never establish the caliber of the bullet which mushroomed,
exploded into fragments and lodged in Kennedy’s brain. And recent, as-yet-
unpublished research by the late John Hunt suggests that two bullet tracks evident in
autopsy X-rays may have been caused by two bullets entering Kennedy’s head. I
await the posthumous publication of Hunt’s book later this year with interest.40

John Meier

Lisa’s book and the recent Washington Post article on it make the claim that Robert
Maheu was behind the assassination. While Maheu is an interesting suspect, Lisa’s
primary source for the Maheu allegation is John Meier, who I met in 2006 while
researching my film RFK Must Die. Meier pitched his dubious claims to me then but
was only interested in one thing – money. He was the flakiest, least credible person I
interviewed and I told author David Talbot this when he shared Meier's "diaries" with
me several years ago.41

Spot the error in the extract below from Meier's diary for June 4, 1968:

2 p.m. I had a message to call Robert Kennedy at John Frankenheimer's


beach house at Malibu. I called and Bob said he was with his wife and
children resting and swimming. I told him I would come to LA on Wednesday
and bring everything pertaining to the AEC with me.

Harry Evans called to say that he is absolutely certain that Kennedy will win
the California Democratic Primary. Evans is proud of his work on the
campaign. He designed and wrote a great deal of the campaign material.
Evans said that a union contact of his in Oregon, John Bailey of Portland, told
him that Kennedy will likely lose a close vote in Oregon (also being held

39 Pease presentation at the “Political Assassinations of the 1960s” conference,


available to view on C-SPAN.
40 Ibid.
41 Pease, 487-494; “CIA may have used contractor who inspired ‘Mission:

Impossible’ to kill RFK, new book alleges,” The Washington Post, 9 February 2019.
today) to Senator Eugene McCarthy. Evans said that it would make sense for
me to see RFK right away and continue a dialogue about the AEC with him. 42

The Oregon primary was not held on June 4th but the week before. I don't know how
Meier could have spoken to RFK that day and not known about the damaging loss in
Oregon the week before. That's what made California make or break.

When Meier read excerpts from his diary to Lisa Pease and David Talbot in 2013,
this “out-of-place text” was not included. According to Lisa, “someone apparently
inserted [it]…either by mistake or perhaps deliberately – to discredit the text.” I have
my doubts.43

When David Talbot sent me the diaries in February 2015, Meier was trying to auction
them and circulating excerpts to reporters to bid up the price, which should raise a
red flag. The only difference between the diary extract circulated by the auctioneer in
February 2015 and the diary extract published six months later in an updated version
of Meier’s biography, Age of Secrets, was this inaccurate passage.44

Was it really the only "typing error" in his diaries or did I help him catch the error and
hastily correct it? Strange echoes of Clifford Irving and the fake Hughes diaries
immortalised in Orson Welles' F for Fake.

Lisa and David Talbot were not allowed to examine Meier’s diaries during their visit
with him and have made no further effort to authenticate the diaries. How do we
know Meier didn’t insert key passages to make the auction more attractive? Having
met Meier, I am extremely sceptical of Lisa’s explanation that the out-of-place text
was a “typing error” and think Meier has zero credibility.

Lisa’s second source on Maheu is hearsay from an electrician gossiping with


unnamed detectives in the late seventies, so I find the evidence of Maheu’s
involvement very thin.45

Shooting victim Paul Schrade was a close friend of Meier, who arranged for Schrade
to recuperate at a Hughes ranch in Las Vegas after the assassination. When I asked
Paul recently about Meier, he told me their friendship ended when Meier refused to
let him read or make notes from his diary: “I don’t believe his RFK-Hughes
stories…as for Thane Eugene Cesar…never any proof he had connections with
Hughes…except as worker at the Hughes aircraft factory in Culver City near the LA
Airport…” Paul is equally sceptical about Lisa’s blanks theory and the extra shooters
discussed above, feeling they “undermine and challenge the truth of our case.”46

42 Meier diaries sent to author by David Talbot, 16 February 2015.


43 Pease, 492-3.
44 “New Release: Age of Secrets - the Conspiracy That Toppled Richard Nixon and

the Hidden Death of Howard Hughes - and RFK Assassination - Book Release and
Film/series,” 3 August 2015.
45 Pease, 494.
46 Schrade emails to author, 2 and 5 April 2019; Pease, 64.
Lisa claims Thane Eugene Cesar was a contract agent for the CIA, based on two
online “public records” databases which list him as such. An internet “public records”
database is not a reliable source for such a weighty accusation but Lisa appears to
accept it as fact.47

Michael Wayne

Lisa’s book includes a thirty-page section on Michael Wayne, a memorabilia collector


who asked Kennedy to sign a rolled-up poster in the kitchen before the speech and
ran out of the pantry holding the rolled-up poster after the shooting. Some witnesses
later mistook him for Sirhan and some thought they saw a gun hidden in the poster. 48

The day after the shooting, Patricia Nelson told the FBI she saw a slightly-built
Mexican or Cuban man running out the Embassy Room after the shooting with what
looked like “the stock of a gun protruding from a package.” Two friends were with her
and one of them spotted the same individual in footage replayed on an ABC
newscast later that evening.

The FBI arranged for Nelson and her friends to view the newscast at ABC. In the
meantime, “ABC film editors, in searching video tapes on the Kennedy affair had
frozen a frame of the person carrying the package…[thinking it] could have been
Sirhan Sirhan.” The tape shows Kennedy signing rolled-up campaign posters for a
Sirhan lookalike later identified as Michael Wayne, on his way to the stage. Seeing

47 Pease, 495.
48 Ibid, 296-325.
the rolled-up posters again on tape caused Nelson to doubt her initial impression that
a gun was hidden in them and the FBI took no further action.49

I researched Wayne’s story thoroughly for my book and spoke to him briefly on the
phone. Nothing in Lisa’s thirty-page section on Wayne convinces me he played any
role in the assassination. Yes, his behaviour was odd that night but he was detained,
handcuffed and no gun was found in his rolled-up poster. See photos of his arrest
below.50

49 FBI interview with ABC News Director William McSherry, 8 June 1968 and FBI
memos to SAC, Los Angeles, 10 June 1968 and 14 June 1968, FBI LFO Files,
Maryferrell.org
50 When I called Wayne about my documentary in December 2004, he told me, “I

don’t want to be involve myself in any way, shape or form.”


The ABC News video of Wayne asking RFK to sign his poster before the speech
and photographs of him before and after the shooting by Bill Eppridge and Steve
Fontanini show nothing suspicious.

Lisa alleges Wayne gave evasive answers during his LAPD polygraph but seems to
base this on the sounds generated by the polygraph on a cassette tape of the
session. If Wayne’s polygraph charts are in the files, it would be more reliable to
have a polygraph expert examine them.51

Wayne may have been trading press passes to gain access as a collector, not as
part of the plot. As a conspirator, his posters and memorabilia would have drawn too
much attention to him and why would a conspirator get Kennedy to autograph his
poster before playing a part in killing him? 52

LAPD conducted a detailed investigation into possible links between Wayne and
Minuteman Keith Gilbert when their cards were allegedly found in each other’s
possession. A business card for a different Michael Wayne was found at Gilbert's
apartment during a search for stolen dynamite in 1965 and Gilbert’s card seems to
have been cross-referenced and copied to the intelligence file of the Michael Wayne
at the Ambassador. This led LAPD to mistakenly believe that Gilbert’s card had been
found on Wayne at the time of his arrest at the Ambassador.53

LAPD ultimately found no connection between Wayne and Gilbert and when they
interviewed Gilbert in April 1969, he was imprisoned in San Quentin, where he’d
been since 1966.54

There is no proof Wayne was a Minuteman or that his views were the polar opposite
to Kennedy, as Lisa claims, because the link to Gilbert was unfounded. Wayne ran
out of the pantry in a panic and behaved quite oddly but the key point is there's no
evidence he had a gun in the poster he was carrying.55

Bullet switching

It’s very surprising that in her 500-page book, Lisa spends less than half a page on
Phil Van Praag’s analysis of the Pruszynski recording. She fails to mention the
frequency anomalies observed in Phil’s tests and also fails to engage with the
detailed discussion of the 1975 firearms panel in my book. 56

It’s important to note that during the retesting of the Sirhan gun by the Wenke panel
in 1975, the seven firearms examiners could not match any of the bullets to the
Sirhan gun because of the leading of the barrel. But Lowell Bradford, the examiner
who went on to work closely with Lynn Mangan, accepted that to be consistent with

51 Pease, 322-4.
52 Ibid., 320.
53 Ibid., 321-5; “Michael Wayne/Keith D. Gilbert Business Card Investigation,” 22 July

1969.
54 Ibid.
55 Ibid., 167, 302.
56 Ibid., 264; O’Sullivan, 365-379.
the bullets in evidence, any second gun would have to be a .22 and have the same
rifling characteristics as Sirhan’s gun. The only known model with the same rifling
characteristics as Sirhan’s gun was the H&R 922 allegedly used by Cesar. 57

Phil Van Praag’s analysis of frequency anomalies on the Pruszynski recording


clearly suggests Sirhan fired eight shots from in front of Kennedy and a H&R 922
fired five shots from behind. To fit the evidence, the shooter on the steam table
would need to have been firing the same model gun as Sirhan and using the same
CCI mini-mag ammunition. The busboy shooter would need to have been firing the
same model gun as Cesar. Which is to say, Lisa’s theory is not consistent with the
findings of the seven firearms examiners in 1975 or Phil Van Praag.58

In the mid-nineties, Lynn Mangan re-examined the ballistics evidence in the case
and made two important discoveries. The autopsy report claims coroner Dr. Thomas
Noguchi placed his initials TN and the number 31 on the base of the bullet which hit
Kennedy under the armpit and was recovered from his neck. However, when an
inventory was made of the base markings on the victim bullets by the 1975 firearms
panel, the base of the Kennedy neck bullet read “TN DW” – LAPD criminalist
DeWayne Wolfer had added his initials but the “31” was missing. This has led Lisa
and others to claim this key evidence bullet was switched. The markings had also
changed on two other victim bullets. The “X” marked on the base of the Goldstein
bullet by his surgeon was missing, as was the “O” from the “LMO” inscription on the
bullet recovered from William Weisel. It’s important to note here that criminalist
Patrick Garland, who made the inventory.59

In LAPD files, Mangan also discovered Special Exhibit 10, a photo comparison dated
June 6, 1968 which Wolfer claimed depicted the Kennedy neck bullet and a test
bullet fired from Sirhan’s gun. When the Wenke panel compared the surface defects
on the bullets in evidence with the photomicrograph in 1975, however, they
determined it was actually a comparison between the Kennedy neck bullet and the
Goldstein bullet. They also noted that the condition of the bullets had not changed
appreciably since the original photograph was taken.60

What Special Exhibit 10 means is that the Kennedy and Goldstein bullets
photographed on June 6, 1968 were the same as the bullets in evidence in 1975. If
the bullets were switched, as Lisa acknowledges, it could only have happened
before this photo comparison was made on the evening of June 6, 1968.

And if you look at the three key victim bullets photographed with Sirhan’s gun by
LAPD photographer Jimmy Watson on June 7th prior to the Grand Jury hearing (see
photo below, labelled JW 6-7-68), they have very distinctive shapes based on the
bullet damage on impact. To me, their distinctive shape resembles the bullets in
evidence photographed by Lynn Mangan at California State Archives in the nineties.

57 O’Sullivan, 369-70.
58 “Exhibit C,” Declaration of Philip Van Praag, 10-11
59 O’Sullivan, 377-8.
60 Ibid, 365-6.
I discussed the discrepancies in the base markings with three of the seven firearms
examiners on the Wenke panel. Patrick Garland, who made the inventory of the
base markings in 1975, was not informed of the original markings, so he may have
overlooked the “X” on the Goldstein bullet. He told me a firearms examiner will
always give precedence to the matching striations on bullets rather than the
identification markings on the base, so Special Exhibit 10 makes me skeptical that
the Kennedy neck bullet in evidence is a “fake,” as Lisa claims. 61

The base of a .22 caliber bullet is less than 1/4" in diameter. As Stanton Berg,
another of the examiners, told me:

One could hardly substitute another bullet that looks the same with the same
profile and damage…In my own experience over the years, identification
markings by medical people are crude markings, frequently in error and not
always reliable. Noguchi would certainly be a cut above the average coroner
but may have been mistaken as to his memory of how he marked the
bullet…There is little room for both initials and numbers unless one is
specifically prepared with proper scribing tools and magnification to aid the
eye in doing it. It may have been Noguchi's practice to add a number when
marking the more common larger .38 caliber and 9mm bullets and [he]
thought he did the same here.62

61 Garland interview with author, 21 August 2007.


62 Berg emails to author, copying Garland, 23 and 24 August 2007.
The firearms examiners concluded that the bullet which lodged in Kennedy’s neck
and the bullets recovered from victims Ira Goldstein and William Weisel were fired
from the same gun. The panel also agreed that the bullet recovered from shooting
victim Irwin Stroll was a CCI Mini-Mag with the same rifling characteristics as the
Sirhan weapon and all four of these victim bullets were consistent with the .22-
caliber CCI long rifle ammunition used by Sirhan. The leaded condition of Sirhan’s
barrel prevented a positive identification but, as Bradford concluded, a second gun
needed to have the same rifling characteristics as Sirhan’s weapon. Phil Van Praag’s
tests are based on this. Lisa seemingly ignores it. 63

Sirhan is still in prison, in the desert just outside San Diego, having served more than
fifty years for a crime he cannot remember committing and which the evidence
shows he did not commit. While I agree with Lisa that he has served his time and
should be freed, these implausible theories will not help that cause.

While I disagree with Lisa’s conclusions, the new research in her book is a welcome
addition to the small library on the case and I hope we can work together through the
new Truth and Reconciliation Committee to seek justice for Sirhan and Bobby
Kennedy with the best and most credible evidence available.

This essay is adapted from a presentation given at the “Political Assassinations of


the 1960s” conference at Olney Central College, IL. on April 7, 2019.

63 O’Sullivan, 368-9.

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