Closing The Case On Rfk

If there had been a conspiracy to assassinate Robert F. Kennedy, as many people believe, Dan Moldea probably would have found it. Some might say that even if there hadn't been such a conspiracy, Moldea would have found it. The investigative reporter's last two books--on mob control of football and on Ronald Reagan's alleged ties to organized crime --were criticized for connecting a few dots best left to themselves. And in 1987 Moldea had written an influential article in Regardie's magazine demanding that the RFK ease be reopened because of mounting evidence that a second gunman was involved.

But after doing extra research for a book, Moldea con-eluded that he was wrong the first time--and that the sole killer of Robert Kennedy on June 5, 1968, was a deranged Sirhan Sirhan. His book, "The Killing of Robert E Kennedy,"* now takes a place alongside Gerald Posner's best-selling 1993 account of John F. Kennedy's murder, appropriately titled "Case Closed."

Opinion polls over the years have shown that a plurality of Americans believe Robert Kennedy's killing was part of a larger conspiracy. Several legislative and judicial panels have found serious problems with the original investigation. And the dramatic first two thirds of Moldea's book describes disconcerting inconsistencies in testimony and evidence; bullets that didn't match, and the conspicuous absence of key police records. But through interviews with police officers involved in the original investigation--some of whom had never talked about the case before--Moldea shows that simple (and sometimes hilarious) human error explain these suspicious coincidences. "I now realize that even law-enforcement officials . . . do make mistakes [and] if one does not account for occasional official mistakes and incompetence, then nearly every such political murder could appear to be a conspiracy."

Consider a few of the case's more vexing questions:

Strange Bullet Markings. A special court-appointed firearms panel re-fired Sirhan's gun in 1975--and produced bullets with markings different from the slugs found in the pantry of Los Angeles's Ambassador Hotel, where Kennedy was murdered. This eerie fact argued strongly for the presence of a second gun. Moldea discovered, however, that after the original investigation was over, police had fired the gun privately several times--to get souvenir bullets. Those shots created a residue in the pistol chamber that gave the bullets fired in 1975 different markings.

Too Many Bullets. Sirhan's gun held eight bullets. But there was abundant testimony that a ninth bullet had been found in a doorframe in the pantry. Moldea traces how most of these "eyewitness" accounts were probably second- and third-hand tales built on the initial mistake of one police officer who was not trained to know what a bullet hole looked like.

Bullet Trajectory. The coroner had concluded with certainty that Kennedy was shot once from behind. Yet witnesses reported seeing Sirhan in front of Kennedy. This glaring inconsistency led many to believe there was a second gunman behind Kennedy. But an alternative explanation comes from Sirhan himself. An investigator on Sirhan's 1968 defense team once asked Sirhan why he hadn't shot Kennedy between the eyes. "With no hesitation and no apparent remorse, Sirhan replied, 'Because that son of a bitch turned his head at the last second'." That would explain how Sirhan could be in front of Kennedy and still hit him near the back of the head.

If this reporting doesn't seal the ease, Moldea's chilling prison interviews with Sirhan do. In recent years, Sirhan has been trying to get-parole. Knowing that Moldea was sympathetic to his case, Sirhan spent hours explaining how he had gotten drunk and accidentally ended up at the Ambassador Hotel, and therefore could not have killed Kennedy with any premeditation. But with persistent questioning, Moldea began eliciting some damning answers. Sirhan admitted that one defense theory about hi s having been brainwashed by mobsters to murder Kennedy had been concocted by his attorneys.

When Moldea asked point blank whether he bad committed the crime, Sirhan fired back a legalistic nondenial. "I would not want to take the blame for this crime as long as there is exculpatory evidence that I didn't do the crime."

Moldea then concludes, "With that reply, I finally began to understand Sirhan's entire strategy: as long as people like me continued to put forth supposed new evidence, he still had a chance to experience freedom. I bad been helping to keep his ease alive with all of my supposed new revelations . . . As I sat there, I became furious with myself for having nearly been hoodwinked by Sirhan."

In other words, ease closed.