Bobby Kennedys son names real killer 50 years after US politician's horror shooting
THE stark black-and-white images are etched for ever in the American psyche. Senator Robert F Kennedy sprawled on the hotel basement floor, eyes glazed, his head cradled in the helpless arms of fresh- faced waiter Juan Romero, his lifeblood seeping away.
By PETER SHERIDAN IN LOS ANGELES
PUBLISHED: 00:01, Wed, Oct 2, 2019 | UPDATED: 09:41, Wed, Oct 2, 2019
Robert F. Kennedys final speech before assassination in 1968
The former US Attorney General had been shot at close range in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, moments after celebrating winning the California Democratic primary election in his campaign to become president. He was just 42-years-old. It was June 5, 1968, less than five years after the assassination of his brother, President John F Kennedy, aged 46, and barely two months after the slaying of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr, aged 39. By the next day, he was dead. It seemed more tragedy than America could bear, a shattering of what little innocence remained. Palestinian assassin Sirhan Sirhan, caught with smoking gun in hand, was tried, convicted and sentenced to death, though that was later commuted to a life sentence. In a nation desperate for healing, the case was mercifully declared closed.
Did this young woman fire the fatal shot that killed Bobby Kennedy? But half a century later RFKs own son Robert Kennedy Jr is demanding a new investigation and making an extraordinary claim: that the real killer got away and can finally be identified.
Sirhan Sirhan certainly shot at Bobby Kennedy, but the fatal bullets that took his life were fired by the hotels private security guard, Thane Eugene Cesar, alleges Mr. Kennedy.
Compelling evidence suggests that Cesar killed my father, he says. Police have never seriously investigated Cesars role in my fathers killing.
Mr. Kennedy, aged 65, a leading environmental lawyer and author, believes Cesar conspired with Sirhan to kill his father and delivered the lethal shots when Sirhan failed to inflict a mortal wound.
Senator Bobby Kennedy lies dying
Senator Bobby Kennedy lies dying after being shot by Sirhan Sirhan (Image: Bill Eppridge/The Life Picture Collection via Getty)
The presidential hopeful was being escorted through the hotels basement pantry, crowded with well-wishers, when tragedy struck.
Cesar waited in the pantry as my father spoke in the ballroom, then grabbed my father by the elbow and guided him toward Sirhan, says RFK Jr.
At a distance of less than six feet Sirhan fired two shots at Kennedy before he was tackled by the crowd.
From beneath the scrum he emptied his .22 revolver, wildly firing six shots in the opposite direction from Kennedy.
Five bullets hit bystanders and the sixth went wide.
Ethel Kennedy tried to comfort her husband after he was shot (Image: Bill Eppridge/The Life Picture Collection via Getty)
Sirhan was facing Kennedy when he first fired, but Coroner Dr Thomas Noguchi found that all four shots that struck the senator were fired from behind.
The fatal shot was fired less than one inch behind Kennedys head behind his right ear.
Dr Noguchi also found powder burns on RFKs jacket and on his hair, again indicating shots fired at a closer range than Sirhan ever reached.
All four shots that struck my father were contact shots fired from behind my dad with the barrel touching or nearly touching his body says RFK Jr.
The politician fell backward into Cesar, reaching out and tearing off the security guards clip-on tie.
As Senator Kennedy fell Cesar stood there, his .22 pistol drawn.
Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan
Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan is taken into custody after shooting the senator (Image: Bettmann)
In questioning by police he could not remember if he had unholstered it before or after shots were fired.
Police concluded there was only one gunman: Sirhan, whose revolver carried eight rounds, and which he had no time to reload.
But a radio reporters tape recording clearly captures 13 shots being fired.
Several shots came in such rapid-fire succession that they can only have come from two separate weapons.
RFK Jr met Sirhan in jail last year, talking through the shooting, and came to the same conclusion.
I was disturbed that the wrong person may have been convicted of killing my father, says Mr Kennedy. There were too many bullets. You cant fire 13 shots out of an eight-shot gun.
Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan was jailed for life (Image: Bettmann) Bobby Kennedys aide Paul Schrade, aged 94, who was struck by a bullet during the assassination, agrees: Bobby Kennedy was shot three times by a second gunman. Sirhan was never in a position to shoot Kennedy in the back.
Says RFK Jr: The people that were closest to Sirhan, the people that disarmed him, all said he never got near my father.
Sirhan alleged in 2012 that a second gunman had fired the fatal shot, but the claim was dismissed as a desperate bid to win a retrial.
An appeal of his conviction was rejected in 2016 when the judge ruled that even if Sirhan had not fired the fatal shot, he would still be liable for murder as an aider and abettor.
Several witnesses claim they saw Cesar talking with Sirhan before the murder, and the assassination was motivated by racism, believes Mr Kennedy.
Cesar was a bigot who hated the Kennedys for their advocacy of civil rights for blacks, he says.
JFK, Hoover, RFK
The president, the FBI chief and the Attorney-General (Image: Keystone/Getty) The son of an air freight dispatcher and housewife, of English, French and German descent, Cesar had dreamed of becoming a cop, but was rejected by the Los Angeles police force.
He worked as a plumber in a classified section of military arms and aeronautics giant Lockheeds factory in Burbank, California, and was moonlighting as a security guard to earn some extra cash, winning the job only the week before Senator Kennedys murder.
He had two children and was divorced at the time of the shooting.
I had no use for the Kennedy family, he confessed, calling the political clan founded by bootlegger-turned-ambassador Joe Kennedy the biggest bunch of crooks that ever walked the earth.
But he adamantly denied killing the senator, insisting: Just because I dont like Democrats doesnt mean I go around shooting them.
RFK Jr explains why he thinks his father's killer was not captured
After the assassination Cesar offered to surrender his gun to police, but amazingly they declined his offer.
Despite 77 witnesses, in the frenzied aftermath of the shooting, there was broad disagreement over Cesars actions.
TV crewman Don Shulman was standing behind Senator Kennedy and recalled: The security guard hit Kennedy all three times. Kennedy slumped to the floor.
Cesar told investigators he had drawn his gun, but changed his story repeatedly.
Three months after the shooting he sold his .22 revolver to a friend, telling him it had been used in a crime, but later told police that he sold it before the assassination and had been carrying a different calibre gun on the night of the murder.
JFKs assassination in 1963 inspired a cottage industry of conspiracy theories and his brothers murder has been equally haunted by conspiracy claims.
Some suspect that Cesar was a CIA assassin hired to keep RFK from becoming president and uncovering the role the CIA played in his brothers murder.
RFK Jr, inspired by his jail talk with Sirhan, decided to confront Cesar, who had gone bankrupt after the shooting and moved to the Philippines.
Cesar agreed to a meeting this summer, but demanded £20,000, which Kennedy refused to pay.
Before negotiations could resume, Cesar died on September 11, aged 77, taking his secrets to the grave.
Days earlier Sirhan, aged 75, narrowly escaped a murder attempt when stabbed in the neck in prison.
Ethel and Senator Bobby Kennedy with their children (Image: Ed Clark/Time & Life Pictures/Getty)
Calling for his fathers death probe to be reopened, Robert Jr says: This new evidence is conclusive, and requires a new investigation.
But with Cesars passing, police are unlikely to reopen the inquiry.
Leading forensic pathologist Dr Cyril Wecht, aged 88, has no doubts, however: Cesar killed Bobby Kennedy. It looks to me like a set-up.
Some say that RFK was shot because of his activities against organized crime.
Pictures at source.