The gunshots and grief that tormented the Kennedy family and the world were repeated in hideous fashion on June 5, 1968, when President John F. Kennedy’s brother Robert Kennedy was shot in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
The gunman was Sirhan Sirhan, a Jerusalem-born Palestinian Christian. The night Sirhan chose to pump three bullets into Bobby Kennedy and injure several other people came on the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day War in the Middle East.
At the time, Kennedy, 42, was a U.S. senator from New York. Before that he was U.S. attorney general in his brother’s administration. He was in Los Angeles campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. He and his wife, Ethel, had 11 children. The last, Rory, was born six months after the assassination. In the decades since RFK’s death, two of those children, David and Michael, have died.
Sirhan was found guilty and ordered to be executed before being re-sentenced to life behind bars when California temporarily outlawed the death penalty. He is currently serving that sentence at Pleasant Valley State Prison in California. He has a parole hearing every five years.
Numerous theories circulate about the death of Robert Kennedy, many of them involving a possible second gunman working with Sirhan. If a second gunman was part of an assassination team that ambushed and killed RFK, who was behind the conspiracy and why did they want him killed?
Conspiracy theorists contend those questions still haven’t been adequately answered even though it has been more than four decades since the second brother and second murder victim in America’s first family of politics was cut down and killed in front of a crowd of stunned witnesses.
New theories keep popping up in the conspiracy world and they contain strong suspicions that Sirhan wasn’t acting alone.
RFK had made more than his share of formidable enemies during his career in government and politics.
One of the first things he did as attorney general was to initiate a hard-hitting crusade against organized crime, which was run by vicious, desperate men known to maintain stables of hired killers who had no compunction about using their talents on high-profile politicians or anyone else who got in the way of business.
Both Bobby and his big brother also made serious enemies among Cubans of various political stripes. Those who supported Castro hated the Kennedys for hatching conspiracies – later abandoned – to have the island nation’s Communist leader, Fidel Castro, assassinated.
Many anti-Castro Cubans, said to include some who became members of the CIA and others who were mercenary soldiers, were bitterly antagonistic to the Kennedys over the bungling of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
But there were others said to be in the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies who were known to carry anti-Kennedy chips on their shoulders. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was one of them, and he made no bones about it. Bobby once recalled that when Hoover telephoned him to tell him his brother had been shot, the chief of the Bureau talked as if he was pleased to be the one bearing the distressing news.
Lyndon Baines Johnson, who ascended to the presidency after JFK’s assassination, was another who made no bones about his intense dislike for the Kennedys. He had a reputation going back to his days in Texas for being the kind of ruthlessly ambitious individual who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. Some of his early competitors were rumored to have died under extremely mysterious circumstances, and he wasn’t the kind of man anyone would want as an enemy.
Then there was the Mafia, the mob or whatever it was called locally. RFK had given them fits, costing them millions of dollars and putting people behind bars with his campaign against organized crime.
Finally there were people like Sirhan, who admittedly hated the New York senator because of the politician’s strong support for Israel. But with all those enemies the presidential candidate had, including some with strong ties to intelligence agencies, conspiracy theorists have raised the possibility that the young immigrant may have been brainwashed with hypnosis, drugs and other techniques to kill on command.
Dozens of people saw Sirhan step down from a tray stacker beside an ice machine in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen as RFK and his entourage trooped through on their way to a meeting hall, then begin unloading a .22-caliber Iver Johnson Cadet pistol at the candidate. Before the gunman was overpowered and disarmed, Kennedy was struck three times. Two bullets entered his right armpit, and the third inflicted the fatal head wound.
Kennedy put up a valiant fight for life before succumbing at 1:45 a.m. June 6 at the Hospital of the Good Samaritan almost 26 hours after he was shot.
Various journalists and conspiracy theorists have kept alive what has become known as the “second gun theory.” There were simply too many shots fired in too short a time for Sirhan to have done all the shooting with only his .22. The Iver Johnson Cadet was capable of holding a maximum of eight rounds. Some forensic experts, though not all who examined a tape recording and other data gathered from the scene, claim evidence indicates as many as 13 shots were fired.
The location of the wounds also led some investigators to speculate there had to be more than one shooter. Five other people were also shot and injured during the attack.