The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the Girl in the Polka Dot Dress

tags: RFK, Kennedys, RFK assassination

Mr. Ayton is the author of The Forgotten Terrorist – Sirhan Sirhan and the Murder of Senator Robert F. Kennedy published by Potomac Books, May 2007. He was interviewed about his new book by the Discovery and National Geographic television channels. Their documentaries will be broadcast in Summer 2007.

For the past 40 years the issue of conspiracy in the Robert Kennedy assassination has continued to haunt America. With the recent release of Emilio Estevez"s movie "Bobby" a new generation of Americans has been inspired to look again at claims by conspiracy advocates that the assassination may have been conspiracy-led.

There were indeed many mysteries surrounding the assassination which included problems with the ballistics and forensics evidence and the possibility that a second gunman was present in the pantry of the hotel; mysteries which I believe were solved, in the main, by investigative journalist Dan Moldea and published in his book The Killing Of Robert F. Kennedy.

However, a central mystery of the assassination remains the unidentified"girl in a polka dot dress."

Conspiracy advocates have promoted the idea that the convicted murderer of Robert Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan, had been a"hypnotised assassin" and was controlled by others when he shot the senator in the pantry of the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel shortly after midnight on June 5th 1968. Some witnesses at the scene told LAPD investigators that they saw Sirhan standing with the girl some time before Kennedy was shot. They claim this girl may have" controlled" a"hypnotically-programmed" Sirhan and that Sirhan had been accompanied by a"second gunman." (See author's note below)

Sirhan said he did not remember being accompanied by anyone when he shot Kennedy. Dan Moldea interviewed Sirhan. Moldea stated, "Other than his memory of the room where the teletype was clicking away, Sirhan says that he doesn't remember talking to anyone at the hotel who claimed to have talked to him. 'I just remember the bright lights in the big room. Then somebody referred me to the kitchen for coffee.' He remembered that, as he had stood by the coffee urn, a woman in a plain white dress was also there adding, 'I don't remember any woman in a polka dot dress.' "

However, there were several witnesses who claimed they had observed Sirhan in the pantry next to a tray stacker and he was talking to a girl who had been wearing a polka dot dress. (Author's Note: Conspiracy advocate Philip Melanson said all the descriptions of the girl's dress were" characterized rather similarly in terms of color and size" – this was misleading.) Security guard Jack Merrit said he had seen a girl in a"polka dot dress" immediately prior to the shooting. Richard Houston, who was in the pantry at the time of the shooting, said he had seen a"girl in a black and white polka dot dress with ruffles around the neck." Houston said he heard the girl say"We shot him" as she ran from the pantry. I believe this girl can be identified in a clip from news film footage taken shortly after the assassination. The girl has joined a group of Kennedy supporters in an ajoining area to the Embassy Ballroom, praying for the Senator. It would appear obvious to most that such a conspirator was unlikely to remain in the vicinity of the shooting if they had indeed been a participant in a conspiracy to murder Robert Kennedy.

Other witnesses said Sirhan had been in the Embassy Ballroom next to a"girl wearing a dress with polka dots." Lonny L. Worthy said he saw Sirhan during the evening in the Ambassador standing next to a woman and he thought they were together. Kennedy volunteer Susan Locke said she had observed a"suspicious looking" polka-dot-dress woman in the Embassy Ballroom prior to RFK's speech. Locke said the woman seemed"out of place" and"expressionless" in the midst of the celebrations for RFK's California Primary victory. She said the woman wore a"white dress with blue polka dots." Nurse Gloria Farr described seeing a man who bore a resemblance to Sirhan next to a woman wearing a"polka dot scarf."

George Green stated he had seen Sirhan standing near a polka dot dress woman before he went to the Embassy Ballroom bar for drinks. Green gave two differing descriptions of the girl's dress – in one description he described it as a"white dress with black polka dots." In another description he said the girl had been wearing a"dark dress, which may have had some type of white dots."

A similar confused description of the girl's dress was provided by Booker Griffin. Griffin said he saw Sirhan standing eight to ten feet away in the Embassy Ballroom next to a woman. He said the woman had been wearing a dress"described by the media as polka dot. I can't say for sure but it had some color in it other than white." Griffin said the two"seemed out of place."

Judith Groves, an employee of a political consulting firm who was in the lobby when the shooting occurred, heard three shots, saw a woman splattered with blood run out, and a wounded man being carried through the lobby. She described going into the Embassy Ballroom through the Lautrec Room with the help of a"strange" man. She said the man spoke to two women in a foreign language, and that one of the women was wearing a polka dot dress.

There were other witnesses who reported seeing a woman in a polka dot dress, of varying descriptions, on the night RFK was killed. John Ludlow, Eve Hansen, Nina Ballantyne, and Jeannette Prudhomme reported seeing the woman with a Sirhan look-alike or was "acting in suspicious circumstances." The Los Angeles Police Department murder investigation team"Special Unit Senator" (SUS), spent some considerable time trying to track the girl down and searched the news film archives in their attempts to find photographic evidence. None was forthcoming. Although a number of women wearing polka dot dresses were in the Embassy Ballroom and the kitchen pantry that night the LAPD did not believe they had any connection to the shooting nor could they find any photographic evidence which put Sirhan together with the girl.

The story of the"polka-dot girl" was also supported by pantry shooting eyewitness Vincent DiPierro and Kennedy supporter Sandra Serrano. Furthermore, LAPD Police Sergeant Sharaga said a couple,"the Bernsteins," observed a girl shouting "We shot him." DiPierro, the son of the Ambassador's maitre d'hotel, said he saw a"pretty girl" standing next to Sirhan seconds before the shooting. She was"wearing a polka dot dress." After police officers showed Serrano and DiPierro a dozen dresses with varying polka dots, sleeves and colours the two witnesses gave widely varying descriptions of what kind of dress they had seen.

Pantry eyewitness Vincent DiPierro said he saw, “…one girl [during the night] ... that was in there [the pantry] that night with a 'pug-nose'….. and dark hair.” DiPierro said she had been standing in the area near Kennedy when the shooting occurred and that she had also been standing near the tray stacker where Sirhan crouched beforehe began shooting. “There was so much confusion that night,” DiPierro said.

At Sirhan's trial DiPierro testified as to what he observed. Defense lawyer Grant Cooper asked him what caused him to notice Sirhan. DiPierro replied, “There was a girl standing in the area [of the pantry]” and this caused him to notice Sirhan. He said the girl was pretty and when shown a photograph of Kennedy campaign worker Valerie Schulte confirmed this was the girl in question. It became obvious that in the chaos that followed the shooting - with the added distractions of camera flashes and television lighting that filled the pantry - that DiPierro had been led to mistake the color of Schulte's hair (blonde) and clothes; Schulte's dress was actually green with yellow polka dots. The same mischaracterization of the dress was probably made by Darnell Johnson who claimed to see the woman in the pantry with a man and also in the Embassy Room both before and after RFK was shot. Johnson's description of the girl is not in contradiction to the positioning of Valerie Schulte who had been standing in the pantry with a man when the shots were fired.

There were further compelling reasons to explain why purported"accomplices" ran out of the pantry uttering words to the effect that"they" had"shot Kennedy" - but the explanations do not rest on conspiratorial answers. Michael Wayne, a young man who bore a resemblance to Sirhan, had earlier asked Senator Kennedy to autograph a poster. He ran out of the pantry when the shooting started and was mistaken for an assailant. A security guard handcuffed him and turned him over to the police. A crowd of people assumed he was the assassin or the assassin's accomplice. As it turned out, Wayne was only running for a telephone.

Cathy Fulmer, who had been in the pantry at the time of the shooting, said she had a conversation with a"stranger" who she later identified as Sirhan. She became scared when the shooting started and she too ran out of the pantry. She cried out"Kennedy was shot." Fulmer wore a white dress with a polka dot scarf. This may be the explanation for Richard Houston's sighting of a girl in a polka dot dress allegedly running from the pantry shouting"We shot him." It would also account for Nurse Gloria Farr's description of Sirhan standing next to a girl"wearing a polka dot scarf." Furthermore, the reports of a girl shouting"We shot him" may also have originated with a statement made to the LAPD by another pantry witness, Los Angeles Schools employee Ralph Williams, who was outside the kitchen door at the time of the shooting. Williams described a girl who left the kitchen shouting, “We"ve got him, we"ve got him” followed by another woman who described the first woman as"her crazy daughter."

In building their conspiracy scenarios most writers fail to put the eyewitness testimony within the context of a chaotic scene when witness observations are particularly faulty and susceptible to misconstruction. This truth was first recognized by the US Army, which reported the inaccuracy of eyewitness testimony in the midst of battle. Many of its reports about soldiers involved in conflicts have shown that it is extraordinarily difficult to make sense of a battle until the following day, after the soldiers have had a chance to experience a good night's sleep. Information from shell-shocked soldiers immediately after combat, the Army discovered, was notoriously poor because it had not yet been processed in such a manner that it could be retrieved. Many witnesses of the RFK murder who gave reports about the shooting immediately after the event formulated better pictures of what occurred in subsequent interviews.

Other witnesses discovered their memories of events connected with the assassination were not as reliable as they initially thought. Some came forward to give detailed information about Sirhan's activities in the weeks and months preceding the assassination and about how unidentified accomplices had accompanied Sirhan. When asked to say their stories were based on"positive identification," many balked.

Despite compelling and plausible explanations, which centered around the unreliability of eyewitness accounts, the polka-dot girl stories persisted as conspiracy advocates repeatedly made reference to Kennedy campaign worker, Sandra Serrano, and her story of a girl in a polka dot dress, accompanied by two male companions, who claimed they had shot Senator Kennedy as they ran out of the hotel. Shortly after the shooting Serrano told her story to a news team.

On June 7th 1968 Serrano was interviewed by FBI Special Agent Richard C. Burris at her home. Serrano said she left the Ambassador ballroom at 11.30pm and went outside to sit on a stairway that lead to the Embassy Room. She sat on the fifth or sixth step. Two or three minutes later she said a woman and two men started up the stairs, one of whom she later identified as Sirhan. When the woman got near her, the woman said, “Excuse us” and Serrano moved to the side so the three could pass. Approximately half an hour later she heard noises that sounded like a car backfire and one of the men and the woman ran down the stairs shouting “We shot him, we shot him!” Serrano asked “Who did you shoot?” and the woman replied “Senator Kennedy.” She immediately returned to the Embassy Ballroom and asked an unidentified guard if Kennedy had been shot. The guard told her she must have been drinking. She next phoned her parents who lived in Ohio. She said she was crying and hysterical. After purportedly telling a few close friends what she had witnessed she was asked by a television crew if she would like to tell her story.

Later FBI agent Burris took Serrano to the Embassy Ballroom and told her, “On television, with Sandy Vanocur, you didn't say anything about seeing a girl and two men going up the fire stairs. You only said you saw a girl and a man coming down. And later you told the police you saw two men and a girl going up together and one of them was Sirhan Sirhan. That was the most significant thing you had to tell the police and yet you didn't say anything about this in your first interview, your interview on television.” Serrano said “I can't explain why.”

Investigators soon discovered there were many more flaws in Serrano's story. On June 8th 1968 the FBI questioned her parents, Manuel Serrano and Amparo Serrano, who said their daughter did not say anything about a girl saying “We shot Kennedy.” Her mother recalled she said, “Why would they do anything like this?” When asked why she did not mention the polka dot girl story to her mother Sandra Serrano gave the weak excuse that she had always had trouble talking to her mother.

Serrano had been given a polygraph test by Sergeant Hernandez on June 20th 1968. She soon dissembled. Asked if she sat down on the stairway at the time of the shooting she replied, “Yeah, I think I did…people messed me up…stupid people…just in all the commotion and everything…I was supposed to know more than I knew…I told [DA staffer John Ambrose] I heard the people say 'We shot him' or 'They shot him' or something. And I remember telling him that I had seen these people on the … on the stairway.”

Following the shooting, Serrano and DiPierro had been together at the police station waiting to be interviewed by police. When DiPierro was later interviewed by Sergeant Hernandez he admitted he probably got the idea of a girl in a polka dot dress from Serrano during the time he was with her in the police station. DiPierro said, “She stated that there was this girl that was wearing a polka dot dress came running down, I guess it was the hallway, saying that 'We shot him,' and … she … you know, we started asking each other questions about the girl, and evidently I went along with what she said as being a person that I imagine that I saw.”

Hernandez asked Serrano during her polygraph test if, sometime following the shooting, she heard"a kid" mention something about a white dress and polka dots. She replied "right." Asked if she got the idea of the polka dot girl from this report she answered"I don't know." Her responses to questions about the polka dot girl indicated deception. However, Serrano eventually admitted that her story was founded on a lot of guesswork, “[for] …. two reasons, so I didn't look like a fool, which I look like now. Another reason, because everybody figures … you know… I was sitting there [in the police station] hearing descriptions and descriptions of these people. Oh God, no, maybe that's what I'm supposed to see…more than I did. It messed me up, that's all, and I figured, well, they must know what they"re doing – I mean, they are police, after all. They have to know what they"re doing.” Serrano also told police, “…Somewhere I heard it [the girl in the polka dot dress]. I don't know why I said it, but it just fitted. Then it happened that it all fitted in, and I couldn't understand it, you know. Then, yeah, I really thought there was something behind it. I was scared.” Serrano also told police, “…You know when somebody sees something, keep them away from other people who have seen it. Because you don't know what happens….well, you see, another thing too, you know, that is that, that other newspapers came out with that somebody else had seen it, and then I – I kept thinking to myself, maybe, - you know, gee …”

Hernandez's methods of interrogation during the polygraph examination were indeed forceful and intimidating as conspiracy advocates noted. But it was not designed to cover-up the involvement of possible conspirators in the shooting of Robert Kennedy. Both officers had used similar interrogatory techniques with other witnesses, most notably with Sirhan"s brother Munir.

Police Lieutenant Emmanuel Pena, Hernandez's superior officer, said, “[The interrogation by Sergeant Hernandez] was a necessary move on my part. We tried every way in the world to find this gal in the polka dot dress to see if we could substantiate her [Serrano's] story. And we couldn't do it. I wasn't about to leave the case hanging there.” However, this credible explanation of why they submitted Serrano to an intense and intimidating interview did not prevent conspiracy advocates from claiming that both Hernandez and Pena had close connections to intelligence agencies and implicating them in a conspiracy to murder Kennedy. Pena's response to their allegations was, “I didn't come back [to the LAPD]…as a sneak to be planted. The way they [conspiracy writers] have written it, it sounds like I was brought back and put into the [Kennedy] case as a plant by the CIA, so that I could steer something around to a point where no one would discover a conspiracy. that's not so.” Furthermore, to suggest that Sergeant Hernandez and Lieutenant Pena were involved in a cover-up would also implicate the head of the LAPD"s investigation, Chief Robert Houghton, who had recommended the appointment of Hernandez to the"Special Unit Senator" team.

For nearly 40 years conspiracy advocates have used Serrano's story as proof of a conspiracy, even though Serrano had eventually admitted to police that her description of the girl's dress was adjusted to agree with DiPierro's polka-dot girl. Although the LAPD maintained she retracted her polka dot girl story under intense questioning conspiracy theorists still insist she had been"bullied" into saying her story was false. And Serrano's original story continues to be embraced by conspiracy theorists as proof that a plot existed to kill Kennedy despite the fact that there were inherent implausibilities in her story from the beginning:

*Serrano's account was contradicted by Fire Department Captain Cecil R. Lynch who had been on duty at the Ambassador checking fire escapes and exits. He had inspected the stairs Serrano claimed she had been sitting on. He said no one was on the stairs at the time she indicated. And, incredibly, she said she had sat on the stairway for 50 minutes.

*Serrano was a Kennedy campaign worker who had been thrilled at the prospect of seeing her hero acknowledge victory in the California primary election campaign. Yet she did not remain in the Embassy Ballroom at a crucial time; a time when nearly every campaign worker was awaiting the arrival of Kennedy to give his victory speech. No one could predict when Kennedy would appear in the ballroom but election officials knew it would be somewhere around 11:30 to 12:30, a time when Serrano purportedly loitered on the stairs outside the hotel.

There were other problems with the idea that conspirators had announced their success in killing Kennedy. It is inherently illogical for someone who has been part of a purportedly sophisticated conspiracy to then immediately shout out they had killed their target. How could they be sure members of the public wouldn"t take them seriously and apprehend them before they could make good their escape?

As the years passed the issue of the polka dot girl refused to die down as Serrano began to tell conspiracy writers that her original story was correct and that she had been bullied by police into changing it. And the fact that no one has been able to provide proof that Sirhan had not been standing next to a girl in a polka dot dress in the Embassy Ballroom and other areas of the hotel, the story has continued to haunt researchers.

There have been plausible explanations over the years of why a purported"girl in a polka dot dress" would cry out"We killed him." Dan Moldea believes a rational answer can be found in reports about Republican Max Rafferty's party which was held in the same hotel that night. Apparently, as Moldea suggests, there had been considerable opportunity that night for alcohol - fueled friction between the thousands of liberal supporters of RFK and Alan Cranston and that of right-wing Max Rafferty supporters. An FBI report reveals how, on the night of the shooting, a group of young people had been handing out bumper stickers in the hotel lobby. They were reddish orange in color with black lettering. According to Ambassador Hotel Security Chief William F. Gardner the leaflets made reference to JFK's death. New York reporter Jimmy Breslin believes the sticker said, “Expose The Kennedy Death Hoax.” Dan Moldea argues this report is crucial as it shows how anti-Kennedy activists were at the Ambassador that night and may have been the source of the gleeful cries that Serrano said she heard.

Serrano may also have been witness to an innocent cry of “We [i.e. the American People] shot Kennedy”; a natural response reflecting the intense concern Americans had at that time to the growing senseless violence that had become a societal phenomenon during the 1960s.

However, this did not completely answer the many questions that remained concerning witness reports of"Sirhan" and the"girl in the polka dot dress" seen together in the Embassy Ballroom on the night of the shooting – until now. During research for my bookThe Forgotten Terrorist – Sirhan Sirhan and the Murder of Senator of Robert F. Kennedy I discovered what I believe to be photographic evidence which may account for the Embassy Ballroom Sirhan/Polka Dot Girl sightings.

After examining audio and video recordings of the RFK shooting in the Ambassador Hotel, which constitute the video and audio LAPD RFK assassination archive at the California State Archives, I discovered a less-than-one-second clip from news film footage. The captured image reveals a "girl in a polka-dot dress" standing next to a man who is not Sirhan but who shows some close resemblance to him. They were in the Embassy Ballroom when RFK was giving his final speech.

The girl is definitely "pretty" as some witnesses described her. And, unlike the blonde Schulte, has dark hair which fits the description of a number of reports about a "girl in a polka dot dress who had dark hair." Some reports refer to "Sirhan and the girl" looking "out of place" and appearing rather grim at the time the crowd around them were cheering. Whilst the film clip shows the girl in the polka dot dress looking joyous the man who shows some resemblance to the young Sirhan does indeed look rather grim. Other clips I captured from the LAPD news film footage show what appears to be the same young man, looking eerily like Sirhan, in the Embassy Ballroom moments following the shooting of Kennedy.

This new evidence may hold the key to reports of the time that put Sirhan with a"girl in a polka dot dress" in the Embassy Ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel at the time of the shooting.

This new evidence in the Robert F. Kennedy assassination highlights, more than anything else, the problems associated with the use of eyewitness testimony and reveals truths which have always been recognized by police officers who have maintained that if 8 people witness a dramatic event, especially an event involving violence, there will always be 8 different perspectives and thus 8 different stories and descriptions. This is central to an understanding of the modus operandi of RFK conspiracy advocates who carefully select eyewitness testimony outside the restrictions created by the preponderance of evidence in the case.

See also here.

Author"s Note: Some writers have posited the idea that a second gunman had been assisting Sirhan. Booker Griffin, for example, told a conspiracy writer in 1987 that he had observed a second gunman. However, in his 1968 interviews with the LAPD he only said the sounds of the shooting appeared to suggest more than one gun. Other initial sightings of a second gunman were later found to be the result of misidentification or misunderstanding. Evan Freed and Don Schulman reported seeing a second gunman but later retracted their stories. Freed was accused by conspiracy writers of having been influenced in his retraction because he was later employed as a Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney. Schulman said, initially, that he had observed security guard Thane Cesar fire his .38 pistol at RFK. Schulman later retracted this accusation citing his confusion during the chaotic moments of the shooting (Cesar had drawn his gun only after RFK fell to the floor). Furthermore, new acoustics evidence has eliminated the possibility of a .38 pistol having been fired; see here. Marcus McBroom, nearly 20 years after the assassination, said he saw a woman running out of the pantry shouting 'We shot him' and that she was followed by a man with a gun hidden under a newspaper. McBroom said the incident was witnessed by an"ABC cameraman" and a man by the name of 'Sam Strain.' However, no reports by these individuals confirming McBroom's statement have been forthcoming. There is, however, compelling evidence which suggests McBroom had been mistaken. Michael Wayne had ran from the pantry after the shots were fired. He held a poster which had been signed by Kennedy before the victory speech. Some witnesses thought the poster was a"rolled up newspaper."

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Robert Douglas Rowe - 7/23/2007

Mr Ayton,
My comment suggesting the possibility that you were not a good listener was not an argument. It would have to be an argument to be a non sequiter, wouldn't it? Maybe I should just be more direct...OK, Mel, you're not a good listener. So attacking 'conspiracy theorists' as such strikes me as a bit odd.

So beside being "risible," my statement is also true...isn't it? I mean, that's kinda the important part of a statement, wouldn't you say. So, let me re-state it; Pointing out the faults of others in no way provides proof that you do not share those faults. Is that statement not true?

I have a lot of questions for you, Mel. In just writing them all out, I think I could put together a book m'self. For example, in your comments, when you attack these people you lump together as 'conspiracy theorists' does that group happen to include Ted Charach?

I ask because if it does, then that would render several of your statements as dead wrong. You said, "they have not provided one ounce of credible evidence to support their theses - they simply want to believe it was so." The discovery of the existence of Cesar's .22 certainly does qualify as at least an ounce of evidence, does it not? And it wasn't the LAPD's "far-ranging" investigation that discovered it, was it? Now, why do you suppose it is that this extraordinary investigation didn't manage to uncover such a disturbing and easily discovered fact, and so close to the action that night? Your SUS "far-ranging" investigation seems to have been rather shallow, Mel. Can you explain this?

Spending a lot of money and man-hours on a case does not a thorough investigation make. The fact that those corrupt LAPD morons didn't even discover Cesar's possession of a .22 at the time of the murder, nor his blatant deception regarding it, was not the only easily discovered tidbit they walked right past. Even Moldea acknowledges how miserable the job that they did was. In fact, it's pretty much the only real point he makes successfully in his book.

You're sort of a Johnny-Come-Lately to this case, Mel. It's been 15 years since I took an in-depth look into the RFK case, so I am sure my knowledge appears pretty limited at the moment. The really embarrassing thing, however, is that I can still present you with questions for which you seem to have no real answers. You dodge quite a bit for a guy with such confidence in your position. And YOU just wrote a book on the subject. Not a good sign, Mel.

Mel Ayton - 7/13/2007

Please contact John McAdams, your colleague, to find out why 'some of my missives' were rejected. They were in response (and 'response' only) to unjustified and insulting attacks from some of your posters - like the vicious John Hunt, for example: (http://www.moldea.com/JHunt.html)

Ommitting these facts in your reponse above shows how disingenuous you really are.

You know very well who your supporters on the Education Forum are with regard to the ridiculous 'Sirhan' photo.The vast majority of members, who are conspiracy buffs, act sychophantically whenever they get someone like you on their side - in this instance there were a number of posters who agreed with you that your captured image looked like Sirhan.

And no, I don't agree the photos I isolated from the LAPD footage were anything like the blurred photos you provided which is why I didn't include it in my article.I rejected your photo for this simple reason - it looked more like a gargoyle than Sirhan - end of story.And then you had the gall to whine about how I didn't include your photo in my article!

You also unknowingly contradicted yourself when you wrote: "You write, 'As to Peter Fokes’s photo of ‘Sirhan [Sirhan]’ - I leave it up to the readers to judge. I believe any rational-minded person will agree that it looks more like a gargoyle than a ‘Sirhan look-alike’. On the other hand, the photos I provide in my article do identify someone who actually looks like the assassin.' Mel, I didn't say it 'was' Sirhan. I merely said it resembled him."

Yes, Peter, I know you didn't say it was Sirhan.Look again at the words 'Sirhan look-alike'.

As to your comments about how I contributed to the Education Forum to 'an exponential degree' - yes I did but only from a request from one of its members. Dan Moldea and I attempted to explain our views but they simply didn't listen.

I say, let HNN readers judge - I'm confident HNN's rational readers will reject your non-contribution to this story.

Peter Fokes - 7/12/2007

Hi Mel,

You write: "As to Peter Fokes’s photo of ‘Sirhan [Sirhan]’ - I leave it up to the readers to judge. I believe any rational-minded person will agree that it looks more like a gargoyle than a ‘Sirhan look-alike’. On the other hand, the photos I provide in my article do identify someone who actually looks like the assassin."

Mel, I didn't say it 'was' Sirhan. I merely said it resembled him. In fact, Mel, it may very well be the same person you identify as resembling Sirhan in the bottom photo in your article! Mel, how about that? In effect, you are labelling the man YOU identify as resembling Sirhan as a "gargoyle"! Self-criticism a good trait, Mel. Keep it up!

Peter Fokes

Peter Fokes - 7/12/2007

Hello Mel,

My only previous contact with you occurred on the alt.assassination.jfk newsgroup. I noticed your interest in the RFK assassination, and directed you to a compilation video tape at the California State Archives. I also sent you a few images I had isolated from that compilation tape. Did I also send you a copy of the tape? I don't recall, but I have sent a DVD version of that tape to several interested researchers. You have never been in touch with me since I provided these images to you.

When intelligent readers brush away your vibrant sarcasm, they are left with very little of substance, except your opinion the "man" in the image is not Sirhan Sirhan. The man looks nothing like a gargoyle, but then perhaps you have a unique idea of what a gargoyle resembles.

Your rhetoric then shifts into ridicule. You claim people are brainwashed. You don't name them so I guess that saves you from the HNN rule: "Please be civil. No ad hominem attacks."

I'm afraid you are wide of the target when you claim without evidence that some unnamed individuals (whom I know do not know) are humoring me. Who are these nice people, Mel, and why in heavens name would they humor someone they do not know? I rarely post on the Education Forum ... perhaps a dozen or so times in a year of two. Obviously you read the Education Forum though, or else you wouldn't have any opinion of the nature of the discussions. If the participants rarely disagree with one another, good for them. It certainly is a fact that you have contributed your thoughts and opinions on that forum to an exponential degree beyond my own scant, rare and brief forays there.

You will find me helping John McAdams moderate the alt.assassination.jfk forum. As I recall, a few of your missives were unanimously rejected for personal attacks and unbecoming verbiage. But I need not detail your style; your post is evidence enough. I hope your books are all successful, Mel.

Peter Fokes

Mel Ayton - 7/11/2007

Mr Rowe,
You say, with regard to ‘listening’ to the Education Forum members, “I believe you when you say they weren't listening. Of course that doesn't prove you do.” This is a non sequiter and risible in the extreme.Dan Moldea and I afforded these buffs a considerable amount of our time explaining why and how they were wrong - but it didn’t sink in. They have spent years attempting to ‘prove’ JFK/MLK and RFK were assassinated as the result of conspiracies yet they have not provided one ounce of credible evidence to support their theses – they simply want to believe it was so.Vincent Bugliosi’s understanding of this type of mind-set is especially informative – I recommend his book ‘Reclaiming History’.

You wrote: “I can promise you that when a federal judge or attorney ends up dead in an apparent random act of violence, it is not accepted as such just because there is apparently an immediate and obvious explanation. Many possible more sinister scenarios are considered and investigated simply because of who the victim was…..However, that is not at all the approach the LAPD took in the RFK case, and that is highly unusual. However, you seem to be aware of no other approach from what I've read so far.” What you have read is severely limited and I suggest you spend some time researching this case. If you read Robert Houghton’s book you will understand how the SUS did not treat this case as a simple murder – a simple act of violence as you put it. Their investigation was far-ranging, more so than an ‘average murder’, but it was certainly flawed as most murder investigations are, including the murders of prominent individuals. You keep harping on about the SUS unvestigation as though it never came under any form of criticism – you’ll find those criticisms in Dan Moldea’s book and my own.

I also did not “…suggest that the RFK killing should be investigated using the assumptions made if he were just any average guy”. You pulled that one out of your conspiracy hat. The investigation was certainly not carried out with these assumptions.You also say the LAPD was BS-ing about the destruction of the photos but you provide absolutely no evidence to prove it. Like the Education Forum ( a misnomer!) members you simply have a desire to believe it.

As to Peter Fokes’s photo of ‘Sirhan’ - I leave it up to the readers to judge. I believe any rational-minded person will agree that it looks more like a gargoyle than a ‘Sirhan look-alike’. On the other hand, the photos I provide in my article do identify someone who actually looks like the assassin.

Robert Douglas Rowe - 7/6/2007

I believe you when you say they weren't listening. Of course that doesn't prove you do.

Peter Fokes' post is here: http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/lofiversion/index.php/t9930.html

He posts two pictures he's asked you about here:

You can call my comments names, but I'd still be interested in getting answers to my questions.

I'll be happy to explain to you how an investigation into the murder of a known underworld figure or a district attorney differs from those of more typical deaths where the victim is assumed not to be a likely target of organized crime. I would have hoped your friends in law enforcement may have told you more about that sort of thing.

To suggest that the RFK killing should be investigated using the assumptions made if he were just any average guy, is simply absurd. You would have to at least approach it with the same analysis as you would a district attorney who gets 'robbed' and killed in a seemingly random act.

I can promise you that when a federal judge or attorney ends up dead in an apparent random act of violence, it is not accepted as such just because there is apparently an immediate and obvious explanation. Many possible more sinister scenarios are considered and investigated simply because of who the victim was.

However, that is not at all the approach the LAPD took in the RFK case, and that is highly unusual. However, you seem to be aware of no other approach from what I've read so far.

I do appreciate that you provided the excerpt from your book regarding the LAPD's obvious BS-ing about the photo evidence they destroyed. (readers see: http://markmaynard.com/index.php/2007/06/07/jm_wave_and_the_assassination_of_robert_#c48462) Anyway, I'll admit, despite my problems with your approach, you've convinced me it may be worth it to pick up a copy of your book.

Mel Ayton - 7/4/2007

Most intelligent readers will liken Fokes' 'Sirhan look-alike' to a gargoyle, end of story. Only brainwashed conspiracists go along with Fokes to humor him.Posters on the Education forum never disgree with each other when it comes to the issue of conspiracy which is why they all come across as sychophants. Last year Dan Moldea and myself attempted to drum some sense into them but they simply weren't listening. Here's one Education Forum poster who is typical of the average Education Forum looney:

Please, by all means, provide Fokes' link to his photos and HNN readers will decide for themselves.As to your other comments - well, they are just plain risible.

Robert Douglas Rowe - 7/3/2007

Would this qualify as "something substantial for the reader" or not?

Please see - http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=111005&;bheaders=1#111005

Feel free to commence with the ridicule if you can answer Mr. Fokes questions about your selective interest in the photo evidence.

Robert Douglas Rowe - 7/3/2007

It's kind of curious that you've been so selective in your photo analysis, Mel.

Remember Peter Fokes? He's the guy you credit with spotting the woman in the green polka dot dress in a picture of the pantry. Peter is now wondering why you completely ignored the other photos he sent you.

Here's his quote from The Education Forum website:

"Ayton correctly gives me credit for discovering the image of a woman in a green polka dot dress in the pantry area.

However Ayton ignored another set of pictures I sent him that show another lady in a black dress with white spots. She is standing next to a man who looks identical to Sirhan Sirhan, and who does not look like the man identified by Mel as resembling Sirhan Sirhan.

I published two of these photos on my website last year and posted the urls to this alt.assassination.jfk, a newsgroup I moderate with John McAdams."

Robert Douglas Rowe - 7/3/2007

"with the added distractions of camera flashes and television lighting that filled the pantry - that DiPierro had been led to mistake the color of Schulte's hair (blonde) and clothes; Schulte's dress was actually green with yellow polka dots."

In other words, DiPierro changed his story, and we're going to go with the second one.

Yeah, I always have a hard time remembering the hair color of beautiful women....or at least that is what I tell my girlfriend when she's been interrogating me like the LAPD.

In fact, there were an extraordinary number of people who had told two distinctly different stories.
It's remarkable how closely the first story of several different witnesses matched each other so closely. Everyone seems to have been confused in the same way during and immediately following the incident.
Fortunately, the LAPD was able to gently coax the witnesses and they were soon remembering the second set of stories. Then, of course, they decided the second set were the reliable ones.

Robert Douglas Rowe - 7/3/2007

Oh, so the clip you linked directly has no relevance except that it opens up the menu for several other clips on YouTube? And you think I am deserving of ridicule? What do you say to the idea that you provide a link to a clip you actually consider relevant?

Furthermore, the girls in the pictures that you've selected are far from matches to the description given of the woman observed running from the scene.

Robert Douglas Rowe - 7/3/2007

So I take it your answer to my question is "no."

My comments are no more silly than your article. You've tried to create questions where few exist. Collecting pictures of women in sundresses and guys who look remotely middle eastern is a pretty silly thing to sell as investigation.

If there are readers here who are looking for something substantial, they should probably check out the work of real investigators like Ted Charach.

You say by my comments I will only invite ridicule...I say, "Bring it on."

Mel Ayton - 7/3/2007

Rowe's comments about organized crime - "You'll be very disappointed to find out that killings quite often do have hidden motives and 'conspiracies' behind them. I'm so sorry to be the one to have to break that to you" - are really rather silly and add nothing to any understanding of this crime.Like many others who post knee-jerk reactions to HNN articles, he should provide something substantial for the reader. Until that time his comments will only invite ridicule.

This isn't the first time Mr Rowe has made a fool of himself. Please see - http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=110930&;bheaders=1#110930 - in which I advised him to spend some time researching this case before posting.

Mel Ayton - 7/3/2007

Mr Rowe,
If you had taken the time to view the 'You Tube' link - go to menu - you would have understood that these clips contain the source for my previous paragraph in which I state that: "Richard Houston, who was in the pantry at the time of the shooting, said he had seen a "girl in a black and white polka dot dress with ruffles around the neck." Houston said he heard the girl say "We shot him" as she ran from the pantry. I believe this girl can be identified in a clip from news film footage taken shortly after the assassination. The girl has joined a group of Kennedy supporters in an ajoining area to the Embassy Ballroom, praying for the Senator. It would appear obvious to most that such a conspirator was unlikely to remain in the vicinity of the shooting if they had indeed been a participant in a conspiracy to murder Robert Kennedy."

Robert Douglas Rowe - 6/29/2007

I'm no clairvoyant or genius, but I am willing to bet anything Mel has never worked anywhere near organized crime or talked at any length with anyone who has. His idea that 'things just happen' would not be useful in any 'real' investigative capacity. Only in the world of armchair theorizing is this kind of notion useful, and I suppose profitable.

Unlike Mr. Ayton's crime investigation experience, organized crime really DOES exist.
You may want to talk sometime to a federal agent or prosecutor who has spent some time with an organized crime task force. You'll be very disappointed to find out that killings quite often do have hidden motives and 'conspiracies' behind them. I'm so sorry to be the one to have to break that to you.

Robert Douglas Rowe - 6/29/2007

Does Mel include the YouTube clip for any meaningful reason? Is there something there that supports the 'points' he's trying to make?

Robert Douglas Rowe - 6/29/2007

It's really all very arbitrary. Arguments can be made to either extreme. Mr. Ayton's very broad definition would include so many crimes, we may be hard pressed to find a killing that wasn't "terrorism." By the definitions that others may choose, they may limit terrorists to only a few. While I do understand why academics love to debate these things to no end, I'm afraid it means little outside of academia.

Robert Douglas Rowe - 6/29/2007

Everything you've said here is either speculation, incomplete, or just plain false. Where should I start?

Robert Douglas Rowe - 6/29/2007

Your comments suggest to me that you have little to no knowledge of the details surrounding these events. Even if you have preconceived notions about what you would conclude in the end, why wouldn't such a case interest you enough to motivate you to read a little? And yet, you still seem very motivated to push conclusions.

Robert Douglas Rowe - 6/29/2007

A groupie so interested in being noticed would not be difficult at all to find after the fact.

Robert Douglas Rowe - 6/29/2007

When an individual suspected of having connections to organized crime is murdered, it is usually the assumption of the investigator that the killing was a conspiracy. Local, state, and federal law enforcement engaged in the investigation and prosecution of organized criminals are by your definitions "conspiracy advocates."

Robert Douglas Rowe - 6/28/2007

Mr. Ayton,
If 'real' detectives investigated crimes using your standards, not a single member of any relatively competent criminal organization would ever be considered a suspect.

thomas L. lowry - 6/9/2007

Coming from a person whose life's agenda is profiting off of lies generated by conspiracy theory's , Lisa Pease is the last person on this planet to talk about dishonesty of others . Being a intellectualy dishonest person herself is her only claim to fame . A person who would sell her mothers soul for the tail end of an anchovy and a juicy book contract , all the while selling her country down the toilet and fostering homegrown terrorism apparently hasn't phased her in the slightest . Yes , not being satisfied with urinating on the memory of JFK , she now has her sights set on his younger brother . We wait with baited breath on her maniacal mangling of this case that is sure to get the same laughs that her destruction of all things logical did for the JFK case . She's just not only a little bit nutty , she's stewpid also ! ...............tl

Jimmy Geyman - 5/25/2007

Mr. Robinson,

Thank you for expressing general support for my post. I likewise commend your initial reply to Mr. Ayton, as it was most reasonable and made valid criticisms about Mr. Ayton's revealing a degree of selectivity and inconsistency in his assessment of eyewitness testimony. As you say, what is the criteria or method to be used as we try to evaluate witness statements (and other aspects of a given case)? The example of Serrano and the older couple is excellent: clearly, they gave immediate statements which tend to corroborate one another, to official law enforcement personnel (the Bernsteins to Sgt. Sharaga, Serrano to an assistant DA, who directed her to be interviewed by LAPD), and they could not easily have been in cahoots for the spreading of such a story. To me at least, this argues for what seems obvious: there was something to what they had to say.

I agree very much that a lot of what we hear tends to involve the fitting of preconceived beliefs into our arguments. This is a general problem, occurring on all sides of various fences, and it is only being honest and responsible to try our best to be critical and consistent in our assessments.

My point about the money is the simple fact that Sirhan had that much money on him when the attack occurred. One of many issues being that what may seem fairly certain could be somewhat in doubt if the main source of information on this matter is Sirhan himself and/or his family.

Vernon Clayson - 5/21/2007

It was probably a groupie having nothing more on her mind than being noticed by a celebrity, perhaps gaining a nocturnal visit with him or one of his sidemen.

Leonard Robinson - 5/20/2007

Mr. Geyman,
Although your comments were directed to Mr. Ayton, I hope you don't mind if I chime in here to express general support for your post, particularly in regards to the whole issue of the "girl in the polka-dot dress." It certainly is the case that a number of witnesses reported something suspicous regarding a girl in a polka-dot dress. Most importantly, you had Ms. Serrano telling Sander Vanocur her story at about the same time that an older couple was reporting a similar story to an LAPD officer outside the hotel. Clearly, Serrano and this couple were not in cahoots with each other in telling the same general story to different people.

One of the problems with cases such as the RFK shooting is that many people get it in their heads that it was either a solo job or a conspiracy, and then try to form-fit every aspect of the story to fit their pre-conceived notions. The reality is that the overall body of evidence may tilt in one direction or another (in this case, I believe it indicates that Sirhan acted alone), but that doesn't mean that every angle of the story can then be tied up into a neat little bow to support that version. I'm not accusing Mr. Ayton of this mistake, simply pointing out that it tends to be one that many with an interest in this case tend to make.

As for the money, in my opinion it is fairly certain that the $400 was what Sirhan had left from his medical settlement from his injury after falling off a horse.

Jimmy Geyman - 5/19/2007

At an early point in this article Mel Ayton states, "Conspiracy advocates have promoted the idea that the convicted murderer of Robert Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan, had been a 'hypnotised assassin'...." As there is no qualification to this, it strongly suggests anyone who believes Sirhan could have been involved in a conspiracy also believes Sirhan was a "hypnotized assassin."

That some people have promoted a "programmed assassin" idea is true; but it is not the only option. When arrested, Sirhan Sirhan had four one-hundred dollar bills in his pocket. This was a substantial sum of money in 1968, particularly for a man of the lower classes who worked at a health food store. For some it's a substantial sum even today, as I suspect there are many people like myself who don't often see a hundred dollar bill (at least not for long). Sirhan Sirhan had four of them. There are a number of issues about where the money came from, and what it might have been used (or useful) for, but the simple hard fact is that Sirhan had quite a bit of money on him the night Robert Kennedy was attacked.

In this article Mr. Ayton proposes a possible identification for the elusive girl in the polka dot dress and a possible explanation for allegations that such a woman was seen in the company of Sirhan Sirhan on the night of the attack on Robert Kennedy. This possible identification and explanation being a brief glimpse of a woman in proximity to "a Sirhan look-alike." In proposing this, Mr. Ayton fails either to recognize or to acknowledge that his suspected woman's attire is not a match for consistent and mutually corroborative witness statements as to the color of the dress worn by the elusive woman. Mr. Ayton also fails to inform the reader that, whatever we might make of his "Sirhan look-alike," there's a better resemblance to Sirhan in the person of Michael Wayne. But maybe Mr. Ayton is unaware of that, as he may not have done much research on Michael Wayne.

In an article of 40 paragraphs it is noticeable how often Mr. Ayton makes reference to "conspiracy advocates" or some variation thereof:

"...claims by conspiracy advocates...."
"Conspiracy advocates have promoted the idea....They claim...."
"Author's Note: Conspiracy advocate Philip Melanson said...."
"In building their conspiracy scenarios most writers fail to...."
"...as conspiracy advocates repeatedly made reference...."
"...as conspiracy advocates noted...."
"...did not prevent conspiracy advocates from claiming...."
"...conspiracy advocates have used...."
"...conspiracy theorists still insist...."
"...continues to be embraced by conspiracy theorists as proof...."
"...conspiracy writers...."
"...the modus operandi of RFK conspiracy advocates...."
"...conspiracy writer...."

Is there reason to think Mr. Ayton's inspiration for writing comes mainly in reaction to what "conspiracy advocates claim"?

In the last paragraph of this article Mr. Ayton refers to "...an understanding of the modus operandi of RFK conspiracy advocates who carefully select eyewitness testimony outside the restrictions created by the preponderance of evidence in the case." Without casting aspersions on Mr. Ayton and his own possible "modus operandi," one can hope that someday he and others will recognize and acknowledge that in the case of the woman in the polka dot dress the eyewitness testimony IS "the preponderance of evidence in the case." One can also hope that a new generation of Americans will be inspired by Estevez's movie --- not so much "to look again at claims by conspiracy advocates," but to learn more about Robert Kennedy and to ask honest questions about his murder and its investigation(s).

Leonard Robinson - 5/16/2007

Mr. Ayton,
My view is that political motivation is a necessary component of terrorism, but on its own it is not sufficient proof that an act should count as terrorism. As I said in an earlier message, all acts of "political violence," including wars between countries, are driven by political considerations.

More generally, let us briefly consider the argument that the fact that "Sirhan was influenced by extremist propaganda, that he chose his target on the basis of political motive, and that he believed his actions were legitimate and were ideologically and politically inspired” proves that he engaged in terrorism. Putting aside the lingering debate over the degree to which Sirhan was ideologically and politically inspired, if you substitute "Hitler," or "Stalin," or "Pol Pot," or "Milosevic," you could make the same observation: that the individual "was influenced by extremist propaganda, that he chose his target(s) on the basis of political motive, and that he believed his actions were legitimate and were ideologically and politically inspired.” However, the actions of those individuals are more accurately branded as acts of genocide (or politicide, or ethnic cleansing), rather than being examples of terrorism.

In the same vein, previous acts of violence against American politicians have been called "assassination," despite the fact that most of those cases fit the same set of descriptive criteria that you lay out in your argument for why the RFK case should be defined as an act of terrorism. To reiterate what I've argued before, it seems to me, therefore, that the definition as proposed does not make a sharp enough distinction between terrorism and other types of political violence.

Mel Ayton - 5/15/2007

Mr Robinson,
Thnaks for the input - I think your contributions are excellent and readily apply to any debate on the nature of Sirhan's act.

For my part I would just like to add two quotes which you may or may not agree with:
Paul R. Pillar persuasively argues that political motivation must be a prerequisite of terrorism : “Terrorism is fundamentally different from these other forms of violence, however, in what gives rise to it and in how it must be countered, beyond simple physical security and police techniques. Terrorists’ concerns are macrocosms about changing a larger order; other violent criminals are focused on the micro level of pecuniary gain and personal relationships. ‘Political’ in this regard encompasses not just traditional left-right politics but also what are frequently described as religious motivations or social issues.”

Mel Ayton: “From the definitions formulated by many government organizations and some leading political scientists, including Pillar, Sirhan’s act of murder can be described as terrorist in nature. Although there is no evidence that he was in league with Palestinian terrorist groups before Robert Kennedy’s murder, there is strong evidence to show that Sirhan was influenced by extremist propaganda, that he chose his target on the basis of political motive, and that he believed his actions were legitimate and were ideologically and politically inspired.”

Leonard Robinson - 5/14/2007

Mr. Ayton,
I'm impressed with your research (although frankly I'm not a big fan of Hoffman--trying telling the people of Chile, Argentina and Colombia that terrorism can only be "violence committed by non-state entities"--what a bunch of hogwash!). Anyway, just a few comments in response:

1) The first of the "common threads" seems conceptually confusing:
"Terrorism is the use or threatened use of force designed to bring about political change." That description could apply to any act of political violence, including interstate war (see Clausewitz's famous observation that war is the conduct of politics by other means).

2) The second "common thread" is, in my opinion, too broadly worded; it seems to me by that definition there is no difference whatsoever between terrorism and assassination--EVER! Surely you don't mean to argue that every assassination is automatically an act of terrorism?

3) This brings me to Hewitt's argument about "unaffilitated terrorists." Again, to me this definition, when applied to cases such as the RFK assassination, conflates two separate categories of political violence--terrorism and assassination. For example, just after being seized, Guiteau exclaimed: "I am a Stalwart of Stalwarts, and Arthur is president now!" If we assume that Guiteau in fact favored Arthur, does this mean that Guiteau was a terrorist because, through his act of violence, he sought to achieve a political objective? Is Booth a terrorist for striking at Lincoln in defense of the faltering Condederacy? In fact, can we not assume that the large majority of American assassins were terrorists? After all, scholarly analyses of American assassins have revealed that only a very small handful truly fit the category of "mentally ill."

In my opinion, a worthy definition of terrorism must have four essential elements: it must address the type of actor carrying out the violence, the type of target, the type of act, and the purpose of the act. Again, in my opinion to make terrorism (or for that matter assassination) a conceptually meaningful category, the definition must be as precise as possible. Otherwise, it becomes so broad and all-encompassing as to render it useless as an analytical tool. In the case of terrorism, if we are going to accept that individuals can act as "unaffiliated terrorists," it becomes critical to look not just at the act (the use of violence), but also the actor who carried out the attack and his victim. In the end, I'm just not convinced that an act of violence by a single individual against another individual, even if it has some political overtones (again, I'm not convinced that Sirhan was driven purely by politics to do this) adds up to terrorism. For that matter, even if the individual claims to have been motivated purely by politics, I'm still not convinced that, when the violence is "one-on-one," it counts as terrorism. (By the way, I suspect that Hewitt is linking the concept of unaffiliated terrorism to acts such as the OKC bombing, but not having read that piece, I can't say for sure).

In the end, I suspect this is another one of our "agree to disagree" points. Again, congrats on the book.

Mel Ayton - 5/14/2007

Political scientists are split on the definition of terrorism. Terrorism, by its nature, is difficult to define. As Walter Lacqueur observed, “Even if there were an objective, value-free definition of terrorism, covering all its important aspects and features, it would still be rejected by some for ideological reasons.” Even the agencies of the U.S. government cannot agree on a single definition. However, the common threads are:

*Terrorism is the use or threatened use of force designed to bring about political change.
*Terrorism constitutes the illegitimate use of force to achieve a political objective when innocent people are targeted.
*Terrorism is the premeditated, deliberate, systematic murder, mayhem, and threatening of the innocent to create fear and intimidation in order to gain a political or tactical advantage, usually to influence an audience.
*Terrorism is the unlawful use or threat of violence against persons or property to further political or social objectives. It is usually intended to intimidate or coerce a government, individuals, or groups, or to modify their behavior or politics.
* In a criminal sense, terrorism involves the “deliberate evocation of dread,” and this dread sets a terrorist act apart from “simple murder or assault.”

Bruce Hoffman maintains that an act may be defined as terrorism only if certain features, including “violence committed by non-state entities,” are present. He believes that “even though Sirhan Sirhan’s assassination of a presidential candidate and United States Senator Robert Kennedy . . . had a political motive . . . it is debateable whether the murder should be defined as a terrorist act since Sirhan belonged to no organized group and acted entirely on his own, out of a deep personal frustration and a profound animus that few others shared.” However, Sirhan’s act was not committed simply out of a personal frustration but was provoked by a belief in Palestinian rights which was universally shared throughout the Arab world.

Hoffman’s definition is too narrow for the FBI, which defines a terrorist act as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The FBI, therefore, believes that terrorists need not be part of any organized or loose group and can act individually without any direction from such groups. Still, it is reluctant to categorize an incident as terrorism unless it is claimed by a group.

Christopher Hewitt observed that “Most American terrorism differs from terrorism in other countries in that a significant proportion of terrorist acts have been carried out by unaffiliated individuals rather than by members of terrorist organizations. . . . Such loners will pose the greatest threat to the security of the United States . . . since they are hard to track down. . . . Freelancers are defined as individuals who are not members of a terrorist group, or members of an extremist organization acting under the orders of an official of the organization.” Hewitt calls this type of terrorist “unaffiliated.”

Leonard Robinson - 5/14/2007

Mr. Ayton,
I have not yet read your book, so I can't speak to experts upon which you rely for your definition. Taking into account the fact that there is no universally accept definition for the concept of terrorism, I usually employ the State Department's definition in the course I teach on political violence and terrorism. I do this with the full knowledge that there is no other term in politics that is so pregnant with negative connotations as terrorism. Thus, virtually every source on the subject tends to shape their definition, either consciously or subconsciously, to fit their political agenda or worldview.

At any rate, since this was an attack on a US politician who was running for the highest office in the land, it seems to me to make sense to use the US government's definition. Their definition, as provided on the State Department's website is as follows:

"The term 'terrorism' means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant/*/ targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience."

In this case, "noncombatant" refers to military personnel who are off duty or civilians. That would seem to include Senator Kennedy as a possible target; however, unless one can prove that Sirhan was part of a subnational group (group in this case meaning an organization, not simply being a member of an alienated ethnic or religious group), or a clandestine agent working for another state, Sirhan would not fit the official definition.

Again, I raise this issue not to excuse Sirhan's despicable act, but rather to try to treat in as objective manner as possible the issue of terrorism, about which it is hard for many people to maintain their objectivity.

Mel Ayton - 5/14/2007

Mr Robinson,
If you read my chapter entitled ‘The Unaffiliated Terrorist’ you will be able to understand why his act can be judged as ‘terrorist’ in nature. I make reference to a number of terrorism experts who agree with this characterization.

I think you are correct in saying you are suspicious of eyewitness testimony in events of this kind.There was no real consistency in the eyewitness reports due to the alarming, intense and frenzied nature of the shooting.You are also correct in saying that my approach to some parts of Marcus McBroom's statements were also inconsistent. However, I believe that eyewitness reports can be judged valid and other parts invalid because of the ‘preponderance’ of the evidence which surrounds such an event e.g. witnesses who describe Michael Wayne running out of the pantry with a rolled up poster/newspaper as against those who immediately jumped to conclusions that it was the ‘second gunman’. No one is ever consistent in accounts of this kind but that doesn’t mean that everything they say should be immediately rejected, at least not without some kind of comparative analysis with other parts of the evidence.

As a rule I believe that statements made at the time of the event are more credible than statements made years later when memory has faded or some witnesses have been susceptible to solicitations from conspiracy writers.

Leonard Robinson - 5/12/2007

Mr. Ayton,
I agree with your conclusion that Sirhan acted alone, although I believe he clearly should be classified as an assassin rather than as a terrorist (based on the State Department's definition of terrorism).

However, I find it a bit disconcerting that you seem to be rather selective and inconsistent in your willingness to depend on (or conversly criticize) eyewitness testimony to back up your arguments. In our earlier discourse on the acoustic evidence, you cited Dr. McBroom as a witness to bolster an argument you were making; now in this article you discredit him. In fact, as I stated during that earlier exchange, I am always at least somewhat suspicious of eyewitness testimony, particularly in an event as shocking as this one.

At any rate, it seems to me that your methodology here is inconsistent. For example, using Mr. DiPierro as an example, you discount the testimony he gave at one time, but then fully embrace his later testimony. What is the objective criteria by which you determine which version of his testimony is the correct version? This is a critical issue, because in order for your thesis to rise beyond the normal claptrap that is published on this case, you must employ some method for evaluating contradictory evidence other than simply buying into the versions of things that support your view of what happened that night. I'm not accusing you of doing that, I'm simply saying that it is not clear from this article that you have such a criteria in place.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 5/12/2007

Bobby Kennedy was a minor figure in American history. His vote totals in the California primary the night he was shot were very disappointing to his supporters, and he wasn't going to get the Democratic nomination. It was a ticket to nowhere, anyway. Nixon and Wallace got about 60% that year, Hubert Humphrey 40%, and Humphrey did better than Kennedy would have done, in my humble opinion. Humphrey had an outside chance, but the election of Richard Nixon was in the end a national pivot of Jacksonian proportions. The next 40 years brought 28 years of Republican preidents, 12 years of Democratic presidents, and Carter was sort a Watergate fluke, or it might have been 32 years to eight. And if Bush Senior hadn't been such a horrible president, or if H. Ross Perot hadn't seemed temporarily coo-koo, it might have been 40-zip.

Mel Ayton - 5/11/2007

Lisa Pease,
The outrageous and wild claims you make about my regurgitating what I’ve read in other people’s books is typical of your modus operandi. You engage in deliberate or unconscious misinterpretation of any research which does not fit neatly into your conspiracy fantasy world. My article (and book) clearly provides new evidence which cannot be found anywhere else. You should be ashamed at having made such ridiculous charges. You have also claimed I am dishonest. When I read statements like this I am reminded of Joseph Welch’s response to charges made by Senator Joseph McCarthy – ‘At long last Senator, have you no shame?’.

You have also not read my book which you stated on a previous occasion you had no intention of doing so. If you continue to wear intellectual blinkers your work will only be regarded as worthy by the likes of JFK Lancer and Black Op radio – committed conspiracy-mongerers who have abused the RFK/JFK evidential record in a manner worthy of Joseph Goebbels and who have a vested financial interest in keeping the conspiracy beast alive.

I note you have said nothing about the new acoustics evidence – in your book you spent a considerable amount of time trying to prove there was a second gunman in the pantry and a higher number of shots fired. But this is not surprising. When faced with incontestable facts you simply ignore them.You also fool your website readers into believing the CIA was behind RFK’s murder – a comfortable position to take because you know full well that it is a charge impossible to dispute as any denial will simply allow you to claim, ‘The CIA are all liars and you can’t believe anything they say’.You, like other conspiracy buffs, choose this route because it allows you to keep your speculative accounts of the RFK assassination alive and kicking.

You state that you have witness reports that are consistent in their descriptions of the Polka Dot Girl. You have not provided any proof, making the lame excuse that you have a book in the works. Either provide solid evidence backing up your claims or stop trying to fool HNN readers that you have something, when in fact you don’t.

The witness reports of the Polka Dot Girl were NOT CONSISTENT and I have provided photographic evidence alongside statements made by witnesses which proves there was much confusion that night created by false witness sightings, ergo the Polka Dot Girl and the Sirhan look-alike in the Embassy Ballroom.You claim you have 20 witnesses who give the same description of the polka dot dress. I believe you are deliberately mischaracterizing the evidence. However, even if you were correct this would have no impact whatsoever on your quixotic efforts to prove a girl in a polka dot dress was in any way part of a conspiracy. It would simply prove that a particular girl wearing a polka dot dress was in the Ambassador Hotel and was possibly observed standing near Sirhan. That would be the sum total of your ‘evidence’. You will not be able to provide any credible evidence (from a credible source, that is - there were a number who were simply incredible as I make clear in my article) that this girl had anything to do with Sirhan.

History is written around FACTS, not innuendo, speculation and rumor which characterizes your book on the JFK/MLK/and RFK assassinations. Furthermore, the damage you have done to the reputations of others, including an innocent man, Thane Cesar, and the damage to the historical record, is incalculable. You and others like you have managed to persuade a large proportion of Americans that the CIA murdered Robert Kennedy and you have managed to do this without providing any credible proof whatsoever. You have certainly cornered the lower end of the Bell Curve.

I am not surprised you find me problematic, a real thorn in your side. You obviously have some kind of emotional investment in seeking out non-existent conspiracies. Your obsession even allows you to embrace the idea that a US Government conspiracy was behind 9/11!

I am confident your sensationalist, biased and untruthful research will not be accepted by the majority of the American people nor will it stand the test of time.

Lisa X. Pease - 5/11/2007

Mel, you have done history a great disservice with this piece.

I have the original police interviews of over TWENTY witnesses who described, very consistently, a girl in a white dress with dark polka dots.

I have also interviewed Vince DiPierro and now understand why he ID'd Schulte, even though that was not the girl he saw with Sirhan.

Because I'm working on my own book I'm not going to publish all my new information here. But I will publish the stuff I've already put on the record on my blog in the next couple of days (http://realhistoryarchives.blogspot.com).

I said on the radio that you were not a stupid man. I said that because I believed you to be not stupid, but dishonest. However, after reading this, it's possible you really believe this crap. Clearly you've not done your own homework on this, but are regurgitating what you've read in other people's books. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you really are simply wildly underinformed and looking through the eyes of an unshakeable bias. But the jury is still out.

George Robert Gaston - 5/9/2007

I guess the world is still having trouble coming to grips with JFK being killed by a little third rate communist, and RFK by a lone deminted little Palestinian. Some folks really do need a vast right wing conspiracy to explain their world.

myra bronstein - 5/7/2007

Mel Ayton,

You sure devoted a lot of time to spreading propaganda about witnesses in the Bobby Kennedy assassination case. Is propaganda a vocation of yours or just an avocation?

You try to dismiss all eye-witnesses (probably because most of them go against the fabricated party line), excuse the outrageous abuse of Serrano during her "lie detector test," ignore niggling little details like the fact that an APB was canceled by the LAPD moments after it was announced (in spite of not finding the woman), and accept every word the lying Special Unit CIA guy says.

I'm guessing it's both: a vocation and an avocation.