"Is everybody okay?"
View from the Robert F Kennedy funeral train
I haven't read Peter Evans' Nemesis so I can't make an informed comment on its merits. (Though I will admit I'm habitually leery of an Onassis-did-it theory. Can it account for the cover up?) Still, it was heartening to see the article it inspired in yesterday's Independent:
Was Robert Kennedy killed by a real 'Manchurian candidate'-style assassin?
It happened nearly 38 years ago, but doubts and suspicions have lingered on. Now the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Robert Kennedy are being resurrected and re-examined in an attempt to establish the truth of what happened that night in the cramped pantry of a Los Angeles hotel.
New evidence has emerged and pressure is mounting on authorities to reopen the case of Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of the assassination and who remains in the California state prison in Corcoran.
Celebrities and journalists are joining the campaign for a federal investigation, which has been sparked in part by a new book, Nemesis, by the British author Peter Evans. Evans, who spent 10 years researching the book, has unearthed evidence to support Sirhan's contention that he was hypnotised into being the "fall guy" for the murder. Evans identifies the hypnotist, who had worked on CIA mind control programmes and who was later found dead in mysterious circumstances.
It's good and right that Evans names the late William J Bryan, but it's not for the first time "America's most famous medical hypnotist," who helped crack the Boston Strangler case, has been linked to the crime. The veteran of MK-ULTRA and, ironically, technical advisor to The Manchurian Canadidate, was named as Sirhan's likely programmer in William Turner's and Jonn Christian's invaluable and, naturally, out-of-print book from 1978, The Assassination of Robert F Kennedy.
The Independent repeats Evans' claim that the hypnosis
had been done over three months, a period known as the "white fog" when the Los Angeles police task force later investigating the assassination - and trying to construct a meticulous timetable of Sirhan's activities up to the shooting - lost track of him.
Sergeant Bill Jordan, the detective who was Sirhan's first interrogator, told Evans: "We took him back for more than a year with some intensity - where he'd been, what he'd been doing, who he'd been seeing. But there was this 10- or 12-week gap, like a blanket of white fog we could never penetrate, and which Sirhan himself appeared to have a complete amnesia about."
In the last years of Bryan's life he was deeply depressed, and to ameliorate his misery he would boast about his famous subjects to his frequent prostitutes.
Turner and Christian write:
In the spring of 1977 Bryan was found dead in a Las Vegas motel room, "from natural causes" the coroner said. (Curiously, this word was issued before the official autopsy.) Shortly thereafter we were put in contact with two Beverly Hills call girs who claim to have known Bryan intimately. They had been "servicing" him on an average of twice a week for four years, they said, and usually were present at the same time....
The girls said that to relieve Bryan's depression they repeatedly titilated his enormous ego by getting him to "talk about all the famous people you've hypnotized." As if by rote Bryan would begin with his role of deprogramming Albert Di Salvo in the Boston Strangler case for F Lee Bailey, then boast that he had hypnotized Sirhan Sirhan. The girls didn't sense anything unusual in the Sirhan angle, for Bryan had told them many times that he "worked with the LAPD" on murder cases, and they didn't know that he had absolutely no contact with Sirhan following the assassination. Once of the girls though that Bryan had mentioned James Earl Ray once, but wasn't sure. But both girls were certain of the name Sirhan Sirhan.
Bryan's having worked with Di Salvo, and having often boasted of it, says much. Because in Sirhan's notebooks of automatic writing, which contain the trance-induced repeated phrase "Robert F Kennedy must be assassinated," there is also this peculiar passage: "God help me...please help me. Salvo Di Di Salvo Die S Salvo."
When we asked Sirhan about the Di Salvo entry in his notebook, he replied that the name was entirely foreign to him. Was it possible that Bryan had placed Sirhan in a trance state and, given his propensity to boast constantly about the Boston Strangler case, repeated Di Salvo's name over and over - thus etching it into Sirhan's subconscious? In any case, Sirhan would not remember either the circumstances of his exposure to the name or who mentioned it.
The Independent suggests Nemesis could reopen the case. The actor Robert Vaughn, a close friend of Bobby Kennedy's who has long held he was murdered by a conspiracy, wrote to Sirhan that "some are talking of it opening the door to a long overdue federal investigation."
I'm sure Sirhan doesn't need to be told, but don't hold your breath.
It's been known for close to 40 years now that RFK was shot point blank from the rear, at a nearly vertical trajectory, and yet Sirhan was standing a foot or two directly in front of him. And it hasn't changed anything.
It's been known just as long that Thane Eugene Cesar, a security guard hired on for the night employed by CIA contractors, was standing precisely where Coroner Thomas Noguchi insisted the shots must have been fired. And nothing has changed, besides Noguchi losing his job.
The LAPD destroying evidence? The surfeit of magic bullets? Cesar lying about his gun? It doesn't matter. The diabolical truth of Robert Kennedy's murder has been before America's eyes since the night he carried California. And it doesn't matter. Not enough, anyway, for America to live with the burden of self-knowledge. It will never matter that much. So Sirhan's handler and hypnotic trigger, the girl in the polka dot dress, will always be skipping out of the Ambassador hotel, exulting "We killed him! We killed Kennedy!"
When Bobby was shot he grabbed at Cesar and fell clutching the guard's clip-on tie. Most photos of Kennedy on the floor of the pantry crop the tie. But it's there, just beyond his outstretched hand.
Cesar's alive, and free.
Sirhan's alive, and he still can't remember what happened that night, or for the three months of "white fog" he'd gone missing from the family home. As though false imprisonment for nearly 40 years isn't monstrous enough.
"Is everybody okay?" Robert Kennedy asked, on his back, in his blood, at the end.