State officials, acknowledging 'questions remain in the minds of...

By RUSSELL SNYDER  |  April 19, 1988
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- State officials, acknowledging 'questions remain in the minds of many,' released 50,000 documents and other materials gathered by Los Angeles police in their probe of the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy nearly 20 years ago.

They also disclosed that more than 2,400 photographs and other evidence in the case had been destroyed by police, an omission that is sure to fuel continued speculation that more than one gun was fired at Kennedy and that police bungled the investigation.

The newly released materials included the loose-leaf notebook that investigators said belonged to Kennedy's convicted assassin, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan. The notebook contained such statements scrawled in pencil as 'Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated before June 5, '68,' and 'Robert F. Kennedy must be killed.'

The most dramatic moment in the unveiling of the material came when Secretary of State March Fong Eu displayed the .22-caliber revolver used by Sirhan to shoot Kennedy. She held up a box encasing the weapon, a black pistol with a dark brown handle.

Also displayed were bullets from test firings of the pistol by Dewayne Wolfer, a Los Angeles police criminologist whose methodology has been criticized by others who have studied the assassination.

One of the black-and-white pictures exhibited was a photograph of Kennedy's suit jacket with a bullet hole in the shoulder.

Among the stranger items on display was a black and white polka-dot dress, one of several purchased by police as a memory aid in their search for a mysterious woman said by one witness to have been seen running from the murder scene saying 'We shot him.' A corroborating witness later recanted the testimony.

Reporters were given three hours to review the exhibit of 50,000 documents, 1,700 pictures and numerous other pieces of evidence before it was opened to the public.

'This is an historic moment,' Eu said. 'Almost 20 years after that awful night, records relating to the event will be revealed for the first time for the world to see.

'We acknowledge that numerous questions remain in the minds of many about possible conspiracy theories, the conclusions drawn by the police and inconsistencies in the police scenario, and that rumors of a cover-up persist. I can only say that the complete records are here, with very limited exceptions, and the public is welcome to examine them and draw their own conclusions.'

State archives chief John Burns, who reviewed and catalogued the material during the past eight months, said 'mysteries remain' because police destroyed some evidence, including 2,410 photos.

'What I didn't know and what others didn't know is that so much evidence was destroyed,' Burns said, adding 'there is no rationale' for the disposal of the photographs.

In addition to the photos destroyed in August 1968 by police at a county hospital incinerator, Burns said, door jambs and ceiling tiles removed by police from the scene of the shooting at the Ambassador Hotel also are missing, along with a bullet cartridge taken from Sirhan's pocket.

The ceiling tiles are considered crucial by some in calculating the trajectory of the bullets -- a subject of dispute among scholars who theorize that shots could have been fired from a second gun.

Police concluded that Sirhan, who is serving a life sentence at the state prison in Soledad, acted alone. No witnesses, according to summaries of the evidence compiled by archivists, reported seeing anyone else firing a gun.

Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant angered by what he felt was the pro-Israeli stance of the Kennedy family, has never denied the shooting and also has said he acted alone.

Cmdr. William Booth, Los Angeles police department spokesman, declined comment Tuesday on the missing material.

'With regard to discussing what's in the files, we're not going to do it,' Booth said. 'They'll have to speak for themselves.'

Political scientist Gregory Stone, instrumental in pressuring police to release the files, said, 'I couldn't believe my ears' when he learned of the destruction of evidence.

'It appears that much of what was destroyed was photos relating precisely to the most controversial and unexplained areas of this case,' Stone said in a telephone interview. 'Clearly, this was an unbelievable revelation of a blatant distruction of evidence.'

Despite the missing evidence, Burns said, the police files reflected an effort to be thorough.

'They went out of their way to track down every conspiracy lead they came across,' Burns said.

The mammoth exhibit was turned over to the state archives last August after agreement was reached to keep confidential certain police informants and other information. Under state law, Kennedy's autopsy pictures and the bloodied clothing he wore also were not made public.

The newly released material spent most of the past two decades locked in five steel filing cabinets at Los Angeles police headquarters while scholars battled to gain access to the material.

The evidence chronicles the events that began at 12:15 a.m. on June 5, 1968. Kennedy, a Democratic senator from New York, was fatally wounded and five others were hit by gunfire as he walked through the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where he had just spoken to supporters after winning California's Democratic presidential primary. He died the following day.

Police determined that a total of eight bullets were fired in the shooting, but others have disputed that conclusion.

A 1,500-page summary of the evidence was released in March 1986 by the Los Angeles Police Commission, a civilian group that oversees the Police Department. It supported the police conclusion that Sirhan acted alone.

An agreement signed in June 1987 by the city and the state at the urging of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley paved the way for the release of the evidence.

The FBI and the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office previously released their Kennedy files.

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