June 5 (UPI) -- In the 50 years since a gunman killed Sen. Robert F. Kennedy at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel, conspiracy theories suggesting the convicted murderer didn't act alone -- or is entirely innocent -- resurface from time to time. Now, the slain presidential candidate's children are joining the call for a fresh look at the case.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was 16 years old and her brother, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., was 14 when they and brother Joseph Kennedy were flown to their father's deathbed at Los Angeles' Good Samaritan Hospital. Now the two siblings are questioning whether the right person is behind bars for shooting three bullets into their father on June 5, 1968, the night he won California's crucial Democratic primary.
Gunman Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a Jordanian immigrant, was subdued immediately after several shots rang out in the Ambassador Hotel's kitchen pantry as Kennedy made his way to a ballroom for a post-primary news conference. Sirhan was holding a .22-caliber Iver Johnson Cadet revolver.
Five other people were also shot, but Kennedy was the only one to die. The New York senator and former U.S. attorney general succumbed to his injuries -- a bullet to the head and two in his back -- nearly 26 hours later on June 6.
Almost immediately after the gunfire, there were reports that perhaps someone else may have been involved. On June 6, police issued an all points bulletin for a woman wearing a polka dot dress.
Twenty-year-old campaign worker Sandra Serrano, who'd been on a hotel terrace at the time of the shooting, said she saw a woman wearing such a dress leave the hotel.
"A girl came running down the steps and said, 'We shot him!'" Serrano said.
"Who did you shoot?" she said she'd asked.
"We shot Senator Kennedy," the woman answered.
The Los Angeles Police Department followed up on the lead but it's unclear whether the woman Serrano sighted was ever located. In 2011, Sirhan said a mystery woman, whom he first met at the rally, manipulated him under mind control. He said she pinched him on the shoulder, sending him into "range mode" in which he believed he was at a firing range.
"I thought that I was at the range more than I was shooting at any person, let alone Bobby Kennedy," Sirhan told a hypnotist his legal team hired. "I didn't know that I had a gun."
Sirhan's lawyers said he was used as a decoy as the real gunman shot Kennedy. At trial, Sirhan confessed to killing Kennedy but later recanted, saying he was pressured to do so by his attorney.
The mystery of the woman in the polka dress isn't the only reason Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have doubts about their father's murder case.
Kennedy Jr. said he began questioning whether there was another gunman recently after campaign aide Paul Schrade showed him evidence files. Schrade, of the United Auto Workers union, was among those injured in the shooting.
"Once Schrade showed me the autopsy report, then I didn't feel like it was something I could just dismiss. Which is what I wanted to do," Kennedy Jr. told The Washington Post.
Among the discrepancies Schrade and Kennedy Jr. point to is the finding by investigators that the senator was shot from point-blank range from behind the right ear -- a position the two believe do not line up with Sirhan.
Witnesses also said Sirhan wasn't close enough to leave gunpowder on Kennedy's jacket. Hotel maitre d' Karl Uecker restrained Sirhan as he fired the gun, but also believes the pistol never got closer than a foot away from Kennedy's head.
"The people that were closest to [Sirhan], the people that disarmed him all said he never got near my father," Kennedy Jr. said.
Schrade dismissed theories that he fell toward Kennedy when he was shot, pushing him against the muzzle of Sirhan's gun and giving him a point-blank shot. Schrade, though, said he fell backward, away from the senator, when he was shot.
The two men also said other evidence suggests more than one gun. An audio recording taken during the shooting, they say, indicates 13 shots. Sirhan's revolver held just eight rounds. The clarity and content of the recording, though, has been questioned by experts.
The LAPD's initial forensic investigation showed the bullets from Kennedy's body came from Sirhan's gun. Experts in the 1970s, however, questioned whether the ballistic evidence was conclusive -- including a possibility that a round that hit ABC News producer William Weisel didn't come from Sirhan's Iver Johnson.
A panel of forensic experts in 1975 retested the handgun and determined LAPD investigator DeWayne Wolfer had done a poor job in his initial review of evidence.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, now a 66-year-old attorney and former lieutenant governor of Maryland, told the Boston Globe she thinks her brother "Bobby makes a compelling case."
Late last year, Kennedy Jr. visited Sirhan, now 74, in prison at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.
"I went there because I was curious and disturbed by what I had seen in the evidence," Kennedy Jr., now a 64-year-old environmental lawyer, said. "I was disturbed that the wrong person might have been convicted of killing my father. My father was the chief law enforcement officer in this country. I think it would have disturbed him if somebody was put in jail for a crime they didn't commit."
The two siblings may be the only two of Kennedy's 11 children, though, pushing to reopen the case. Brother Joseph P. Kennedy II, a former six-term congressman from Massachusetts, and Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights center, disagree with their siblings.
"As we approach the 50th anniversary of my father's passing, I think what is most important is that our country and my family reflect on what my father stood for and fought for -- a legacy promoting global peace, social justice, and civil rights," Joseph P. Kennedy II said.
Widow Ethel Kennedy declined to comment on a fresh examination of evidence involving her husband's assassination.
A jury found Sirhan guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death in April 1969. His sentence was commuted to life in prison after California abolished the death penalty. Since his conviction, he has repeatedly maintained his innocence.
Sirhan has sought parole 15 times. He was denied at the most recent hearing in February 2016, and will be re-evaluated in 2021.