Two researchers have unveiled what they are calling a major breakthrough in the investigation of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
Philip Van Praag, an expert in the forensic analysis of magnetic audio tape, says his analysis of the only known tape recording of the June 1968 assassination shows there were thirteen gunshots fired in the space of about five seconds - five more than the weapon allegedly used by Sirhan Sirhan could hold.
Van Praag's findings were revealed at a news conference in Washington DC on February 21, 2008 during the 60th annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Also present at the news conference was RFK shooting victim Paul Schrade, and Dr. Robert J. Joling, J.D., past AAFS president. After Schrade and Joling briefly described the assassination and some of the controversies stemming from it, they brought on Van Praag to, as Schrade put it, "talk about the new evidence that we have ... new evidence (which) is scientific." Said Schrade further: "We of course see this as a major breakthrough after nearly 40 years of studying this case."
Van Praag explained that key among the new evidence are three discoveries made from examinations of the tape recording of the assassination made by a Polish freelance newspaper reporter Stanislaw Pruszynski, which surfaced decades later when Pruszynski's audio recording was discovered by an American journalist in 2004:
- The Pruszynski recording captured the sounds of at least 13 gunshots fired inside the Ambassador Hotel kitchen pantry at 12:16 am PDT on June 5, 1968. While 13 shots were captured in Pruszynski's tape, physical evidence points to at least 14 bullets fired in the shooting (a 14th shot could have been obscured in the Pruszynski recording by the sound of screaming 5-to-6 seconds after the shooting started). More than eight shots means a second gunman was firing during the assassination, given that convicted gunman Sirhan Sirhan's weapon only carried eight shots in its chamber.
- The Pruszynski recording also captured two sets of "double shots". (One set of double shots consists of two shots fired too closely together to have been fired by the same gun). Sequentially, in Van Praag's 13-shot finding, these two sets of double shots were Shots 3 & 4 as one set and Shots 7 3 & 8 as the second set. The capture of just one set of double shots (let alone two sets, as in this case) by itself supercedes the necessity to count the number of shots fired in the RFK shooting. Because the presence of only one set of double shots reveals a second gun was firing during the assassination. When you add to this the fact that Sirhan possessed only one gun in the pantry, obviously it's abundantly clear that this second gun must have been fired by someone other than Sirhan.
- The Pruszynski recording also captured odd acoustic characteristics in five of the shots, which is evident when specific frequencies are analyzed separately. Sequentially, these were Shots 3, 5, 8, 10 and 12 in Van Praag's 13-shot finding. These shots apparently came from a second gun that was pointing away from Pruszynski's microphone at the north side of the Embassy Room ballroom as his microphone recorded the sounds that were coming from the kitchen pantry. The first two of these three discoveries were mentioned in last year's Discovery Times documentary, "Conspiracy Test: The RFK Assassination". However the third discovery was not made until after that documentary was produced and premiered on June 6, 2007.
During the presentation, one reporter asked a question which was incorrectly worded (a question based entirely on a false premise). He asked the following: "ABC News did an extensive analysis of this recording a few years ago and it said it had conclusive proof that there were no more than eight gunshots fired. Would you say that their analysis was incorrect?"
Following their conference, Van Praag, Joling and Schrade learned of the reporter's mistake and that the reporter had even acknowledged his error-laden question. Essentially what the reporter had done was mix up the Pruszynski recording with three other recordings (the West, Brent and Smith/ABC recordings) that had been analyzed by Dr. Michael Hecker for ABC's "20-20" program during the early 1980s. Hecker had examined the Andy West and Jeff Brent sound recordings as well as sound from ABC TV's own videotape of the Embassy Room (during which anchorman Howard K. Smith's voice is heard in a playback of the videotape) and had concluded the three recordings showed 10 shots had been fired in the RFK shooting. ABC eventually decided against doing the proposed 20-20 segment for reasons never clearly stated but Kennedy family pressure was rumored (in any case, no one ever suggested the network had concluded anything, one way or the other, from the three recordings). Decades later, it was determined that none of the three recordings had captured the RFK shots (that sounds in the three recordings which some had assumed were shots actually were caused by other things). For example, the West and Brent tape-recorders actually were not recording at the moment of the shooting. Both West and Brent had their recorders stopped -- or paused -- at that crucial moment and when both the West and Brent machines finally resumed recording, both already had missed capturing the shots. Recently, Dr. Joling, and even Hecker himself, confirmed that the Hecker conclusions about the West, Brent and Smith/ABC recordings were wrong. This is stated on pages 255-256 of the first printing of Joling's and Van Praag's book, An Open and Shut Case.
So the reporter's question at the 2/21/08 DC press conference was heavily laden with error. To re-cap: ABC (and this goes for CBS and NBC as well) has never done any kind of analysis of the Pruszynski recording at any time ever. Instead, ABC attempted to do an extensive analysis of the West, Brent and Smith/ABC recordings more than 25 years ago (as opposed to "a few years ago") but then suddenly canceled the early 1980s project before the analysis could be completed... and ABC never concluded anything about any RFK recordings whatsoever. The presser panel was informed that before he left the presser, the reporter had acknowledged his error concerning ABC.
"The one other thing that's very interesting about Phil's findings," said Joling at the presser, "is that it substantiates to a 'T' the actual factual background (in the RFK shooting)." Although not pointed out at the presser itself, the panel is acutely aware that the pattern of the 13 shots captured by Pruszynski eerily follows the pattern most often cited by assassination witnesses. Witnesses differed in their accounts as to the number of shots they remembered hearing and as to the pattern of the shots. However, among the witnesses, the most frequently cited pattern for the shots was that first there were two shots fired in quick succession, then there was a brief pause in the firing (during which it is believed assistant hotel maitre d' Karl Uecker grabbed Sirhan's firing wrist while placing him in a headlock), and then there was a string of very rapidly firing shots. This, in fact, is the very pattern of shots captured by the Pruszynski recording.
The AAFS will be publishing Van Praag's paper on the Pruszynski recording when it next publishes its scientific papers. No date is set yet, but it could be by mid-year or the fall.