I think all of us who are interested in the assassinations of the sixties carry around certain archetypal, indelible images in our heads that symbolize those moments of horror and tragedy. Some of those images actually exist and are embedded in film or photos, e.g., Zapruder frame 313. Some of them were not actually captured on any kind of film. But they are so well described and documented that they have become real for us.
The image I carry around from the 1968 Los Angeles murder of Robert Kennedy is one that many readers of this site are familiar with. But many, many more who are not readers, and who have not done even a modicum of research on that case, have never contemplated. My image is of a young, excited, attractive girl fleeing the murder scene—the pantry—to escape out the back door of the Ambassador Hotel. She is wearing a white dress with dark polka dots. As she and a companion run down the stairs, they met an even younger RFK worker named Sandy Serrano. When Sandy asked what happened, the girl shouted, “We shot him! We shot him!” Serrano asked, “Who did you shoot?” The girl in the polka dot dress said, “We shot Senator Kennedy”. Sandy then went up the stairs to see if this was so. It was. (Faura, p. 99)
That strange, almost surreal meeting is so vivid, so compelling, that once one reads about it, it becomes almost unforgettable. It is an image that truly is, to apply that overused word, cinematic: what with its kinetic planes of motion, its vivid colors, its almost palpably dark overtones. But beyond that, and for our purposes, Serrano’s testimony is prima facie evidence of conspiracy. For the girl used the first person plural pronoun, “We.” And as many authors have noted, what made Serrano’s experience even more incriminating is that she told NBC newsman Sander Vanocur about it on national television. Albeit back east it was the wee hours of the morning when she was on, lo and behold, there it was, smack dab in the middle of the MSM. (Faura, pp. 10, 99)
At the time of the RFK assassination, Fernando Faura was employed by a newspaper called the Hollywood Citizen News. It is safe to say that no other reporter did as much work in tracking down the girl in the polka dot dress than he did. In fact, it is also safe to say that no one even came close. His work became a standard for other authors on the RFK case when they wrote about her. For example, when I interviewed the late William Turner, he had much respect for the work that Faura did on this crucial issue. And his files contained some of the stories that the local reporter penned about the RFK case.
Faura has now, somewhat belatedly, written a book about his experience on the RFK case. His work elucidates just how important his pursuit of the girl was. No other author has ever written at this length and depth about her.
The irony about Faura latching onto the RFK case was that Bobby Kennedy was not even his beat at the time. He was actually covering a California assembly race in June of 1968. He heard about the RFK shooting on his car radio. By the next morning he learned two important things about the case. First, that prior to being at the Kennedy celebration the night of the shooting, Sirhan had reportedly been at the headquarters of Senate candidate Max Rafferty, located upstairs at the Ambassador Hotel. (p. 13) But more importantly, the first reports about the accused assailant being accompanied by a girl shouting “We shot him!” began to circulate. (ibid, p. 16) As Faura writes, when he heard this, he immediately began to contemplate there had been a conspiracy. Even though his contacts in the LAPD—plus Mayor Sam Yorty and Police Chief Tom Reddin— were already battening down the hatches and proclaiming Sirhan as the lone assassin. The other evidentiary point that made him suspicious was that, through his reporting contacts, he learned that the police had a file on Sirhan before the RFK murder. Even though, as far as he could discern, Sirhan had no criminal record before this time. (p. 20)
Because of his interest in the case, Faura met with Sirhan’s family lawyer Dave Marcus. Marcus handled immigration problems for Sirhan’s brothers, Munir and Saidallah. Through Marcus, he also met Jordan Bonfante and Robert Kaiser from Life magazine. Bonfante was an editor, Kaiser a contributor. Marcus offered Faura the opportunity to write a book about Sirhan. Faura declined. Kaiser then accepted. (p. 28) In retrospect, one really has to wonder about the wisdom of that decision. Kaiser’s book was the first one out of the chute after Sirhan’s trial. For all of his musing about Sirhan perhaps being a Manchurian Candidate, it is still an official story book. If Faura had been first, his book would have been much more in line with what, say, Harold Weisberg did on the JFK case. It would have been a book doubting the official story. Instead we had to wait several years for the first volume questioning what LAPD had done, i.e., The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, by William Turner and Jonn Christian, released in 1978.
After Faura published a story based on a witness at the Rafferty gathering who saw Sirhan there, two things happened that changed the trajectory of his inquiry. Bonfante got in contact and offered to work with him on the case under the sponsorship of Life. Secondly, a man named John Fahey read the story and came to visit him at work.
Relatively little has been written about Fahey in the RFK literature. For instance, he is not mentioned in the aforementioned Turner/Christian book. Over a decade later, Philip Melanson did not mention him in his estimable The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination. What makes this odd is that both books do reference Faura. And both books do discuss the girl in the polka dot dress. In reading Faura’s book it is hard not to conclude that Fahey was his most important discovery, because it is equally hard not to conclude that Fahey spent a good part of June 4, 1968 with the girl. He then dropped her off at the Ambassador. A few hours later, she escorted Sirhan into the pantry. She then ran out and told Sandy Serrano what they had done.
Before we get into a full discussion of Fahey and his dealings with the FBI, LAPD and Faura, we should set the stage a bit more fully. For many different reasons, the RFK murder does not get the exposure it should, so even readers of this site may not be fully familiar with that case, or the importance of two related points: 1.) The issue of post-hypnotic suggestion, and 2.) The interactions between Sirhan and the girl that evening. We should concisely deal with both of these points in order to understand how important the testimony of Fahey actually is.
|Author Fernando Faura|
The first psychiatrist who analyzed Sirhan Bishara Sirhan was Bernard Diamond, a professor of forensic psychiatry at UC Berkeley. He is often quoted as saying that it became obvious to him rather early that Sirhan had been previously programmed. Further, that his reaction to hypnosis was exceptionally keen, in the sense that he could easily be put under, fulfill a command given to him while hypnotized, and afterwards deny he had done it or acted under post hypnotic suggestion. For instance, as authors like Melanson have detailed, once he went under, Diamond would suggest that Sirhan later climb the bars of his cell like a monkey. Diamond would then snap him out of the trance. Sirhan would then climb on cue, e.g., Diamond would say a certain word, or make a certain facial expression. After he did it, Diamond would ask him why. Invariably, Sirhan would deny he did so.
After reviewing this record, the late Dr. Herbert Spiegel—perhaps the nation’s leading expert on hypnosis—came to the conclusion that, on a rating scale of susceptibility, Sirhan was a 5, meaning he was in a class of persons that amounted to less than 10% of the population—those who could be hypnotized very simply and easily. He also said that Sirhan’s background as a Palestinian refugee, with a childhood plagued with political violence, could be used as a hook for the programming. Spiegel added the following: these painful memories could be conjured up and then utilized as direction for the intended goal of the programmer.
Perhaps the most interesting observations on this crucial subject were those stated in a legal declaration by Dr. Eduard Simson-Kallas. Simson was the chief psychologist in Sirhan’s prison testing program. He ended up spending over 35 hours with Sirhan. Agreeing with Spiegel, he stated that Sirhan was easily hypnotized. Agreeing further, he said that the Arab-Israeli conflict could have been used as a motivation.
In one aspect, Simson went even further than Diamond and Spiegel. After spending so much time with the subject, he did not think Sirhan was sufficiently devious or unbalanced to act on his own in the murder of RFK. He stated that Sirhan had to have been prepared in advance. As he said so simply: “He was hypnotized by someone.” (These and further clinical observations were stated in Simson’s’ 33-point declaration this reviewer read out of Turner’s files.)
Simson developed a degree of trust and rapport with his subject. Sirhan seemed to want to know what happened that night at the Ambassador. So Simson was in the process of attempting to deprogram him when his superiors told him to stop the procedure. Simson was so disappointed in this that he resigned and went into private practice.
Simson had harsh words for Sirhan’s defense team. Sirhan’s lawyers tried to plead diminished capacity at his trial. Diamond then stated that Sirhan had hypnotized himself. Simson could not disagree more. He wrote that it is just not possible to render oneself into such a deep state of hypnosis and then to set up blocks of amnesia so one cannot recall it. He then stated that it was a mistake by the defense—he called it the psychiatric blunder of the century—to admit guilt and then proclaim Sirhan as temporarily deranged. Since Sirhan resisted the derangement syndrome, he was not cooperative with the defense and they could not unlock his mind to find out who had planted the post hypnotic suggestions.
How does this all intersect with the girl in the polka dot dress? When Diamond put Sirhan under, he would often ask him to perform something called automatic writing. This is a technique that, through a slow and repetitive process of writing with a pen to paper, attempts to release the subject’s deeper thoughts and feelings. Once, Diamond asked Sirhan if anyone was with him when he shot at Kennedy in the pantry of the hotel. Sirhan began to write out very slowly: “The girl…the girl…the girl.” Secondly, during his discussions with Simson—while in a normal state—the doctor asked him the last thing he recalled about that night. Sirhan replied that he recalled sitting at a small table with the girl. They were drinking coffee. She wanted lots of cream and sugar. They were then asked to leave that area. She then led him into the pantry. (Faura, pp. 210-211)
At this point, Faura begins to use excerpts from Professor Dan Brown’s interviews with Sirhan. Brown is a professor of psychology at Harvard. At the time, he was employed by attorney William Pepper, who was making an attempt to reopen the Bobby Kennedy case. Brown ended up spending even more time with Sirhan than Simson-Kallas did. Brown writes that, after Sirhan followed the girl into the pantry, he recalled getting something like a tap on the shoulder. He then went into his “weapons stance”, like he was at a target range, the visual cue being the polka dots. After firing once or twice, Sirhan snapped out of it and realized he was not at a range; then people started grabbing him and he asked himself “What is going on?”
This makes four forensic psychiatrists who have all come to the conclusion that Sirhan had been programmed. Brown states that “Sirhan has a rare combination of personality characteristics that make him highly vulnerable to … mind control methods.” He further wrote that “Mr. Sirhan’s memory report is consistent with hypnotic programming hypothesis.”
The forensic psychiatrist concluded that Sirhan’s act of firing at Kennedy that night was not the result of his conscious behavior. He wrote that it is “likely the product of automatic hypnotic behavior and coercive control. … further, that the system of mind control which was imposed upon him has also made it impossible for him to recall under hypnosis, or consciously, many critical details of actions and events leading to and at the time of the shooting … .” (ibid, p. 213) In other words, agreeing with Simson-Kallas, someone planted mental blocks in Sirhan’s mind to conceal certain keys to his programming.
To close out this aspect of the case, with all this in the record, it is now necessary to mention two other crucial evidentiary points. Serrano did not just witness the girl and one companion fleeing down the stairs after the assassination. She saw the girl also enter the hotel from that same entrance prior to the shooting. (ibid, p. 101) Except at that time, there was a second male companion with the girl, a man who she later said resembled Sirhan. Secondly, in the pantry, after the shooting, almost everyone was absolutely hysterical—shouting, screaming, weeping, attacking Sirhan. People were panic-stricken, trying to figure out what happened. People were trying to get in the room to see what had happened.
|RFK signs poster for bystander Michael Wayne minutes before he is assassinated.|
Yet, as Faura details, there were three people who were not acting like this at all. They were not panic-stricken or overcome with grief. They were intent on escaping from the room. These were the girl, her original companion, and a man named Michael Wayne—who we shall discuss later.
As the reader can see from this brief précis, ample evidence exists that Sirhan was being manipulated. More than ample evidence exists that the girl was a key part of that manipulation. John Fahey spent the day of the assassination with the girl. He then dropped her off at the Ambassador Hotel.
As noted, Fahey came to see Faura after he read his first story on the RFK case, which had made the front page of the Citizen-News. Faura would find Fahey’s story so fascinating, so compelling, so potentially important to solving the case, that he recorded it on tape. He then had it transcribed. (Faura, p. 33)
Fahey worked at a chemical company. He arrived at the Ambassador that morning on a business matter. While waiting in the coffee shop he met up with an attractive young girl. She would eventually give Fahey a few names, but the first one she gave him was Alice. This is one way, Fahey felt, that she was communicating to him she was doing something secretive. In fact, when he asked her directly what she was doing there, she put him off with words to the effect: I would not want you involved. (ibid, p. 36) She then walked him over to the RFK headquarters part of the hotel. She said that Kennedy would be taken care of that night, after his reception. She then said that they were being watched. Since Fahey mentioned that he needed to travel out to Oxnard later, she asked if she could join him. Fahey accepted and they drove off. But shortly after they hit the road, it became evident that they were being tailed. This seemed to genuinely upset her. When Fahey asked why they were being followed, she said it had to do with what was going to happen to RFK after his reception.
Once the pair got to Oxnard, Fahey decided to go on further to Ventura. But he noticed that there was now a different tail behind them. (p. 41) Fahey told Faura that she said some strange things that, at the time, he did not really comprehend. She mentioned getting a false passport to leave the country as soon as she could. She mentioned departing LA on a plane from Flying Tigers Airlines. She also said she had come to Los Angeles from New York City, where she had met a woman named Anna Chennault. Fahey thought she might be delusional, or inebriated.
When they arrived back at the Ambassador it was around 7 PM. She said she was staying at Olympic and Kenmore, which was nearby. Fahey commented that it was pretty clear that she knew her way about every nook and cranny of the hotel. When they got back, she went to the back of the hotel. Spooked, he did not want to be associated with her anymore. (p. 52)
After the assassination, Fahey understood what had happened. He went to the FBI, who interviewed him and said they would recall him. Fahey and Faura went over the route Fahey said he had driven with the girl. Fahey was very specific about where they stopped for lunch and where he got a flat tire. Faura then took him to the police. The reporter gave them a copy of the transcript. They also asked for the original tape to duplicate. Which, of course, Faura did not get back until 20 years later, when it was declassified at the California Archives in Sacramento. After the LAPD interviewed Fahey they told him not to discuss his story, and for Faura not to write about it. They based the latter on a gag order placed over the upcoming Sirhan trial. Faura thought it was nonsense to apply this to the press. But clearly LAPD was fearful that Fahey would give credibility to Serrano’s story.
By this time, Faura was getting suspicious about what the LAPD and FBI were actually doing. Reportedly, the Bureau had four hundred agents working the RFK case. LAPD had set up a select unit inside the force called Special Unit Senator to investigate the case. Yet both seemed to want to ignore the most credible leads. In fact, as Faura would later learn, LAPD wanted to discredit them—as they would attempt to do with both Serrano and Fahey. They actually wanted to make the Girl in the Polka Dot Dress disappear, since she epitomized a sophisticated plot to kill Kennedy.
Therefore, Faura decided to go ahead and commission a drawing of the girl from Fahey’s memory. He then got the sketch illustrated into a portrait. This would serve as an identification instrument for other witnesses. (p. 80)
On June 19th, Fahey called Faura and told him he was going to the Ambassador Hotel. The FBI told him they had found the girl. Faura found out they were actually going to pick her up and have Fahey identify her at the Kenmore Hotel, which was behind the Ambassador. Faura called Bonfante. He brought down a photographer to memorialize the moment. The Bureau had been tipped off by Ty Hammond, manager of the Kenmore. But it turned out that the Bureau had arrived too late and the girl was gone. Disappointed and frustrated, Faura decided to give Hammond the portrait of the girl. Hammond said that yes, it looked like her. (p. 96) He also said the girl had Arab friends and she always entered the Ambassador from his hotel. She was not actually staying there, but lived in the nearby neighborhood. But he was not sure she was still there.
Just as the chase for the girl was beginning to bear some fruit, the police now called it off. On June 21st, according to the authorities—most notably DA Evelle Younger—Serrano had taken back her story. As the public later learned, this was not actually true, and it was done under duress. It was part of the attempt by local authorities to make the girl disappear. By hook or by crook. (ibid, pp. 107-08) But it actually went further than that. Because now, his sources of information began to dry up. When he went to see Hammond, he would not cooperate any further. When he called Fahey, he told the reporter the FBI had seen them together and wanted him to cut off this association.
But Faura continued to investigate. He found two other witnesses who said they saw Sirhan with the girl. Jose Carvajal who worked at the Ambassador saw the two talking with Sirhan on a terrace in front of the rear door of the hotel. Vincent DiPierro saw the two seconds before the shooting. He said that the girl smiled at Sirhan right before he began firing. When DiPierro looked at the portrait, he had only slight modifications to the illustration. (Pp. 117-20)
But as the author notes, what was so odd about this was that Faura learned that the FBI was also still looking for the girl. And so was the LAPD. But if Serrano had been discredited, and the girl did not exist, then why were they still crossing paths? And why had Fahey been fired from his job? (p. 136)
An example of the continuing search for the girl was that both Faura and the FBI interviewed a woman named Pam Russo. She said she had seen the girl with Sirhan at Rafferty’s gathering prior to the shooting. But further, she also said that someone at Rafferty’s actually tackled a man trying to escape the pantry after Kennedy had been shot. (p. 140)
Which leads us to Gregory Clayton and Michael Wayne. Clayton was the bystander who Russo was referring to who tackled a man running out of the pantry—Michael Wayne.
When Faura found out about Clayton, he tracked down his house and visited him in person. The witness told the reporter that he had seen Sirhan at Rafferty’s that night with the girl. (p. 151) He said that, at the Ambassador later, after he heard the first shot, he ran to the entrance of the kitchen pantry. He tackled a man running away from the murder scene. He said there were actually two men who seemed to be fleeing together. One had an object in his hand, which appeared to “flash”. The other man was in such haste that he was knocking a news photographer onto a table and into some chairs. When Clayton yelled for a nearby security guard, the man with the flashing object in his hand ran the other way, into the hallway. Clayton tripped the other man, who was then subdued by the guard. According to the witness, the man they subdued had a “look of madness in his eyes, as if he had rabies.” (p. 153) He then kept saying, “Let me go. Gotta get out of here. Let me go.” As Faura later notes, these were not the words of an innocent bystander. Clayton picked up a paper that Wayne had been carrying. It was a rather bizarre bumper sticker that read, “Kennedy Assassination a Death Hoax.”
As anyone reading the above would understand, the Clayton story suggests there was more than one gun involved in the RFK murder. As does the Brown/Sirhan transcript. Because in one of these sessions Sirhan said that, during the shooting, he saw the flash of another gun firing. (p. 212) Finally, as almost everyone who has seen a photo of Wayne knows, the running man, who said he had to get out of here, all with a look of madness in his eyes, resembled Sirhan.
Faura managed to temporarily make amends with Fahey. Like a good reporter, he did two things to try and certify his story. First, he gave him a polygraph test, which he passed. (p. 181) He then found the waitress who served Fahey and the girl at a restaurant in Oxnard. Her name was Janis Page. (p. 173) The LAPD did their best to negate both of these achievements. They got Page to keep her mouth shut after she talked to Faura, and they gave Fahey their own version of the polygraph. This was through their old reliable Hank Hernandez. (p. 185) As many authors have shown, when LAPD wanted to discredit a witness, they turned him over to Hernandez.
After this, Faura’s efforts became comparable to Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus: rolling a rock up a hill, only to see it roll back down. Fahey cut off relations with him for good. Bonfante let him know that his supervisors at Life had told him that they would not finance any further inquiry into the RFK case. The author tells us that this change came after a call from Washington. (p. 191)
Faura equates the last with the subtitle of the book, the “Paris Peace Talks Connection.” Some background will be required for this aspect of the book. As previously noted, the girl told Fahey that prior to her coming to Los Angeles she had met a woman named Anna Chennault. She also mentioned that she might be able to fly out of town on CAT or Flying Tiger Airlines. (p. 61)
Anna Chennault was the Chinese wife of former military pilot Claire Chennault. Claire became famous as an aviation pilot aiding the Chinese struggle against Japan during World War II. His initial volunteer squad was called the Flying Tigers. This was replaced when the USAF formally entered the war and operated in the China-Burma-India air theater.
After the war, Chennault, a big backer of the nationalist Taiwan government, created something called Civil Air Transport (CAT). This supplied freight into Taiwan, aided the French struggle to keep their Indochina empire, and aided the Kuomintang’s occupation of Burma in the mid and late fifties. It also helped in the early years of the American occupation of South Vietnam.
Faura used the later dropping of these names by the girl—Fahey recalled them later, after his recorded interview—to perform two rather large functions. He connects the girl and Chennault to the deliberate sandbagging of President Johnson’s peace talks, and he then suggests that people like candidate Richard Nixon, future Vice-President Spiro Agnew, future Attorney General John Mitchell and Senator John Tower were in on the RFK assassination. (p. 207)
As regards the former, Faura is referring to the rather recently discovered files by journalist par excellence Robert Parry. Parry discovered a file put together by National Security Advisor Walt Rostow at the Johnson Library. That file contained information garnered by the FBI and the National Security Agency about Nixon’s efforts to subvert Johnson’s attempt to get a peace conference with the North Vietnamese prior to the fall election of 1968. Perceiving this to be a boon for the Democrats, Nixon set out to deep-six that diplomatic effort. Nixon did use Republican lobbyist and fundraiser Anna Chennault to communicate with the South Vietnamese government, advising them to stall Johnson, promising Nixon would give them a better deal once he was elected.
The problem with Faura’s theory here is that, as author Ken Hughes has shown, those efforts did not begin until over a month after Robert Kennedy was killed. It was not until July 12 that Nixon alerted Chennault that she would be his go-between for these efforts to obstruct Johnson. So if she was not aware of that function until then, how and why could she have been used prior to June 5th in the RFK plot?
Also, although Faura mentions John Tower as a possible co-conspirator, in rereading some of the literature on Parry’s fine site, Consortium News, I could not detect his name in any of the declassified files on the illicit episode. So, as far as I can see, the top-level players involved were Nixon, Agnew and Mitchell. Mitchell had been at the meeting in July of 1968 where Nixon appointed Chennault as his emissary. (In an interview with journalist Jules Witcover in 1994, Chennault did say that Tower did have knowledge of her mission. See Baltimore Sun, 8/18/2014) And FBI wiretaps seem to indicate that Chennault was getting instructions from Agnew in late October of the campaign. But all of these efforts and communications are to thwart Johnson. Just because The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress had met Chennault in New York, what is the evidence that the men mentioned above were part of the plot to kill RFK? And if they had been, the girl would not be musing about getting a passport and flight on CAT. She would have had her passport and been on a plane the next day.
From what I have learned about the RFK case from writers like Turner, Melanson, and Lisa Pease, most of the evidence inherent in the crime—the MK/Ultra aspect, the associations of the leaders of SUS Hernandez and Manny Pena, the presence of former Iranian intelligence officer Khaiber Khan at RFK headquarters—seems to indicate a CIA modus operandi.
I also have some formal criticisms of the book. Faura was, for all intents and purposes, a participant in the RFK investigation as it unfolded. He was not an academic or a historian looking back at a past event he did not have a hand in. Therefore, his book could have and should have been written from a first person point of view—but it is not. At times, the author refers to himself as ‘Faura’. Before Jim Garrison started his memoir on his inquiry into the JFK assassination, his editor Zach Sklar insisted he write it in the first person. He did this since he thought it would create personal drama and invite reader empathy, since they would be watching a real life protagonist progress through unchanneled and dangerous waters. Sklar was correct and Garrison was grateful for that advice. Well, someone at Trine Day publishing should have insisted on the same thing in Faura’s case.
Also, I would have advised Faura not to use the very short chapter approach he does, some of them being literally less than two pages. This is not the way to build and cap sustained interest. Finally, in this vein, Faura excerpts into the book long sections of taped interrogations he did. Again, not all that scintillating to read. I wish he had summarized the less important parts of the interviews and only given us the key parts in the Q an A format.
In his discussion of the Scott Enyart trial over the photos Enyart took in the pantry of the actual assassination, the (wrong) photos did not show up during the trial, but just prior to it. (p. 219) Finally, the author seems unkind about RFK researcher Ted Charach. Faura does score him for some personal shortcomings. And I agree with them. But to say that the last he heard of Charach he was still trying to sell a vinyl record—that seems really unkind and uncareful. Charach’s 1973 film, The Second Gun, was nothing less than a breakthrough in the Bobby Kennedy case. In fact, that film is still worth seeing today. Also, as reporter David Manning noted in an article on the Enyart trial for Probe Magazine, Charach was one of the key witnesses that turned the case in Enyart’s favor.
All in all, we finally have a record of one of the very, very few mainstream reporters who actually delved into one of the assassinations of the sixties. Who tried to do an honest job and who actually tried to follow the evidence wherever it was headed. He found out the hard way that the local authorities—the police, the DA’s office, Mayor Sam Yorty—did not want to do that in the least. In fact, they were determined to not only avoid that path, but to discredit those who tried. Including the author. This book is his testament to that process.