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Monday, 01 September 2008 13:12

Robert Blair Kaiser, RFK Must Die (reissue)

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For anyone interested in the RFK case, try and get the original version of this book. That version is still a valuable work, one worth having and reading, concludes Jim DiEugenio.


When I contemplated doing a retrospective of the last three books under discussion -- The Last Investigation, Oswald and the CIA, and RFK Must Die! -- I looked forward to it since I thought they would all be more or less the same works with only minor additions to them. This is true of the first two volumes. It is not true of Robert Blair Kaiser's RFK Must Die!

This book has been substantially rewritten and re-edited from its original release in 1970. And that is obvious upon first sight. The 1970 issue consists of 539 pages of text, plus eight appendices. The 2008 version consists of 380 pages of text and three appendices. Some books in the field benefit from being edited down to a shorter length from the original e.g. The Man Who Knew Too Much. That is not the case here. The new version is a significantly lesser work than the original. And for that reason, as I will explain below, I cannot recommend it.

When Kaiser's book came out in 1970, it was immediately recognized as a well-written and intricately detailed account of the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the apprehension of the accused assassin Sirhan Sirhan, and the legal trials and tribulations that followed that murder, ending in the conviction of Sirhan. The book contained so many details of both the assassination and the legal events that followed that it became a source book on the RFK case. Writers like the late Philip Melanson used the book profusely in his three works on the RFK case. Although Kaiser agreed with the official story that Sirhan fired all the shots in the Ambassador Hotel pantry on June 5, 1968, he duly noted the attempts by Dr. Bernard Diamond to hypnotize Sirhan into recalling the actual assassination scene, which he said he could not recall. His last memory before the shooting is of pouring coffee for the famous "Girl in the Polka Dot Dress" before following her into the pantry. His next memory is being strangled and manhandled by RFK's entourage with a gun in his hand.

The last chapter of Kaiser's 1970 version posits the question of motive for Sirhan. And that last chapter became a touchstone in the literature on the RFK case. It was entitled: "The case is still open. I'm not rejecting the Manchurian Candidate aspect of it." (The quote was not Kaiser's, but Los Angeles FBI agent Roger LaJeunnesse's.) In this conclusion he extrapolated from Diamond's work with Sirhan and came to the conclusion that Sirhan was in a hypnoprogrammed state in the pantry. Although he left open the possibility that someone could have programmed Sirhan, he leaned to the probability that Sirhan had somehow done it himself.

From reading this reissue of the book, I get the feeling that Kaiser now regrets writing that last chapter. Because the Robert Blair Kaiser who wrote RFK Must Die! in 1970, is not the same writer who substantially rewrote that book today. What I believed happened is threefold.

First, other authors took the title of his last chapter and began to research the history of the CIA's MK/Ultra program as posited in books like John Marks' The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. They then fit Sirhan into the program and found a prime suspect for the man who actually programmed Sirhan. Second, they investigated aspects of the case that, as an assistant for the defense team, Kaiser missed. Therefore they came to a contrary conclusion about Sirhan's culpability in the assassination. Third, they then took pieces out of the detailed 1970 version of his book and began to connect the dots and mold them into a conspiracy scenario.

To give some specific examples of what I mean by this: a lot of material came out after 1970 which elucidated the history of the CIA's involvement in the use of mind controlling drugs and hypnosis. The Marks books I mentioned above is the most well-known, but there are several others in the field. Writers like Melanson actually uncovered documents which outline programs to assassinate political leaders by using a subject similar to Sirhan's profile. In 1978, the writing team of Bill Turner and Jonn Christian published a book of the RFK case which actually proffered an excellent candidate for the role of hypnotizing Sirhan to do what he did: William J. Bryan. Second, in that book, and also in Melanson's, the authors used the work of ballistics expert William Harper and coroner Thomas Noguchi to produce evidence that seemed to contradict the trial verdict and point to a second gun in the pantry. Third, there were traces in Kaiser's book that, rearranged and newly examined, could be used to piece together an alternative scenario as to what actually happened at the Ambassador Hotel. Therefore the original RFK Must Die! was used by these authors, and others, to reverse the official story in the public's eye.

And it seems that this movement does not sit well with Kaiser. A lot of the rewriting in the new version is aimed at attacking the authors who followed him and came up with a different conclusion: Turner, Christian, Melanson, Lisa Pease, Robert Joling, Phil Van Pragg etc. (He praises the work of Dan Moldea, since Moldea changed his mind and wrote a book saying Sirhan did it.) He even goes out of his way to try and discredit certain witnesses whose testimony points to a conspiracy. For instance: Scott Enyart, the high school photographer who followed RFK into the pantry and took pictures at the murder scene. Enyart's photos were confiscated by the LAPD and never returned to him. He sued the police force and won. Kaiser writes that Enyart a.) was not in the pantry that night, and b.) won his lawsuit against LAPD for similar reasons that OJ Simpson was acquitted: a predominantly black jury with anti-authority impulses. Apparently, Kaiser was not at the trial. Probe was (see Vol. 4 Nos. 1 and 2). Enyart's lawyers produced a photo of Enyart in the pantry. Second, the jury was not predominantly black. It resembled a cross section of the population of LA.

There are other significant things I could point out about the differences between the original and the new version of the book. But I won't. Because the more I think of it the sadder I get. So I will just say that for anyone interested in the RFK case, try and get the original version of this book. That version is still a valuable work, one worth having and reading.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 23:01
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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