The 50th anniversary of a dark day in American history when Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was shot after a campaign event in Los Angeles. A lone gunman, Sirhan Sirhan, was convicted of the murder, but questions persist. Investigative reporter George Knapp spoke with two Nevadans who were affected in different ways. Aired on June 5, 2018, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas.
In 1968, future Nevada Gov. Bob Miller was a 23-year-old Army Reserve sergeant living in Los Angeles. He found himself across the street from the Robert F. Kennedy campaign event at the Ambassador Hotel after Kennedy had just won the California primary.
Miller recalls, “And I ran into a fellow that was in the Army Reserve uniform, he was taking photographs of the event. We went in together, so I was relatively close to the stage during Bobby Kennedy’s speech.”
Kennedy spoke to the enthusiastic crowd. “My thanks to all of you and now it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there.”
When the victory speech ended, Miller headed to the lounge. Minutes later, his Army buddy came to get him. “In the emotion of the moment it was more like ‘They shot him, I think he’s dead. Other people are shot. It’s terrible, it’s terrible. Come on.’ And he just pulled me. He was half my size and pulled me right out of the room.”
Panic and confusion dominated the scene as the terrible news spread through the crowd.
It was pandemonium. They were trying to figure out where to go, as was I. What do you do? I was having a hard time grasping what I was being told.Former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller
The reality struck Miller when a bloody victim was wheeled past him on a gurney.
“And that’s what I remember,” Miller said. “Like I said, perhaps not a very good description, but felt like the atmosphere thickened like I could cut through it with a knife.”
Five people, including the senator, had been shot in a cramped pantry. Kennedy died the following day. The confused gunman, Sirhan Sirhan, was convicted and sent to prison in what appeared to be an open and shut case.
“June 6, 1968, is the day that the federal government and the Central Intelligence Agency pounded the final nail into the coffin of hope, peace and democracy in America. There is absolutely no question about it,” said comedian and writer John Barbour.
“I was in my hotel room writing more jokes for The Tonight Show,” Barbour remembers. He was booked to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when he heard the terrible news and, in a flash, everything changed.
As a TV host and producer, Barbour became intrigued by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, the only person to bring a prosecution in the murder of President John Kennedy. Barbour produced two films based on interviews with Garrison and came to believe that both Kennedys were targeted by conspiracies involving government operatives.
Bobby Kennedy kept his own suspicions about his brother’s murder to himself. Barber says Garrison sent warnings to the senator.
“Jim Garrison said, ‘You tell your friend to make his suspicions public because it will save his life. If he keeps them to himself, they’re going to murder him too.’ And indeed, they did.”
In late 2017, Robert Kennedy Jr. announced that he had met with Sirhan Sirhan in prison and he called for a new investigation into his father’s murder, in part because the original autopsy shows the fatal shot came from a mere three inches behind Kennedy while Sirhan Sirhan had been in front of the senator, six feet away.
In the confusion, did a second gunman get away?
George Knapp: How does the other gunman get away with shooting RFK in the back of the head and nobody notices?
John Barbour: “Because it’s a perfectly planned hit. I mean, Robert Kennedy was led by the arm into that pantry.”
While some members of the Kennedy family want to reopen the investigation. Others say, what’s done is done.
Bobby Kennedy was not a popular figure among Las Vegas casino owners because as attorney general he authorized intense investigations into organized crime influence in the Nevada gambling industry.