In 1968, Robert Kennedy seemed likely to follow his brother, John, into the White House. Then, on June 6, he was assassinated – apparently by a lone gunman. But Shane O’Sullivan says he has evidence implicating three CIA agents in the murder
At first, it seems an open-and-shut case. On June 5
1968, Robert Kennedy wins the California Democratic
primary and is set to challenge Richard Nixon for the
White House. After midnight, he finishes his victory
speech at the Ambassador hotel in Los Angeles and is
shaking hands with kitchen staff in a crowded pantry
when 24-year-old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan steps down
from a tray-stacker with a “sick, villainous smile” on
his face and starts firing at Kennedy with an eight-
As Kennedy lies dying on the pantry floor, Sirhan is
arrested as the lone assassin. He carries the motive in
his shirt-pocket (a clipping about Kennedy’s plans to
sell bombers to Israel) and notebooks at his house seem
to incriminate him. But the autopsy report suggests
Sirhan could not have fired the shots that killed
Witnesses place Sirhan’s gun several feet in
front of Kennedy, but the fatal bullet is fired from
one inch behind. And more bullet-holes are found in the
pantry than Sirhan’s gun can hold, suggesting a second
gunman is involved. Sirhan’s notebooks show a bizarre
series of “automatic writing” – “RFK must die RFK must
be killed – Robert F Kennedy must be assassinated
before 5 June 68″ – and even under hypnosis, he has
never been able to remember shooting Kennedy.
He recalls “being led into a dark place by a girl who wanted coffee”, then being choked by an angry mob. Defence psychiatrists conclude he was in a trance at the time of the shooting and leading psychiatrists suggest he may have be a hypnotically programmed assassin.
Three years ago, I started writing a screenplay about
the assassination of Robert Kennedy, caught up in a
strange tale of second guns and “Manchurian candidates”
(as the movie termed brainwashed assassins). As I
researched the case, I uncovered new video and
photographic evidence suggesting that three senior CIA
operatives were behind the killing. I did not buy the
official ending that Sirhan acted alone, and started
dipping into the nether-world of “assassination
research”, crossing paths with David Sanchez Morales, a
fearsome Yaqui Indian.
Morales was a legendary figure in CIA covert operations. According to close associate Tom Clines, if you saw Morales walking down the street in a Latin American capital, you knew a coup was about to happen. When the subject of the Kennedys came up in a late-night session with friends in 1973, Morales launched into a tirade that finished: “I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard.” From this line grew my odyssey into the spook world of the 60s and the secrets behind the death of Bobby Kennedy.
Working from a Cuban photograph of Morales from 1959, I
viewed news coverage of the assassination to see if I
could spot the man the Cubans called El Gordo – The Fat
One. Fifteen minutes in, there he was, standing at the
back of the ballroom, in the moments between the end of
Kennedy’s speech and the shooting. Thirty minutes
later, there he was again, casually floating around the
darkened ballroom while an associate with a pencil
moustache took notes.
The source of early research on Morales was Bradley
Ayers, a retired US army captain who had been seconded
to JM-Wave, the CIA’s Miami base in 1963, to work
closely with chief of operations Morales on training
Cuban exiles to run sabotage raids on Castro. I tracked
Ayers down to a small town in Wisconsin and emailed him
stills of Morales and another guy I found suspicious –
a man who is pictured entering the ballroom from the
direction of the pantry moments after the shooting,
clutching a small container to his body, and being
waved towards an exit by a Latin associate.
Ayers’ response was instant. He was 95% sure that the first figure was Morales and equally sure that the other man was Gordon Campbell, who worked alongside Morales at JM-Wave in 1963 and was Ayers’ case officer shortly before the JFK assassination.
I put my script aside and flew to the US to interview
key witnesses for a documentary on the unfolding story.
In person, Ayers positively identified Morales and
Campbell and introduced me to David Rabern, a freelance
operative who was part of the Bay of Pigs invasion
force in 1961 and was at the Ambassador hotel that
night. He did not know Morales and Campbell by name but
saw them talking to each other out in the lobby before
the shooting and assumed they were Kennedy’s security
people. He also saw Campbell around police stations
three or four times in the year before Robert Kennedy
This was odd. The CIA had no domestic jurisdiction and Morales was stationed in Laos in 1968. With no secret service protection for presidential candidates in those days, Kennedy was guarded by unarmed Olympic decathlete champion Rafer Johnson and football tackler Rosey Grier – no match for an expert assassination team.
Trawling through microfilm of the police investigation,
I found further photographs of Campbell with a third
figure, standing centre-stage in the Ambassador hotel
hours before the shooting. He looked Greek, and I
suspected he might be George Joannides, chief of
psychological warfare operations at JM-Wave. Joannides
was called out of retirement in 1978 to act as the CIA
liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations
(HSCA) investigating the death of John F Kennedy.
Ed Lopez, now a respected lawyer at Cornell University,
came into close contact with Joann-des when he was a
young law student working for the committee. We visit
him and show him the photograph and he is 99% sure it
is Joannides. When I tell him where it was taken, he is
not surprised: “If these guys decided you were bad,
they acted on it.
We move to Washington to meet Wayne Smith, a state
department official for 25 years who knew Morales well
at the US embassy in Havana in 1959-60. When we show
him the video in the ballroom, his response is instant:
“That’s him, that’s Morales.” He remembers Morales at a
cocktail party in Buenos Aires in 1975, saying Kennedy
got what was coming to him. Is there a benign
explanation for his presence? For Kennedy’s security,
maybe? Smith laughs. Morales is the last person you
would want to protect Bobby Kennedy, he says. He hated
the Kennedys, blaming their lack of air support for the
failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
We meet Clines in a hotel room near CIA headquarters.
He does not want to go on camera and brings a friend,
which is a little unnerving. Clines remembers “Dave”
fondly. The guy in the video looks like Morales but it
is not him, he says: “This guy is fatter and Morales
walked with more of a slouch and his tie down.” To me,
the guy in the video does walk with a slouch and his
tie is down.
Clines says he knew Joannides and Campbell and it is
not them either, but he fondly remembers Ayers bringing
snakes into JM-Wave to scare the secretaries and seems
disturbed at Smith’s identification of Morales. He does
not discourage our investigation and suggests others
who might be able to help. A seasoned journalist
cautions that he would expect Clines “to blow smoke”,
and yet it seems his honest opinion.
As we leave Los Angeles, I tell the immigration officer that I am doing a story on Bobby Kennedy. She has seen the advertisements for the new Emilio Estevez movie about the assassination, Bobby. “Who do you think did it? I think it was the Mob,” she says before I can answer.
“I definitely think it was more than one man,” I say, discreetly.
Morales died of a heart attack in 1978, weeks before he
was to be called before the HSCA. Joannides died in
1990. Campbell may still be out there somewhere, in his
early 80s. Given the positive identifications we have
gathered on these three, the CIA and the Los Angeles
Police Department need to explain what they were doing
there. Lopez believes the CIA should call in and
interview everybody who knew them, disclose whether
they were on a CIA operation and, if not, why they were
there that night.
Today would have been Robert Kennedy’s 81st birthday. The world is crying out for a compassionate leader like him. If dark forces were behind his elimination, it needs to be investigated.