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The Polka Dot File on the Robert F. Kennedy Killing describes the day-to-day chase for the mystery woman in the polka-dot dress. The book comments on but does not dwell on the police investigation, and reads like a detective thriller instead of an academic analysis of the investigation. It incorporates actual tapes made by an important witness, and introduces the testimony of witnesses not covered in other books and it is a new take on the assassination and the motives for it introduces a new theory for the reasons behind the assassination. Original and highly personal, it reaches a startling and different conclusion not exposed by other books.
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About the Author
Fernando Faura was born in Puerto Rico, and graduated cum laude with a degree in journalism from the California State University, Northridge. Early in his career he was correspondent for Millionaire Magazine and Diario de la Tarde, Mexico City’s largest daily newspaper. In 1967 he joined The Hollywood Citizens News and began a front-page series of articles exposing large scale Medi-Cal/Medicare abuses. For this he was nominated a Pulitzer Prize. The 1968 presidential campaign saw him tour the country as press director and advance man for presidential candidate Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Returning to the Hollywood Citizens News Faura published two exposes that lead to an invitation to testify at U.S. senate hearings. Fernando was won awards from the Press Club, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, two commendations from the Los Angles Board of Supervisors, and an award for “Outstanding Journalism” from the Hollywood Citizens News. He maintains residences in Cancun, Mexico and Florida.
Read an Excerpt
The Polka Dot File on the Robert F. Kennedy Killing
Paris Peace Talks Connection
By Fernando Faura
Trine Day LLCCopyright © 2016 Fernando Faura
All rights reserved.
Seen running away from the scene of the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, she reportedly cried, "We shot him. We shot him."
Sandra (Sandy) Serrano, a young Kennedy campaign worker from Pasadena, asked the mysterious woman as she ran by, "Who did you shoot?"
"Senator Kennedy," was the reply.
With that, the woman and a male companion ran out into the early morning darkness and into the same cloak that envelopes other clues that could provide answers to other modern American assassinations.
"That woman will haunt me for the rest of my life," said Robert Houghton, LAPD chief of detectives, in an unguarded statement to a respected member of the press not long after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. At that time a handful of tenacious newsmen were still looking for "the girl in the polka-dot dress."
They were not alone. The FBI, close-mouthed and single-minded as ever, also was frantically looking for the girl, perhaps as much to solve the mystery as to make up for amateurish and careless mistakes made early in the investigation.
But where does the "girl in the polka-dot dress" fit in the assassination puzzle?
To answer that question, we must go back to the first few minutes of June 5, 1968, at the Ambassador Hotel, 3400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles – the tragic time and place when an assassin's bullet slammed into the brain of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
Shortly after midnight, after Kennedy's brief victory speech to supporters gathered in the Embassy Room of the hotel, his staff spontaneously changed plans and led the victorious senator through the hotel's kitchen, instead of along a different prearranged route.
There, lurking in the shadows of his own aberrations, a small man with big ideas reached out and shot at the Senator.
Just outside the hotel where the shots were fired, a young Mexican-American Kennedy worker had been taking some fresh air, looking for relief from the heat inside and the throng of people bulging out of the doors of the Embassy Room.
Sandy Serrano was just coming back inside when she heard what she thought were car backfires. Seconds later, a young woman wearing a polka-dot dress rushed by crying, "We shot him."
Startled, Serrano asked, "Who did you shoot?" The fleeing girls answered: "Senator Kennedy."
Serrano noticed a man running out with the girl, a man she described as "Latin looking."
This was the story Serrano told before television cameras shortly after the shooting. It was the story heard by millions of viewers as they watched in stunned disbelief at the realization that the "City of Angels" had become another Dallas.
In the kitchen, the assailant had been pummeled, subdued and disarmed while police cars raced to the Ambassador Hotel.
Confusion was the order of the day. Shocked, emotional Kennedy followers became immobilized by the impact of the news. One such person was Serrano.
Instead of following the fleeing couple or calling for help to stop them, she rushed to where the action was, and "the girl in the polka-dot dress" vanished into the darkness.
Two-and-a-half hours after the shooting, a police all-points bulletin was broadcast for "the girl in the polka-dot dress."
The search was on.CHAPTER 2
As most newsmen know, there are certain stories which, in spite of the newsman's determined efforts to shy away from them, seem to search them out, unyielding in their persistence.
It is as if the story goes to rest at night in the same bed where the newsman goes to rest his nosy bones.
The "girl in the polka dot dress" was such a case for Fernando Faura, investigative reporter for the Hollywood Citizen News, the second oldest newspaper in Los Angeles at the time.
Faura had not cherished working the evening of June 4th, 1968. In charge of the news bureau for the Hollywood Citizen News/Valley Times, his assignment was to cover the race for the California Assembly 41st District seat between incumbent David Negri and Henry "Hank" Arklin.
The silliness, noise and pompous, sometimes vulgar, behavior of precinct workers and parasitic "free booze" seekers were enough to make any serious man cringe.
The evening was being made bearable for Faura by a young man who had been actively engaged in the Kennedy campaign and whose brother was making prodigious research efforts to prove that their family was related to the Kennedys.
Full of energy, innocence and extraordinary ambition, Luke Perry of San Fernando had done an outstanding job of getting out the Mexican-American vote for Kennedy, and he had teamed up with Faura for the evening to visit the Negri and Arklin headquarters – Perry to participate in the excitement, Faura to suffer through the ritual necessary to file his stories.
During the campaign, Faura had used Perry's contact with the Kennedy advance team to relay word of a brewing and potentially embarrassing situation for the senator, which was bubbling out of a cesspool of political skulduggery by some black politicians in South East Los Angeles.
Flushed with his new found importance, and justifiably proud of the job he had done for the man he believed to be his "cousin," Luke Perry was in a mood for celebration.
Being the owner of the most comfortable car, Perry became the driver for the long evening. After a brief visit with Arklin, clearly the winner of the race by this time, the two headed for "Negri's wake."
Cruising on Sepulveda Boulevard in Mission Hills, in the North San Fernando Valley, home of the historical Mission of San Fernando, Perry turned on the car radio.
The news of Senator's Kennedy shooting hit their brains like bullets coming through the windshield.
"Oh, god damn it; not again, not again; not him," Perry's heartbreaking cry was as heart rending as the news itself. The on-the-spot broadcast, with its background pandemonium and the unaccustomed, unprofessional excitement in the newscaster's voice, gave the shocking news a B-movie quality.
As they raced to Negri's headquarters, twenty miles away, the Senator was rushed to Central Receiving Hospital in Los Angeles, his life running out of a head wound.
At 12:30 a.m., an aluminum table in Room 2 received the body of the dying senator, nearly pulseless, blood pressure dangerously low.
Dr. V. F. Bazilauskas immediately began his futile attempt to save the senator. Having raised his blood pressure through emergency procedures, Dr. Bazilauskas determined that brain surgery was required. With no blood bank and inadequate X-ray facilities, Central Receiving was out of the question for the operation needed.
At 12:50 Dr. Bazilauskas prepared the patient for the trip to Good Samaritan Hospital – "Good Sam" – a short distance away.
At Negri's headquarters, it appeared that everybody was or had been crying. Faura's hurried phone call to his city desk determined that Gay Scott, then political editor for the Hollywood Citizen News, was at the Ambassador. Another reporter for the newspaper was at Good Samaritan Hospital.
Without a specific assignment for Faura, he and Perry went to "Good Sam" where security was very tight. Police, news media and scores of citizens had started a vigil and anxiously waited for news of the senator's condition.
Perry and Faura left the crowd and headed for Police LAPD headquarters, a few miles to the east, where Chief of Police, Thomas Reddin, would be holding a press conference around 3 a.m. It was 20 minutes to three at the time.
Security at police headquarters was also very tight. Newsmen were frisked before being allowed to enter the building. Press credentials were carefully checked, flashlights going from the photograph enclosed in press credentials on the ID to the face. Briefcases and even tape recorders were inspected.
Not having press credentials, Perry had to stay outside with the crowd. Chief Reddin went through what was already known and revealed that the assailant had no identification on him and refused to identify himself.
He described the accused assassin as small, Latin-looking and of unknown racial extraction. He said there was not much more information at the time. He did not reveal that the LAPD was well on the way to identifying the assailant through the weapon he had used. The chief also claimed that he had personally spoken with the assailant – the first lie of many more to come.
At "Good Sam," Dr. Henry M. Cuneo, assisted by Dr. Maxwell M. Andler both of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) were removing a two-inch section of the bone adjacent to the gunshot wound.
Perry, in his own personal anguish and vigil, placed himself close to the policemen guarding the entrance to police headquarters, so that he could obtain as much information as possible, under the circumstances. This later proved to be an excellent strategy on his part and a stroke of luck for the press.
As soon as he had questioned Faura about what went on at the press conference, Perry told Faura the following story:
"There were people trying to get into the building with all kinds of stories, but I think one of them might be important. See what you think.
"A young guy, college type, came to the policeman at the door and said he had some information that might be important and that he wanted to talk about it. The officer asked what it was, and the youth said that he had seen a minor incident that occurred at the Rafferty rally upstairs at the Ambassador. He observed that a man who appeared to be Latin- looking, or foreign-looking, and who looked rather suspicious, had an altercation at the hotel and was possibly frisked by one of the security guards.
"He (the youth) thought it was significant that the same man who was turned away up there was also seen at the Kennedy party downstairs by himself.
"The policemen at the door didn't think it was important and said that they would take care of it and turned the youth away.
"He was a young man, between 20 and 23 years old," Perry concluded; as it turned out, it was the lead to an important witness.CHAPTER 3
The North Valley Bureau of the Hollywood Citizen News/Valley Times was housed in the police station in the small community of San Fernando. Around 8 a.m. on the morning of June 5, an anonymous call was received at the station.
The caller, a woman, had claimed that the man involved in the Kennedy shooting was a fry cook named Jesse and that this man worked at Tony's Drive In, which at one time had been called Truman's Drive In." She said, "It is located at Westwood and Wilshire Boulevard in West Los Angeles."
About 11:30 a.m., a police officer, who shall remain anonymous, for obvious reasons, informed Faura that he had been calling Faura's office to tip him off to the call.
Faura made a note of the information with little interest, since the same officer told him that the suspect had already been identified as Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a native of Jordan.
A short drive took Faura to the Highlander Sanatorium in the course of his regular duties. A somber mood prevailed there, and conversation quickly turned to the events of the previous night.
Robert Christopher, administrator of the sanatorium, had been watching television the night before, and he told of seeing a Mexican-American girl on the news immediately after the shooting, telling "about a woman in a white dress and a man who was Latin-looking running through one of the hallways when she had gone out to get some air, because it was hot inside."
This was the first time Faura had heard this story, since he had not had any opportunity to watch television the night before, and the June 5 morning papers did not carry the story of the "girl in the polka-dot dress."
Christopher's story was somewhat more interesting since it provided a Latin-looking man running in the corridor with the woman, at the same time that the assailant was being subdued.
Faura returned to his office at the San Fernando Police station and called a friend at the Intelligence Division of the LAPD to tell him about the anonymous call.
His friend was not in and would not be returning for the next few days, so arrangements were made to meet with another member of the Intelligence Division. Since they did not know each other, the officer suggested, and Faura agreed, to some cloak and dagger procedures so they would recognize each other at the time of the meeting, which was to be in front of the NBC television studios in Burbank. Faura felt rather silly and a little embarrassed about the James Bond ritual, but later on learned to live with it and accepted the need for extreme security.
More details on Sirhan and the assassination were coming to light. Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty had visited the Ramparts police station and told the press of reading a notebook in which Sirhan had written, "Kennedy must be assassinated before June 5th, 1968." The newspapers noted that this was the anniversary of the Six-Day War, in which Israel had humiliated three Arab neighbors. Friends and acquaintances of Sirhan described him as "a nice boy" with rabid, fanatical anti-Israel feelings.
Chief Reddin declared that he saw no indications of a conspiracy: A strange statement to make, since he must have been aware of the report of the "girl in the polka-dot dress" and Sirhan's notebook.
The notebook, according to Yorty, contained "many statements about assassinating Senator Kennedy" as well as notes that showed the suspect to be pro-Nasser and pro-communist.
Police revealed that, at the time of the arrest, Sirhan had in his possession four one-hundred-dollar bills, one five and four singles, as well as two newspaper clippings and Kennedy's traveling schedule in California.
At Good Sam, the senator's condition was listed as extremely critical. By 6:30 p.m. his brain cells would begin to die.
At 1:44 the next morning, the promising presidential candidate died. Dr. Thomas Noguchi, Los Angeles County Medical Examiner, prepared for a meticulous autopsy.
The fatal bullet had struck the mastoid bone behind his right ear at a 45-degree angle and entered the rear portion of his skull. The amazing thing," said Dr. Noguchi, "is that he lived as long as he did."
The gun used by Sirhan and the bullets fired from it were later to become the subject of a controversy and a grand jury investigation.
Noguchi failed to say that Evelle Younger, the Los Angeles District Attorney, had called him to say that a thorough autopsy was not necessary. Younger did not say why he made such a strange request.
Perry went to the San Fernando Bureau on the morning of June 6. He told of seeing two men on a local television show talking about the shooting, and he recounted the story of the young man he had seen at police headquarters telling about the incident at the Rafferty party. In circulating among his political friends, Perry had also learned that the decision to move Kennedy through the kitchen had been spontaneous.
At exactly three minutes past 2 o'clock that afternoon, a young man waited for the traffic light to change at Olive Street in Burbank in front of the NBC-TV studios. A black briefcase sat on the sidewalk next to him. When the light changed, he did not cross, but smoothed back his hair, letting Faura know he was the police intelligence contact. A few moments later they were sitting together at a nearby restaurant. He was told about Perry's story and the anonymous call to the San Fernando Police Department.
They decided to call "the man in charge of the investigation" so Faura could talk to him immediately.
They left Burbank and drove immediately within two blocks of the Ramparts police station, where the investigation was headquartered. They parked Faura's car and proceeded to the station in the officer's car.
Since the station was teeming with reporters and many other people, he told Faura to wait in the men's room. He soon returned and told Faura it would be impossible to meet with "the man" in his office, and Faura was directed to the parking lot. Faura complied, recognizing the need for security and a burning desire for an exclusive.
"The man" was waiting in his car when Faura got there. He took notes of the conversation and said that they had "many similar leads to check."
Tony's Drive In being on the way back to San Fernando, Faura informed him that he was going to check out the anonymous call lead.
"I can't stop you," he remarked. "Just be careful."
Journalistic instinct forced the reporter to gamble a question: "Why haven't you released a description of the man you are looking for?"
"What makes you think we are looking for a man?" he asked, mildly surprised.
"It is obvious. It's almost a matter of record after radio and television have been blaring the story about a woman crying 'We shot him' as she fled with a man."
"The man" sort of smiled as he said, "Well, we do not want to let it out."
Excerpted from The Polka Dot File on the Robert F. Kennedy Killing by Fernando Faura. Copyright © 2016 Fernando Faura. Excerpted by permission of Trine Day LLC.
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