ZAC STUART-PONTIER: Hey hey, Zac here with a new bonus episode.
Anyone who listened to the series knows that I went on a real journey of discovery over the course of the season and Bill and I ended up disagreeing on what we thought happened in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel.
And today, I’m going to share one of the moments where I started to question the conspiracy. It has to do with The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress.
In episode 5 you heard from Sandra Serrano, the young campaign worker who saw a girl in a polka dot dress the night RFK was assassinated.
SANDRA SERRANO: This girl came running down the stairs in the back, came running down the stairs and said “We’ve shot him, we’ve shot him.” and I says “Who did you shoot?” and she says “We shot senator Kennedy.”
ZAC: After a few days of looking for the girl, the Los Angeles Police brought Serrano to a guy with a lie detector, Sgt Hank Hernanadez.
HANK HERNANDEZ: You know that this is wrong. You don’t want to be pushing it off with a smirk on your face with a smile but you know that deep inside-
SERRANO: I remember seeing a girl!
HANK HERNANDEZ: This story is a lie, this didn’t happen.
ZAC: Hernandez bullied Serrano into changing her story, but there was another person who said he saw the girl in the polka dot dress. A waiter by the name of Vincent DePierro.
In episode five, we played tape from his original LAPD interview, but you didn't hear from him directly, And that's not because we couldn't find Vincent DePierro.
Bill and I did find Vincent DiPierro. We interviewed him and I well I guess the best way to put it is I found his story unbelievable.
I’m Zac Stuart-Pontier and this is the RFK Tapes.
POLICE: Let’s start off with your name first of all.
VINCENT DIPIERRO: Vincent DiPierro.
POLICE: How do you spell the last name?
BILL KLABER: Vincent DiPierro's a really interesting guy as you and I have discovered.
BILL: Part-time waiter at the Ambassador Hotel.
POLICE: Okay, and you were employed by whom?
DIPIERRO: The Ambassador Hotel.
BILL: He is there that night. His father calls him at 11:30 and says ,“Hey Vinnie if you want to see the senator looks like he's winning tonight come on down.” You can have a chance to meet Senator Kennedy.
DIPIERRO: He said to come on down to see Kennedy, cause I had never seen him.
BILL: And he comes down and he's hanging out in the pantry at the time or a little before Kennedy's speech is done and he notices this guy over on a tray stacker.
ZAC: Was it Sirhan?
DIPIERRO: Oh yes, yes. He was right by the trays. He was up on the tray stand and he stood on this. The only reason he was noticeable was there was this good looking girl with him.
BILL: And the reason he notices him is that he's standing with a pretty girl.
POLICE: What was this girl wearing?
DIPIERRO: She had on a white dress with looked like either black or dark violet polka dots.
BILL: In a white dress with black polka dots.
POLICE: Alright, was the girl with him?
DIPIERRO: It looked as though yes.
POLICE: What makes you say that?
DIPIERRO: It looked like she was almost holding him.
BILL: It looked like she was almost holding him.
POLICE: And then he walked towards the senator?
BILL: He sees Sirhan advance and pulls out a gun and fires it at Robert Kennedy.
DIPIERRO: First shot I don’t know where it went but it was second or third one that hit Mr. Kennedy and after that I had blood all over my face from when it hit his head. Cause my glasses- Martin saw the blood all over my face...
BILL: So he was an important witness because he saw the whole thing from beginning to end more or less. Not everything, but so he was an important witness to the police and they were fine with this story about this girl with Sirhan for the first week or so. And then when all of a sudden the girl with the polka dot dress became an unwelcome story someone said “Well somebody's got to go talk to Vinnie and tell them that this part of the story is really no good.”
HERNANDEZ: My name is Sgt. Hernandez, your name is Vincent DiPierro. Is that right?
BILL: And so he merited a session with Hank Hernandez.
HERNANDEZ: Vince, did you see a girl with a polka dot dress looking at Sirhan the night Kennedy was shot?
HERNANDEZ: Vince, did you make up the story about the girl in the polka dot dress?
HERNANDEZ: Right now you can go ahead...
BILL: And it's interesting when you listen to that session it's not as confrontational as the Sandra Serrano, but young Vincent DiPierro who's also 19 is really kind of mystified because he keeps telling Hernandez that no I'm telling the truth this is what I saw.
DIPIERRO: That’s what I remember seeing.
BILL: Hernandez is saying oh well you got this girl, you saw her somewhere else and maybe you heard it from this Serrano girl.
HERNANDEZ: Now I think what probably happened here is you thought you saw a girl after Sandra -- I don’t know, see I don’t know but I can see this is very conceivable that after you talked to Sandra you said, “Hey I think I saw a girl back there.”
BILL: And he finally convinces DiPierro that maybe DiPierro is confused himself.
DIPIERRO: Maybe I did. I don’t know. Maybe in the confusion and my nervousness I did. Could that be possible? From my nerves. That I did that.
BILL: It's sort of sad. And then finally Hernandez keeps at it till till DiPierro sort of gives up and said yeah I must have gotten a story from Sandra Serrano.
DIPIERRO: Maybe I was just going along with it because she was there.
HERNANDEZ: Well for your own information, she was lying about it too.
BILL: Which is interesting because at the end of Serrano's interview with Hernandez he claims that she got the story from Vincent DiPierro. So Hank Hernandez and his truth machine comes to something that could not be couldn't possibly be true.
ZAC: But that's not the most interesting thing about DiPierro. So then what happens at the - So DiPierro then says that, he comes off the story of the polka dot -- and what happens at the trial?
BILL: Oh god.
NEWS: It seems obvious the prosecution is calling witnesses in a kind of time sequence carrying the story of that night through the ballroom where Kennedy spoke to the kitchen where he was shot and next to the hospitals...
BILL: Vincent DiPierro is brought to the trial.
CLERK: State your name please.
DIPIERRO: Vincent DiPierro, capital D-i...
BILL: And David Fitts is running the questions for the prosecution and he puts him on the witness stand and he said “Well, you know, Vincent tell us what happened that night.” And he tells the whole story about seeing Sirhan on the tray stacker and coming forward and shooting Kennedy.
DIPIERRO: I saw a gun pointed towards the senator and at that time I saw the flash of the gun.
BILL: Doesn’t say a thing about the young woman, okay. So okay he’s told his story and then Grant Cooper the attorney for Sirhan gets up and is going to ask a couple of perfunctory questions.
GRANT COOPER: Mr. DiPierro, I understand you are a student and part-time waiter?
DIPIERRO: Yes, I am.
BILL: He really doesn't have anything to ask DiPierro but he's got to pretend that he's doing something. So he says well…
COOPER: What was there that caused you to notice him?
DIPIERRO: At the time there was there I believe a girl standing within the area of Sirhan. I can recall she was wearing a polka dot dress.
BILL: And all of a sudden the story just comes spilling out.
DIPIERRO: Brunette, early 20s.
BILL: But Cooper doesn't like the story of the girl in the polka dot dress because that makes his client look even more guilty so he doesn't want this story hanging around.
COOPER: Now you gave a statement also, on the 1st of July, to Sgt Enrique Hernandez…
BILL: So what he does is he goes back and he reads to DiPierro his testimony to Hank Hernandez.
COOPER: “Question, you did not see a girl in a black and white polka dot dress standing beside Sirhan on that evening?” “Answer, no.”
BILL: Now were you telling Hank Hernandez the truth when you said there was no girl in the polka dot dress? Yes, I was telling the truth then. So there was no girl? Yes, there was no girl. Okay. So Cooper sits down. But David Fitts is ready for this eventuality. He has something in his back pocket.
DAVID FITTS: I have a photograph your honor. Do you recognize that individual as anyone you have ever seen before?
DIPIERRO: I believe I saw her that night.
FITTS: Does she seem to be the girl?
DIPIERRO: Yes, I would think she would be.
BILL: So it was true actually that there was a girl in the polka dot dress.
FITTS: Are you telling us in substance there was a girl standing near Sirhan at the time of the shooting sir?
DIPIERRO: Yes, sir.
BILL: Now DiPierro has first said there wasn't, then he said there was, now he said there wasn't. Now Fitts is getting him to say well there really was a girl in the polka dot dress, but it was this girl.
FITTS: The girl depicted in the photographs is one Valerie Schulte, I understand, a Santa Barbara girl. I have nothing further.
BILL: They hold up a picture of Valerie Schulte and they get her to come and testify the next day.
CLERK: State your name please.
VALERIE SCHULTE: Valerie Schulte.
BILL: Valerie Schulte was in fact in the pantry following Kennedy.
FITTS: Will you tell us what you were wearing on this evening in question?
SCHULTE: I was wearing a green dress with yellow polka dots.
BILL: And she wore green dress with a large yellow splotches on it, which they called polka dots, and she had blond hair and she was on crutches.
FITTS: The fact that you are on crutches, that was a holdover from a ski accident?
BILL: And she was never near Sirhan. But they get Vincent DiPierro to say on the witness stand that Valerie Schulte was the girl in the polka dot dress that he saw and everybody bought it.
NEWS 1: The once mysterious girl in the polka dot dress was among today’s witnesses at the Los Angeles trial of Sirhan Sirhan…
NEWS 2: ...and one of the main witnesses was a pretty blonde, the so-called girl in the polka dot dress who was at the scene of the shooting…
NEWS 3: ...her name is Valerie Schulte. She said she was there that night and was wearing a polka dot dress, in fact she brought it to court to show to everybody…
NEWS 4: ...the prosecution and defense agree she had nothing to do with the assassination, that probably no one shouted “They’ve shot him,” and that there was no conspiracy.
BILL: It was absurd because not a single witness said this woman was wearing a green dress. And running across the room- she was on crutches. It's impossible. So it's probably the most bizarre moment in the trial of Sirhan Sirhan.
ZAC: The reappearance of the girl. So but that's not what makes Vincent an interesting guy. So so so you want to tell the story of our interaction with Vincent DiPierro?
BILL: Oh my goodness, oh my goodness. Yikes.
BILL: I’m happy to be there. So if I’m here and he’s there and...
ZAC: So, Bill and I went out to sunny Los Angeles to interview Vincent DiPierro, the waiter who said he saw a girl in a polka dot dress and then said didn't see a girl in a polka dot dress and then said he did. Bill booked a room for the interview in a hotel near the airport.
ZAC: I am realizing now though a pretty funny thing we didn’t think about getting a hotel near the airport and recording a sound interview. There’s gonna be planes.
BILL: Not that many, every once and awhile.
ZAC: There’s gonna be planes, so we’re just gonna have to - See.
BILL: Fuck...well. Authenticity.
ZAC: Yeah. I do. Yeah. Hopefully it won’t be in the moment he’s coming off of his story about the girl in the polka dot dress, woooshhh...
DIPIERRO: I’ve worked for Ford, I worked for President Ford, I worked for Obama, and I was going to work for Bobby. Actually it was funny-
ZAC: Do you mind if we start recording?
DIPIERRO: No it’s fine.
ZAC: Vincent DiPierro is in his late 60s, with silver hair. He’s dressed casually in shorts and a polo shirt. Almost immediately he began to tell us a story.
DIPIERRO: How I got started with Bobby was my dad was really good friends with Pierre Salinger.
ZAC: Pierre Salinger was one of Robert Kennedy’s campaign managers.
DIPIERRO: And then when Bobby announced, in March, Pierre called my dad. Says, "Hey, think your son wants to be part of the Bobby Kennedy thing." So he asked me, and I said, "Yeah, sure." So as of April 1st, I flew to Indiana, met Bobby there. And, unfortunately, I was there the night that he made the speech about Martin Luther King being killed. And I was with him, basically, all the time from then on, until that night. And the Sunday before we were out on the putting green at the Ambassador. It was Rosey Grier, Bobby Kennedy, my dad, and me. So anybody could've walked up to us and said, "Bang, you're dead." But nobody thought that. Nobody was even thinking that. And we were all talking. So Bobby says, "You're in school, right?" And I said, "Yeah." He says, "How about transferring to Georgetown?" I said, "Why would I go to Georgetown?" He says, "You don't want to be the next assistant to the next President?" And I almost dropped my pants. It was like I couldn't believe it. I was really impressed that he saw me as that. And that was how our relationship developed. He and I became, pretty much, friends.
ZAC: DiPierro tells us that the night of the California primary he was studying for finals.
DIPIERRO: I was studying for finals, and he had called my dad several times. I think it was like the third time he called my father, my dad calls me. He says, "He wants you to come. He's pretty pissed off." He says, "You better show up." So I got dressed, went to the hotel I got there about quarter of twelve.
DIPIERRO: So he looks at me and he goes "I see you're here." I said, "Yeah." He goes, "That didn't sound too happy about ... " I said, "I'm here. I'm here." So he was pleased.
RFK: My thanks to all of you now it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there.
DIPIERRO: Saw him coming down the incline. And as soon as I could, I put my arm around him. So I had my arm around Bobby. Paul Schrade was right to my left. Cesar Chavez was down the way a little bit. Rosey Grier, Rafer Johnson, all these people were there.
BILL: And you knew these people?
DIPIERRO: I, sure.
And Bobby shook my hand and says, see you at the party, that’s what he said. Shook two more people’s hands and then I saw the gun come from the right side of my eye. And I saw Sirhan with the gun in his hand up to his head.
I saw the flash, and I was immediately splashed in my face with the blood. Second bullet, his complete right side went limp. He leaned back into my arms. Third bullet went through the top of his jacket, and into Paul's head, who then started falling on top of me on my left side. Now, I have Bobby in my arms. The FBI believes that the fourth shot went through my shirt. They think that it missed me by a couple of millimeters. He says I was lucky not to be shot. And I know that the next bullet that came out went into another person, and the final bullet went through the ceiling, that I saw. That was- so every bullet that came out of that gun I saw come out.
BILL: Vincent’s story has changed over the years because his original story is he didn't see the first couple of shots. And now all of a sudden he sees the first shot and the gun is right up against Kennedy's head. This is a serious misrepresentation.
ZAC: You're very clear on all those bullets.
ZAC: Do you feel like you’ve been consistent over the years?
DIPIERRO: To the best of my recollection that’s how I remembered what had happened that night.
ZAC: But you probably assume that the statements you made back then, right after it happened, were absolutely accurate.
DIPIERRO: Were absolutely accurate.
ZAC: Do you want to hear it?
DIPIERRO: Hear what?
ZAC: Hear your statement back when you were 19?
DIPIERRO: Sure, I didn’t know they had that on recording.
ZAC: Oh yeah.
DIPIERRO: He stuck over the gun and shot, first shot I don’t know where it went but it was second or third one that hit Mr. Kennedy and after that I had blood all over my face...
ZAC: What do you think?
DIPIERRO: Well the only thing I could think of was I was in shock, I mean I don’t remember. Maybe when I went home and I relaxed maybe I remembered it better cause maybe my mind cleared up. But I was so petrified.
ZAC: Then Bill and I played DiPierro another part of his original police interview. he had just told us that he'd been working with Kennedy for months, and that the reason he went to the Ambassador was because Kennedy asked specifically for him
POLICE: Your father called you at 11:15. Why did your father call you?
DIPIERRO: Cause he said to come down to see Kennedy. Cause I had never seen him.
BILL: “Why did your father call you?” “Because I had never seen Kennedy.” That’s a strange thing to say.
DIPIERRO: Everytime I met him was like a new experience I had been around him so much but I don’t know I can’t explain that.
That was like an expression almost. I’m going to go see Senator Kennedy, I’m going to go meet Senator Kennedy. That’s the only way I could probably explain that statement.
ZAC: You don’t mention that you were working for Kennedy though.
DIPIERRO: No I know, nobody asked me that question.
BILL: We did finally get him to admit that Valerie Schulte could not possibly have been the woman that he saw next to Sirhan but that it took a lot of doing.
DIPIERRO: Valerie was the actual girl that I actually saw. That's the girl that I put the face - That was the girl I remember. And she was standing near Sirhan.
BILL: But she - Okay. Let me disagree with you on that, just a little.
BILL: Okay. She came in behind Kennedy, and was never anywhere near Sirhan. And your description that night bore no likeness to her. She had blond hair, she was on crutches, in a green dress and yellow splotches. That's not the girl you described.
DIPIERRO: It was a white dress with dark spots, yeah.
BILL: a white dress. It had a bib collar. It had black polka dots, or maybe purple polka dots. So I'm thinking they did a little bait and switch.
DIPIERRO: That I don't know. I only testified to what I saw.
DIPIERRO: And I'm not about to, after all these years, not about to change that.
BILL: But what I'm saying is you told the truth that night.
DIPIERRO: Yes. I saw what I saw.
BILL: And when you described that girl, you described her correctly.
DIPIERRO: Yeah. It's interesting, because when ... I didn't know she was on crutches. But it was the same girl's [00:31:00] face that I saw that I identified.
BILL: But it could not possibly have been Valerie Schulte, because Valerie Schulte was on the other end of that room, and was never in the end of the room where you saw the woman. So if you take that as a reality, someone's playing a game.
DIPIERRO: You have to understand, 19, a lot of hormones. You're looking at chicks all the time, and maybe I got confused with the faces. But I remember seeing her. And she stood out in my head, and maybe I took her face and put it on that dress. A lot of things could've happened. I mean, I don't know. I really can't explain it.
ZAC: So who -- what do you think happened?
DIPIERRO: I think Sirhan killed Robert Kennedy.
ZAC: How sure are you?
DIPIERRO: I would say 100%. Because I remember that first shot.
BILL: And I want to say back to you that as someone who has worked for over 30 years on this case and done a lot of reading and a lot of investigating and going through the police files - which were hidden from everybody for 20 years.
DIPIERRO: And I didn’t know that.
BILL: And I want to say to you. There are people on the other side who feel pain and anger when someone dismisses the work that’s been done in this case because there’s a lot of serious unanswered questions.
DIPIERRO: Ok. To respond to that I would say this. I can put the gun in Sirhan’s hand. He did kill the Senator. To me, in my eyes in my heart in my soul, that’s what I feel. It's hard to refute something that you see, that horrific. So, for me, it was being a 19-year-old and looking at my future die, basically, on the floor, because I would've been working for him. My life would've been totally different.
ZAC: Thank you very much.
DIPIERRO: Thank you.
BILL: Thank you.
DIPIERRO: Have a great weekend.
ZAC: You too.
BILL: At a certain point he had me convinced.
ZAC: Really? Convinced about what?
BILL: I don’t know, he talked all these presidents.
ZAC: Well he believes it He talks to Obama like that, he talks to all these Presidents like that?
BILL: I didn’t know what was what after a while. I really didn’t.
ZAC: Really? Oh man.
ZAC: So I get - to me it muddies up the whole thing even more. And I guess it doesn’t seem, does it to you?
BILL: How does it muddy it up?
ZAC: Because here’s a guy who says - you know he’s one of the main witnesses who says he saw this woman in a polka dot dress and now we sat in a room together and he just - we sat in a room and he misrepresented his history with Robert Kennedy. He misrepresented a lot of stuff.
BILL: But he didn’t misrepresent his history with Robert Kennedy the night of the murder. And I don’t find any reason to believe he misrepresented what he saw. He witnessed a murder take place he had no need to embellish anything if he wanted to attract attention. No need at all to embellish anything. So my feeling is the night of the murder when the police were asking him questions, he was telling them what he saw. And so I don’t - just because he’s lying to us now and trying to enhance his relationship with Kennedy is not a reason for me to disbelieve what he said to the police that night.
ZAC: For me it does call into question what he said to the police that night. Here’s a guy who co-opts others people’s stories who just so happened to have heard this story about the girl in the polka dot dress from Sandra Serrano just minutes before his own police interview. That’s what she told us.
SERRANO: Then I was sitting next to Vincent.
The cops are like “Don’t talk to each other.” We’re young, right? I said, “Why are you here?” He said, “I was in the kitchen where they shot him.”
And I said, “Oh man.”
And he’s like, “Why are you here?” and I said, “I don’t know, I think because this and this and this happened to me.” And he said, “Well, what did they look like?” And so I - I told him, “She was wearing a white dress with polka dots on it, black polka dots.” And he said, “No shit!” and he said, “I seen that girl!” And I said, “You did?” and he said, “Yeah, she was in the kitchen!”
Then the cop seen us talking, and the cop said, “Stop talking!” So we stopped talking to each other. Never talked to him again, never seen him again. That was the end of it.
ZAC: In the RFK case everyone seems to find whatever they are looking for from a witness like Vincent DiPierro. Bill dismisses DiPierro’s claims about seeing the first shot pressed against Kennedy’s head, but he still believes DiPierro saw the girl in the polka dot dress. Those on the other side of the debate dismiss DiPierro’s polka dress claims but believe him when he says that the first shot was fired into Kennedy’s head at point blank range. They say that supports their theory that Sirhan acted alone. The one thing both sides can agree on is that DiPierro is lying about some things and telling the truth about some others. Not exactly the most reliable witness. But that doesn’t stop DiPierro from telling his stor and it doesn’t stop people from believing the parts they want to believe.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Leaving the ballroom through the kitchen Bobby was shot and mortally wounded. Standing near him was 19-year-old Vincent DiPierro. Tell us what you told me the other night about why you were there, what happened?
DIPIERRO: I was working for Robert Kennedy from approximately April 1st until June 5th.
ZAC: This is DiPierro on Hardball with Chris Matthews.
DIPIERRO: Robert had asked where was I and I said tell him I’m studying for my finals.
I saw this gun come up and this gun was literally inches away from his head.
MATTHEWS: Did you catch Senator Kennedy as he fell, what were you doing at that moment?
DIPIERRO: Yeah, he fell backwards and I put my arms out and I caught him.
MATTHEWS: Do you have any doubt from the beginning that it was Sirhan Sirhan who shot and killed and mortally wounded Robert Kennedy.
DIPIERRO: No. I have zero doubt.
MATTHEWS: Vincent DiPierro I’m so glad I met you. Thank you so much.
DIPIERRO: Thanks Chris.
MATTHEWS: When we return let me finish tonight with that night in Los Angeles my own views about that night in 1968…
Crimetown is me, Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling.
The RFK Tapes is made in partnership with Cadence 13.
This episode was produced by Kevin Shepherd, Ula Kulpa, and Bill Klaber.
Our senior producer is Austin Mitchell.
Editing by Marc Smerling.
Fact checking by Jennifer Blackman.
This episode was mixed and sound designed by Ernie Indradat.
Music by Kenny Kusiak. Additional music by John Kusiak.
Our title track is Maria Tambien by Khruangbin. Our credit track this week is “It’s No News” by Davis Hamilton, performed by Melvin Davis.
Music supervision by Josh Kessler and Dylan Bostick at Heavy Duty Projects.
Archival footage courtesy of the California State Archives.
Archival research by Brennan Rees.
Voiceover casting for the trial reeneactments by Shelly Shenoy.
Vincent DiPierro was played by Andy Chemlko.
The lawyers were played Jim Mullins.
Valerie Schulte was played by Shelly Shenoy.
Our website is designed by Curt Courtenay.
Thanks to Emily Wiedemann, Greencard Pictures, Alessandro Santoro, Shane O’Sullivan, Brad Johnson and the team at Cadence 13.
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