[5] The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress – Transcript

HANK HERNANDEZ: Ok sir now what is your last name, Fahey is it?

JOHN FAHEY: Right. F-A-H-E-Y.

HERNANDEZ: And your first name.

FAHEY: John.

BILL KLABER: This is a tape of a police interview with John Fahey, a chemical salesman, who had spent the morning of June 4th, 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel.

FAHEY: I was to meet a fellow employee at the Ambassador Hotel and we had arranged to meet there at 8:30 in the morning. AM. I got there late. I got there about 9, maybe a little after, and I went down to the coffee shop. Cause we had planned to have a cup of coffee, and he wasn’t around, so I had a cup of coffee and was sitting there. This lady had approached me. And we nodded. And I said good morning, she said good morning, and she sat down beside of me.

BILL: Fahey said the woman was young, attractive and expensively dressed. But she seemed troubled.

FAHEY: And every time I would go to ask her a question she put to me like, I don’t know whether I can trust you.

HERNANDEZ: Did she elaborate as to why she said she couldn’t trust you?

FAHEY: She says “Well if they thought I was getting involved, they wouldn’t like this. They would become very angry with me.” That’s as far as it would go I wouldn’t press it any further. I thought maybe she was a psycho or something.

HERNANDEZ: Why is that?

FAHEY: We talked about Mr. Kennedy. She said she hated him. And that if I was to come to the victory celebration the victory reception that she would see to it Mr. Kennedy’d be taken care of tonight.

BILL: “She would see to it Mr. Kennedy’d be taken care of tonight.”

HERNANDEZ: Well do you think that this woman had anything to do with Kennedy’s assassination, John?

FAHEY: Put it to you this way, weighing everything that was said that day. Just between you and I, she didn’t do the work…

BILL: “She didn’t do the work.”

FAHEY: but she had something to do with it.

BILL: “But she had something to do with it.”

ZAC STUART-PONTIER: In the last episode, two psychiatrists hypnotized Sirhan Sirhan to try to help him remember the night he murdered Robert Kennedy.

They didn’t have a lot of success but one thing Sirhan remembered was being with “a girl" before the shooting.

DIAMOND: Write the name of the person who was with you when you shot Kennedy.

He writes girl girl.

BILL: A lot of other people seemed to see a girl too

MAN: She was tall, statuesque, black hair. I remember that she had on a polka dot dress.

BILL: This week we look for the girl in the polka dot dress.

ZAC: I’m Zac Stuart-Pontier.

BILL: And I’m Bill Klaber. You’re listening to The RFK Tapes.

SERRANO: Well I grew up in Ohio, Loraine. Right outside of Cleveland, a steel town. I just said I think there’s a bigger world.  And I ended up in California.

BILL: This is Sandra Serrano, a second generation Mexican American.

Back in 1968, she was 19 years old and she admired Robert Kennedy.

SERRANO: I liked Bobby Kennedy you know cause his association with Cesar Chavez, it just it all just fit in for me very well.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY: I’m coming out for the strike at Delano for Mr. Chavez. He’s been on a hunger strike and is committed to nonviolence and I think that’s terribly important.

BILL: Cesar Chavez was the president of the United Farm Workers union. He fought for better pay and working conditions for the mostly immigrant farm workers of California through organizing and non-violent protest.

RFK: Mr. Chavez, ladies and gentlemen.

BILL: And Robert Kennedy supported his cause.

RFK: Buenas tardes es para mi…

SERRANO: I felt even more so that we need to elect senator Kennedy, "My instinct is right about this man. It's really right about him."

RFK: I could give my whole speech in Spanish but I understand there are two, three people who don’t understand Spanish so…

BILL: Kennedy told these farm workers that their struggle would improve the lives of generations to come.

RFK: When your children start to grow up and they go on to schools and they go on to college and they go on to better jobs, they will know as you will know that you paved the way, that you are the ones who made it possible.

BILL: Tell us about how you got involved in the Kennedy campaign.

SERRANO: I was taking some classes at Pasadena City College and I seen a flyer, and they’re looking for volunteers for Students for Kennedy. And I walked into the headquarters there. And it was pretty - it was white. Everybody was white in there. Everybody was white.

And I was told, “Oh are you a full time student?” And I said, “No, I’m a part time student.” “Oh, it’s for full time students.” And I said, “Well, I can’t go to school full time. I work.” And she says, “Oh, see, but there’s no permanent place for you.” And I was like, “O...kay.”

So I said, “I know what we can do! We can make Youth for Kennedy.” And she said, “Youth for Kennedy?” And I said, “Yeah, all you have to do is be young!”

BILL: Sandra Serrano became the co-chair of her newly formed “Youth for Kennedy” group.

ZAC: Did you ever get to meet Senator Kennedy?

SERRANO: Yes.

ZAC: Can you tell us about that?

SERRANO: I think it was maybe 10 days before the primary.

They had a standing room only event here and because I was Youth for Kennedy, I got credentials! So I was back, not on the stage, but in the perimeter. So I seen him walk up. I saw the various celebrities walk up and everything. And I could hear what they were saying.

RFK: And Shirley MacLaine who is an old friend and has my dearest affection.

SERRANO: And then they were saying “You have to leave the perimeter because he’s going to be coming off the stage.” You know. So I ducked into a bathroom and then I went back out and there was nobody there! And then he was coming through. And I said, “Senator Kennedy!” And he turned around and he said, “Yes?” And I said, “Can I have your speech?” And he was holding it and he said “Yes. Here.” He gave it to me. I have it here. There it is.

ZAC: Wow.

SERRANO: Speaker Unruh, Shirley MacLaine, Andy Williams. It’s good to be back in Los Angeles.

RFK: I’m delighted to see all of you. This is more people than I’ve seen in four days in Oregon.

SERRANO: There are more people here than I’ve seen in Oregon in the last four days.

ZAC: “The California primary has been rough in that respect. It’s been bad enough to lose shoes, my cufflinks, my ties and have my shirt torn”

RFK: The California primary has been difficult. I suppose in that respect of losing my cufflinks and losing my tie and losing - having my shoes taken and my shirt torn.

ZAC: “But I hope no one goes all the way with RFK.”

RFK: And when I hear someone say, “All the way with RFK,” that’s when I’m going to start moving on, however.

SERRANO: Isn’t that weird?

BILL: That’s really funny.

SERRANO: It’s funny, but it’s weird.

ZAC: Because somebody -

SERRANO: Yeah, because somebody went all the way in California with RFK.

ZAC: There’s a lot about death in this speech.

SERRANO: Yeah I know he’s talking about death.

RFK: “So do not send for whom the bells tolls. It tolls for thee.” That’s what we in this country must feel. Whether a man is being killed by bullets or he’s being destroyed because he doesn’t have a decent education or hasn’t had enough to eat. I don’t think we can accept it and I think this country can do far far better.

BILL: So take us to the Ambassador Hotel.

SERRANO: We had done our work for the day.

BILL: Serrano had spent the day of the California primary with her Youth for Kennedy group, handing out flyers, encouraging people to vote, and then the group headed to the Ambassador Hotel.

SERRANO: We were in the ballroom and it was so hot there were so many people. So I said, “Ok, I’m going to try to find some fresh air somewhere.” And so I stepped out into a balcony.

That actually was a fire escape.

And I was sitting there and I had my legs stretched out. And three people came up, a woman and two guys. And because the area’s not huge, you know, they sort of have to say, “Excuse me” or climb over your legs.

BILL: Serrano says, a woman and two men passed her and continued up the fire escape into the hotel.

SERRANO: And you know I took notice of them. I thought it was unusual because it was a Caucasian woman with two - who I believed at that time were Mexican-Americans.

BILL: Serrano stayed outside to avoid the heat as Kennedy delivered his victory speech.

SERRANO: I was sitting there for a while, for a while. And then I heard backfire of a car. And two of them came running back.

BILL: Serrano said the woman and one of the men who had climbed over her earlier came running back down the fire escape.

SERRANO: And said “We shot him. We shot him.” She said that. “We shot him, we shot him.”

And I said, “Who did you shoot?” And she said, “Kennedy.” And they disappeared. I’m like, “Wow.” So I got up and I went to the ballroom. Everything was normal.

And so I’m like, “Wow, that was weird.” And then all of a sudden, it was crazy.

SERRANO: And then they were making announcements from the stage, and “The Senator has been shot,” and so I’m talking to myself, I’m saying, “They said they shot him. They said they shot him.” And there was a man that was walking next to me, and he said, “Are you okay?” and I said, “I saw these  people. I saw these people and they told me - they told me that they shot him.” and he said, “Don’t say anything. Don’t say anything. I’m going to take you to the authorities.”

ANCHOR: Sander? Can you hear me, Sander?

SANDER VANOCUR: I can hear you, Frank. Can you hear me?

SERRANO: But somehow I ended up with Sander Vanocur, and I don’t know how that happened.

VANOCUR: Frank, with me is Miss Sandra Serrano.

BILL: Sandra Serrano stands beside NBC reporter Sander Vanocur and goes live on national television.

VANOCUR: Now, just take your time, I’ll hold the mic in front of you and just tell me everything.

SERRANO: Everybody was in the main room you know listening to him speak. And it was too hot so I went outside.

BILL: She tells the world what she saw.

SERRANO: Then this girl came running down the stairs, in the back, came running down the stairs and says “We’ve shot him, we’ve shot him.” And I says, “Who did you shoot?”  And she said, “We shot Senator Kennedy.” A boy came down with her. And he was Mexican-American. Cause I can remember that cause I’m Mexican-American.

VANOCUR: Did this young lady say “we-”

SERRANO: We. She said “we.”

VANOCUR: “We” meaning the Mexican-Americans?

SERRANO: No. She was not of Mexican-American descent. She was not. She was Caucasian. She had on a white dress with polka dots.

BILL: This detail would come to define the mystery woman, the girl in the polka dot dress.

DETECTIVE: Yes come on in here and then we’ll be away from everybody. Ron, I don’t know if you’ve met this is Sandra Serranto, S-e-r-r-a-n-t-o if I’ve spelled it correctly.

SERRANO: S-e-r-r-a-n-o.

DETECTIVE: ...a-n-o, Serrano.

BILL: Later that night, Sandra Serrano was taken to the police station, where she told the detectives about that girl in the polka dot dress.

DETECTIVE: Now what is she wearing?

SERRANO: She’s wearing a white dress.

DETECTIVE: Ok. Anything on the dress?

SERRANO: Yeah. Black polka dots. I know I know exactly what the dress is because I just babysat for someone who had an exact dress like that.

DETECTIVE: Would you do us the courtesy or the favor of not discussing this. You’re going to be a celebrity.

SERRANO: They put me on television.

BILL: Then the police started asking other witnesses if they had seen a woman in a polka dot dress.

POLICE: Did you at any time see a female in a black and white polka dot dress?

WOMAN: No.

POLICE: Did I understand you say he was with a girl here?

MAN: No. No, I don’t see no girl.

POLICE: ...in a black and white polka dot dress that you recall?

MAN: No I do not.

BILL: But then a young waiter named Vincent DiPierro told the police that he noticed Sirhan in the kitchen before the shooting.

VINCENT DIPIERRO: The only reason that he was noticeable was there was a good looking girl with him.

HOWARD: Was the girl with him?

DIPIERRO: It looked as though, yes.

HOWARD: What was this girl wearing?

DIPIERRO: She had a white dress, with - it looked like black or dark violet polka dots.

BILL: The LAPD put out an all-points bulletin. It said: “Prior to the shooting, suspect was observed with a female Caucasian described as 23-27 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, wearing a white voile dress with three-quarter sleeves and with small black polka dots.”

The next day… A story about the mystery girl was published in the LA Times with the headline “Girl in Polka Dot Dress Sought; May Have Accompanied Assassin”

After the publicity, more people came forward saying they had seen this woman.

MCBROOM: The woman in the polka dot dress ran out of the kitchen shouting “we got him” or something to that “we shot him.”

GROVES: He asked me what the girl had been wearing that I had seen. And I said, well it was a polka dot dress.

POLICE: So you say she had a polka dot dress on.

LUDLOW: You’d notice the dress. Even though there’s all different kinds. It stood out. I’m sure it was polka dots.

BILL: And one of the people who came forward was John Fahey. That salesman you heard at the top of the show who claimed to have a met a girl in the hotel coffee shop the morning of the murder.

HERNANDEZ: Do you believe that the girl that was with you on June the 4th is involved in the Kennedy assassination?

FAHEY: Yes sir.

HERNANDEZ: Why do you say this?

FAHEY: A person doesn’t tell you a certain person’s going to get knocked off and you wake up the next morning and finding out it happened.

BILL: After the break the search for the girl in the polka dot dress.

[BREAK]

REPORTER: Do you have any information on the woman the police department has issued an all points bulletin for in connection with the Kennedy assassination?

SAM YORTY: No I have no further information on that.

BILL: This is Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty fielding questions from reporters.

YORTY: I saw the account as you did of some young lady says a girl ran out and said “We shot Kennedy” or something or she questions that we shot Kennedy, I know nothing about that.

REPORTER: Have you reached any further conclusion about whether this is a conspiracy of some sort or whether this man was acting alone by himself.

YORTY: I have no further evidence on that. I asked the chief a little while ago if there was anything new that was definitive and he said no nothing new that is definitive so.

SERRANO: The week of hell.

BILL: Sandra Serrano would become one of the main witnesses the police would focus on in their search for the girl in the polka dot dress.

BILL: They had you looking at polka dot dresses and interviewing you.

SERRANO: Interviewing me, put me in a room with 12 polka dot dresses.

PADGETT: Sandra what I’d like you to do is go up to each dress one at a time, number 1 number 2 number 3 and so on..

BILL: The cops have Serrano in a room at the Ambassador Hotel and hanging on the wall is a kind of police line up of polka dot dresses.

SERRANO: Were the size of the polka dots the size of a penny, the size of a dime, or the size of a quarter? You forgot a half a dollar.

PADGETT: How bout the number of dots in that dress as opposed-

SERRANO: Too many.

PADGETT: Too many dots.

BILL: The police also took Serrano outside to the hotel fire escape and had her recreate her interaction with the girl.

POLICE: Alright Sandra will you sit on the step here that you were on the night that you believe-

SERRANO: I was sitting on this step.

POLICE: This step here?

SERRANO: This one or this one.

POLICE: Ok. Would you mind just sitting on it now just to show the steps so there won’t be any question.

SERRANO: It’s dirty.

POLICE: Oh well alright...

SERRANO: I didn’t like the way they addressed me. I felt oftentimes they were trying to make me sound stupid.

POLICE: Would you describe the clothing that the girl had on?

SERRANO: She had a white dress, A-line, polka dot, bib collar...

SERRANO: So I - you know, I just did the best that I could do,

HERNANDEZ: Come on in, let me get you a chair for you.

BILL: And then Sandra Serrano met Sergeant Hank Hernandez.

HERNANDEZ: You see Sandy, this is a great tragedy. Probably the second greatest tragedy-

SERRANO: I know. I know what’s happening.

HERNANDEZ: -but we don’t want to have to give anyone anyone an opportunity of saying-

SERRANO: You didn’t look into it?

HERNANDEZ: - this was not the truth, or this was the truth. We can’t afford that. The country can’t afford it.

SERRANO: Yeah.

HERNANDEZ: When the report on the Kennedy assassination is written we want to make sure that we don’t have something like we did in Dallas, Texas, that this report is a complete, thorough, investigation of what’s done and no stones were left unturned. That’s the reason I’m in here talking with you.

BILL: Sergeant Hernandez hooks Serrano up to a polygraph machine.

HERNANDEZ: Just try to relax the best you can under the circumstances because the last thing I want you to do is be afraid.

SERRANO: I can’t help it I’m nervous.

HERNANDEZ: Sandy I’m gonna ask you some questions now. Answer me truthfully to the best of your ability.

On election night at the Ambassador Hotel, did you see a girl with a white dress and black polka dots on that stairway?

SERRANO: Yes.

HERNANDEZ: Did a girl in a white dress with black polka dots tell you, we have shot Kennedy?

SERRANO: Yes.

HERNANDEZ: Have you lied to my questions about the Kennedy shooting?

SERRANO: No.

HERNANDEZ: You can relax now.

BILL: At this point, after just a handful of questions, Sergeant Hernandez stops the polygraph test.

HERNANDEZ: Sandy, I’m not gonna ask you any more questions, not a single one. I do want to talk to you like a brother. Look, you’re an intelligent young girl, you know that for some reason, this was made up. Now let me tell you this. What you say you saw is not true.

BILL: He tells Serrano that she isn’t being truthful.

HERNANDEZ: So what, here’s what you have to think about right now. Is that I think you owe it to Senator Kennedy, the late Senator Kennedy, to come forth, be a woman about this. If he, and you don’t know, and I don’t know, whether he’s a witness right now in this room watching what we’re doing in here. Don’t shame his death by keeping this thing up. I have compassion for you, Sandy.

And I’m not going to put words in your mouth. But I want you to tell me the truth about the staircase. Nobody in that staircase told you that “we have shot Kennedy.”

SERRANO: There was this girl coming, she was coming down the stairs and she said, we shot him we shot him. This girl in the polka dot dress, this white dress with polka dots. And-

HERNANDEZ: Sandy don’t. It’s like a disease I know what I’m telling you. I know what I’m telling you.

SERRANO: “No, no Sandra. You made this all up. You made it all up." I'm like, "No, I didn't. I didn't make it up. Why would I want to make it up?” And you know, "If you tell the truth, if you say that there was nothing, this will all go away. I'll make it all go away."

HERNANDEZ: Let this thing that is going to grow with you and is gonna make an old woman out of you before your time, come out of you before it-

SERRANO: Well, I’m not gonna say, I truly believe somebody told me and I’m not gonna say, “Nobody told me” just to satisfy anybody else.

HERNANDEZ: No. Just the truth to satisfy yourself. No one else. To satisfy the family, the remaining family of this - The Kennedys have had nothing but tragedy here since the - first President Kennedy, now Senator Bobby Kennedy, now what next? They had enough. At least it’s a consolation to them, and I’m certain, and you mark my words, one of these days, if you’re woman enough, you will get a letter from Ethel Kennedy. Personal. Thanking you, for at least letting her rest on this aspect of this investigation.

SERRANO: Somebody told me that, honest.

HERNANDEZ: No, you can’t say that.

SERRANO: I can so.

HERNANDEZ: You can say it with your lips, you can say it, but with your feeling your heart your soul you’ve told me here. These are lies. This story is a lie. This didn’t happen.

SERRANO: I want to be leave me alone.

BILL: And as for Sandra Serrano...

HERNANDEZ: The only time that you will be left alone, and I can tell you right now, you tell me what happened out there, and I can assure you that nobody else will bother -

SERRANO: I don’t know what happened. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what happened.

BILL: After hours in a room with Sergeant Hernandez she begins to give in.

SERRANO: The damn cops.

HERNANDEZ: What did they do?

SERRANO: They messed me all up.

HERNANDEZ: How?

SERRANO: I just remember crying and crying and crying. And I can remember saying, ‘Oh they told me ‘we shot ‘em.’ I can remember them saying that and then before I knew, “Oh, see two people coming. Where were you at? I was outside. Did you see them run? Yeah. Who?” I don’t know. It was one big mess.

HERNANDEZ: I know that now. We both know that now.

SERRANO: Yeah but look what’s happened.

HERNANDEZ: What’s happened?

SERRANO: The whole thing has gotten out of proportion.

HERNANDEZ: Well, we’re gonna stop it right now, aren’t we? Aren’t we Sandy? We’re gonna stop it right now. And I’m gonna go see if we can a stenographer to come up and take a statement right and stop it right now. Ok?

SERRANO: I wasn’t telling you all lies. Somebody did tell me.

HERNANDEZ: Well, they told you, “Kennedy has been shot, they shot Kennedy or he shot Kennedy.” Then the policeman started questioning you, the next thing it was two people, the next thing it was a woman in a white and black polka dot dress and before you knew it, there we are. Sure, I can see where you got messed up. Well, Sandra look, if you expedite things here, we have to make a report to cancel all this. To stop this thing. We have to do it now. And the easiest way is to get a stenographer here to take a statement. Do you drink coffee?

SERRANO: No.

SERRANO: I just felt that I was terribly, terribly beaten up. So there was a point where I just said “What do you want me to say?” Whatever you want me to say, I’ll say.

BILL: In this new version of her story, she heard from a woman that Kennedy had been shot, but not that the woman said "We shot Kennedy." And the woman was simply wearing a white dress. Not a white dress with polka dots.

BILL: The police stopped looking for the girl in the polka dot dress.

A headline in the LA Times read “Polka Dot Girl Hunt Called Off”. The article said, quote, “Officers said they had established that no such person ever existed but was the product of a young Kennedy worker’s hysteria after the assassination.”

Their theory was that the whole thing started with Sandra Serrano. And when she told her story on television, it spun out of control.

SERRANO: To this day, you know, I don’t know what happened. I really don’t. But what I do know happened is that the feelings that I had that people were working overtime to discredit me -

Why? Why? What were they trying to hide?

It leaves me sad. It leaves me sad because we should know what happened. You know it’s strange, very strange.

BILL: Just one more thing about John Fahey.

ZAC: This is the salesman. The one who had coffee with the girl at the Ambassador Hotel.

FAHEY: She wanted me to join her that night but really I was scared, I was afraid. I didn’t want to get in trouble.

BILL: He told the police something curious. Something that might’ve heard before.

FAHEY: She mentioned an organization something that was like, I thought Rosicrucians or something.

BILL: He mentioned the Rosicrucians.

ZAC: So that’s another possible connection between Sirhan and this girl.

BILL: A very strange one.

ROSICRUCIAN ARCHIVAL: Brothers and So’ers you may now open your eyes. We should begin the last step in our method of attunement with the cosmic mind.

ZAC: And next week, what are we doing?

BILL: Mind control.

ZAC: Mind control.

Episode Credits

Crimetown is Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling. 
The RFK Tapes
is made in partnership with Cadence 13.

This episode was produced by Jesse Rudoy, with help from Bill Klaber, Ula Kulpa and Ryan Murdock. Our senior producer is Austin Mitchell.
Editing by Marc Smerling. Fact checking by Jennifer Blackman.
This episode was mixed, sound designed, and scored by Kenny Kusiak. Additional music by John Kusiak. Our title track is Maria Tambien by Khruangbin. Our credit track is Dr. Solution by Doran Danoff. Music supervision by Josh Kessler and Dylan Bostick at Heavy Duty Projects.  

Archival footage courtesy of NBC News and Pacifica Radio Archives.
Archival research by Brennan Rees. Production assistance by Kevin Shepherd.
Our website is designed by Curt Courtenay.

Thanks to Jean Klaber, Emily Wiedemann, Greencard Pictures, Alessandro Santoro, Paul Schrade, Laurie Dusek, Munir Sirhan, and the team at Cadence 13.

For more information on the Robert Kennedy murder, pick up a copy of Bill’s book, Shadow Play, from St. Martin’s Press.
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