SEYMOUR POLLACK: This is Dr. Pollack February 1, 1969 with Sirhan Sirhan interviewed by Dr. Diamond and also Mr. Robert Kaiser.
ROBERT KAISER: Dr. Diamond would put Sirhan under hypnosis in the cell, give him a suggestion, under hypnosis.
ZAC STUART-PONTIER: This is Robert Kaiser, a journalist, who was in the room when defense and prosecution psychiatrists hypnotized Sirhan Sirhan.
KAISER: “Sirhan when I bring you out of hypnosis you’re going to feel very very good. But when I take out my handkerchief that will be a signal for you to climb the bars of your cell like a monkey. Alright now Sirhan you’re going to be coming out, out of your deep sleep and when you wake up you’ll feel very very good.” And then five minutes later Sirhan’s climbing the bars of his cell like a monkey and you look over at Diamond and he’s been blowing his nose. And Diamond says to Sirhan, in front of me and the attorneys, “Sirhan what are you doing up there?” “Oh I’m just getting some exercise.” he says. That was what he thought he was doing.
That’s a plausible explanation anyone that’s under that influence will always give you a plausible explanation but it won’t be the right one. We all knew that he’d been programmed.
And neither Diamond nor the attorneys would listen to me for a moment when I suggested that he may have been hypnotized and programmed to kill Kennedy under a hypnotic state.
ZAC: Sirhan’s original attorney’s didn’t buy the idea that he had been hypnotized and programmed to kill Kennedy. I gotta say, I get that.
BILL KLABER : But today on the show, we talk to Sirhan’s current legal team and they say he was hypno-programmed.
LAURIE DUSEK: Mind control had a major part to do with the whole case. And I know that's hard for people to believe. But that doesn't mean it didn't happen. It happened.
ZAC: Things are going to get weird. I’m Zac Stuart-Pontier.
BILL: And I’m Bill Klaber, and you’re listening to the RFK Tapes.
SIRHAN: My name is Sirhan Sirhan. 17 days from today, I will be 67 years old. I was born in Jerusalem and raised by devoutly Christian parents.
ZAC: This is Sirhan Sirhan speaking to a parole board in 2011. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison in the 70s when California abolished capital punishment.
SIRHAN: Every day of my life I have great remorse and deep regret, and deeply regret the fact that I participated in a horrible event which took place in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel on the night which Senator Kennedy was assassinated and five other innocent people were wounded.
ZAC: Sirhan says he participated in the assassination of Kennedy, not that he assassinated Kennedy. Because decades later he still claims not to remember.
PAROLE BOARD: So what do you remember about the shooting, if you’re willing to talk about that?
SIRHAN: I was, obviously, I was there. But I don’t remember the exact moment, I don’t remember pulling my gun. I don’t remember aiming it at any human being. I don’t remember any of that. And I’ve said that from the get go.
PAROLE BOARD: Okay and what did you think had happened?
SIRHAN: I didn’t know what the hell happened.
PAROLE BOARD: Were you nervous at all?
SIRHAN: I don’t remember.
ZAC: At the hearing there are two lawyers sitting next to Sirhan.
One is Laurie Dusek.
DUSEK: There’s no doubt after you read the autopsy report that Sirhan could not have killed the Senator.
ZAC: And the other is William F. Pepper.
WILLIAM F. PEPPER: The evidence of his innocence, it just hit, just hit you. It’s just so powerful.
The bullets were powder burn range, fired from behind.
All of the witness statements indicated that he was always in front of the Senator, and he never was behind him. Always in front.
DUSEK: A lot of a lot of evidence was destroyed, there are numerous holes in the door frames in the pantry. The LAPD would like us to think that those holes were there because a tray hit the wall or or somebody's pen hit the wall.
It’s just impossible, just impossible.
ZAC: In 2007, when Pepper and Dusek took over the case one of the first things they did was hire an expert to analyze Sirhan.
PEPPER: We talked about developing this analysis of Sirhan and his behavior, his conduct and his history, and that Dan Brown would be the ideal guy to do that.
ZAC: Dr. Daniel Brown is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. He’s written multiple text books on memory, trauma, and hypnosis.
DAN BROWN: My expertise was in how one does non-suggestive interviewing.
ZAC: Dr. Brown began meeting with Sirhan in 2008.
BROWN: First I did free recall - tell me what happened, anything else you can remember, and then and then and then.
If he says something, I would say exactly what he said right back to him. “Earlier in the interview you said this, tell me more about that.” So you never introduce new elements which could be potentially suggestive. I did that for many sessions.
Tell me what happened, anything else you can remember, and then and then.
What was remarkable to me is that, that he didn’t have a personality disorder. He didn’t have a trauma related disorder, although he went through a traumatic experience when he lived in the West Bank. Israeli jet planes bombed the west bank and his mother sent him to the well to fetch a bucket of water and he pulled the bucket of water up and there was a severed hand in the bucket.
Tell me more about the severed hand in the bucket.
I asked him to tell me at some length about his sister who died of leukemia several years before the assassination. Because those are verifiable memories and we could see what he could remember.
Go back, your sister, leukemia. Put yourself in that situation.
So there was quite a contrast between the amount of detail he could remember about his sisters illness and dying and the night of the assassination, which he remembered almost no details for. So that struck me.
Later in a number of interviews over the years, I used hypnosis. and I’d have to say Sirhan is one of the most hypnotizable people I’ve ever met.
DUSEK: Dan just quietly talked to Sirhan in a very soothing voice.
Close your eyes.
DUSEK: Counts down.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
DUSEK: And next thing I know, his eyes are rolling back in his head, and his head made a jerking motion and then he’s under.
BROWN: I asked him to try and recall the night of the assassination. And it took some time to reconstruct the pieces because it was mostly fragmented, but this is what we found.
ZAC: Sirhan recounted for Dr. Brown much of the same story he’s told over the years, that he spent the day of the assassination at a firing range shooting his pistol and eventually heard about a party at the Ambassador Hotel.
BROWN: A couple guys said, “We’re gonna go down to this big campaign party at the Ambassador Hotel and pick up girls, do you want to come with us?”
And when he got to the Ambassador Hotel, he was self conscious because everybody was dressed up and he was not. And it was very hot. He went to a bar to get a drink of water. And he said the bartender looked familiar and gave him a Tom Collins. And then he got a little bit drunk because he says it’s like lemonade, and it creeps up on you.
ZAC: Sirhan said he went to his car to drive home, but decided he was too drunk.
BROWN: But the one thing I couldn't get, he couldn't remember was how he got the gun.
ZAC: Instead Sirhan remembered trying to find coffee to help him sober up.
BROWN: So he traced his way back to the Ambassador Hotel. And made it back to the makeshift bar. And he asked the bartender for a cup of coffee. The woman with the polka dot dress was sitting at the bar, talking with the bartender, apparently knowing him.
ZAC: This was a breakthrough for Dr. Brown, for the first time, Sirhan said that remembered a girl in a polka dot dress.
BROWN: She took him behind the anteroom where Kennedy was speaking where there was a coffee urn and this was an attractive girl so he was flirting with her. He remembered a man with a clipboard and badge coming over and saying “you can’t stay here, this is a high security region, take him to the kitchen.” She takes his hand and walks him to the kitchen.
VINCENT DIPIERRO: The only reason he was noticeable was there was this good looking girl with him…
ZAC: A waiter said he saw Sirhan in the kitchen pantry with a girl in a polka dot dress.
DIPIERRO: Black polka dots or dark violet polka dots on it.
INVESTIGATOR: Alright, was the girl with him?
DIPIERRO: It looked like she was almost holding him.
ZAC: “It looked like she was almost holding him.”
RFK: My thanks to all of you and now it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there.
BROWN: She kept turning away and looking. She was very distracted and it was hard for him to for him to flirt with her.
And at some point, people started coming in through the doors. At at that point she goes like this - TAP TAP - He said it felt like a pinch in his elbow.
I said “Did anyone ever give you instructions or suggestions to shoot on command?”
And then Sirhan immediately, suddenly, jumps up like this.
Takes a stance and goes ‘Thchchchch’
ZAC: Dr. Brown says Sirhan suddenly stood up in front of him, extended both arms and began firing an imaginary pistol.
BROWN: Now we figured out that we could trigger him by either saying the word “shoot on command,” or I could tap him on the elbow.
ZAC: Decades after the crime, Dr. Brown discovered that Sirhan could be triggered by a tap on the elbow or the instruction “shoot on command” to go into a stance that Dr. Brown calls “range mode”.
BROWN: And then we could trigger range mode. And every time that I would give him the cue, he would jump up and go into range mode an altered personality state where he would be shooting in his mind circled targets on the range.
I asked Sirhan when he was shooting, did he have any sense of what was going on around him. And he said it was all chaos.
And the next thing he remembers is that people are pinning him down and grabbing at his throat.
GEORGE PLIMPTON: Finally we got him- he was very strong for a small man. But it’s funny...
ZAC: George Plimpton was one of the guys who helped wrestle the gun from Sirhan.
INVESTIGATOR: Can you describe him?
PLIMPTON: I can tell you all about his eyes. They were dark brown, enormously peaceful eyes.
ZAC: “Enormously peaceful eyes.”
BROWN: He realized, he said “Oh my god, I just shot somebody.”
What does that sound like to you?
ZAC: Watching Sirhan go into range mode attorney Laurie Dusek thought that he might actually have been hypno-programmed.
DUSEK: It was like finding a small piece to a puzzle and hoping that that small piece might fill in the rest of the puzzle.
BILL: You think that hypno-programming is a possibility in this case?
DUSEK: Yes I do. And if I hadn't seen what Dan did with Sirhan, I would be a little more skeptical. But having watched Sirhan being hypnotized and how quickly and deeply he goes under, Dan thinks that barbiturates were used and sensory deprivation was used.
Whoever did this to him did a great job.
ZAC: So who could have done this to him? That’s after the break.
ZAC: Hey Bill.
ZAC: Hey its Zac. How are you?
BILL: I'm good. I'm better.
ZAC: You feeling better?
BILL: Yeah I was under the weather. I'm almost out of it.
ZAC: Good. I think we got to do it Bill.
BILL: What do we got to do?
ZAC: I think we have to be hypno-programmed.
BILL: Uh…no. Well, in a lot of ways it's the simplest explanation. And it's hard because it's hard to, it's hard to find the answer. How - How do you prove someone was hypno-programmed? What's the proof of that? You know? It's just, you've got all these clues but it's not like you know they leave fingerprints on your brain.
ZAC: Um. Did I lose you? Hello? Bill?
BILL: You know Occam’s Razor?
ZAC: Tell me.
BILL: In general, usually, the simplest explanation for something is more often than not the right explanation. And so how does that relate to mind control? Because that would seem to be the most baroque, the most ornate, elaborate explanation for things.
Well I have problems with the simple simple explanations because when I look at the evidence, I see very compelling evidence that two guns were firing. I see compelling evidence that Sirhan was in the company of people that night. I find compelling evidence that Sirhan is being sincere when he says he doesn't remember the crime. Now I have trouble putting those three facts together and coming up with a simple explanation.
ZAC: Mind control and hypno-programming? Sounds more like a Cold War science fiction movie.
And in fact, it was a Cold War science fiction movie called ‘The Manchurian Candidate’. It released in 1962. It starred Frank Sinatra. Became a cult classic.
MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE: Normally conditioned American has been trained to kill, then to have no memory of having killed. His brain has not only been washed as they say, it has been dry cleaned.
ZAC: The film’s director was John Frankenheimer and he happened to be a good friend of Robert Kennedy’s. The night before the California primary, Kennedy stayed at Frankenheimer’s house in Malibu, spent the next day on the beach with his family.
But The Manchurian Candidate is a movie. Not reality. Right?
Well, according to a book called The Search for the Manchurian Candidate the CIA was experimenting with mind control. This is the author John Marks, a former state department official.
JOHN MARKS: This research product is a potential threat to our most basic freedoms if it gives the government or anyone else the ability to manipulate human behavior. These techniques do not just smack of 1984, they open up the prospect of totalitarian control.
ZAC: The coauthor of Bill’s book Shadow Play, Phil Melanson, also researched these CIA experiments.
PHIL MELANSON: The notion that you can’t be hypnotized to do something you’re not inclined to do was clearly disproved by our government. They demonstrated how it could be done and millions of dollars were spent and hundreds of people were worked on and were made to do those things.
ZAC: The CIA program was called Bluebird, then Artichoke, and finally MK Ultra. Experiments were conducted using drugs, brainwashing, and hypnosis.
So, I’m just gonna read a section of that book, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. And in this section John Marks writes about a CIA official, Morse Allen.
ZAC: Morse Allen decided to take his hypnosis studies further, right in his own office. He asked young CIA secretaries to stay after work and ran them through the hypnotic paces. He had secretaries steal secret files and pass them on to total strangers, thus violating the most basic CIA security rules. He got them to steal from each other and to start fires.
On February 19, 1954, Morse Allen simulated the ultimate experiment in hypnosis: the creation of a "Manchurian Candidate," or programmed assassin. Allen's "victim" was a secretary whom he put into a deep trance and told to keep sleeping until he ordered otherwise. He then hypnotized a second secretary and told her that if she could not wake up her friend, "her rage would be so great that she would not hesitate to 'kill.'" Allen left a pistol nearby, which the secretary had no way of knowing was unloaded. Even though she had earlier expressed a fear of firearms of any kind, she picked up the gun and "shot" her sleeping friend. After Allen brought the "killer" out of her trance, she had apparent amnesia for the event, denying she would ever shoot anyone.
ZAC: Bill’s coauthor, Phil Melanson again.
MELANSON: Doctors were prominent in the secret research efforts. All of whom worked together in Southern and Northern California, all of whom worked for the government and my belief is that two of them if not three of them had something to do with Sirhan’s programming, they were in the right place at the right time.
ZAC: Bill, what do you think happened?
BILL: I think Sirhan did fall in with someone who was a headhunter, whether it was through the racetrack, whether it was through a medical odyssey he went on after he fell off his horse and injured himself, injured his head, somehow Sirhan in my opinion, and this is just a theory, I don’t know. But he went out and ran into some people who were looking for subjects.
ZAC: Dr. Brown has a theory about how it happened. It all started with Sirhan falling off his horse.
BROWN: He remembered riding high, and being on the horse and then suddenly losing consciousness and I found the medical records from the Corona Community Hospital. And he was treated on an outpatient basis in the emergency room, given a stitch for a minor cut on his eye, and released the same day.
But that’s not what Sirhan remembers. Sirhan remembers being on a special unit in a hospital for two or three weeks. The windows had prison bars on them. And there were six other people on the same unit, behind curtains. Sirhan remembered drifting in and out of consciousness.
That’s the time that he was trained. I think he was kidnapped, given a drug, and he apparently was the best candidate because of his hypnotic ability.
ZAC: In Dr. Brown’s declaration to the parole board. He writes quote “It is my expert opinion that Mr. Sirhan was trained through a variety of coercive persuasion techniques to serve as a distractor on the night of the assassination, so that a second professional shooter could render the fatal shot.”
Dr. Brown concluded “Since he has spend all of his adult life in prison for a crime that he may not have committed, nor has volition about, knowledge of, nor memory for, the compassionate response would be to let Mr. Sirhan live the remainder of his life free. There is little risk here.”
PEPPER: Dan Brown, in particular, has focused on the fact that he could not be feigning.
ZAC: Sirhan’s attorney William Pepper laid it all out for the parole board in 2011.
PEPPER: My co-counsel Ms. Dusek was present at every one of the sessions that Dr. Brown had. And clearly the picture that has been given to me, both by Dr. Brown and by her, is that in those sessions, he genuinely demonstrated a nonviolent temperament. He genuinely and consistently expressed remorse.
ARCHIVAL: His lawyer, William F. Pepper, says he believes Sirhan was brainwashed or hypno-programmed, you know like a Manchurian candidate who was working at the behest of evil?
Very difficult to show remorse and take responsibility when you say you don’t remember the crime Megan. The parole board very unlikely to...
PAROLE BOARD: In the matter of Sirhan Sirhan, CDC #B as in boy 21014, the panel has reviewed all the information received from the public and all relevant information that was before us today, and have concluded the prisoner is not yet suitable for parole and would pose an unreasonable risk of danger or threat to public safety if released from prison.
ZAC: Sirhan Sirhan was denied parole for the 14th time.
PEPPER: We also have another plan in mind but I’m not going to go into it.
ZAC: Outside the prison, William Pepper spoke to the press.
PEPPER: This is an ongoing fight, an ongoing story, and we’re not going to let this guy rot in there, for something quite frankly that he didn’t do. And that’s what’s very important. Yes he was there. Yes he fired his pistol. Yes he was pinned to the table and kept firing it. But he did not kill Bob Kennedy.
ZAC: Okay. So for this to be true, for Sirhan to be a hypno-programmed assassin, we have to believe that there’s this secret hospital where they’re doing all these mind control experiments, and the girl in the polka dot dress is this handler, that the bartender is somehow in on it, that when Sirhan goes into this hypno-programmed state, then the real assassin shoots Kennedy in the back and puts the gun away and leaves, the girl then goes running through the Ambassador Hotel yelling “We shot him, we shot him” but then you also have to imagine that the LAPD is somehow involved in this? How high does the cover up go? It’s just a lot- it’s a lot of dots to connect.
BILL: Yes. All of those things could be true.
ZAC: So if you accept there’s a massive conspiracy. Why? Why would they do this?
ADAM WALINSKY: Anybody that knew Robert Kennedy knew, that if he could find the people who killed his brother, you wouldn’t to be that person, and you wouldn’t want to be that agency. So you think they’re going to sit still and let Robert Kennedy become the President of the United States and come looking for them?
ZAC: That’s in two weeks.
Crimetown is Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling.
The RFK Tapes is made in partnership with Cadence 13.
The show is produced by Jesse Rudoy, 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 and sound designed, and scored by Kenny Kusiak.
Additional music by John Kusiak and Seth Botos.
Our title track is Maria Tambien by Khruangbin. Our credit track is See It in Your Soul by Sean Gadd.
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. Production assistance by Kevin Shepherd.
Our website is designed by Curt Courtenay.
Thanks to Emily Wiedemann, Jean Klaber Greencard Pictures, Alessandro Santoro, Paul Schrade, Phil Melanson, Laurie Dusek, Shane O'Sullivan, 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. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @theRFKtapes.
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