[3] You Do Not Destroy Evidence! – Transcript

ALLARD LOWENSTEIN: Well their position is that we cannot now retry Sirhan.

LAWYER: That’s right. And the court has jurisdiction over it and all the issues are a matter of the court’s discretion.

LOWENSTEIN: That proceeding has been exhausted...

BILL KLABER: This is former Congressman Allard K. Lowenstein speaking with an attorney about how to open a new investigation into the murder of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. They couldn’t reopen Sirhan’s case. He’d already been found guilty. They needed another way in. So they came up with an idea. LAWYER: to look into circumstances surrounding witnesses and victims.

LOWENSTEIN: Yeah. LAWYER: This is not an inquiry into the innocence or guilt of Sirhan-

LOWENSTEIN: Precisely. Bill: The idea was to enlist one of the other shooting victims in the case.

LAWYER: That there were other people involved.

LOWENSTEIN: Right. The fact that Sirhan is not raising that doesn’t mean it can’t be raised by a victim.

BILL: And the victim they chose was a guy named Paul Schrade.

LAWYER: Did Schrade testify?

LOWENSTEIN: Well he did, yes.

LAWYER: Well if Schrade was a witness in the Sirhan trial, he was also a victim in the offense.

LOWENSTEIN: Yeah.

LAWYER: I think the court has the power, Al, I really do. I think that’s a good tact.

ZAC STUART-PONTIER: You’re listening to the RFK Tapes. I’m Zac Stuart-Pontier.

BILL: And I’m Bill Klaber.

ZAC: When we last left Allard Lowenstein, he had discovered contradictions between Robert Kennedy’s autopsy and the witness accounts from the night of the murder. After taking his questions to the District Attorney and not getting any answers, Lowenstein began his own investigation.

BILL: Today on the program, Lowenstein convinces one of the shooting victims to join his fight.. and together.. they try to force the court.. to reexamine the evidence.. that has been locked away by the LAPD.

ZAC: I remember Paul Schrade was listening to this classical music when we arrived at his house in LA.

BILL: Bach. A keyboard concerto.

ZAC: It all sounds the same.

ZAC: Your ferocious attack dog.

PAUL SCHRADE: Yeah. Hey, come here. Come here Scruffy. What’s your question?

ZAC: Your personal journey.

SCHRADE: Personal journey? On the case?

ZAC: Yeah.

SCHRADE: I don’t know where to start. Well, I was in the Robert Kennedy campaign in 1968.

CROWD: We want Kennedy, we want Kennedy.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY: Thank you very much.

BILL: Paul Schrade was a labor activist from the United Auto Workers who attached himself to the Robert Kennedy campaign. RFK: And I want to also, if I may, just take a moment more of your time to express my appreciation to Paul Schrade, from the UAW, who worked so hard...

BILL: The night of the California primary he stood on the platform just a few feet from Kennedy, wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a huge grin.

SCHRADE: One of the things I did, I gave him the peace sign at that point and he turned around and grabbed my hand.

SCHRADE: That was wonderful at the moment.

RFK: Mayor Yorty has just sent me a message that we’ve been here too long already.

SCHRADE: And then he made the peace sign at the crowd as he ended his speech.

RFK: So my thanks to all of you, and now it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there.

SCHRADE: Bob went out of the back of the platform and into the pantry area.

CROWD: We want Bobby! We want Kennedy!

SCHRADE: I was standing there, he came in sort of very fast but with nobody with him, which I thought was strange. You know, where was Ethel? Where were his bodyguards and so forth? At that point, Bob said to me, “I want you and Jess with me.” Jess was the chair of the campaign. I turned around and saw Jess, so I fell back a bit from Bob and… Turned around and bang, I got shot. And I didn’t know I’d been shot. I thought I was being electrocuted because I was shaking violently and saw flashes. I was in and out of consciousness for a while.

MAN: What’s with him?

REPORTER: Paul -

MAN: Paul Schrade, head of the UAW.

REPORTER: Paul Schrade, the head of the UAW, is also on the floor.

SCHRADE: Some way I understood that Bob had been shot, others had been shot. I don’t know how I knew that.

WOMAN: We need a doctor immediately!

SCHRADE: I didn’t really come to until the next morning after surgery. They removed bullet fragments from my head, bout ⅔ of the bullet was still there. But in and out - in fact, they pulled a piece of my skull, so I got a dent rather than a hole. Oh, where are we, where are we.

BILL: A few days after surgery to remove a bullet from his skull, Paul Schrade gave a press conference from his bed in the hospital. His head is covered with a large white cast.

REPORTER: How many shots did you hear before you felt that you had been wounded?

SCHRADE: I wasn’t counting. You know you’re not counting shots off in that situation. I didn’t know a gun was going off.

SCHRADE: Well I pretty much accepted that Sirhan shot me and shot Bobby Kennedy and some other people. I mean I just accepted it because that’s the way it was said that there was no challenge to it going on at any point.

REPORTER: Any indication that there may have been more than one person involved in the shooting down there?

SCHRADE: I didn’t even know there was anyone involved. I didn’t see the person, it’s not real to me. I didn’t see any gun. So I don’t know whether it’s one or ten.

LOWENSTEIN: Where Schrade you know about…

CO-AUTHOR: Schrade, I think we should go into Schrade a little bit more.

LOWENSTEIN: I think so too.

BILL: This is Allard Lowenstein talking to the co-author of a book he’s writing about his investigation into the RFK assassination.

LOWENSTEIN: Well this had been, he’d almost lost his life, and it was something that for him, probably more than anybody except the Kennedys, was very difficult to deal with because he was walking right behind Kennedy. I think he went down first, before Kennedy, he was down. His belief at the time was a straightforward, simple situation; Sirhan shooting directly at them. From in front. MAN: OK. So let’s take it then, from your initial discussion with Schrade.

SCHRADE: In 1974, Allard Lowenstein came and slept on that sofa. He was known as a sofa hopper and uh talked to me about that there’s certain questions involved and that he was interested in the case.

BILL: Then, Lowenstein showed him a photograph of bullet holes in the pantry door frames.

SCHRADE: Well he began talking about this picture of this that bullet in the doorframes, that this was evidence. Well, that got my interest.

BILL: The photo shows two apparent bullet holes in the center divider of the double doors that Kennedy had walked through just before he was shot.

ZAC: So these are in Sirhan’s line of fire. Behind Kennedy, and behind Schrade?

BILL: Yeah. In the photo, the holes are circled and a police badge number is written next to them.

SCHRADE: I was a science major, chemistry major back in university, and I try to work out things on the scientific basis. So I became interested in the whole truth of this.

ZAC: Okay. So take me through the science of it. What’s the significance of these bullet holes?

BILL: You actually don’t need science. Sirhan’s gun held eight bullets.

POLICE TAPE: Three, six, eight. Eight shots expended. Fired every one of them. No wonder everyone is laying on the ground.

ZAC: So we are starting with eight.

BILL: Yeah. Five bullets were recovered from the wounded bystanders.

ZAC: Literally taken out of their bodies.

BILL: Yes.

ZAC: So that leaves three bullets.

BILL: Yeah. And Kennedy is wounded three times. Two bullets were recovered from his body. And one passed through him and went into the ceiling.

ZAC: So that’s all of Sirhan’s shots, then, that’s all eight.

BILL: Right. Any extra bullets in the doorframes or anywhere else is absolute proof that a second gun is firing.

SCHRADE: So we talked about this and Allard kept pushing me on it. I talked to Monica, my wife at the time, and she was a lawyer, and so we decided to get involved. And Allard and I became the people who were raising questions.

BILL: So Lowenstein and Schrade take their questions to a guy who they thought could answer them, LAPD chief, Ed Davis.

SCHRADE: We met with him, had a very good meeting and we talked to him about the issues; That there may have been a second gunman, that Sirhan not to.... Raise the issue of bullets in the door frames, that sort of thing. Davis said “Well, put your questions in writing.”

LOWENSTEIN: Essentially, the 23 questions as they were called, in the process of working on these 23 questions, I divided them into several categories and they went through several metamorphoses which was not as extensive and they were divided into two separate sets…

BILL: Lowenstein constructs a list of 23 questions. And he divides his questions into two categories. First, he questions the distance Sirhan was from Kennedy when he fired the gun. The autopsy said the gun was inches away. Witnesses said the gun was feet away. And second, he questions how many bullets were fired that day in the pantry.

ZAC: Because of that photograph.

BILL: Exactly. Then Lowenstein and Schrade wait for the LAPD’s response.

SCHRADE: No reply.

LOWENSTEIN: At one point they asked me to submit the questions again because they’d said they lost them.

SCHRADE: Send the questions again and “We can’t find your questions.”

LOWENSTEIN: And I proceeded then to get another copy of the questions.

SCHRADE: No reply, no reply, no reply.

LOWENSTEIN: It was only when it became clear that after a year, this is the beginning of December 1974, that after a year of having the questions, that I then said that if by the end of next week, you cannot tell me which of these questions you can deal with, I will have to raise these matters publicly.

BILL: The LAPD never answered Lowenstein's questions, so he and Schrade held a press conference.

LOWENSTEIN: If there is a reason why they can’t reply to my request delivered orally and in writing, I would like to know what it is. But as long as they participate in the refusal to grant access to this information, they are participating in a coverup of information which we have a right to have, which the public has a right to have because we have the right to know what went on on June 5th, 1968!

SCHRADE: I was nearly killed that night and I have a legal right as well a moral right to that information. My legal rights are under the California Public Records Act. I also have a legal right according to my attorneys because I might have a damage claim against anyone else who may be involved in the shooting there that night. Bill: Eventually, Schrade gets a lawyer involved. A guy named Vincent Bugliosi who made quite a name for himself as the prosecutor of Charles Manson. He also co-wrote the book Helter Skelter.

ARCHIVAL: Here in Los Angeles, the theory that two guns were used in the assassination of Senator RFK was raised again by Attorney Vincent Bugliosi.

VINCENT BUGLIOSI: The more I get into this case, the more I see things that I do not like. I think you can draw certain inferences from that. I’ve never seen so far, I’m not seeing anything that I do like.

NEWS: It should have been just another weary chapter in the string of assassination rehashes another attempt to reopen the investigation into Robert Kennedy’s death. It wasn’t. The issues became clear-cut in a hurry as Paul Schrade, who was wounded in the 1968 shooting, and his attorney Vince Bugliosi, produced first a photo of police officer at the scene to establish the possible existence of a ninth and tenth bullet, unaccounted for by police in detailing of the eight shots from Sirhan’s revolver.

BUGLIOSI: The implications of what I’ve said, and I’m not trying to be dramatic at all but the implications are enormous and mind-boggling. We’ve graduated rather persuasively to a plane of solid substantial evidence of a 2nd gun.

BILL: LAPD chief Davis was not persuaded.

CHIEF ED DAVIS: We are going to hear about serious conspiracy on this thing forever probably. And then when they get through that they will be out to release John Wilkes Booth. BILL: But Bugliosi pressed to see the door frames for himself.

BUGLIOSI: In this statement by the LAPD dated July the 8th, 1968. In that center divider was removed by the Los Angeles Police Department and what became of it. We don’t know.

BILL: The door frame on the center divider with the alleged bullet holes..had been removed from the kitchen pantry that night by the police and booked as evidence. One of the maitre d’s saw it happen. He calls it the “center post”.

VINCENT DIPIERRO: They removed the post. The center post and they took it down to the police department.

REPORTER: Now from your own personal experience. Were you able to make any judgment? As to whether it might have been a bullet or not.

DIPIERRO: It appeared to be a bullet but I can’t be sure. It appeared to be a metal object in there.

BILL: The police claimed that the holes in the door frame weren't caused by bullets. In a deposition, the chief criminalist on the case said that the holes might have been caused by waiters bumping into the doorway with dish trays. But they did admit to bullet holes somewhere else in the pantry, in the ceiling panels above Kennedy.

LOWENSTEIN: Three ceiling panels are removed with bullet holes in them.

BILL: This is Lowenstein on Firing Line with William F. Buckley.

LOWENSTEIN: If the police version, the current version is correct, that a bullet went up through a panel, bounced off the floor above, came back through the second panel, each of those being an inch thick, and then took off and hit Mrs. Evans in the head - she was standing in the pantry door 20 feet away - well I think that makes the bullet in Dallas look relatively inactive. And I’m just saying that we ought to find out.

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY: If it’d been around.

LOWENSTEIN: Yeah. This bullet has a remarkable history and without that history, you have two guns firing. So...

BUCKLEY: Do these panels exist are they preserved somewhere?

LOWENSTEIN: They were taken into evidence and presumably do.

BILL: And in 1975 it seemed like Schrade and Lowenstein might finally get a look at that evidence. They forced a public hearing in front of the Los Angeles City Council.

SCHRADE: We went to City Council, and that’s where Gates said the ceiling panels were destroyed because they didn’t have evidence.

REPORTER: Assistant Police Chief Daryl Gates told the city council police destroyed bullet marked panels from the Ambassador Hotel ceiling, along with x-rays of the panels and the x-ray records. But he insisted the panels were not evidence since they were never introduced in the Sirhan Sirhan murder trial.

DARYL GATES: The materials simply had absolutely no bearing on the case to determine the guilt or innocence of anyone -

COUNCILMAN: Who makes that decision, Mr. Gates? The police department?

GATES: The investigative staff, who had conducted this investigation, which was probably the most extensive in the history of our department.

BILL: Also destroyed at the same time were the door frames.

BUGLIOSI: You do not destroy evidence!

BILL: Schrade’s attorney Vincent Bugliosi.

BUGLIOSI: I don’t care if the evidence is a Mack truck! You preserve it. In a case of this magnitude, which may have altered the course of American and world history. You take a door jamb like this you put it in a box and you mark it Sirhan and put it in the corner. It’s relevant evidence!

TOM BROKAW: Los Angeles police have acknowledged the destroying of some materials and files in the case a year after the killing, claiming the materials were not relevant. There is growing pressure on authorities for more information on this case.

BILL: Lowenstein and Schrade push for an examination of the remaining evidence.

NEWS: The testing of the gun was requested by Paul Schrade, the former auto workers union leader who was wounded the night Senator Kennedy was shot.

NEWS: Well the gun and the bullets are still available. They can be scientifically reexamined and now, by court order they will be.

BILL: That’s coming up after the break. Don’t touch that dial.

[BREAK]

COUNCILMAN: The ceiling panels were destroyed pursuant to the same destruction order that was issued for the destruction of the door jambs, June 27, 1969.

BILL: Before the break, Allard Lowenstein and Paul Schrade made so much noise about the RFK assassination that they got a court order to re-examine the ballistics evidence to see if the bullets recovered from the victims matched Sirhan's gun.

SCHRADE: It’s a great victory because it opens up the possibility of finding out the truth in this case.

SCHRADE: Set up a seven-member panel of experts, all criminalists. NEWS: In a locked room in the basement of the county hall of administration the equipment is ready for the test firing of the Sirhan gun.

NEWS: In a workroom under tight security the seven experts are going ahead with microscopic studies and other tests.

ZAC: Did you have hope? SCHRADE: Yeah.

ZAC: When they convened the panel.

SCHRADE: Yeah here we had seven people, supposed to be neutral and understanding.

BILL: When the findings were released, those seven neutral and understanding experts did not agree.

REPORTER: Four of the experts say those three victim bullets definitely came from the same gun barrel. One panel member says he is very nearly sure the bullets match, and the other two men are less certain but can find nothing to indicate the presence of any second gun.

BILL: And as for the second gun theory? Their first conclusion: it couldn’t be proved. And their second conclusion: it couldn’t be disproved.

ZAC: How does that, how does that work?

BILL: Well that works because all seven members of the panel had to agree on something.

ZAC: So they agreed that they couldn’t rule it out and that they couldn’t rule it in.

BILL: Right.

ZAC: That’s confusing.

KRANZ: Today I think we think we’ve achieved a monumental decision...

BILL: But that’s not the way the LAPD presented the experts’ findings.

KRANZ: There was a unanimous decision by the seven experts that there was no substantial evidence of a second gun...

BILL: And that really angered Lowenstein.

LOWENSTEIN: They said they found no evidence to support the presence of a second gun. And they say they found no evidence to preclude the presence of a second gun. That is what they said. I’m not a man who understands firearms when I got through listening to the experts I understood less than I did before. But I do understand that when you say the experts concluded that all the bullets can be linked to one gun you are inventing something that the experts, in fact, did not say. That is a fact.

BILL: Lowenstein thought that a new examination of the ballistics evidence would answer some of his questions, but it only confused things even more.

ZAC: So what does he decide to do?

BILL: Decides to write a book.

LOWENSTEIN: We are now at the point where after these questions have been raised repeatedly and lies told repeatedly, we still haven’t got the case reopened. And in fact, we’re writing a book because there seems to be no other way to get the case reopened, hoping that this, which is in a sense the ultimate and last effort there is and I think that spirit has to be in this because there’s not likely to be any other effort after this. This is it.

BILL: And that brings us back to these tapes we’ve been hearing of Lowenstein with the co-author of the book he was writing. Many people questioned Lowenstein’s persistence.

LOWENSTEIN: A very successful businessman turned to me and he said. He said, “Why are you doing all this?” and I started to quote to him, I said “Well as Martha Gellhorn said, if there’s a group of conspiratorial…” he said, “No, no I don’t mean that.” He said “I understand that’s why you want to do it.” he said “What I’m asking you is something else.” He said “I think there is.” He said “I think you’re absolutely right in your questions. But why are you doing it? Because you can’t do anything about it. Because his contention was that the whole thing, he said, “There isn’t any way you’re going to find out about this, these people are much too powerful. What they’re gonna do if you get in their way is bump you off. Who are you kidding? They can bump off a president, they can bump off anyone they want to, what’re you gonna do?”

REPORTER: Former democratic congressman Allard Lowenstein was shot and wounded critically in his law office in New York City's Rockefeller Center today. Police said a man walked into the office and shot Lowenstein five times with an automatic pistol. The motive was not known. Police took into custody a man identified as Dennis Sweeney of New London, Connecticut.

BILL: Dennis Sweeney had worked with Allard Lowenstein early on in the civil rights movement and Lowenstein had become his mentor. But things didn’t go well for Sweeney and one thing after another fell apart in his life. Lowenstein had taken pity on Sweeney and agreed to meet with him. Sweeney came into Lowenstein’s office and shot him five times in the chest. Lowenstein died soon after. Some people thought that Lowenstein’s murder might be connected in some way to Robert Kennedy’s murder. ZSP: What do you think?

BILL: Umm, there’s a lot of strange murders going on by people who have no reason to murder. It’s very hard to come up with a good reason that Dennis Sweeney decides to murder Allard Lowenstein. I think it’s entirely possible.

YOUNG: Allard Lowenstein was the architect of the movement to block the reelection of President Lyndon Johnson. In an age of television candidates, Allard Lowenstein didn’t look much like a politician and as a kid he considered himself an ugly duckling.

LOWENSTEIN: If you’ve ever experienced the sense of being left out, perhaps you identify more easily with people who seem left out and you want to do what you can to ease those problems for other people.

BILL: At Lowenstein’s funeral Ted Kennedy delivered a eulogy.

TED KENNEDY: He was a good man who could not stand by and do nothing. He sought to do everything, and he succeeded more than most people ever dream of. Sometimes he was called a gadfly, in fact, he was a rare conscious for us all.

BILL: With Lowenstein's passing Paul Schrade was left to keep asking those 23 questions about the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

SCHRADE: It was such a terrible thing to lose Al in 1980. Then you wonder whether it’s worth going on. I never really feared for my life although people said, “you’re just out there too much, somebody is going to get you.” But nobody has so far, I’m 93 so… BILL: There’s still time, they can still get you.

SCHRADE: Yeah, so what?

BILL: At the time did you have any feelings-

SCHRADE: They nearly did.

BILL: Is that so? Oh yes, they did. Of course, duh.

SCHRADE: Sirhan nearly did.

BILL: Eight years after Lowenstein’s death a police file was released with the cover title “Confidential Addenda to the Lowenstein Inquiry”.

SCHRADE: Now we find out in the record there’s a statement in there, “Do not answer Allard Lowenstein’s questions because they contradict what we’ve said publicly.”

BILL: In our previous episode Robert Kennedy passed a note to Allard Lowenstein, it said, “If a single man plant himself on his convictions and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.” That quote is also on Lowenstein’s gravestone.

LOWENSTEIN: I think in my heart I deeply want to believe there was one gun, makes things so much simpler. But I cannot believe what I cannot see answers to have been answered. For goodness sake, give the people of the United States, which is I think is the most hopeful place in the world to live, the sense that when there is a complication of this kind that it isn’t brushed under the rug, that we’re not part of the syndrome that Americans have come to mistrust, of seeing questions remain unanswered and distractions set up to make people feel that questions have been answered that haven’t been. I took longer than I said I would and I apologize.

ZAC: Next episode, I listen to the lost tapes of Sirhan Sirhan to try to understand the man who pulled the trigger.

PERKINS: You were planning to kill Senator Kennedy.

SIRHAN SIRHAN: Only in my mind.

PERKINS: Well that’s the only place you can plan it.

ZAC: That’s in two weeks on The RFK Tapes.

Episode Credits

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 James Williamson.
This episode was mixed and sound designed by Robin Shore. Music by Kenny Kusiak. Additional music by John Kusiak. Our title track is Maria Tambien by Khruangbin. Music supervision by Josh Kessler and Dylan Bostick at Heavy Duty Projects.  

Archival footage courtesy of the University of North Carolina, the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, and the Hoover Institution. Archival research by Brennan Rees. 
Production assistance by Kevin Shepherd. Our website is designed by Curt Courtenay.

Very special thanks to Kate, Jenny, and the entire Lowenstein family.
Thanks Jean Klaber, Emily Wiedemann, Greencard Pictures, Alessandro Santoro, Judith Farrar, Aaron Smithers, Paul Schrade, David Mendelsohn, 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. If you like the show, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps others find out about show.