I Know Who Was Behind Bobby Kennedy's Murder; (1) THE ACCUSED: Tycoon Aristotle Onassis and Glamorous Friends at a Party in Paris in 1974 (2) MEETING OF MINDS: Robert Vaughn, Left, with Bobby Kennedy, Right, and Norman Topping, President of the University of Southern California, in 1965

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert Vaughn

When Bobby Kennedy's death was announced that day in June 1968, I cried myself to sleep. It was months before I was able to function normally again.

I had deeply admired Bobby since I was first introduced to him in 1960. Ironically, we met at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where, eight years later, he would be assassinated.

We ran into each other again at the University of Southern California in 1965, when I was concluding work on my PhD in communications and my show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., was at the height of its popularity. I was asked if I would host Bobby and his wife Ethel when they visited the campus for a speech.

After that, I stayed many times at Hickory Hill, the family's estate in Virginia, with Bobby, Ethel and their children, all big U.N.C.L.E. fans. For years, I had been actively involved in the civil rights movement and Democratic politics, speaking out against American involvement in the Vietnam War and trying to persuade Bobby to stand against Democrat President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Indeed, a short time before Bobby announced that he would run for the Democratic nomination in 1968, he even suggested I try for a Senate seat. I was flattered.

'When you're sitting in the Oval Office having stopped the war, we'll talk again,' I said. He smiled and replied: 'We'll see.' I never saw him privately again.

Like the murder of his brother John almost five years earlier, Bobby's shooting was a watershed for America. Most people believe a lone assassin - a Palestinian refugee Sirhan

Bashara Sirhan - was responsible for his death.

I shared that assumption until my continued involvement in political debate brought the real questions about Bobby's killing to my attention.

After studying documents, talking to experts and interviewing a crucial witness, I believe there is strong evidence that Bobby's killing was carried out by more than one gunman. And, more shockingly, that the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis paid for the assassination.

This is not to say there is no evidence linking Sirhan to the crime.

He was seen by many people at the Ambassador Hotel firing his .22 pistol at Kennedy as the Senator walked through the kitchen on a shortcut between meetings.

Sirhan was arrested, charged and convicted of the crime. He was sentenced to die in the electric chair.

But California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and today, 40 years on, Sirhan is still serving a life sentence.

So was Bobby Kennedy's shooting a non-controversial, open-and-shut case with a single, obvious suspect? Here's a summary of the facts.

Firstly, Sirhan was apparently not in the right place to fire the bullets that killed Kennedy. The autopsy shows Kennedy was shot from behind, from below, from the right and with a gun positioned no more than three inches from his head.

Yet all the eyewitnesses said they saw Sirhan between one- and- a- half and five feet in front of Kennedy - a completely different location to the one he would have needed to be in to fire the fatal shots. This information was withheld until after Sirhan's lawyers conceded his guilt. U sing the US Freedom of Information Act, Bernard Fensterwald, a Washington lawyer, obtained an FBI report on the shooting in 1976.

It indicated that at least 12 bullets were fired in the hotel kitchen that evening. Two were recovered from Bobby's body and five from the bodies of wounded bystanders. Two more passed through Kennedy's body, while three were found lodged in ceiling panels. Yet the Sirhan theory relies on the notion that his gun, which held a maximum of eight bullets, was the only one fired. It just doesn't add up.

What's more, criminologist William Harper swore in an affidavit that the bullets that killed Kennedy could not have been fired by Sirhan's pistol because the ballistic characteristics did not match. …