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On August 26, 2016, published an article on the All Things Crime Blog analyzing the death of Michelle O'Connell. Murder or suicide?
Conducted an interview for the podcast "Wait, what if..." discussing various true crime documentaries, DNA evidence, wrongful convictions, etc. It was released on May 22, 2016. Download and listen at:
On March 24, 2012, in Carbondale, Illinois, 19-year-old Molly Young took her last breath. She drove to her on-again off-again boyfriend’s apartment in the middle of the night to help him after an evening of drinking. According to his account, he awoke the next morning to find Molly lying unconscious on the floor next to his bed. He woke his roommate, and they called 9-1-1. Molly’s boyfriend reported that she overdosed, but she actually died from a massive gunshot wound to the head. Blood was everywhere.
Molly’s boyfriend worked as a dispatcher for the Carbondale Police Department. After the 9-1-1 call, he utilized a private line to the police station to inform his co-worker that Molly had been shot. The Carbondale Police initially responded but quickly turned the case over to the Illinois State Police, due to the obvious conflict of interest. Shortly thereafter, the medical examiner determined Molly’s manner of death to be "suicide." The conclusion was largely based on internet searches found on Molly’s computer, text messages, her journal, and various interviews of individuals close to Molly rather than medical evidence. The totality of this information seemed to indicate Molly was depressed and may have been experiencing suicidal ideations. However, Molly’s family vehemently denies these claims, and the public was outraged at the rush to judgment. As a result, the authorities arranged for a coroner’s inquest to review the circumstances surrounding Molly’s death. At the inquest, the police and coroner only presented evidence to support suicide as a conclusion, but the jury concluded Molly’s manner of death was "undetermined due to lack of evidence."
The Illinois State Police and the county’s top prosecutor believed the case was resolved even though the inquest jury indicated a need for additional information. Yet, the case reeked of unanswered questions. Shortly before Molly was shot, two texts were sent from her phone:
He was texting [another girl’s name] saying he needed her and asking her to sleep with him. I think I’m gonna [sic] shoot myself in the head, I’m really really sorry if you come home
Molly allegedly sent these texts to her boyfriend’s roommate while he was working an overnight shift at a local restaurant. She appeared to be upset with her boyfriend for texting another girl. However, Molly left no suicide note for her boyfriend. She failed to wake up her boyfriend who was lying feet from her and who was supposedly the reason for her suicide. Furthermore, why would Molly think the roommate would find her rather than her boyfriend who was in the room with her?
The crime scene painted a picture contrary to suicide. Molly was shot on the left side of her head, but she was right-handed. The bullet traveled in a downward direction and the entry wound was almost on top of her head. It would have been nearly impossible for Molly to have contorted the gun into a position to complete the fatal shot with her non-dominant hand. The blood spatter and pooling indicated she was moved multiple times shortly after she was shot, but her boyfriend did not allegedly discover her until hours after she was dead. Even though the gunshot occurred only feet from him, he claimed he slept through it.
The Illinois State Police failed to utilize a blood spatter expert or reconstruct the crime scene. The police made no effort to determine if any of Molly’s electronic devices were tampered with or when she wrote various statements in her journal. A special prosecutor was appointed, but he appeared to only validate the initial findings with minimal additional investigative actions. The victim’s family is left waiting. Thus far the investigators have only been focused on Molly. Without an unbiased, comprehensive review of this case, the truth may never be known and justice will not be served.
"We Killed Kennedy” – Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
At the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California on June 6, 1968, an assassin gunned down former Attorney General and U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. After an acceptance speech in one of the hotel’s ballrooms, Kennedy cut through the kitchen pantry in order to avoid the large crowd. Assistant maitre’d Karl Uecker led Kennedy through the pantry toward the Colonial Room. Thane Eugene Cesar, an armed, part-time private security guard followed the procession. As Kennedy turned to his left to shake the hand of busboy Juan Romero, a 24 year-old Palestinian/Jordanian immigrant, named Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, pulled out an eight-shot .22 caliber revolver and started firing. A hailstorm of bullets erupted. Kennedy was mortally wounded by three shots. Kennedy died 26 hours later at the Good Samaritan Hospital. Five other individuals were also struck with errant bullets.
When the shooting began, eyewitnesses placed the gun anywhere from eighteen inches to seven feet away from Kennedy. Sirhan approached from the front of Kennedy, but when Kennedy turned sharply to the left, Sirhan was now at his right rear. Sirhan reached in front of Uecker to fire. Kennedy was struck once in the right side of the head and twice in the armpit region, as he extended his arm for the handshake. Cesar held Kennedy’s left arm, though he immediately fell to the floor as the commotion ensued. He sprung back to his feet and pulled his .38 caliber revolver; however, bystanders had already subdued Sirhan.
While in police custody, Sirhan confessed to killing Kennedy because of his pro-Israeli stance. A search of his apartment netted many writings that illustrated Sirhan’s anger toward Kennedy. One of his writings contained the phrase, “RFK must die.” Sirhan admitted to authoring the various ramblings, including the threatening statement about Kennedy. Sirhan faced a mountain of evidence, but he still went to trial. In April of 1969, Sirhan was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Later his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
Since his incarceration, Sirhan has claimed to have no memory of the assassination. During a 1987 television interview with David Frost, Sirhan stated he had remorse and regret for what he did to Kennedy. When asked about his role in a conspiracy, Sirhan responded, “I was never part of any conspiracy.” Frost asked, “Can you convince me they’re all [conspiracy theories] not true?” Sirhan responded, “No I can’t, but I will say this to you. I was never part of any conspiracy.” Though he continued to distance himself from the assassination through his amnesia surrounding the event, his statements affirmed his role in the Kennedy’s death and without the assistance of conspirators. There is no credible evidence linking Sirhan to a conspiracy.
Though the assassination of Robert Kennedy appeared straight-forward and solely linked to Sirhan Sirhan, conspiracy theories quickly took root. One of the alleged conspirators was a woman wearing a polka dot dress. Several people, including LAPD Sergeant Paul Sharaga, claimed he heard a woman in a polka dot dress shout, “We shot Kennedy!” Other witnesses claimed to have seen a woman wearing a polka dot dress talking with Sirhan in the pantry prior to the shooting.
There have been no established links between any woman wearing a polka dot dress and either Sirhan Sirhan or any other alleged conspirator. However, there are interview transcripts where LAPD detectives strong-armed witnesses into recanting their stories about the polka dot woman. There is compelling evidence indicating officials suppressed other witness statements, and Sergeant Sharaga stated that the LAPD changed his statements regarding the woman in the polka dot dress without his knowledge or consent. Though these actions may not have been an attempt to conceal a conspiracy, they provide legitimate ammunition for conspiracy theorists.
Sirhan’s claim of amnesia, combined with the interviewing detectives describing him as disoriented and confused, fostered the concept that Sirhan was hypnotized. According to the theory, the polka dot girl hypnotized Sirhan and he became a real-life Manchurian Candidate who was brainwashed into killing Kennedy. Conspiracy theorists seemed to disregard the fact that Sirhan also stated that he does not remember his murder trial or several years thereafter. There is no evidence of brainwashing occurring or corroboration of such. It is pure conjecture on the part of conspiracists.
Los Angeles Coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi conducted the official autopsy. Due to the scrutiny the autopsy report would likely receive, Dr. Noguchi had two associates and three forensic pathologists from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology witness the autopsy and provide input. Dr. Noguchi took great care to ensure he followed all policies and procedures.
According to the autopsy report, the fatal shot entered the mastoid bone an inch behind the right ear and severed portions of the cerebral artery. A second bullet entered Kennedy’s right armpit and exited the upper part of his chest, while a third bullet hit one and a half inches below the second one and lodged in his neck.
When recovered, Sirhan’s revolver had eight spent shell casings contained within it. As a result, the police began their crime scene investigation under the assumption that eight bullets had been fired in the kitchen pantry. DeWayne Wolfer, chief criminalist of the LAPD’s Scientific Research Division, created the official bullet-accountability report.
According to the report, bullets one and three struck Kennedy and remained within his body. Bullet two passed through Kennedy’s shoulder pad and struck another individual. Bullet four hit Kennedy, but exited his body and was never recovered. Bullets five through eight struck bystanders and all of them were recovered from within the persons struck. Overall, law enforcement recovered seven of the eight bullets.
Though many people were skeptical of the official law enforcement record of Kennedy’s assassination, a 1969 article in the Los Angeles Free Press pushed alternative theories to the forefront. The article depicted photographic evidence of two bullet holes in the wooden divider at the west end of the Ambassador Hotel kitchen pantry. Since all eight of Sirhan’s bullets had been accounted for, the additional bullet holes likely meant a second shooter.
After the article’s release, people demanded examination of the wood panel in question. According the LAPD, the wood panel was no longer in evidence. When the Los Angeles City Council requested additional information, then LAPD Assistant Police Chief Daryl Gates responded that the wood panel served no evidentiary value; therefore, it was destroyed. According to Gates, nothing note-worthy was observed in the x-rayed wood. When asked to see the x-rays, Gates indicated that they had been disposed of as well. The LAPD also destroyed all the paperwork associated with the request, testing, and results of the x-rays.
Though Gates treated the destruction of potential evidence as inconsequential, many disagreed. Dr. Noguchi stated that he utilized what he was told were bullet holes in the wood panel as a reference point for determining trajectory of bullets. Further, several police officers believed that the wood paneling contained bullet holes from Sirhan. Since the authorities allowed the destruction of the wood piece and the x-rays, we are only left with the LAPD’s assurances that there were no bullet holes present.
With the possibility of additional bullet holes, all facets of the assassination garnered additional scrutiny. Based on the amount of gunpowder around the entrance wound, Dr. Noguchi concluded that the fatal headshot was fired from less than six inches away. According to Karl Uecker, the muzzle of Sirhan’s gun was at least eighteen inches away from Kennedy and many other eyewitnesses placed Sirhan’s gun several feet away from Kennedy. As a result, many researchers concluded that a second gunman fired the fatal shot.
If Sirhan’s gun came within six inches of Kennedy’s head, it was likely only for fractions of a second. The remainder of the time that Sirhan fired shots he was either moving toward or away from Kennedy. Except for those few instances surrounding the firing of one round, the gun was likely further away, consistent with eyewitness reports. Likely, the eyewitnesses noticed Sirhan’s gun after the first bullet was fired as the sound would immediately draw their attention. Most eyewitnesses probably saw Sirhan as he moved away from Kennedy.
At the time, no eyewitness placed Sirhan’s gun within eighteen inches of Kennedy. However, the accuracy of the witnesses’ recollections is questionable. There were no tape measures present. Many people have differing perspectives on distances. Not everyone sees distances exactly the same. There was a domestic violence case where the wife accused her husband of attacking her in their kitchen. Part of his defense involved the assertion that two people could not fit between the island and the counter, thus refuting the victim’s claim. He testified that the distance between the island and counter was less than three feet. The actual distance between those two points measured almost six feet. He encountered this is a space on a daily basis for years. Though he never measured the distance, he should have had a good estimation of it, yet his estimate was off considerably. His perception was flawed and this was without the time constraints and stress witnesses within the Ambassador Hotel kitchen pantry endured.
According to eyewitness Vincent Dipierro, "It would be impossible for there to be a second gun…I had a clear view of Kennedy and Sirhan." DiPierro also stated, “…Sirhan… was three feet away but the muzzle of the gun (in his outstretched arm) couldn’t be more than 3 to 5 inches away from his head.” Other eyewitnesses, Boris Yaro, Richard Lubic, and Juan Romero all later stated that Sirhan shot Kennedy at point-blank range.
With the fatal shot in question, those around Kennedy fell under suspicion. Immediately behind Kennedy stood Thane Eugene Cesar, an armed, part-time Ace Security guard. Cesar had previously made disparaging remarks about Robert Kennedy. Cesar seemingly had the motive, means, and opportunity to kill Kennedy. Even though Cesar was within an arm’s length of Kennedy and claimed he pulled his firearm, the police only initially interviewed him for twenty minutes. The police failed to confiscate or even inspect Cesar’s gun or perform a paraffin test on him.
Though there is tangential information pointing toward Cesar as a possible conspirator, there is no direct evidence he was involved in killing Kennedy. Of the approximately seventy-seven witnesses in the pantry kitchen, only one, Donald Schulman, claimed that he saw Cesar fire his weapon, an assertion he changed when interviewed by police. Cesar did not have a criminal record. He voluntarily submitted to police questioning and offered to submit his gun for inspection. Cesar also readily admitted to his adversarial political opinions regarding Robert Kennedy.
Cesar was not scheduled to work the night of the assassination, but he was called in that day. His duties for the evening were not definitive beforehand. He was not assigned to the kitchen pantry area until about two hours before the assassination. According to Cesar, he was not notified of his duty to escort Kennedy through the kitchen area until minutes before the shooting. Cesar had limited ability to plan an attack.
When Sirhan’s shots rang out, Cesar fell backwards, hitting the ice boxes. He then pulled his gun, but Sirhan had already subdued. If Cesar did fire his gun, when did he do so? After the first shot was fired, Kennedy dropped to the ground where he was attended to by those around him. Several witnesses focused on Kennedy at this point and would have clearly noticed a gun’s muzzle being placed against his head. As a result, the shot to Kennedy’s skull at point-blank range had to have been the first shot.
For Cesar to have fired the first shot, it would have required a coordinated attack with Sirhan, though there is no evidence linking the two. It is beyond highly improbable that two unrelated assassins fired shots within fractions of a second of each other. However, since the LAPD never tested Cesar’s gun, we will likely never know if he fired one or more shots.
If Cesar did fire, it was not the fatal shot, since that round was fired first and at point-blank range. Unless Cesar reacted so quickly that he identified the impending threat, pulled his gun, and fired before Sirhan, Cesar did not fire the first shot. Further, it is hard to comprehend how someone could accidently fire a round at point-blank range into a person’s skull. It is an unlikely scenario. Though with the exception of one eyewitness’ claim, there is no evidence Cesar fired his gun.
Though there is little evidence of an accidental discharge or Cesar conspiring with others to kill Kennedy, we can never fully exonerate him because of the lack of thoroughness in the LAPD’s investigation. Cesar told the police that he owned a .22 [same caliber as Sirhan’s gun], but he sold it three months prior. However, Cesar actually sold the gun three months after the assassination. It is unknown why Cesar lied to the police, and was a huge red flag. However, the police appeared unaware of this deception. Did Cesar lie to police about anything else? It does not appear that the police went to great lengths to verify many of Cesar’s assertions.
The LAPD had no incentive to protect or defend Cesar. He worked for private security with no affiliation with law enforcement. Further, his action, or more accurately, his inactions, demonstrated gross incompetence and complete ineffectiveness at carrying out his assigned duties. There was no link between Cesar and those investigating him. Therefore, if the LAPD covered-up or mitigated potentially nefarious actions by Cesar it was likely out of self-interest rather than any conspiratorial links.
For all the conspiracy theories presented, no one saw anyone other than Sirhan shoot Kennedy. Donald Schulman initially claimed in a radio interview that he saw Cesar fire his gun, but he backed away from his statement during police interviews. Sirhan was within an arm’s length of Kennedy when he fired eight rounds. To somehow attribute the three rounds that hit Kennedy to another shooter, who no one saw, defies logic. Since many witnesses claimed Sirhan was in front of Kennedy and the autopsy revealed that all three bullets entered from the rear, many defaulted to a second shooter. However, both Kennedy and Sirhan were moving. It was a dynamic environment. Further, some witnesses claimed Kennedy pivoted prior to being shot and twisted as he fell. These factors accounted for the trajectory of the bullets, and it is a much more plausible theory than to suppose Sirhan missed eight times and some unseen perpetrator fired three shots into Kennedy unnoticed and escaped without drawing any attention.
Immediately after the assassination of Robert Kennedy, Robert Houghton, LAPD Chief of Detectives, stated, “We are not going to have another Dallas here. I want you to act as if there was a conspiracy until we can prove that there wasn't one." Other than this proclamation, almost everything the LAPD did regarding the assassination investigation appeared to mitigate any hint of a conspiracy and prevent transparency into what they were doing.
Prior to Sirhan’s trial, the LAPD burned over 2,000 photos pertaining to the assassination without even documenting what they destroyed. They strong-armed witnesses into recanting testimony about individuals stating, “We killed Kennedy.” They failed to thoroughly investigate Thane Eugene Cesar, even though he was armed and next to Kennedy at the time of the assassination. Researchers discovered that the serial number of the revolver presented at Sirhan’s trial was different than the revolver test-fired. When discovered, the LAPD shrugged it off as a clerical error, as if chain of custody of the murder weapon was inconsequential.
LAPD criminalist DeWayne Wolfer tested Sirhan’s gun and made the comparisons to the bullet casing. Within a re-investigation in 1975, the firearms experts were not able to duplicate the testing or conclusions Wolfer asserted. The firearms experts could not conclusively link bullets extracted from Kennedy to Sirhan’s gun. In order to determine the discrepancies, investigators reviewed Wolfer’s notes to gain further insight. He left minimal records. When Wolfer was questioned regarding his lack of detailed records, he stated the examination was a routine effort that did not require extensive documentation. Further, all the records of the trial testimony of seven forensic experts concerning the crime scene disappeared.
On the night of the assassination, a fifteen year-old student named Scott Enyart was at the hotel taking pictures for his high school paper. He took rolls of film before, during, and after the shooting. Police initially detained Enyart and seized his camera. The LAPD restricted public access to his film, along with all evidence surrounding the assassination, for 20 years.
In 1988, 20 years later, Enyart requested his seized film. The LAPD notified him that his film had been destroyed. Enyart filed a lawsuit against the LAPD seeking his property or compensation for it. With the lawsuit, the department then acknowledged the existence of the film. The LAPD had a courier service transport the film to court, but it was mysteriously stolen while in route. The city’s attorney referred to this as “…just a petty theft. A run of bad luck.” The jury found in Enyart’s favor and awarded him $450,000. The City of Los Angeles appealed the case, but all of the court files from the original case had been stolen from the clerk’s office.
With the LAPD’s utter disregard for policy, procedure, and common practices, most of the evidence associated with Robert Kennedy’s assassination is forever lost. As a result, we are left in a middle ground where no one can conclusively prove only one gun was fired that night, but they also cannot conclusively state there was more than one gun discharged. Though logic and a preponderance of the evidence points toward Sirhan Sirhan acting alone in the assassination, the LAPD’s incompetence will forever provide enough ambiguity for conspiracy theorists to have valid claims on what transpired on that fateful night in 1968.