Unlocking the Truth of RFK’s Assassination: The Significance of the Autopsy Photos at the National Archives
The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the former Attorney General and brother of President John F. Kennedy, on June 5, 1968, remains one of the most controversial events in American history. Over the past five decades, various conspiracy theories have emerged about the motives, perpetrators, and cover-up of the crime. Despite multiple investigations, including a ten-month inquiry by the Senate Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s, no conclusive evidence has been presented to support any theory, leaving many questions unanswered and doubts unresolved.
However, in recent years, a new piece of evidence has come to light that could shed more light on the case and potentially dispel some of the myths and misconceptions that have clouded it for so long. On December 30, 2019, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) released thousands of pages of documents, audio recordings, and photographs from the investigation into RFK’s assassination, conducted by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the FBI. Among them were several color slides of the autopsy of RFK’s body, taken by the coroner’s office and stored in a sealed envelope for over fifty years.
The significance of these autopsy photos lies in their potential to confirm or refute several key aspects of the case that have been debated and contested for decades. For instance, the photos could provide more details about the trajectory and caliber of the bullets that hit RFK, the range and angle of the shooting, the position and movements of the shooter(s), and the extent and nature of the injuries to RFK’s brain, skull, and other organs. Moreover, the photos could help identify or exclude any possible accomplices or collaborators in the assassination, such as Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of the crime but whose guilt and motives have been called into question by many researchers and witnesses.
To understand the context and significance of the autopsy photos, we need to revisit the events leading up to RFK’s assassination and the subsequent investigations. RFK was campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president in 1968, following the withdrawal of incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson. He had won several primaries, including California, and was poised to challenge Republican nominee Richard Nixon in the general election. On the night of June 4, 1968, RFK delivered a victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, which was attended by thousands of supporters and journalists. Around midnight, as he was leaving the ballroom through the kitchen pantry, he was shot multiple times by a gunman who was later identified as Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant. RFK was rushed to the Good Samaritan Hospital, where he underwent surgery but died the next day, at the age of 42.
The immediate aftermath of RFK’s assassination was marked by confusion, chaos, and speculation. Sirhan was apprehended at the scene, still holding a gun, and was charged with murder and attempted murder of five other people who were wounded. He was interrogated by the LAPD and the FBI, but his statements were inconsistent, vague, and seemingly unrelated to any political, ideological, or personal motive for killing RFK. Some speculated that he was a mind-controlled or hypnotized patsy, a proxy for a larger conspiracy involving the CIA, the mafia, or anti-Kennedy forces.
A few days after the shooting, the autopsy of RFK’s body was conducted by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, which was headed by Dr. Thomas Noguchi. The autopsy report and the photos were initially sealed and kept confidential, as part of the ongoing investigation. However, some leaks and rumors emerged, suggesting that RFK was shot from behind, whereas Sirhan was standing in front of him, and that there were more than eight shots fired, whereas Sirhan’s gun could only hold eight bullets. These and other inconsistencies fueled the speculation that Sirhan was a decoy or cover-up for a second shooter, who was never identified or prosecuted.
During the 1970s, several researchers and journalists attempted to obtain access to the autopsy photos, arguing that they could provide more evidence for their own theories and refute the official version of events. However, the LAPD and the FBI refused to release them, citing privacy concerns and the ongoing investigation. In 1979, the Senate Select Committee on Assassinations subpoenaed the photos but was only allowed to view black-and-white copies, which they deemed insufficient for drawing any conclusions. The committee concluded that there was “a high probability that two gunmen fired at Senator Robert F. Kennedy,” but stopped short of naming any suspects or collaborators. Their report also noted that “an analysis of the autopsy photos, including x-rays, could definitively resolve the question of whether Kennedy was shot from a second gunman.”
Over the years, as new witnesses, documents, and forensic techniques emerged, the controversy over RFK’s assassination persisted, with more questions than answers. Some proposed that the shots were fired from a different angle, possibly from a nearby hotel or pantry unit, and that Sirhan was a victim of deep-state mind control or hypnosis. Others suggested that RFK was killed by a different type of weapon, such as a .45 caliber pistol or a parabellum handgun, which would explain the larger exit wounds and debris found on his clothing.
The release of the autopsy photos at the National Archives in 2019 was therefore a long-awaited and potentially groundbreaking development, as it could help resolve some of these disputed points and fill in some of the gaps in the official narrative. However, the photos have also raised some new questions and controversies, as some researchers and investigators have challenged their accuracy, authenticity, and relevance. Some have claimed that the photos were retouched, altered, or tampered with, either to conceal or create evidence of conspiracy. Others have argued that the photos are inconclusive, as they do not show the exact angle and trajectory of the bullets, nor do they offer any new information about Sirhan’s confession or motives.
Nonetheless, many experts and witnesses agree that the autopsy photos are a valuable and necessary tool for unlocking the truth of RFK’s assassination, and that they should be subjected to further scrutiny and analysis. Some have proposed that the photos be subjected to a new, independent forensic examination, using state-of-the-art technology and methods, to produce a more precise and conclusive report. Others have called for more transparency and cooperation between the various government agencies and civilian researchers who have access to the documents, in order to share information and collaborate on a comprehensive investigation.
Ultimately, the significance of the autopsy photos lies not only in their potential to solve a historical mystery, but also in their broader implications for democracy and justice. The assassination of RFK, like that of his brother JFK, was not only a personal tragedy for the family and a cultural trauma for the nation, but also a blow to American democracy and the rule of law. If there was indeed a conspiracy to kill RFK, and if it involved government officials, criminals, or other powerful entities, then the impunity and secrecy that enabled it must be exposed and remedied. Similarly, if Sirhan was indeed acting alone, then the factors that led him to commit such a heinous act must be understood and addressed, in order to prevent future tragedies.
In either case, the autopsy photos must be viewed not as a weapon of one theory or another, but as a tool for discovering and learning the truth about a complex and tragic event. By unlocking the secrets of RFK’s assassination, we can not only honor his memory and legacy but also uphold the ideals of democracy, justice, and dignity for all.