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Leading RFK assassination researcher died with unanswered questions

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Leading RFK assassination researcher died with unanswered questions

By Michael Richardson

A memorial service was held in the library of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth last week for respected scholar Philip Melanson who was chair of the political science department at the school for 12 years. Melanson died in September of cancer.

During his career, Professor Melanson authored a dozen books on government secrecy and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and brothers John and Robert Kennedy. Melanson amassed over 200,000 pages of secret government documents with Freedom of Information requests over the years and was instrumental in making available to the public the files of the Los Angeles Police Department concerning Robert Kennedy's killing.

Melanson's archive of secret files is now open to the public at the university library where he studied and is the world's largest collection of documents relating to the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

Professor Melanson managed to avoid being labeled a "conspiracy nut" with his careful, scholarly research. However, Melanson clearly believed that a conspiracy killed Senator Kennedy after studying the LAPD files. In fact, Melanson argued that Sirhan Sirhan almost certainly could not have fired the fatal shots despite the open-and-shut case against him.

According to virtually all accounts and reports, Sirhan never got more than several feet in front of Kennedy before opening fire in the crowded kitchen pantry of the Ambassador Hotel. Sirhan did manage to empty his 8-shot pistol wounding five people before being subdued.

The problem with Sirhan as the killer is that Senator Kennedy was shot from point blank range from behind. Los Angeles Coroner Thomas Noguchi's autopsy findings disclosed nitrate deposits and powder burns leading Noguchi to conclude the fatal shot was "one to one and a half inches" from the skull.

An LAPD criminalistics report, brought to light by Melanson, concluded, "A Walker's H-acid test was conducted on Senator Kennedy's suit coat in the area of the entrance wounds. This test indicated that the muzzle of the weapon was held at a distance of between one to six inches from the coat at the time of all firings."

Karl Uecker, the hotel maitre d' leading Senator Kennedy through the crowd, was between Sirhan and Kennedy. Uecker, who help subdue Sirhan, never wavered from his account that Sirhan was always in front of Kennedy, "There's no way that the shots described in the autopsy could have come from Sirhan's gun...Sirhan never got close enough for a point blank shot. Never."

After Melanson got through combing his treasure trove of police reports, he discovered the LAPD had destroyed physical evidence, destroyed 2,400 photographs, destroyed 3,100 taped interviews, and that ballistics tests on the recovered bullets were flawed. Further, Thane Eugene Cesar, an armed part-time security guard, was standing immediately behind Senator Kennedy at the time of the shooting. Cesar, who owned a 22 pistol, the same caliber as Sirhan's weapon, was not interviewed as a suspect only as a witness. Cesar's gun was never tested.

Melanson stopped short of accusing Cesar as being the assassin but did not hold back on asserting a plot. "It is an unsolved conspiracy."

Readers unable to visit the Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Archive at UMass-Dartmouth may learn more Melanson's unanswered questions by reading his books, The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination: New Revelations on the Conspiracy and Cover-Up and Shadow Play: The Killing of Robert Kennedy, The Trial of Sirhan Sirhan, and the Failure of American Justice.

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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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