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PASADENA, Calif. — On a serene, abounding artery in arctic Pasadena, Calif., a 70-year-old man has lived a quiet activity in a well-preserved Craftsman abode aback his ancestors bought it in 1963. He keeps the backyard mowed. Trims his bake-apple trees. Chats with the neighbors. Sometimes he smokes Parliament cigarettes with his tea on the advanced porch, gazing at the San Gabriel Mountains that acceleration to the arctic into a sky that’s about consistently blue.
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One bounce day 50 years ago, one of his beforehand brothers larboard this abode and eventually accumulating his pink-and-white ’56 DeSoto to the Ambassador Auberge on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles to shoot Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. At the time, Kennedy was advancement for the Democratic presidential nomination.
To his supporters, he represented a adventitious to alleviate the broken and addled country. On June 6, 1968, he died of a gunshot anguish to the head. Sirhan Sirhan, this man’s brother, was bedevilled to the gas alcove for the assassination — a book that was commuted to activity in bastille in 1972.
In the amid years, Munir Sirhan has cared for addition brother, Adel, who lived actuality afore dying of blight in 2001, and looked afterwards his mother, who anesthetized abroad in 2005, aphotic and deafened afterwards years of illness. His ancestor and three added ancestors accept died, too. Munir, three years adolescent than Sirhan, was the babyish of the family. Now he and Sirhan are the abandoned ones left.
He keeps the appliance in the abode appealing abundant as it has been aback 1968. There’s a grandfathering alarm that’s chock-full at 10:01 in the morning, the moment Adel died. A assurance on a shelf says, “The Lord Provides.” Addition assurance in the kitchen says, “Waiting for the added SHOE to drop!” Small, affected photos of brothers Adel, Saad Allah, Sharif and Sirhan, sister Aida, ancestor Bishara and mother Mary band a aerial shelf in the dining room, about too aerial to see them clearly. The Sirhans were Christians; crosses angular amid the pictures.
There are three shelves of books about the Kennedys that Munir bought but has never read. On the floor, exhaustion trails are arresting in the cream-colored carpet. Aback I appointment on a Wednesday morning, he looks about the active room, which could not be tidier, and says, “Sorry for the mess.”
The shades are fatigued and the lamps are afterglow low. Munir is aphotic in one eye and consistently wears aphotic glasses. It’s quiet and still in this place. And afresh the complete of a robin chirping comes from the kitchen, area there’s a alarm with birds on the face instead of numbers. “Every hour is different,” he says. “One hour it’s a mockingbird, and addition hour it’s a dejected jay and so on. I admire it. I animate alone. It keeps me company.”
There is no wife, there is no career, never has been. Sirhan’s abomination has had a 50-year ripple aftereffect on Munir. He leads a simple existence, befitting mostly to himself while he waits for his brother — who has been denied acquittal 15 times. “I aloof appetite to apprehend his footsteps on the porch,” Munir says. “I aloof appetite to hug him and acquaint him, ‘Welcome home.’ “
In 1948, the Sirhans, who were Christian Palestinians, fled their home in the anew disconnected Jerusalem. The ancestors slipped abroad during a abatement in the angry of what became accepted as the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. The Sirhans were accepted Jordanian citizenship, but they would appear to see America as their future. “There was a affairs started by Eisenhower and the United Nations to advice refugees,” says Munir. In 1956 they larboard with abandoned what they could backpack in suitcases. “Sirhan didn’t appetite to come,” Munir says. “He ran away. Finally during the morning hours we begin him and arranged him up absolute quick.”
A address awash with abhorrent refugees brought the ancestors to New York City. Their sponsor lived in Pasadena, so the Sirhans took the alternation to this acreage of sunshine and roses. “It was a new haven, compared to Jordan,” says Munir.
But it wasn’t perfect: “It was difficult applicable in. I anticipate Sirhan charge accept had this aforementioned problem. To this day, bodies airing up to me and allege Spanish. Bodies anticipate I’m Mexican. Some anticipate I’m atramentous or mulatto. … I acclimated to get into fights aback I was a adolescent because I would say to an individual, ‘I’m not Mexican,’ and they would anticipate I was putting them bottomward for actuality Mexican.”
Bishara, the ancestors patriarch, alternate to Jordan afterwards about a year, clumsy to acclimate to activity in the United States. He reportedly exhausted his sons, admitting Munir says that was not his experience. Bishara eventually absent blow with his ancestors and backward in his home apple of Taibe until his afterlife in 1987.
Munir’s two beforehand brothers adopted the benevolent role — not consistently an accessible bearings for the adolescent ancestors — but “we were a abutting family,” he says. “Very deeply knit.” They worked, they affiliated their resources, they bought a home. They additionally bought an Ampex reel-to-reel band recorder. It hasn’t formed for years but still sits in what was Sirhan’s bedroom, a brilliant amplitude at the rear of the house, forth with an old agenda box abounding with tapes — recordings of a blessed ancestors singing Egyptian folk songs, authoritative music together.
“Adel would ball the oud,” a lute-type stringed instrument, “and Mother would booty two spoons and hit the basal of a canteen and almost a boom sound,” Munir says. “Even if you didn’t apperceive the accent or the accent of the Middle Eastern music, Adel could accomplish you jump and bark and get off your seat.” Later, the ancestors would use the apparatus to almanac the audio from TV account broadcasts about Sirhan. Those tapes are in the box in the bedroom, too, all of them boring decaying, unplayable.
As an beforehand brother, Sirhan was “very adapted and protective,” Munir recalls. “If anybody was aggravating to do me any harm, he confronted people.” Sirhan would say: ” ‘Listen, this is my little brother. I don’t appetite anybody affliction him.’ “
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Slowly, the Sirhans became Americanized. They had dogs alleged Tasha and Blue, a cat alleged Ancestor John and a hamster alleged Herbie. They were audience at Westminster Presbyterian Church, which was in walking ambit from their home. Mary formed there in the nursery school. Sirhan went to adjacent Eliot Junior Aerial School, and afresh to John Muir Aerial Academy — the aforementioned academy Jackie Robinson abounding — area he abutting the ROTC and abstruse to shoot a .22-caliber rifle.
Munir abdicate academy afterwards sixth grade. “My eyes were weak,” he says. “I couldn’t see the blackboard. … I aloof couldn’t sit through it. So I anticipation I could apprentice added alfresco of the academy arrangement than in it.”
The brothers got cardboard routes, casting the Pasadena Star-News. They additionally formed at a bounded health-food abundance authoritative deliveries. Sirhan admired to read, holed up for hours in that aback bedchamber with a window that looked out on a distinct auto tree. It’s still there, bent and blind with fruit.
Munir calm records. Had bags in the garage. He awash them at a backyard auction years ago. He says he enjoyed all kinds of music, but who did he really, absolutely like? “I acclimated to adulation Stan Freberg,” he tells me. In the ’50s and ’60s, Freberg — a Pasadena built-in — was a accepted song parodist, the “Weird Al” Yankovic of his day. “I acclimated to admire that guy. I anticipate that’s what I would accept been, some array of ball songwriter or article like that.”
But it didn’t about-face out that way. He got a job at F.C. Nash administration abundance in Pasadena as a banal clerk. “The cadre manager, she said, ‘How do you accent Munir?’ ” he recalls. ” ‘Don’t you accept a nickname?’ So I said, ‘Well, yeah, alarm me Joe.’ I saw it on one of the carpenter’s shirts. She said, ‘Oh well, we’ll accept three Joes.’ “
This banal department-store position created a affiliation — with Munir as the aimless agent — that would advance to his brother accepting a gun. The gun. About January 1968, “Sirhan, because he acclimated to accord to the ROTC, asked me to see if I could get him a gun,” Munir recalls. “And I said, sure, I’ll ask.” A accessory knew a acquaintance attractive to advertise a pistol. That accessory and addition abandoned met the brothers in advanced of the abode one black and fabricated a deal. “In any event, Sirhan concluded up with the gun through me,” says Munir. “Which didn’t accomplish me feel too acceptable as years progressed.”
According to a Los Angeles police-interview archetype from 1968, Munir had approved to allocution his brother out of affairs the weapon. He told the badge that he asked his brother to affirm on their sister’s anamnesis — she had died in 1964 of leukemia at age 28- — that he would “go to the burglarize ambit aloof one time and afresh bandy it away.” He did affirm — “but,” as Munir told police, “he didn’t backpack it through.”
“I’d think: If I hadn’t bought him that gun, or if I hadn’t affiliated him with” the co-worker, afresh “things would be different,” Munir says now. “You affectionate of alpha attractive entering … to see if you were allotment of the accusation for this affair happening.”
In the aboriginal hours of June 6, Adel Sirhan, who formed nights arena oud at an Arabic bistro in Hollywood alleged the Fez, came home and entered Munir’s room. From Munir’s LAPD interview: “I was asleep, and he woke me up and he said that Agent Kennedy had been shot. I woke up. I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ I was bleared and sleepy. I aloof went aback to sleep.”
Later that morning, Munir larboard the abode and took the bus to F.C. Nash. At about 8:30, he went into the breach room. “And the TV was on loud and the allowance was full,” he tells me. “And usually it’s not that abounding unless it’s somebody’s birthday, and I’m cerebration it’s too aboriginal in the morning to absolve a birthday.” He got some coffee from the automat machine. “So I took a brace of sips of my coffee, and I looked at the awning and the anchorperson was saying, ‘If anybody knows the character of this individual, get a authority of the police,’ and it looked like Sirhan. I said, ‘Whoa.’ “
“I waited until the account came on again,” he continues, “and I said, ‘That’s my brother.’ … So I took my cup of coffee with me and agitated it all over the place, but ran bottomward to the accouterments administration and asked my bang-up if I could use his car to run home. I told him, ‘Listen, I anticipate it’s my brother that attempt Kennedy!’ “
His bang-up gave him his car keys. “I came home and told Adel, I said, ‘Hey, they say that Sirhan attempt Kennedy.’ … I was shaking.” Munir anticipation badge had the amiss person. He had acumen to anticipate this was possible: A few years earlier, he had accustomed a commendation for hitchhiking. He says he didn’t apprehend he was declared to go to court, so the commendation angry into a warrant. Later, according to Munir, Sirhan was chock-full for active barefoot. Aback the administrator searched the almanac of Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, the accreditation for Munir Bishara Sirhan came up. The administrator arrested Sirhan.
“And aback this affair happened, I thought: They got the amiss guy. There’s a aberration here, you know, they’ve got him mistaken for addition guy, aloof as they had in the bearings with the warrant. … That was my alleviation at the time.”
Munir and Adel went to the Pasadena badge base “to acquaint them, to see what the adventure was. And the officer, the board agent there, didn’t assume too absorbed with our questioning, so we absolved away, and aback we absolved abroad Adel happened to boring at a newsstand, and there it was: Sirhan’s account on the advanced page. … So he affective the cardboard and went aback to the board baker and told him, ‘Listen, this is my brother.’ I bethink the guy’s look. He said, ‘Oh.’ … And afresh all hell bankrupt loose.”
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What Sirhan did that night at the Ambassador Auberge is well-documented. The abbreviate adaptation is this: A ages afore the assassination, Sirhan had cacographic again in a notebook, “R.F.K. charge die.” (During his trial, he said he had no anamnesis of autograph this.) On June 4, the day of the California primary, he went to the auberge with a .22 Iver Johnson pistol absolutely loaded with eight bullets. He had four Tom Collins cocktails.
A little afterwards midnight in the hotel’s ballroom, Kennedy accomplished his activation achievement speech. He larboard the amphitheater and fabricated his way through a kitchen abdomen accompanied by supporters and actionable bodyguards, athletes Rafer Johnson and Rosey Grier amid them. (Los Angeles badge were not on the scene, nor were Secret Service details, which weren’t assigned to candidates in 1968.) Sirhan stepped against Kennedy and began shooting. Kennedy went down. He was hit alert in the aback and already in the head. Sirhan was bound overtaken and affected assimilate a beef table, still affairs the trigger. Including Kennedy, he attempt six bodies with eight bullets. Bristles were wounded.
Sirhan declared afresh and still maintains that he has no anamnesis of the absolute shooting. He recalls attractive for coffee, talking with a adolescent woman in a bespatter dress, afresh annihilation until he begin himself actuality afraid on the beef table.
He was 115 pounds and 5-foot-2, and his ambition in activity up to that point had been to be a jockey; he’d formed as a abiding boy at Santa Anita racetrack. So why would he assassinate Robert Kennedy? One approach captivated that Sirhan hated Kennedy for his abutment of Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. Munir says Sirhan never verbalized any abhorrence against RFK and had no issues with Kennedy’s abutment for Jews or Israel — admitting this contradicts comments fabricated by added associates of the family, including Sirhan himself, about his acrimony against the Jewish state.
Or conceivably Sirhan — per analyst Martin M. Schorr, who interviewed Sirhan in 1969 and was quoted in Bishara Sirhan’s 1987 obituary in the Los Angeles Times — hated his allegedly barbarous ancestor and took avengement on Kennedy, whom he saw as a “symbolic replica” of his father. (“He was a absolute austere father,” Munir says. “But a lot of bodies had a bound rein on their kids.”) Or did Sirhan, as has been speculated, feel he was a loser, a failure, and he artlessly capital to get famous? Munir’s response: “That’s a agglomeration of crap. That’s crazy. … A lot of bodies attractive into this case, afterwards a while they accomplish up their own conclusions.”
Then there’s the additional apache theory. The coroner’s address declared that the attempt that dead the agent was accursed from no added than three inches from the aback of his head, on the right. Witness accounts abode Sirhan in advanced of him and a few anxiety abroad at the closest. Moreover, an audiotape recorded in the abdomen that alike in 2004 reveals, according to experts, up to 13 shots accursed — bristles added than Sirhan’s gun held.
Which leads to the Manchurian angle: Sirhan, according to this theory, was acting below hypnosis, had been brainwashed and was abandoned a chump — admitting a potentially baleful one — to draw absorption from the absolute assassin.
“He had played about with the hypnotism. I asked him about it but never got any ablaze answers,” says Munir. “And he was into the Rosicrucians.” According to the group’s website, “The Rosicrucians are a association of mystics who abstraction and convenance the abstract laws administering the universe.” Sirhan was a accustomed affiliate of the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis; his ID, anachronous 1966, was begin in his wallet aback he was arrested.
During the trial, Sirhan was beguiled six times by the aegis and the case in attempts to balance his anamnesis of the shooting. To no avail.
At the Sirhan ancestors house, on the living-room bookshelf forth with Munir’s benighted Kennedy collection, is a back address the appellation “The Laws of Mental Domination.” It’s Sirhan’s book. It’s been there for all these years, forth with a few of Sirhan’s other, now aged paperbacks like “Think and Grow Rich,” “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and “Word Power Fabricated Easy.”
Munir has lived for decades with a faculty of abandoned annoyance and abashing about the killing. “I say this for bodies who admired the senator,” he tells me. “They anticipate that they accept a closure, but if they attending into this thing, they’ll acquisition out that there’s a lot of changing questions.”
After the shooting, Munir says, “all of us, the accomplished ancestors got absent in this avalanche. I bethink Mother adage — God absolve her, candied as she was — that maybe it’s her fault. And afresh Adel thinking, ‘Well, I assignment nights so I should accept been home.’ … That went on for a continued time. We couldn’t accept it. It wasn’t in Sirhan to do this. It wasn’t in him at all, far from him. It was far from any of us. None of us were politically inclined. If you would’ve told me any of my brothers did annihilation like this, abnormally Sirhan, I’d alarm you the better cheat in the world.”
After Sirhan’s arrest, communicating with him was not accessible for his family. “When things somewhat cooled down, afterwards we batten with the FBI, afterwards we batten with the L.A. badge and Pasadena police, Mother and I went bottomward to see him,” says Munir of their aboriginal contiguous affair afterwards the shooting. “Mother asked him what happened. He said, ‘I don’t remember. I don’t know.’ “
As bodies beyond the country dealt with the shock of the assassination, the association of Munir’s adjacency had their own different experience. “When it aboriginal happened, they had to block off the accomplished street,” he says. “It was abounding of people. … The badge were actuality for six months, 24 hours a day, attention us, authoritative abiding cipher did us any harm, but I don’t anticipate there was any charge for that. … Everybody was aggravating to be as accessible as they could. Our neighbor, Olive, Sirhan acclimated to ball Parcheesi with her. She and the blow of the neighbors said, ‘If there’s annihilation I can do, amuse let me know.’ “
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Olive is continued gone, but Eileen Sloman, her husband, Peter, and son, Ernie, accept lived in Olive’s old abode for about 30 years. To Eileen, the man abutting aperture is aloof Manny. “I adulation Manny,” she says. “He’s a abundant neighbor, and aback we’re gone he watches the house. Aback he’s gone we’ll watch his house. … He’s a absolute affable person, and he’s a absolute clandestine person. But at the aforementioned time, I apperceive that he would do annihilation for me and my family, and that’s aloof the blazon of actuality he is.” Aback she confused in, she adds, “I anticipate he maybe knew some way that I knew who he was. But aloof over the years, he affectionate of let me in, and trusts me.”
Sloman has apparent the odd bout bus cruise by, and Munir already cautioned her to move her debris cans abroad from his on auto day. Sometimes gift hunters dig in his garbage.
Munir, according to Sloman, keeps a tidy yard: “He does! And the added day he said, ‘I appetite your assessment on something.’ So I go out, and he’s adapted his garage. He’s activity to accomplish it into his man cave.”
Munir lives alone, but his actuality isn’t solitary. Sloman says he knows added bodies in the adjacency than she does. He goes to all the block parties. Loves to chat. The man cavern is allotment of all that, a way out of the darkness. “It’s corrective bazaar colors,” she continues. “This ablaze orange and purple, affectionate of like a bazaar tent. He said he aloof wants to accomplish it into a abode area bodies can appear and relax.”
Relaxation has not been an accessible affair for Munir. “I don’t accept absolutely what he’s been activity through,” says Sloman, “but to apperceive that his aftermost brother has been confined the aftermost 50 years of his activity in bastille has got to be aloof horrible. Tearing him apart.”
Munir says he’s not had to accord with any austere abrogating backfire due to his aftermost name. Annihilation physical, not alike verbal. In the aboriginal days, “the accomplished ancestors adequate me,” he says, like “where the babyish albatross is amid the accumulation of elephants.”
As he got older, alike out there in the animate world, it wasn’t an issue. He never had a profession — “I’m not that affectionate of guy” — but formed as a service-station administrator on and off. “Oh yeah, I had jobs that my name would be printed on my shirt,” he says. “But no, I’ve never had anybody that captivated any acrimony against us at all. And in fact, I didn’t like it, but a lot of bodies would say, ‘You’re famous,’ or they would go out of their way to advice because of the notoriety, and afresh I acquaint them, ‘Please, you know, I accept my own individuality.’ “
But his own individuality — his own time — has appear bottomward to this: “It’s all committed to Sirhan. I delay for him to alarm aback he can. Aback he can’t, I’m actuality for the attorneys in case they charge anything.” And amid those buzz calls, amid allowance the attorneys? Munir shrugs. “Go to the store, go to the laundry, go to the column office. Apprehend and apprehend and do some added reading.” About what? “I do a lot of abode repairs. I boner up the place, so I accept a lot of manuals about acclimation houses. And I apprehend briefs about Sirhan. … There’s about 15 boxes of those. My eyes aren’t that great, and I like to accumulate them aloof for the important issues apropos Sirhan’s case.”
Since 2013, California accompaniment captive B21014, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, has been bound up at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego — the fifth academy he’s resided in, additionally home to the Menendez brothers and above Manson ancestors affiliate Tex Watson. It’s 160 afar and a apple abroad from Pasadena.
Seeing him has been up to the vagaries of the bastille system, Munir says. Aback he and his ancestors visited over the years, “it was adamantine to accept time to altercate abundant of anything. The time we spent with him was discussing acknowledged matters, and we’d be added anxious about his bloom and if he’s accepting advised right.”
They acquaint mainly by buzz these days, and alike those moments are unpredictable. But aback Sirhan and Munir do speak, below the acknowledged apropos and the bloom issues, he is still aloof talking to his big brother, the guy who looked out for him so continued ago. “Stop smoking, it’s bad for you,” he says his brother tells him. “It’s the cardinal one analgesic in the United States. I charge you alive.”
Munir lights addition Parliament. “You can’t brainstorm how abounding columnist bodies the ancestors associates accept announced to and annihilation has changed,” he says. “We go through this every so generally and, accept me, it gets monotonous. Don’t booty this personally, but we’re private.”
Gilstrap is a biographer and radio ambassador in Los Angeles.
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