Brother of tragic JFK was shot dead as he stood on the cusp of the presidency

"God! Not again!" screamed one of Robert Kennedy’s supporters as the politician lay stricken by a gunman’s bullets.

The time was shortly after midnight on Wednesday June 5, 1968, inside the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where Bobby Kennedy and his supporters were celebrating his success in the Californian primary election – a huge step towards his bid for the presidency.

His death, just five years after his iconic brother JFK was shot dead in Dallas and six months after Martin Luther King’s assassination , sent shock waves across the world.

It has been the subject of multiple "what if he had lived" articles – for thousands of Americans Kennedy had represented the hope the country could be steered towards a brighter future away from Vietnam and towards more equality.

Kennedy was heir to Martin Luther King’s legacy . He campaigned for civil rights and made poverty a chief plank of his campaign after he saw black children in Mississippi with bloated bellies like children of famine.

While the Democrat President Lyndon Johnson had escalated the number of soldiers in Vietnam, Bobby questioned the war.

He was mobbed at rallies and got compared to a rock star.

On April 4, when Dr King was murdered, Bobby gave a speech without script from the back of a pick-up truck in a black inner-city ghetto of Indianapolis.

He spoke about the shooting of his brother five years before, explaining that, like King, John had been killed by a white man. Bobby was widely credited with averting the sort of rioting that broke out in 100 other cities across America.

Many young people, black and white, skipped college for the summer of 1968 to join his campaign.

Now a new Netflix documentary – Bobby Kennedy for President – looks at the rise of Bobby out of his brother’s shadow until his own untimely death during the early stages of his bid to become President.

Final hours of Bobby Kennedy

On the evening of June 4, 1968, Bobby was in his room in the Ambassador Hotel with his wife Ethel, who was six months pregnant with their 11th child, watching the election results on TV.

By 8pm the party downstairs was in full flow with 1,800 people in evening dresses and tuxedos in the ballroom.

Guests included the writer George Plimpton, NFL star Rosey Grier, Olympic gold medal decathlete Rafer Johnson and singer Rosemary Clooney (George Clooney’s aunt) with her two children.

His killer was Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan. Sirhan had become incensed by comments made by Kennedy supporting Israel and was waiting downstairs drinking Tom Collins cocktails.

As Bobby walked through the kitchen area of the hotel, Sirhan, 24, stepped forward and shot him with a .22 calibre revolver belonging to his brother shouting out: "Kennedy, you son of a bitch!"

At first people thought it was balloons or firecrackers popping, then someone screamed: "Blood!"

Bobby’s aides and the hotel maître d’ grabbed the killer but he carried on shooting. A bullet entered Bobby’s skull from behind the right ear and he fell to the floor.

Iconic pictures show Juan Romero, a Mexican immigrant who was 17 at the time, cradling the head of the dying presidential candidate

The former kitchen worker later recalled how he placed rosary beads in Kennedy’s hands as one of the politician’s eyes was winking, and his leg twitching.

Mr Romero said: "First he asked ‘Is everybody OK?’ and I told him ‘Yes, everybody’s OK’. And then he turned away from me and said ‘Everything’s going to be OK’."

Kennedy was rushed to the Good Samaritan Hospital for brain surgery, but died during the day.

Daily Mirror columnist George Gale, who was in the hotel, wrote how his colleague John Pilger said to him as the crowds screamed:" Look at them. They’re hysterical. It’s like Sinatra!"

"He thought. I thought, we all thought, that the hysteria was that of crazy love.

"It was in a way, but not in the way that we had thought. In a far more terrible way.

"They cried: ‘The Senator’s been shot.’

"There was some accidental noise of broken glass. There were a thousand or more people, and suddenly there was a woman lying below the platform covered in blood, and people shouting: ‘Is there a doctor?’

"Do I explain it ? No, of course not. Things like this do not happen in luxury hotels.

"Nor can words recall the confusion of this violence. The irony, also, is excessive. Parallel is too apt.

"The brother of an assassinated President, who himself has died with a bullet through his neck, does not, in any predictable history, himself receive a bullet in his neck.

"The brother of a President whose brain was blown out does not, in any society that we have dreamed of, himself receive a bullet lodged in his brain.

"The day before, when Kennedy had been in the ghettoes of Los Angeles, he had refused to stop offering his hands to the blacks, Indians and Mexicans.

"Now, after victory, his face had gone blank because there was a bullet in his brain; and his hands were still.

"They operated. Black night grew light. Still they operated. For four hours. Then into the recovery room; the heart beat was strong.

"The violence of this country is also strong, its hatreds are strong. We do not know which will prove the stronger, eventually, after it all.

"It is not just a question of digging a bullet out of a brain. It is a question of a canker in the country that requires to be cut out."

When the LA police arrived, Sirhan was held down on a pantry table in a headlock. He was handcuffed and bundled through the crowd.

In Sirhan’s pocket police found a diary, in which he had written: "Kennedy must be killed by June 5th, 1968."

On 9 June 1968, President Johnson declared a day of national mourning.

His body was taken to New York where it lay in state at St Patrick’s Cathedral. When it was transported by train to Washington thousands of people lined the tracks to pay their respects.

Kennedy was buried at night near his brother John, in Arlington National Cemetery. Bobby’s last child, Rory, was born six months after her father’s assassination.

Rumour has it the Rolling Stones were recording Beggar’s Banquet when Bobby was shot. A lyric in "Sympathy for the Devil" was subsequently changed from "I shouted out, who killed John Kennedy?" to "I shouted out, who killed the Kennedys?"

The killer – and the conspiracy theories

Sirhan was held in a secret jail while he awaited trial. The authorities were keen to avoid a repeat of the death of Lee Harvey Oswald, shot by Jack Ruby while awaiting justice for JFK’s killing.

In court Sirhan claimed not to recall the shooting and there have long been conspiracy theories about the murder.

Some say Sirhan was acting under the influence of "hypnotic brainwashing" which often gets attributed to the CIA’s MK-Ultra programme.

The conspiracy theory with the most support is that Sirhan arrived at the hotel with a couple – many witnesses recall a blonde wearing a polka dot dress.

The police didn’t follow up these accounts. There have also been reports two CIA officers were at the scene, which have been denied.

It has long been suggested by conspiracy theorists that the CIA, angry over what was seen as a betrayal over the Cuban missile crisis, was involved in both Bobby and JFK’s murders.

Sirhan was found guilty at his trial in 1969 and sentenced to death, commuted into a life sentence when California abandoned the death penalty.

Today Kennedy’s killer remains in Corcoran State Prison in California and every appeal for parole has failed.

After the shooting, the 1,000-room Ambassador Hotel, once a playground for celebrities and kings, fell into neglect and was demolished.

Bobby Kennedy for President is on Netflix on April 27.

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