A New London link to RFK conspiracy theory

I would highly recommend "The RFK Tapes," a new podcast exploring the killing of Robert F. Kennedy and the idea that convicted assassin Sirhan Sirhan was not the only gunman in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen that night, even if the program didn't have a New London connection.

But hearing a New London piece of the story gives it a bit more zing for listeners around here.

In a quirky twist in the meandering story about people who have explored RFK assassination conspiracy theories, it is a store on New London's State Street that sells Dennis Sweeney the gun he used to shoot and kill Allard Lowenstein. The former U.S. congressman and friend of Kennedy's was, more than a decade after the assassination, publicly questioning the official conclusion that Sirhan had acted alone in the RFK killing.

Sweeney apparently traveled from New London to New York City in March 1980 and showed up in Lowenstein's ninth-floor law office at Rockefeller Center. He shook hands with the 51-year-old lawyer and then, without warning, pumped five shots into him, piercing his heart, lung and left arm. Sweeney then took a seat in the reception area, placed the New London-purchased .38-caliber gun on a secretary's desk and waited for police to arrive.

Sweeney, a 37-year-old carpenter who had been renting a one-room apartment on Bristol Street in New London for less than a year, pleaded guilty by reason of insanity to murder in the second degree and was committed to the custody of the New York Office of Mental Health.

The description of the Lowenstein killing on the podcast is preceded by a chilling quote from someone suggesting that whoever was behind the killing of RFK and setting up Sirhan as the presumed killer wouldn't stop at killing Lowenstein, too, as he began to publicly raise more questions about the 1968 assassination.

And of course the Sweeney shooting looked for all the world like a hit job.

"The RFK Tapes" will be 10 episodes long when it is done. At five episodes, it has put a hook in for me. I'm not usually a conspiracy theory consumer but there are a lot of interesting failings in the RFK assassination investigation — missing evidence, conflicting witness statements, extra bullet holes — that certainly raise questions.

And then of course Lowenstein is assassinated as he asked those questions.

A lot of the reporting about Sweeney at the time of the Lowenstein murder, by The Day and many national publications, described his significant mental health issues. Neighbors in Connecticut described him at times screaming at the top of his lungs, to quiet the voices he said were in his head.

He originally was from California and spent time on Long Island and it's not clear how he eventually drifted first to Mystic, where he worked for a contractor for a while, then to New London.

He met Lowenstein as a student at Stanford University, where the lawyer was teaching, and the older man became a kind of mentor as they got involved in civil rights activism.

I am not sure what more we may learn about Sweeney in future episodes of "The RFK Tapes" but his role as a killer somehow sent by whoever was behind the RFK assassination is certainly not proven. Indeed, the two men had a long history together and there could have been all kinds of triggers for what happened in Sweeney's troubled mind.

On the other hand, a killing of someone out of the blue by an old associate from the past certainly is unusual and strange. And an assassination of someone making a lot of noise about reopening an investigation into another assassination, one that changed the course of American history, certainly raises eyebrows.

I can't wait for the next episode.

Meanwhile, if anyone knows where we can find Dennis Sweeney, we would love to hear from him.

Despite protests from both prosecutors and mental health officials, he was released from custody in 2000, after a New York judge ruled he no longer required hospitalization. Lowenstein's family also objected to the release.

"For some six years, without medication, Dennis Sweeney has been building an ever more complex, satisfying and successful life in the community," Justice Brenda Soloff of the state Supreme Court wrote at the time in explanation of her order.

Maybe he's come back to New London. I suspect, wherever he is, he is probably listening, too, to "The RFK Tapes."

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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