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For years, he had his mind on one thing: the assassination of Robert Kennedy. He spent almost every waking hour studying the case, and his apartment was a cross between an RFK shrine and archive. Then, last month, apparently despondent over his failure to reopen the case, Greg Stone killed himself. : The Obsession

February 17, 1991|GARRY ABRAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gregory Freeman Stone's last day began with business as usual.

That morning he talked with friend and next-door neighbor Floyd Nelson about the mission that had consumed more than a decade of his life: reopening the official investigation into the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

For many who knew him, Stone was an "unsung hero," a man attempting to "rewrite history."

To them he was a valiant swimmer against the mainstream of American politics, a scholar and researcher buoyed by democratic idealism and a love of truth. Above all, the former protege of Allard Lowenstein was a white knight who would help finally resolve their lingering questions about whether Sirhan B. Sirhan acted alone in the death of Robert Kennedy.

Indeed, Stone's associates noted that he was a veteran behind-the-scenes political operator and a master researcher adept at marshaling facts and coaxing information from bureaucratic nooks and crannies. Some give him a key role in the 1988 release of the Los Angeles Police Department's voluminous files on its investigation of the Kennedy killing, a milestone for those determined to pursue the case.

But the neighborly chat with Nelson was a facade.

Over the past few days, Stone, 41, had been calling friends around the country, including crime reporter and author Dan Moldea in Washington, D.C., and actor Paul LeMat in Los Angeles, both members of a small circle of assassination skeptics who supported Stone's work. The conversations were lengthy, up to 45 minutes, and seemed more or less routine.

In retrospect, the calls resembled codes that could be broken only through hindsight.

"He was saying goodby to me," LeMat recalled. "He was apologizing for not doing more, he was being very gracious, saying, 'Thanks for all your help, your donations and your time. I think you're extremely decent.' He made me feel good, very good."

LeMat, Nelson and Moldea knew that Stone was depressed and had been for months. Stone had been complaining that he lacked the energy and willpower to continue his self-assigned task, that he needed to get away from the Kennedy assassination, perhaps complete studies for a doctorate in political science. If he had ruined his academic credibility with his assassination work, he could always get a job at McDonald's, he would sometimes joke with a tinge of bitterness.

But no one guessed that Stone had reached the end of his rope, that he was terminally disappointed, with himself and with the public and official response to his investigations.

Then, on the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 29, Stone--universally described as self-controlled, iron-disciplined, supremely rational, brilliant, compassionate--drove his battered red Volkswagen from his drab, file-packed Hollywood duplex to the Fern Dell section of Griffith Park, chose a spot under a tree, sat down, put the barrel of a Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Stone's body was found almost immediately by a park worker, said William Sheffield, an investigator for the Los Angeles County coroner's office. Police arrived minutes later, retrieving a note near Stone's foot that directed them to his car parked a couple of blocks away, Sheffield said. Police found three other notes, two on Stone's body and one in the car asking that Floyd Nelson be notified of his death.

Everyone who has seen the notes says they were apologetic. Stone expressed regrets that he "had let down his friends and associates and family," Sheffield said.

Later that day, Nelson found another note at Stone's duplex, in a file labeled "post mortem."

It read: "This is my own decision and comes out of my own problems and shortcomings. It is not the fault at all of my family, friends and the people I've worked with.

"I'm sorry to have let my family and so many others down."

In the wake of Stone's death, as his friends and family discussed his life, it became increasingly clear that the shy, self-effacing man kept a vital part of his soul shrouded from even his closest associates. None knew he had recently acquired the revolver, for instance. Nor did they know he had started taking Prozac, a controversial anti-depressant drug that has been linked to suicide. LeMat and Nelson said they discovered vials of the drug, prescribed by a doctor, in Stone's apartment the day after his death.

"I think a lot of us feel we had a very close professional relationship with him," said David Mendelsohn, an award-winning New York City documentary filmmaker who sometimes helped Stone in his investigation. "I guess on an emotional level I didn't know him very well."

Stone's suicide--as it was ruled by the coroner and accepted by his friends--set off an expanding wave of grief and bafflement.

"I view suicide as almost being an unforgivable sin," Moldea said. "I just don't understand."

Alongside their incomprehension, however, Stone's friends harbored feelings of love and respect.

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