Thomas Lipscomb: The Secrets of the Zapruder Film
Was the most famous film of JFK's assassination altered by the government?
NOTE: The renowned journalist Thomas Lipscomb has just completed a new manuscript (with Jerome Kroth) titled The Oswald Letter and it contains a number of staggering claims based on newly released documents — as well as fresh accounts from new eyewitnesses who have never before been interviewed. This is the fourth excerpt from The Oswald Letter to appear here on my Substack.
Read Part 1: Lee Harvey Oswald’s Last Call
Read Part II: Lee Harvey Oswald Was Trained By The CIA
Read Part III: Hidden In Plain Sight
There has been a mysterious secret buried within the Zapruder family for half a century. Abraham Zapruder took the famous 26 second home movie of the Kennedy Assassination in Dallas. It contained the entire progress of the assassination, from the first turn of JFK’s limo onto Elm Street, through the shootings of President Kennedy and Governor John Connelly, and then the limo’s exit through the triple underpass headed for Parkland Hospital with the dying President.
It’s often called the “Rosetta Stone” of the JFK assassination since everything is all there in plain sight. It has the potential of making everyone who sees it an eyewitness. So how can there be any Zapruder family secret about it? Yet in her recent book, Twenty-Six Seconds, Zapruder’s granddaughter, Alexandra, refers to a 50 year-long taboo within the Zapruder family against even discussing the film.
Alexandra claims not to know what the “taboo” is all about. Her father Henry, an able Washington lawyer, wanted to tell her — but she refused to listen to his story so the secret died with him. Her grandfather had enriched the family by his sale of the Zapruder film to Life Magazine for $150,000 in 1963 (almost $500,000 in current dollars), and then her father had negotiated the sale to the Federal Government for an additional $16 million in 1998. So one might think she might have been interested. But there may have been a good reason why she didn’t want to know.
Zapruder himself left some pretty broad hints. On the 22nd of June 1964, as a witness to the assassination, Abraham Zapruder gave his deposition to the Warren Commission based upon his memory and the graphic information shown to him. But he wasn’t shown the color film now familiar to millions. He was only shown some black and white frames from it. He seemed uneasy and, at times, puzzled as he testified.
Early in his testimony he said “I started shooting — when the motorcade started coming in, I believe I started and wanted to get it coming in from Houston Street.” His assistant Marilyn Sitzman was with him as he filmed because he was concerned that he might get dizzy while filming and need support. She confirmed that he began filming as the motorcade turned on to Elm Street.
The day of the assassination in an interview with Dallas TV’s WFAA.
Zapruder stated: “As I was shooting, as the President was coming down from Houston Street making his turn…” So Zapruder hadn’t misremembered what he had thought on the day of the assassination.
It was a conspicuously bad turn. The Secret Service driver Greer miscalculated and had to slow the limo down and almost had to go up on the curb to make the turn, as many witnesses noticed. But the Zapruder film in evidence before the Warren Commission did not show the motorcade “coming in from Houston Street.” We never see Greer’s sloppy turn. The first time we see the Kennedy limousine it is already coming down Elm Street.
Zapruder filmed the limo as it emerged from behind a Stemmons Freeway sign with President Kennedy looking like he had already been hit, and as it continued down Elm Street. And then, according to 59 witnesses compiled by author Vincent Palmara (and listed in Volume IV of Douglas Horne’s Inside the Assassination Records Review Board on page 1300), the limo either stopped or almost came to a stop. Broadcasting from New York, Walter Cronkite even reported: “Mrs. Kennedy screamed out: ‘Oh no!’ The car stopped momentarily.”
But in the Zapruder film screened for the Warren Commission, the limo never shows any signs of stopping. It was at this point that the two shots rang out — including the famous frame 313 showing the fatal shot to the head.
But curiously there is only one frame in the Zapruder film that shows the shot, and a small cloud of red mist around the President’s head. That’s not how many eyewitnesses saw it, like the Newmans who were directly abreast and saw the hit. Or Zapruder’s partner, Erwin Schwartz, who saw the film at least 15 times that weekend — and saw a violent eruption of brain matter and blood from the impact that went high and to the left. And that confirms the account of escorting Dallas motorcvcle policeman Billy Hargis (on the left rear of the limo) who said that he was struck so hard by the discharge from Kennedy’s head that he initially thought he might have been shot himself. Hargis also confirms the stop.
Since the release of the Warren Report, disturbing information like this which raises questions about the film has been discussed by researchers: first by David Lifton in his 1980 book Best Evidence, and then by John Costello, Peter Janney and Douglas Horne (among others). They have built a persuasive case that the film in the National Archives today that is known as the Zapruder film was altered and, in some cases, fabricated. The reason is simple enough. The Warren Commission had set itself from its inception with the task of proving Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin, and that all shots were fired from the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository.
But how was it even possible to alter the film? As far as the record showed, the film had either been in the hands of Zapruder, or (after he sold it) Life Magazine. Zapruder had loaned his other two copies to the Secret Service. It was impossible for Life to have made these kinds of sophisticated alterations — and why would they? And if somehow they had — how could they also alter the two copies already in the hands of the Federal Government? Raising questions was easy. What seemed impossible was answering that question.
Then in 2009, Peter Janney got in contact with Dino Brugioni — a retired top-level CIA photo expert who had been a friend of his father’s (who had also been at the CIA). Brugioni had been a founder and a key manager at the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center in Washington. On Saturday night at 10:00PM, the day after the assassination, the Secret Service had delivered a copy of the Zapruder film to him as duty officer with specific instructions. The best introduction to this fascinating detective story is Douglas Horne’s You Tube video “The Zapruder Film Mystery.”
Douglas Horne had learned about the NPIC work with the Zapruder film that weekend as one of the top analysts for the Federal Government’s Assassination Record Review Board in 1997. But his information was about a delivery on Sunday night, not Saturday, and to an entirely different team on duty at NPIC. They were told by a “Secret Service agent” that the film had been processed in Rochester at Kodak. And yet, according to Zapruder and eyewitnesses with him, the original film had already been processed in Dallas, and the copies made.
What did this all mean?
Once again, Douglas Horne’s article on “The Two NPIC Zapruder Film Events: Signposts Pointing to the Film's Alteration” has the answer.
This brief article is not the place to review the process in detail. In summary, Dino Bruglioni appears to have gotten the unaltered original Zapruder film on Saturday night. And he made no changes to the film itself. In a recorded interview in 2011 by Peter Janney, Bruglioni agreed with the eyewitnesses (and Zapruder’s partner Erwin Schwartz) that the frame 313 in the Zapruder film was not what he had seen.
Ironically, as a witness in testimony (recorded in the Garrison trial of Clay Shaw) Zapruder himself agreed with Brugloini: “his head practically opened up and a lot of blood and many more things, whatever it was brains, came out of his head” rather than simply blood spray seen in frame 313.
And perhaps just as importantly, the sequence should have been longer than one frame in the film. The best and most current summary of all these issues (including the Zapruder family taboo) is a new book by Jacob Hornberger called An Encounter With Evil: The Abraham Zapruder Story.
What does any of this have to do with the Zapruder family secret? That became clear when Zapruder was called to testify to the authenticity of Warren Commission’s copy of the Zapruder film in Jim Garrison’s trial of Clay Shaw in New Orleans in 1969. It had been six years since Zapruder saw his own film before turning it over to the Secret Service (and Life) and he had had to testify to the Warren Commission about its authenticity.
Zapruder was nervous and spoke so quietly that he had to continually be prompted to speak louder by the Judge. His wife was quietly weeping in the audience. One of Garrison’s attorneys posed the key question at the close of Zapruder’s testimony.
MR OSER: “Is the copy you have here today identical to the original or are there any plates missing out of this copy?”
ZAPRUDER: “That would be hard for me to tell, sir. …”
Zapruder was then shown the film Garrison had subpoenaed from the Warren Commission files to refresh his memory. And the lights were dimmed in the courtroom. This time, his answer was radically different at first.
MR OSER: “Mr. Zapruder, from having seen the film just on the screen, can you tell us whether or not this represents what you saw on November 22, 1963, after your original film was developed in Dallas, Texas?”
ZAPRUDER: “I would say they do. Yes, they do.”
Then Zapruder was asked an apparently innocuous follow-up question by the counsel for the defendant Clay Shaw. This time, Zapruder took another 180 degree turn in his testimony.
MR. DYMOND: “Mr. Zapruder, are you able to testify that this film that you have just seen run is a complete copy of the pictures taken by you on that day, no frames being missing?”
ZAPRUDER: “By complete, what do you mean? If there are any frames removed or so?”
MR. DYMOND: “Any frames removed or damaged or for any reason not shown in this film?”
ZAPRUDER: “I couldn’t tell you.”
MR. DYMOND: “So you couldn’t tell whether any part has been skipped, is that correct?”
ZAPRUDER: “I could not.”
Poor Zapruder. The Zapruder secret is now clear. The first person to realize the film had been altered was Abraham Zapruder himself.
He appeared to be trapped in a terrifying dilemma. He could either tell the truth and bring the full fury of the Federal Government down on himself (and possibly get sued by Life as well) or he could lie, and authenticate the film, and expect to have his name blackened if the truth ever came out.
Zapruder found another choice — and a masterful one. He equivocated and played for time. But the strain was wearing. He died in 1970, a little over a year after his last testimony in the Garrison trial.
He was only sixty-five years old.
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