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Bedrock Evidence in the Kennedy Assassination

by Josiah Thompson

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The other aspect of the debate over authenticity concerned the actual content of the images on the Zapruder film. Content analysis gave rise to the pointing out of "anomalies" in the film which were taken to be indications of fakery. Martin Shackelford pointed out in December 1998:

As the debate continued, more of the "anomalies" were explained, and the points which had seemed worth pursuing began to fall by the wayside, but the alterationists had a tendency to do several things:

(1) A phenomenon called "Anomaly of the Week," which meant that no matter how many alterationist claims were proven wrong, new ones cropped up like weeds, some of them increasingly far-fetched, and quickly discarded in the face of evidence;

(2) A tendency to wait until the controversy over something had died down and then resurrect it as though it were "new evidence ";

The Anomaly-of-the-Week phenomenon can be tracked in Fetzer's various books from Assassination Science (1998) through Murder in Dealey Plaza (2000) to The Great Zapruder Film Hoax (2003). The anomalies of the first book are explained by the time the next book arrives on the shelves. Then the whole process repeats itself. Here are a few examples to give the flavor of the game:

(1) A pickup truck in the background of the Zapruder film has a cover over its bed; in a later film taken by a different photographer, the cover is gone (Solution: Different pickup trucks!)

(2) Toni Foster, a woman pictured in the background of the Zapruder film, is impossibly seven feet tall (Solution: Whoops, measurement error!)

(3) The Franzen family seen standing by the south curb of Elm Street in the Zapruder film grows an extra person over time (Whoops! Interpretation error!)

(4) The Zapruder film shows limousine driver Bill Greer turning his head to the rear in an impossibly short period of time (Whoops! Interpretation error!)

Perhaps the most egregious example of sloppy research bootstrapped into proof of alteration is the claim that the Zapruder film is fake since it shows Mary Moorman taking her famous photo from the grass just south of Elm Street. The claim, apparently still backed by Jack White, David Mantik, M.D., Ph.D., and James Fetzer, Ph.D., is that Moorman was really standing in the street when she took her photo.

In interview transcripts, Moorman is ambiguous as to where she was standing when she took her famous photo. Earlier on, she ventured into the street to take a photo of a police friend riding in the vanguard of the motorcade. We know she is standing in the street when she took this photo because the photo shows the camera looking up at the 58" high top of the motorcycle windscreen. A minute later, when she snaps her famous photo, she is looking down on the 58" high top of another police motorcycle.

In the Zapruder film, Moorman and Jean Hill are standing in the grass perhaps a foot to a foot and one-half beyond the south curb of Elm Street. Moorman has her Polaroid camera raised to her eye as the limousine and motorcycle outriders glide by.

The Muchmore and Nix films show the same thing: Moorman and Hill standing in the grass as the limousine and motorcycles pass by. Seconds later, other films show them crouched in the grass at the same location. Why then did White, Fetzer and Mantik conclude that conspirators had weirdly altered the film by changing the obvious position of Moorman? It is all explained by White and Mantik in Fetzer's second book, Murder in Dealey Plaza.

Figure 17. Mary Moorman and Jean Hill standing in the grass as the limousine passes
Figure 17. Mary Moorman and Jean Hill standing in the grass as the limousine passes. Zapruder frame 303.

White and Mantik state that two points in Moorman's photo line up exactly. These two points are the left top of the concrete pedestal on which Zapruder and Sitzman stood that day and the bottom right corner of a window in the concrete pergola behind. These two points are about fifteen feet apart. If they do line up, then the extension of this line across Elm Street must also contain the lens of Moorman's camera. But the extension of this line across Elm Street would mean that the lens of Moorman's camera was only forty-some inches above the ground...much too low to match what we see in the Zapruder film. Hence, the Zapruder film must have been faked! Q.E.D.!

The logic is unimpeachable. If two points line up in a photo,they define a line which must also contain the camera lens. But the observation was wrong. The two points don't line up. The true line-of-sight defined in the photo is somewhat higher and to the left (south) of the claimed lineof-sight. White published in Fetzer's book an illustration showing the purported line-up of the two points. The "+" marking the spot was so large that it obscured the obvious fact that the two points did not line-up.

Figure 18. Illustration from Fetzer's book
Figure 18. Illustration from Fetzer's book. A banner at top of page proclaimed: "Moorman Polaroid photo contains absolute proof of Zapruder film tampering."

Figure 19. Red plus sign concealed fact that the points don't line up
Figure 19. Red "+" concealed fact that the points don't line up.
Figure 20. Enlargement of segment of Moorman photo
Figure 20. Enlargement of segment of Moorman photo.
Figure 21. Moorman photo vis a vis photo taken 53.75 inches above curb
Figure 21. Moorman photo vis a vis photo taken 53.75" above curb.

When an unobscured photo is presented, it becomes clear by inspection that the observation is false and that the true line-of-sight places the camera where it is seen to be in the Zapruder film.

Once again, an "anomaly" purported to show forgery of the Zapruder film turns out to be just another product of sloppy research... this time carried out by Jack White, James Fetzer and David Mantik.

The result of this giant "anomaly hunt" has been that numerous people even today are poring over the Zapruder film hoping to find the "breakthrough anomaly." They say to themselves, "This will be the one that no one can explain!" Since none of the ringmasters of this circus have much knowledge of film production or duplication, they will continue to promote the latest breakthrough until it too crashes and burns.

Most recently, John Costella, Ph.D...... the Australian high school teacher who claimed to have discovered "listening devices" in Dealey Plaza which later turned out to be controls for sprinklers...... this John Costella, Ph.D., offered a "breakthrough" that was roundly applauded by the converted. He compared Zapruder frames with still photos taken by a Dallas police photographer from the Zapruder pedestal the week after the assassination. This comparison showed that the Stemmons Freeway sign in the Zapruder frames was slightly out of position from its location in the DPD stills. "Ahah," announced Costella, "proof of alteration!"

Figure 22. Z-200 shows position of sign
Figure 22. Z-200 shows position of sign.
Figure 23. 11/27/63 photo taken by Pete Barnes of Dallas Police Lab
Figure 23. 11/27/63 photo taken by Pete Barnes of Dallas Police Lab.
Figure 24. Page 176 of Fetzer's book shows purported discrepancy in position of sign
Figure 24. Page 176 of Fetzer's book shows purported discrepancy in position of sign.

Not so fast. We are remarkably fortunate to have photos of both Zapruder and the police photographer taking their photos from the pedestal. These photos establish that on November 22nd Zapruder was filming from the front of the pedestal while on November 27th the police photographer was taking photos from the rear of the pedestal. The difference in position accounts for the discrepancy in the sign's position.

Figure 25. Photos of Pete Barnes and Abraham Zapruder on pedestal show they filmed from slightly different positions
Figure 25. Photos of Pete Barnes and Abraham Zapruder on pedestal show they filmed from slightly different positions. This difference explains the "discrepancy" with respect to the position of the sign.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One of the strangest features of human inquiry is its serendipity — its ability to produce unexpected results. Even the dumbest project can produce the most surprising and important results. And so it is with the failure of the attempt to prove forgery in the Zapruder film. A fact of enormous importance has emerged from the failure of this ten-year attempt.

Forty years after the assassination of President Kennedy, it is critical to find a way to distinguish incontrovertibly authentic evidence from that which may have been tainted. Given the essential unreliability of eyewitness testimony in a setting where virtually every factor known to degrade the reliability of such testimony was present, we cannot count on it as a basis for reconstructing anything. The conflicts and discrepancies in such testimony make us cry out for something more substantial. Yet, when we look beyond the reports of witnesses to the physical evidence, a shadow of suspicion arises.

From the very beginning, there have been reasonable doubts concerning the authenticity and provenance of Commission Exhibit 399. The autopsy photos and x-rays are even more suspect. We know that some photos are missing, that the photos we have are not plausibly linked to the camera that must have taken them and that some photos and some x-rays are inconsistent with the contemporaneous notes and recollections of the autopsy doctors. Moreover, all these questions are directed to artifacts that were never used in the initial investigation and appear in the Archives only after their existence and possible meaning had become controversial. Surely then, the autopsy photos and x-rays cannot be immune from suspicion. They cannot function as the bedrock on which the case can be reconstructed.

Everything changes when we turn to the actual films and photographs taken in Dealey Plaza that day. The claims that government agents confiscated films do not compel belief. When Professor Fetzer claims that the FBI tracked any assassination films or photos that came to the attention of the Kodak lab, he is blowing his usual smoke. As Richard Trask and others have pointed out, the FBI was rather passive with respect to photos and films of the assassination. All the Bureau did was ask the Kodak lab to enclose with returned film or photos a request asking the photographer to get in touch with the FBI if the film or photos concerned the assassination. At one of the other labs, the FBI had a couple of men looking at the prints which came out of the processor for a short period of time. But as Trask made clear, FBI efforts were "not fully focused and lacked investigative follow-through." The Muchmore film was shown on WNEW-TV in New York before the FBI even heard of it. Similar fates befell other films which have kept surfacing over the years. Only last year, a previously unknown series of slides showing the motorcade in Dealey Plaza was given to the Sixth Floor Museum. Given the fact that no one had any idea who was filming in Dealey Plaza or where that film might be developed there was no way the government could throw a net over the photo record of what happened in Dealey Plaza.

There is, however, an even more important consideration.

Let us say that a number of people take photos of the stretch run of a horse race. They take still photos and movie film and they take these films and photos from all sorts of different angles. For whatever reason... let's say a horse stumbled and killed its rider and the authorities mean to find out if any other jockey was guilty of misconduct... an attempt is made to reconstruct from the photos exactly what happened. Let's also say that, to conceal the misconduct, a jockey has gotten access to one of the films and has altered it. What would happen? The altered film would stick out. It would not match the other films and photos. The briefest of comparisons with the other films would show it to be a fake.

The same applies to the photo record of what happened in Dealey Plaza.

Over the last decade it has been scrutinized with incredible energy. Numerous false alarms have been paraded around as "anomalies," something that doesn't make sense (or at least "doesn't make sense" to the person pointing it out). After awhile, the anomaly is made to "make sense" when more knowledgeable or careful people look at it. However, in the whole history of the case no discrepancy has ever been shown between any of the films taken in Dealey Plaza and any other. When it became clear that the Nix and Muchmore films matched the Zapruder film, they too were branded "fake." But surely all the films and photos taken in Dealey Plaza cannot be "fake." Whether we are talking of the Zapruder film, Moorman photo, Nix film, Altgens photos, Muchmore film, Towner film, Willis photos, Betzner film, etc., no alleged discrepancy has ever survived examination and criticism. To a photo, all the claims of fakery or lack of consistency turned out to be incorrect, the consequence of sloppy research, misobservation or misinterpretation.

At the present time, there is not a single discrepancy in the photo record of Dealey Plaza. It forms a seamless, self-authenticating whole. If you want to find out what happened in Dealey Plaza, start out with the photographic record of what happened there. That record can become the touchstone against which eyewitness testimony and physical evidence can be compared. If it matches the photographic record, it should be accepted. If it doesn't, it should be rejected.

Continue on to Part 3

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