President Kennedy’s assassination: Zapruder footage (1966)

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Although President John F Kennedy’s assassination occurred on November 22, 1963, the article below was published on the third anniversary of his death, in 1966.

Did Oswald act alone? A matter of reasonable doubt

Amid controversy over the Warren Report, Governor Connally examines for LIFE the Kennedy assassination film frame-by-frame.

President Kennedy's assassination: Zapruder footage

Of all the witnesses to the tragedy, the only unimpeachable one is the 8-mm movie camera of Abraham Zapruder, which recorded the assassination in sequence.

Film passed through the camera at 18.3 frames a second, a little more than a 20th of a second (.055 sec.) for each frame. By studying individual frames, one can see what happened at every instant and measure precisely the intervals between events.

On these pages and the next, the significant passages of the film are reproduced, frame by frame.

The numbers printed on them, counted in sequence from the beginning of the film, are those used by the Commission to identify the frames. At the left side of each frame the sprocket holes and the light-struck areas around them can be seen. The disagreement between Governor Connally and the Commission arises over how to read the Zapruder pictures.

President Kennedy's assassination: Zapruder footage

Of the three bullet strikes — the President’s neck wound, the governor’s wounds and the President’s head wound — only the mortal blow to the President’s head is easy to mark on the film. This occurred in the 313th frame and is not shown here because it does not bear on the controversy. The two earlier hits are harder to pin down.

President Kennedy, according to the Commission, was out of Zapruder’s sight behind a road sign when the first bullet hit him in the neck, and the film seems to confirm it. He was out of sight for 18 frames — one second. No one can say for sure in which of them he was hit. Governor Connally, according to the Commission, was hit at the same time as the President — and therefore also out of view.

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Connally testified to the Commission that it happened otherwise: “I heard this noise which I immediately took to be a rifle shot. I instinctively turned to my right… but I did not catch the President in the corner of my eye… Failing to see him, I was turning to look back over my left shoulder… but I never got that far in my turn. I got about in the position I am now facing you, looking a little bit to the left of center, and then I felt like someone had hit me in the back.”

Mrs Connally was even more specific in her testimony. “I heard… a frightening noise, and it came from the right… I turned over my right shoulder… and saw the President as he had both hands at his neck… He made no utterance, no cry. Then, very soon, there was the second shot that hit John.”

The Zapruder film seems to bear out what the governor says and raises a reasonable doubt about the Commission’s version. In the sequence on this page, two preliminary frames establish the scene. In frame 193, the presidential limousine approaches the highway sign.

Kennedy, with Mrs Kennedy beside him, has his right hand raised as he waves to the crowd; his left hand rests against his coat lapel. Both he and Governor Connally look off to their right. The President’s hand is still raised in salute in frame 206, the last view of him before he vanishes behind the sign. He could have been hit, the Commission says, as early as frame 210.

The crucial sequence begins in frame 222 as Governor Connally emerges from behind the sign looking to his right. A sixth of a second later, in frame 225, the President emerges and it is clear that he has been hit. His face is distorted, although Connally’s seems unperturbed. The President’s left hand is still on his lapel, but his right is rising toward his neck.

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By frame 230, just .27 second after coming into view, his shoulders are hunched and both hands are at his throat, a position in which he remains frozen until the end of the sequence (frame 244).

Beginning at frame 225, Governor Connally quickly turns his head leftward until, in 228, he faces straight ahead, remaining in this position through the last frame on this page.

President Kennedy's assassination: Zapruder footage

President Kennedy's assassination: Zapruder footage

“You can see my leftward movement clearly,” Connally told LIFE as he studied these frames. “I had turned to the right when the limousine was behind the sign. Now I’m turning back again. I know that I made that turn to the left before I was hit. You can see the grimace in the President’s face. You cannot see it in mine. There is no question about it. I haven’t been hit yet.”

(Remainder of this article continued in the print magazine…)

President Kennedy's assassination: Zapruder footage

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