- Film shot by Abraham Zapruder became a crucial part of the government investigation into Kennedy’s assassination
- Zapruder owned a dress company whose office was across the street from the Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald was camped
Daily Mail Reporter
17:08 GMT, 18 November 2013
18:23 GMT, 18 November 2013
The man who captured the moment when President Kennedy was assassinated almost didn’t bring his camera with him on that fateful Friday in 1963 because it was overcast.
Abraham Zapruder was a 58-year-old dressmaker when the President’s motorcade began but he has since gone down in history as being the man who played a pivotal role in the ensuing investigation.
The Russian immigrant owned a dress company which had their offices along the parade route, and he had recently bought a personal video camera that he was eager to use during the visit.
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Man behind the movie: Abaraham Zapruder, right, spoke to a local news anchor immediately after handing over his footage to the Secret Service
Fatal ride: President Kennedy and First Lady Jackie were in the back of the open-top convertible during their drive through Dallas on November 22, 1963
ABC News reports that Mr Zapruder, who died in 1970, was urged to go home and get his camera during lunch by his secretary.
After doing so, he and his receptionist Marilyn Sitzman went and he stood on an elevated concrete block as Ms Sitzman stood behind him to hold him steady.
His 26 seconds of film ended up being used in the official investigation by the Warren Commission about the President’s death, the 50th anniversary of which comes at the end of this month.
Part of history: Abraham Zapruder’s camera is now part of the National Archives
‘As I was shooting, as the President was coming down from Houston Street making his turn, it was about a half-way down there, I heard a shot, and he slumped to the side, like this,’ he said, demonstrating what he saw for the local ABC affiliate shortly after the shooting.
‘Then I heard another shot or two, I couldn’t say it was one or two, and I saw his head practically open up, all blood and everything, and I kept on shooting.
‘That’s about all, I’m just sick.’
Mr Zapruder handed over the footage to a Secret Service agent and it was used as part of the formal investigation, but he later decided to sell the rights to the video and its stills to Life Magazine.
Life outbid CBS for the footage- and it was later revealed that a CBS editor nearly had Dan Rather ‘sock (Zapruder) in the jaw’ in order to get the film- with Life agreeing to pay $150,000.
Mr Zapruder gave $25,000 of that money to the widow of a police officer who was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in the hours following the President’s assassination.
Before his death, he was interviewed a number of times by government officials who were investigating the shooting.
‘I started yelling, `They killed him, they killed him,” he testified before the investigative panel in July 1964. ‘I was still shooting the pictures until he got under the underpass – I don’t even know how I did it.’
Sound impulses recorded on the microphone of a Dallas police officer amounted to evidence of a shot from the infamous ‘grassy knoll’ in Dealey Plaza, and thus of an additional gunman besides Oswald firing from a building window
Tests showed that the camera – loaded with Double 8-millimeter Kodachrome II color film – recorded at an average speed of 18.3 frames per second. Depending on how much film leader and unexposed black footage are counted, there are either 486 or 487 frames with assassination-related images.
Although there was no sound, the Zapruder film allowed investigators and researchers to establish the interval between gunshots.
Zapruder had the film developed and three copies made – two of which he gave to the Secret Service and FBI.
Richard Stolley, then Pacific bureau editor for Life Magazine, had flown in from Los Angeles and reached Zapruder by phone around 11 p.m. The next morning, he was in Zapruder’s office at Jennifer Juniors, Inc., watching the film with two Secret Service agents.
‘I have to say, seeing that film and seeing the head shot – the infamous frame 313 – was the most dramatic moment of my career,’ Stolley recalled in a recent interview.
Motorcade: Morley does not suggest the Joannides files point to agency involvement in the assassination itself, but more likely that their release would show the CIA trying to keep secret its own flawed performance before the assassination
Acting on instinct: Jacqueline Kennedy would later say she had no memory of crawling onto the Lincoln’s trunk to retrieve parts of her husband’s skull
‘We all reacted as if we had been simultaneously gut-punched.’
Competitors avidly sought the film, too. But in the end, Stolley won out, getting Life the print rights for $50,000. The magazine paid Zapruder another $100,000 the following week for the remaining copyrights.
Aside from some still images, it would be years before the general public saw what Zapruder’s camera had captured. Life even withheld frame 313 ‘out of deference to the grieving Kennedy family,’ Stolley has explained.
In 1969, about a year before his death, Zapruder testified as to the film’s authenticity during the New Orleans trial of Clay Shaw, the only person ever prosecuted for the assassination. District Attorney Jim Garrison played the film for the jury 10 times – a scene that formed the dramatic crescendo of Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, ‘JFK.’
Most Americans did not see the Zapruder film in motion until March 1975, when ABC News aired a copy during Geraldo Rivera’s weekly ‘Good Night America’ show.
The outcry helped spur formation of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which would famously conclude that the murder was most likely the result of a conspiracy involving multiple shooters.