Reflections on Alexandra Zapruder’s Expiation of Her Grandfather’s Anguish

Contrasted to Jacob Hornberger’s Partial Explication — Augmented with a Glimpse Into a New Book That Will Put the Last Piece of the “Zapruder Family Secret” in Place

These two books, though covering the same subject in micro detail, have but one thing in common: They both debunk the notion that Abraham Zapruder might have had foreknowledge of the plot to assassinate John F. Kennedy. In practically every other respect, they can be considered as examples of the “oil and water” metaphor.

Twenty-Six Seconds

Alexandra Zapruder’s book is a well-written “easy read” family memoir. It’s a soul-searching, memory taxing attempt to come to grips with the mystery surrounding the long-held family attitude about “the film” which seemed to become like a black cloud that followed her grandfather, Abraham Zapruder. The following four paragraph excerpt from the Introduction to her book set the stage for this essay:

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To consolidate and summarize the family’s attitude about the book, it could be said that Abraham’s personal experience in witnessing the extremely violent final gunshot — the one which literally “blew the brains out” of the President of the United States on a beautiful, sunny Friday at high noon in downtown Dallas — might have instantly produced a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Then there was a feeling of guilt which usually affects most people who’ve witnessed extreme violence or senseless tragedy — other than narcissists and sociopaths, at least.

All of that was then put on steroids by the fact that the rather unique name “Zapruder” became known to everyone of cognitive age, then and now. The fact that Abraham was eventually paid a princely sum (equivalent to $1.3 million today), and that it was widely publicized, did not help assuage the family’s pain and predicament.

To her, the key to the puzzle was the Life magazine article published on December 6th, in an article by Paul Mandel which falsely reported that JFK had turned his head to his right side as the limo passed the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD) when he was hit by the first shot in his neck. Abraham Zapruder had closely followed all news accounts of the assassination, and would not have missed one that early, in the most popular magazine of the period. And he knew that it was a brazenly blatant lie.

He also knew that he had been paid a great amount of money by a large corporation for all rights to it, yet they never planned to publish it, or use the film for any other commercial purposes. In other words, as a businessman himself, he knew that it was really a phony “investment,” thus clearly the keystone piece of fraudulent “evidence” which would be used to hoodwink the public into believing a mythical story. And one that would contaminate his family name for all eternity. Alexandra had solved the puzzle, at least in her mind and presumably many others as well.

Further insights into Ms. Zapruder’s book will follow, as we examine how Jacob Hornberger’s work was drawn in stark relief from points she originally made, and strangely, a lot of other ones that she didn’t make.

An Encounter With Evil

Jacob Hornberger’s book is much broader in scope and in many cases he discredits her memoir because it does not examine numerous points which he believes she should have addressed. The fraudulent autopsy of JFK’s body is but one such issue. His point, of course, is that Ms. Zapruder is unfamiliar with the myriad details of which he and many other researchers are intimately familiar. Evidently, writing about “the film” from her limited perspective and narrow focus was, to him, unacceptable.

Moreover, he questioned her deference to authority, as when he wrote, “All too often in her book, whenever some action on the part of the federal government should have caused Alexandra to at least raise her eyebrows, she would defer to authority and come up with ways to rationalize the action so that it would appear innocent.

He chronicled a whole range of CIA misdeeds, while simultaneously criticizing her book (again, a family “memoir”) for the lack of such coverage.

For example, he cited how the CIA had kept secret, for over 30 years, the fact that it played a role at their National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC); he lamented the absence of any critical comment about that from her.

While these may all be pertinent points — to the JFK research community — in the context of Alexandra’s attempt to write a family memoir, it seems a bit overdrawn. Indeed, the same point can be made about most of the other criticisms throughout his tome.

To “turn the tables around,” were I writing a review of his book, I would point out a few “errors” in it as well. One which stands out is this sentence, on page 68: “There is something important to know about Batista: The Pentagon and the CIA loved the guy.”

That is not exactly correct, as I documented in “The Real Tosh Plumlee” HERE. The key paragraph reads:

Within Humberto Fontova’s book The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro, (and a later summary news article HERE) the reason many CIA officials favored Castro and went to great lengths to support him was revealed: Led by the mainstream media into believing Castro represented a democratic alternative to Dictator Batista, many CIA officials balked at following Eisenhower’s lead, and defiantly supported Fidel Castro.

Author Fontova noted these specific examples of CIA and State Department official’s support for Castro, circa 1957-1960:

  • “A friendly and persuasive CIA representative who had an opportunity of talking to Fidel Castro for an hour (when the Soviet satrap visited Washington D.C. in April 1959) emerged in a state of ecstasy about Castro’s receptivity, responsiveness and understanding” (Steven Bonsal U.S. ambassador to Cuba 1959-61).
  • “Me and my staff were all Fidelistas” (Robert Reynolds, the CIA’s Caribbean Desk chief (1957-60);
  • “Everyone in the CIA and everyone at State was pro-Castro, except [Republican] ambassador Earl Smith” (Robert Weicha, a CIA operative in Santiago Cuba);
  • “Don’t worry. We’ve infiltrated Castro’s guerrilla group in the Sierra Mountains. The Castro brothers and Ernesto “Che” Guevara have no affiliations with any Communists whatsoever” (Jim Noel, Havana CIA station chief, 1958).
  • “Without U.S. help Fidel Castro would never have gotten into power. The State Department played a large part in bringing Castro to power. The press, the Chief of the CIA Section are also responsible; we are responsible for bringing Castro in power. I do not care how you want to word it” (Earl Smith, Ambassador to Cuba, 1957-59).

The point about many CIA high-level officers (those with a liberal bent) being led by the mainstream media (specifically The New York Times) was made clear in the following photograph:

“Fidel Castro has strong ideas of liberty, democracy, social justice, the need to restore the Constitution….but it amounts to a new deal for Cuba, radical, democratic and therefore anti-Communist.” Herbert Matthews, The New York Times, February 1957

But enough of the critique. In most other respects, Mr. Hornberger did assemble a solid, micro-level presentation that reflected his excellent analytical and writing skills. This four paragraph excerpt is a good illustration of that:

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The point here is that Mr. Zapruder was quite open in his interview in November, 1966. It might have been because he was confident that no one would ever bring up anything related to his secret — the falseness of what Paul Mandel wrote in the Life magazine article two weeks after the assassination. To most people, it was a small and innocuous point; but not to Abe. His interview in 1966 demonstrates that, by then, regardless of how he brooded privately, he was fine discussing it publicly.

Now, we’ll go to the next step — the Mandel article being the primary “key” according to both of these authors — which of course cannot be denied. Mr. Hornberger did acknowledge, and documented in detail, that Abe Zapruder knew the film had been altered, and that it was something he could never admit publicly. He also noted Abe’s examination was based — not on the film itself — on a series of photos:

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The thing left unsaid goes beyond that: It is that Mr. Zapruder lived in fear of ever being asked the question under oath. It was probably what bugged Abraham the most. He managed to avoid it in his 1964 Warren Commission testimony since the question wasn’t asked and he did not need to worry about it then, because he wasn’t asked to view the film, only some (what was left) of a series of photos.

But five years later, he was subpoenaed in February, 1969 to testify under oath in the New Orleans trial of Clay Shaw, by D.A. Jim Garrison. The trauma of that experience, to be examined next, possibly contributed to his early death, at age 65, a year later.

A new book, The Oswald Letter, to be published next year, brings more clarity to the real source of the Zapruder family secret.

A long-time, old-school journalist and former president of Times Books, Thomas Lipscomb, is planning to publish early next year The Oswald Letter which — among many other new revelations — will present another, more compelling angle to the story about the Zapruder family’s secret.

Lipscomb’s analysis of Abe Zapruder’s obviously tortured testimony in the 1969 Garrison trial [summarized below] provides a more persuasive and veritable apologia, thus an “Occam’s razor” account for the Zapruder family’s (originating with Abe’s angst) feelings of ignominy regarding the obvious government editing of his famous film.

With Tom Lipscomb’s permission, I publish below the key paragraphs that pertain to this subject, proving conclusively the key points that the plotters wanted removed:

  • The 120 degree turn from Houston to Elm that slowed the limo to a crawl as it nearly hit the curb on Elm Street;
  • Another full (or nearly full) stop farther down Elm Street, where the “Umbrella Man” and sidekick with radio were stationed;
  • The large “white halo” that would have appeared on multiple slides were they not removed.

“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 10:00 PM, 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.

“That became clear when Zapruder was called to testify to the authenticity of the 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.”

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“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.”

“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.”

“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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