Ask Judge Smith
Zapruder film captures gunshots in Dealey Plaza
Judge J. Layne Smith revisits the case in John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Here is Part 4 of his series:
Dealey Plaza is a 3.1-acre city park on the west edge of downtown Dallas, Texas, where Elm Street, Main Street, and Commerce Street converge to pass under a railroad bridge. On the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, people lined the streets to see the President, First Lady, Texas Governor John Connally, and his wife.
Among the crowd was a local dressmaker named Abraham Zapruder, who used a home movie camera to film the Presidential limousine from the time it turned onto Elm Street. Zapruder’s film lasts 26.6-seconds, consists of 486 frames, and runs at 18.3 frames per second. His film shows the President’s assassination in vivid color and provides an indispensable timeclock for the shots taken.
When the Presidential motorcade turned onto Elm Street, it came into the assassin’s view. Oswald missed his first shot because it struck a traffic signal pole overhanging Elm and Houston Streets’ northwest corner. This bullet deflected wide of the mark.
The second shot he fired hit the President from the rear, passed through him, and then struck Governor Connally. Oswald’s final shot struck the back of Kennedy’s head and exploded out of the front of his head. A frame-by-frame review of the Zapruder film, and the President’s wounds, proves that both bullets struck him from the rear.
It takes a minimum of 2.3 seconds to fire back-to-back shots using Oswald’s rifle. Oswald, a sharpshooter who had trained with the weapon, had plenty of time to fire three shots at the President. 3.5 seconds elapsed between his first and second shots. Afterward, 8.4 seconds elapsed between his second and third shots.
Zapruder held his home movie camera as still as possible when he filmed JFK’s motorcade on Elm Street. Yet, Zapruder unconsciously flinched, slightly jerking the camera, each time Oswald discharged his rifle. Although Zapruder was standing near the “grassy knoll,” he heard no other noises that caused him to flinch.
Law enforcement officers interviewed nearly 200 witnesses who were lining Elm Street during the shooting. Over 88 percent heard exactly three shots fired. Fewer than five percent thought they heard four or more shots fired, and less than two percent thought they heard gunfire coming from more than one direction. Create Account
An eyewitness named Howard Brennan was standing on the sidewalk at the corner of the Texas School Book Depository building, 60 feet below the sniper’s nest. Brennan did not know Oswald and had never seen him before. Upon hearing gunfire, Brennan reacted by looking up.
He saw a man, holding a rifle, rise in the sixth-floor corner window. Brennan, who had 20-20 vision, immediately described the shooter to investigators. In response, law enforcement issued a “be on the lookout” report for a man matching Oswald’s description.
After the shooting, the limousine driver sped both victims to Parkland Memorial Hospital. There, a hospital worker found a bullet on Governor Connally’s stretcher. My next column will debunk the controversy surrounding this bullet.
The Honorable J. Layne Smith is a Circuit Judge and author of “Civics, Law, and Justice— How We Became U.S.” Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.