On 22nd November, 1963, Abraham Zapruder filmed the motorcade of President John F. Kennedy. He later explained to Wesley J. Liebelerabout the background to the filming. "I didn't have my camera but my secretary (Lillian Rogers) asked me why I don't have it and I told her I wouldn't have a chance even to see the President and somehow she urged me and I went home and got my camera."
According to Jim Marrs: "Zapruder made a fourteen-mile round trip drive home to pick up his camera.By the time he returned, crowds were already gathering to watch the motorcade." Zapruder told the Warren Commission: "I thought I might take pictures from the window because my building is right next to the building where the alleged assassin was, and it's just across 501 Elm Street, but I figured - I may go down and get better pictures, and I walked down. I believe it was Elm Street and on down to the lower part, closer to the underpass and I was trying to pick a space from where to take those pictures and I tried one place and it was on a narrow ledge and I couldn't balance myself very much. I tried another place and that had some obstruction of signs or whatever it was there and finally I found a place farther down near the underpass that was a square of concrete I don't know what you call it maybe about 4 feet high." Zapruder decided to take his receptionist, Marilyn Sitzman, with him to Dealey Plaza.
Abraham Zapruder went on to tell Wesley J. Liebeler: "I heard the first shot and I saw the President lean over and grab himself like this (holding his left chest area)... I thought I heard two (shots), it could be three, because to my estimation I thought he was hit on the second - I really don't know. The whole thing that has been transpiring - it was very upsetting and as you see I got a little better all the time and this came up again and it to me looked like the second shot, but I don't know. I never even heard a third shot."
On his return to his office he told Lillian Rogers " to call the police or the Secret Service... I just went to my desk and stopped there until the police came and then we were required to get a place to develop the films. I knew I had something, I figured it might be of some help - I didn't know what." Zapruder's colour film shows the entire assassination sequence and became an important part of the evidence looked at by those investigating the assassination.
By 25th November, 1963, Zapuder's film had been sold to Life Magazine. In charge of the purchase was C. D. Jackson, a close friend of Henry Luce, the owner of the magazine. According to Carl Bernstein, Jackson was "Henry Luce's personal emissary to the CIA". When appearing before the Warren Commission, Zapruder claimed he received $25,000 and then gave this money to the Firemen's and Policemen's Benevolence. However, when the contract was eventually published it showed that Zapruder received $150,000 for the eighteen-second film.
On 29th November Life Magazine, published a series of 31 photographs documenting the entire shooting sequence from the Zapruder film. It was only later discovered that the critical frames that depicted the rearward motion of Kennedy's head were transposed to indicate a forward motion. James Wagenvoord, the editorial business manager and assistant to Life Magazines Executive Editor, realized that a mistake had been made: "I asked about it when the stills were first printed, (they didn't read right) and then duped for distribution to the European and British papers/magazines. The only response I go was an icy stare from Dick Pollard, Life's Director of Photography. So being an ambitious employee, I had them distributed." In 1965 FBI director J. Edgar Hoover explained this reversing of the Zapruder frames as a "printing error".
Ray Marcus was one of those people who purchased a copy of the magazine. He told John Kelin: "I wasn't sure of it, as there weren't enough other photographs available. But the direction in which the shoulders slumped presented a picture of the man just as he was hit, and it indicated to me that the shot could have come from the front."
In its 6th December, 1963, Paul Mandel wrote an article about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. "The doctor said one bullet passed from back to front on the right side of the President’s head. But the other, the doctor reported, entered the President’s throat from the front and then lodged in his body. Since by this time the limousine was 50 yards past Oswald and the President’s back was turned almost directly to the sniper, it has been hard to understand how the bullet could enter the front of his throat. Hence the recurring guess that there was a second sniper somewhere else. But the 8mm film shows the President turning his body far around to the right as he waves to someone in the crowd. His throat is exposed – toward the sniper’s nest – just before he clutches it." Jim Marrs has argued: "The account is patently wrong, as anyone who has seen the film can verify. The reason for such wrongful information at such a critical time will probably never be known, as the author of this statement, Paul Mandel, died shortly afterward."
David Lifton argues in The Great Zapruder Film Hoax (2004) that: "Abraham Zapruder... sold the film to Time-Life for the sum of $150,000 - about $900,000 dollars in today's money... Moreover, although Life had a copy of the film, it did little to maximize the return on its extraordinary investment. Specifically, it did not sell this unique property - as a film - to any broadcast media or permit it to be seen in motion, the logical way to maximize the financial return on its investment... A closer look revealed something else. The film wasn't just sold to Life - the person whose name was on the agreement was C. D. Jackson."
On 2nd March, 1967, Jim Garrison announced the arrest of businessman Clay Shaw on charges of conspiring to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. Ramsay Clark, the Attorney General, stated that the FBI had already investigated and cleared Shaw "in November and December of 1963" of "any part in the assassination". As Garrison has pointed out: "The statement that Shaw, whose name appears nowhere in the 26 volumes of the Warren Commission, had been investigated by the federal government was intriguing. If Shaw had no connection to the assassination, I wondered, why had he been investigated?" Within a few days of this statement Clark had to admit that he had published inaccurate information and that no investigation of Shaw had taken place.
As part of Garrison's attempt to prove the existence of a conspiracy, he subpoenaed the Zapruder film from Time-Life Corporation. The company refused and they fought this subpoena all the way to the Supreme Court, which finally ruled that the corporation had to hand over the film. As Jim Marrs has pointed out: "Time-Life grudgingly turned over to Garrison a somewhat blurry copy of the film - but that was enough. Soon, thanks to the copying efforts of Garrison's staff, bootleg Zapruder films were in the hands of several assassination researchers."
The Zapruder film first appeared on national television in March, 1975, on ABC's Goodnight America. The Zapruder film showed Kennedy's violent backward and leftward movement. This convinced many that the fatal head shot come from the Grassy Knoll. Others used the film to argue that it supported the lone-gunman theory put forward by the Warren Commission.
Some writers such as Noel Twyman, David Lifton, Jack White, John Costella and David Mantik have claimed that the Zapruder Film has been tampered with. They have pointed out that the film conflicts with the large number of witnesses who claimed that the limousine stopped after the first shot had been fired. This included the two people standing closest to the limousine, Jean Hill and Mary Moorman, and the four police motorcyclist nearest Kennedy's car.
Detailed analysis of the film has revealed that the limousine displays a variety of irregular movements, including travelling only ten feet within 21 frames between Z-197 and Z-218 (this is only about one half of the expected distance).
Noel Twyman carried out detailed research into the actions of William Greer in the Zapruder film. He discovered that Greer's rapid head turns between Z302 to Z-304 and Z-315 to Z-317 appeared impossibly fast. Experiments were carried out with athletic subjects repeating Greer's actions. These showed that no one was able to reproduce this angular speed. Twyman concluded that frames of the film had been removed therefore speeding up the actions of Greer.