The Zapruder Film: Genuine or Fake?

The Zapruder Film Authenticity Debate

Topics discussed on this page:

  1. Information about the Zapruder Film
  2. Why the Zapruder Film is Authentic
  3. Why the Zapruder Film is a Fake
  4. Further Reading About Zapruder Film Alteration
  5. A Conspiracy Requires Plausible Evidence
  6. Irrationality in JFK Assassination Research

About the Zapruder Film

The Zapruder Film Online

The Zapruder film, together with most of the other surviving video material, can be found online. See for a list of the films that were taken in Dealey Plaza, along with links to their locations on YouTube. At the time of writing, there is a decent copy of the Zapruder film at (privacy warning: you may need to sign in with a Google account to watch this and other assassination films on YouTube).

Individual frames of the Zapruder film can be examined at:

Discussions of the Zapruder Film

David Wrone, The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK’s Assassination (University Press of Kansas, 2003; ISBN 0-7006-1291-2), provides a detailed history of the famous home movie. Wrone’s book is let down slightly by the author’s speculations about the fine details of the assassination. This is more than made up for, however, by Wrone’s strong refutation of the seriously improbable hypothesis that the Zapruder film has been substantially altered to cover up evidence of conspiracy.

Richard Trask, Pictures of the Pain: Photography and the Assassination of President Kennedy, (Yeoman Press, 1994; ISBN 0-9638595-0-1), pp.57-153, contains an informative account of Zapruder’s personal experience and a useful introduction to the film’s significance in the assassination story. Although it does not deal directly with the question of whether the film was faked, Trask’s book is a good source of information about the experiences of other photographers and home movie-makers, which support the film’s authenticity.

Roland Zavada, Analysis of Selected Photographic Evidence (Kodak Technical Report 318420P, 25 September 1998; referred to here as the Zavada Report) provides a detailed technical analysis of the Zapruder film and an authoritative account of its handling and copying during the first few days following the assassination. The report also contains a technical analysis of Abraham Zapruder’s Bell and Howell 414 PD spring-wound camera and the anomalies generated by this type of camera, some of which have been claimed to be the result of alteration to the film. Zavada knew what he was talking about; while working for Kodak, he had supervised the creation of Kodachrome film.

Why the Zapruder Film is Authentic

It is not inconceivable that several pieces of documentary evidence in the John F. Kennedy assassination might have been altered or forged, but there is currently no good reason to suppose that the Zapruder film is one of them. Several reasons suggest that the film is authentic:

  1. No conspirators could have had access to the film before copies had been made and distributed.
  2. There are no contradictions between the Zapruder film and other home movies or photographs.
  3. No conspirators could have known whether any other films or photographs contradicted the Zapruder film.
  4. Altering the film would have been much riskier than destroying it.
  5. Successfully altering the numerous copies would have been extremely difficult.
  6. The film stored at NARA is the same physical film that was in Zapruder’s camera.
  7. The film actually contains evidence of conspiracy.
  8. The claim of forgery relies on speculative assumptions that may well be unjustified.

1: Access to the Zapruder Film and Copies

Its chain of possession is well documented, and provides no opportunity for any of the various proposed conspirators to have gained access to the film before it had been copied and those copies had been widely distributed:

  1. Shortly after witnessing the assassination, Abraham Zapruder took his camera with him to his office in the DalTex building, on the other side of Houston Street from the Texas School Book Depository.
  2. With his business partner, Erwin Schwartz, he visited the offices of the Dallas Morning News and the local TV station, WFAA, in the hope that one of them might be able to process his film.
  3. Upon learning that the processing of Kodachrome II film required specialised equipment, Zapruder and Schwartz, accompanied by Zapruder’s legal representative, went to the local Kodak plant, and were present while the film was processed. At Zapruder’s request, Kodak’s production supervisor, Phillip Chamberlain, signed an affidavit attesting to the authenticity of the film.
  4. Zapruder wanted three copies made of his film, a task the Kodak plant was not equipped to perform. Shortly after 6pm, Zapruder and Schwartz took the unslit 16mm film, along with three rolls of 16mm Kodachrome Type A film provided by Kodak, to the Jamieson Film Company in Dallas, where three copies were made. The copies were contact prints, with bracketed exposures: one copy at the presumed correct exposure, one copy under-exposed by half a stop, and one copy over-exposed by half a stop (Zavada Report, Study 3, p.23). At Zapruder’s request, Jamieson’s laboratory manager, Frank Sloan, signed an affidavit attesting that three copies were made.
  5. Zapruder and Schwartz returned to the Kodak plant at around 8pm to get the three copies processed. At least one, and probably two, of the copies was then slit lengthwise, and each pair of segments was pasted together to form a continuous 8mm film. At Zapruder’s request, Kodak’s production foreman, Tom McNulty, signed three affidavits, each affidavit attesting to the authenticity of one copy. (It isn’t entirely clear how many of the four films were slit and how many remained unslit. Roland Zavada makes a plausible case that two copies were slit that evening, while the original film and one copy remained unslit until some days later; see pages 8-9 of this document by Zavada:
  6. Zapruder returned home very late on the evening of the assassination with his original film and copy number 2, having delivered copies 1 and 3 to the Secret Service office in Dallas. Copy 3, which was probably slit, was flown to Washington DC that night, while copy 1, which was unslit, remained with the Secret Service in Dallas.
  7. The following morning, Zapruder projected his slit 8mm copy of the film first to a group of Secret Service agents and then to a group of journalists. One of the journalists, Richard Stolley of Life magazine, persuaded Zapruder to sell the print rights to the film. Stolley drew up a contract, and Zapruder handed over the original film and the remaining first-day copy.
  8. Stolley immediately accompanied the original film on a commercial flight to Life’s printing plant in Chicago, while Life’s first-day copy was sent to the company’s offices in New York.
  9. At some point over the weekend, a black-and-white negative copy of the unslit 16mm original Zapruder film was made by Allied Laboratory in Chicago; this copy was presumably the source of the black-and-white images printed in Life magazine on 29 November.
  10. Meanwhile, the Secret Service’s copy 3 had arrived in Washington early on the morning of Saturday 23rd. The Secret Service enlisted the help of the CIA, which allowed its agents to take the copy to its National Photographic Interpretation Center in Washington, which produced a set of 5"x7" prints of selected frames, with precise timings for each frame. The agents examined the prints and took the film away with them.
  11. The FBI showed no interest in the Zapruder film until obliged to so do by enquiries from the press on the Saturday. The FBI borrowed the Secret Service’s Dallas copy, and flew it to Washington that afternoon, with instructions that the FBI laboratory make three copies, two of which were to be sent back to Dallas. The lab was unable to duplicate the film, but instead either had the film processed that day at a Kodak plant at Rochester, NY, or subcontracted the job to a commercial laboratory on Monday 25th. FBI HQ sent back the Secret Service copy and only one of the three copies made from it; the other two copies remained at FBI HQ in Washington. Despite official warnings not to do so, one of these copies was taken home by agents for private viewings.
  12. On 6 December, FBI HQ sent a fourth-generation version of the film (i.e. a copy of the FBI’s copy of the Secret Service’s first-day copy number 3) to the Secret Service in Dallas, who forwarded it to the Dallas Police Department.

As David Wrone writes:

By approximately early afternoon of November 23, then, the master of the Zapruder film was in Chicago, with the three copies in Washington, DC, and Dallas, in the control of a commercial organization, commercial printers, and the Secret Service. From then on, the original and each copy would have separate and distinct histories.

(Wrone, The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK’s Assassination, p.35)

The above sequence of events has been taken from Wrone, op. cit., pp.9-35, 279-280; and the Zavada Report, Study 1, pp.26-27, and Study 3, pp.2-5, 21-23. The text of the various legal documents relating to Kodak, Jamieson and Life can be found in the appendices to Wrone’s book (pp.281-286) and the Zavada Report (pages not numbered).

2: The Zapruder Film Matches Other Evidence

There are no obvious contradictions between the Zapruder film and the rest of the photographic evidence, including the two other home movies which depict the fatal head shot.

Any photograph or film could have contained clear evidence that the Zapruder film had been altered, but no unambiguous examples of inconsistencies have yet been demonstrated. Several have been proposed, but there are straightforward explanations for all of them: they are either the by-products of poor-quality photographic reproductions, or the result of wishful thinking.

The public record of the motorcade’s progress through Dealey Plaza includes several other home movies and many dozens, if not hundreds, of photographs. They form a consistent body of evidence.

3: Incomplete Access to Other Photographic Evidence

It would not have been possible to be certain that all such contradictions had been eliminated. Conspirators did not have access to the whole of the photographic evidence, and thus could not have known whether any alterations to the Zapruder film were at risk of being revealed. Nor could they have known how many photographs and other movies would consequently have needed to be altered to make them consistent with the forged Zapruder film.

The investigating authorities made little effort to identify photographers or to obtain photographs and movies, many of which were not made public until long after the assassination. Some images may still remain hidden, such as those from an unidentified woman wearing a headscarf and a brown coat who appears to have been pointing a still or movie camera directly at President Kennedy as he was shot in the head, just a few yards in front of her.

One popular but easily debunked claim is that the law-enforcement authorities immediately mounted a campaign to confiscate all the cameras and films from Dealey Plaza, with the intention of altering all of the images that contradicted the official lone-gunman theory. In reality, only a handful of photographers were identified soon after the assassination, most of them, as in the case of Abraham Zapruder, by journalists in the motorcade. None of them had their films or photographs confiscated, although some, like Zapruder, provided copies to the authorities. One photographer, Mary Moorman, handed a Polaroid photograph to the FBI, but only after copies had been made and widely distributed. The authorities were in fact surprisingly unconcerned about the photographic record, and were unaware of many of the images until days, months or even years after the assassination. Here are the experiences of a dozen or so of the better-known photographers and home movie-makers:

  • James Altgens, one of the closest witnesses to the fatal shot, waited for a short while in Dealey Plaza and then, unmolested, walked a few blocks to the Dallas Times Herald building to get his film developed. Altgens’s employer, UPI, ensured that prints were made immediately from the film. The prints were transmitted to the agency’s offices all over the world shortly after 1pm, half an hour after the assassination and some time before anyone in authority was even aware that they existed. Altgens returned to Dealey Plaza late that afternoon, took some more photographs, and again left with his camera and film intact (Trask, Pictures of the Pain, pp.317-318).
  • Mark Bell walked across Dealey Plaza with his home movie camera and went back to work. There is no evidence that the authorities even knew of the existence of Bell’s film until several years after the assassination (ibid., p.268).
  • Hugh Betzner didn’t have his camera or film seized; he went out of his way to make himself and his photographs known to the police (ibid., p.162).
  • Wilma Bond wasn’t even contacted by the authorities until February 1964, when she was interviewed by the FBI, whose agents decided that her photographs were of no interest since “due to the excitement she did not obtain any photographs at the time of the shooting” and “none of the photographs had the Texas School Book Depository building in the background” (Commission Document 735, p.7). The next viewing of Bond’s photographs by officialdom was in 1969, when she appeared as a witness at the Clay Shaw trial (Trask, Pictures of the Pain, pp.203, 207, 213).
  • Richard Oscar Bothun didn’t have his camera or film seized: “Shortly after the shooting Mr Bothun apparently went back to work. He seems not to have been stopped or questioned as a witness at the scene” (ibid., p.157).
  • Charles Bronson left Dealey Plaza with his still and home movie cameras, and returned the next day to take more footage and still photographs, and again left without having his cameras and films seized. Bronson’s only encounter with law-enforcement officials was on the Monday after the assassination, when an employee at the Kodak plant, where Bronson had dropped off his films to be developed, contacted the FBI. Two agents viewed the home movie and the still photographs, and concluded that they contained nothing of value. No copies were made, and Bronson took the originals home with him (ibid., pp.286-288).
  • Robert Croft left Dealey Plaza and went home to Denver with his camera. He attended the local FBI office the next day and handed over his undeveloped roll of film (ibid., pp.225-226).
  • Robert Hughes too left Dealey Plaza without having his home movie camera seized. The first thing the authorities knew about Hughes’s film was when he voluntarily handed it to the FBI two days after the assassination (ibid., p.269).
  • Mary Moorman, who had captured a famous Polaroid image of President Kennedy from close range a fraction of a second after the fatal shot, was probably the only photographer whose camera was confiscated. In this case, however, it was a Dallas Times Herald reporter who confiscated it. The reporter escorted her to the Sheriff’s Department, where she gave a statement. Her photograph was examined, then taken to the newspaper’s photo lab, where it was copied before being returned to her. Moorman left the original photograph with the FBI, but not before a copy was broadcast on TV that afternoon and further copies were distributed among journalists (ibid., pp.236-242).
  • Marie Muchmore retained her home movie camera and film until she sold the undeveloped film to UPI three days after the assassination (ibid., pp.205-207).
  • Orville Nix, like Zapruder, walked out of Dealey Plaza with his home movie camera. He returned later to take some more footage, and again left the scene without having his camera or film seized (ibid., p.188).
  • Jim and Tina Towner stayed in Dealey Plaza for a while, then went home with their cameras (ibid., p.219).
  • Phil Willis: “Remaining around the area for about an hour after witnessing the shooting, none of the family was questioned by law enforcement personnel, nor volunteered information”, according to Trask. Willis made his own way to the Kodak plant to get his film processed, arriving shortly before Abraham Zapruder, and didn’t have his camera or film seized there either. The authorities first became aware of Willis’s images on the Monday after the assassination, when he allowed the Secret Service to view his slides (ibid., pp.179-180).

4: The Risk of Alerting the Zapruder Film

Altering the film would have been a very inefficient way of concealing the evidence contained within it. The Zapruder film was one of the few items of photographic material that came to the attention of the authorities and the general public very soon after the assassination. Rather than take on the impossible task of altering the film in a way that would not be detectable, a practical and entirely foolproof alternative would have been to seize the film and make it disappear. A ready excuse was available: in reality, a technician at Life’s film laboratory in Chicago accidentally damaged the film, destroying several frames. Although embarrassing, it would not have seemed too far-fetched to claim that an accident ruined the entire film.

5: Altering the Zapruder Film Copies

It was not only the original Zapruder film that would have needed to be dealt with by any conspirators who cared about what it contained. Several copies of the film had been made before any alterations could have been performed to the original, and those copies were in the hands of various organisations, scattered in various locations. Not only would rounding up all the copies not have been straightforward, but there is no documentary evidence that any of the copies were seized.

If the conspirators needed to decide whether to alter or destroy the original film, they needed to make the same decision about the copies. It would surely have been virtually impossible to alter all the copies so that they matched each other and the altered original well enough to survive close inspection. Whatever the chosen fate of the original film, the only rational decision regarding the copies would have been to destroy them and, if the original were to be altered, then make new copies from the altered version.

But the existence of the copies shows that the decision to alter the original would not have been made. If the conspirators were able to see the benefits of destroying the copies, they must also have seen the benefits of destroying the original. Altering the film would have been time-consuming and impossible to do without leaving evidence of alteration. Destroying it would have been quick, simple and foolproof.

The main problem posed to any conspirators by the Zapruder film would have been the evidence it contained. The only way to be certain that this evidence would never become publicly available was to destroy the film.

6: The Film at NARA Is Not a Copy

For almost every proposed alteration, the final stage in the process would have been to copy the altered original film onto the same type of film as the original. The claim of alteration requires that the supposedly original film, currently stored at the National Archives and Records Administration, is a copy. If this film is not a copy, none of those proposed alterations can have been made.

It is possible to tell whether the film at NARA is a copy or the original. Copying one Kodachrome film directly onto another Kodachrome film will inevitably generate detectable physical features in the copy that do not exist in the original, as Roland Zavada pointed out in his report:

When a camera film is reproduced onto a camera film, significant contrast builds up with an attendant loss of tonal range, often with significant shifts in color reproduction. (i.e. the films have been “asked” to do a job they were not designed to do.)

(Zavada Report, Study 3, p.23)

In a document from 2010, Zavada notes the claim that the Zapruder film might have been copied indirectly, via 35mm colour internegative or negative film. He explains that this process too would have produced a detectably degraded copy:

The methodology proposed to achieve purported optical manipulation suggests a 35mm blowup to EASTMAN color Internegative Film 5270 or a camera negative film; EASTMAN color negative film 5251 — both current at that time. … The use of internegative film, even in 35mm format, could incur some graininess. The use of either would incur image structure degradation. …

The use of internegative film would cause a loss of color fidelity (desaturation) as internegative film employed Status M sensitivities … while KODACHROME II film, from which the Zapruder film would be printed, employed Status A image dyes, thus incurring a print-through color sensitivity mismatch.*

To allow working with a projected color master positive film, it would be necessary to print onto EASTMAN Color Print Film 5385 …. [T]wo or more intermediate steps would have to occur before the third or fifth step of printing down to a ‘substitute’ 8mm KODACHROME II daylight ‘original’. The film’s daylight sensitivity, contrast and spectral characteristics do not render it receptive for use as a “print” medium.

… Repeating the master positive/negative or intermediate process would further increase the unacceptable contrast buildup. … The Kodachrome K12 Process could not be adjusted to change the contrast.

(Zavada, Reply to Douglas Horne, [], pp.26-27; spelling and punctuation in the original)

* N.B. Status M dyes are optimised for viewing by reflected light, as prints; Status A for viewing by transmitted light, as slides or movies.

In other words, copying a Kodachrome film such as the one used by Abraham Zapruder onto a second Kodachrome film, either directly or via the use of internegative film or negative film, would result in:

  • increased contrast;
  • increased grain;
  • and distorted colours.

The copy would inevitably have contained visual evidence that it was in fact a copy.

Zavada himself examined the film at NARA several times. He describes one such occasion when he was in the company of Dr Roderick Ryan, an expert on special effects in cinematography:

This was my fourth “hands-on” viewing and Rod’s first. We both carefully examined the film including microscopically. I challenged Rod to identify any evidence of alteration. Essentially he accepted that the film appeared authentic and that he would not challenge NARA’s position that it was.

I contend, however, that the fundamental issue rests with the technology and logistics of whether or not it was possible to alter the Zapruder original film and substitute an undetectable facsimile. If unaltered, as I believe, the “in-camera” original resides at NARA, and the film is the unimpeachable witness to the assassination.

(ibid., p.14 [emphasis in the original])

Until someone with the appropriate technical expertise examines the Zapruder film at NARA and demonstrates that it contains physical evidence of being a copy, or explains how a copy might contain no such evidence, we are obliged to accept that the film is the same physical film that was in Zapruder’s camera during the assassination. This fact rules out every proposed alteration that requires the film to have been copied, which is almost all of them.

7: The Zapruder Film Contains Evidence of Conspiracy

Finally, the most powerful and obvious point: the Zapruder film can hardly have been altered to cover up evidence of conspiracy, given that it contains almost irrefutable evidence of conspiracy:

  • it contradicts the official claim that a lone gunman could have caused all of Kennedy’s and Connally’s wounds with just three shots.
  • it contradicts the official interpretation of Kennedy’s head wounds;
  • and it contains prima facie evidence of a shot from the front.

When combined with certain uncontroversial facts, the Zapruder film provides explicit disproof of the single-bullet theory:

  • Kennedy’s reaction to his throat wound occurs earlier than Connally’s reaction to his back wound, which in turn occurs earlier than Connally’s wrist wound.
  • The Zapruder film is the only item of evidence that demonstrates the time available for the shooting. Without the Zapruder film, it would have been possible to claim that, however long it took an out-of-practice lone gunman to load, aim and fire his rickety old rifle three times, that was how long the car took to travel along a particular stretch of Elm Street. Thanks to the Zapruder film, however, we know that too little time was available for the lone-gunman scenario to be plausible. Numerous expert marksmen were unable to do what the alleged lone gunman was supposed to have done.

Although the Zapruder film is not the only home movie which shows the angle of Kennedy’s head and torso during the shooting, it does provide the best view. The Zapruder film proves that the entrance would which the autopsy pathologists identified near the external occipital protuberance, low down on the back of the head, clearly did not line up with the sixth floor of the book depository and the exit wound above the right ear.

Famously, the film reveals Kennedy’s sharp back-and-to-the-left movement, which almost every viewer interprets as the reaction to a shot from the front.

If anyone did manage to remove evidence of conspiracy from the Zapruder film, they didn’t make a very good job of it.

Speculative Assumptions

The claim that the film was altered relies on two assumptions:

  • that the conspirators were able to influence the law-enforcement authorities in order to gain access to the film;
  • and that the conspirators wanted to suppress any evidence that contradicted the eventual lone-gunman interpretation of the assassination.

Both assumptions are speculative and open to reasonable objections:

  • There are some proposed groups of conspirators who would not have been able to gain access to the Zapruder film, or indeed to any of the films and photographs, some of which surely would have needed to be altered so that they matched the altered Zapruder film. Such groups would include foreign regimes, the mafia, and small-scale conspirators such as rogue intelligence or military officers operating outside the institutions to which they belonged.
  • There are also some proposed groups of conspirators who, rather than wishing to suppress evidence of conspiracy, might not have cared that such evidence existed. Indeed, they might even have welcomed such evidence. The most obvious candidates would include any group that wanted the assassination to appear to be the work of the Cuban or Soviet regimes. These regimes were indeed the subjects of the earliest conspiracy theories, thanks to the career of the eventual patsy.

Of course, the two proposed groups of conspirators need not have been mutually exclusive. It is quite conceivable that the assassination was carried out by a group which lacked any control over the photographic evidence and actively wanted the event to appear to be a conspiracy.

Why the Zapruder Film is a Fake

Claims that the Zapruder film has been altered fall into six categories:

  1. Numerous anomalies are evident in the Zapruder film.
  2. Some of the medical witnesses claimed that the lower rear of President Kennedy’s head contained a large exit wound, something that is not evident in the Zapruder film.
  3. At least one other version of the Zapruder film exists.
  4. President Kennedy’s car came to a stop during the shooting, an event which is not evident in the Zapruder film.
  5. The car’s left turn from Houston Street onto Elm Street was removed from the film.
  6. The film was altered at a top-secret CIA photo lab on the weekend of the assassination.

1: Anomalies in the Zapruder Film

Numerous supposed anomalies have been spotted in the Zapruder film. For example:

  • The driver of Kennedy’s car turned his head too fast, so the film must have been altered!
  • Mary Moorman claimed that she had been standing in the street, and the alignment of objects in her famous Polaroid show that it must have been taken while she was standing in the street, but the Zapruder film shows her standing on the grass, so the film must have been altered!
  • A spectator is eight feet tall, so the film must have been altered!
  • A line of spectators in the Zapruder film doesn’t match a line of spectators in a photograph, so the film must have been altered!
  • A white spot moves around in the grass beyond the presidential limousine, so the film must have been altered!
  • A spray of blood and brain matter can be seen above Kennedy’s head only in Zapruder frame 313, but would surely have remained in the air for longer than one frame, so the film must have been altered!
  • There is no sign of any brain matter flying horizontally from Kennedy’s head, although the motorcycle policemen claimed to have been hit by it, so the film must have been altered!

Needless to say, once each supposed anomaly is subjected to critical thought, it vanishes. The driver takes plenty of time to turn his head. The alignment of objects in Mary Moorman’s photograph was incompetently measured; when measured properly, it is consistent with her position on the grass. The line of spectators in the Zapruder film looked wrong for the forehead-slappingly stupid reason that it was compared to a quite different line of spectators. Odd anomalies that are present in poor-quality copies often turn out not to be present in better-quality copies. Blood and brain matter are clearly visible above Kennedy’s head for several frames after frame 313, but only to people who actually take the trouble to look at those frames. The shutter on Zapruder’s camera opened for 1/40 second, 18 times per second, and thus was closed for slightly longer than it was open, leaving plenty of time for any brain matter to travel a short horizontal distance and disappear out of sight between frames 312 and 313. And so on.

Spotting anomalies is just a game. Few of its practitioners take the next step and define the sort of alteration that might plausibly account for their pet anomaly, even though it should be obvious that they need to do this; after all, the burden of proof is on them. This step is particularly challenging for those players who claim that more than one anomaly exists, since they need to find a plausible alteration scenario that accounts for all of their chosen anomalies. It is difficult enough to imagine the sort of alteration that would shift Mary Moorman off the road and onto the grass, let alone a scenario which combines that with, say, the driver turning his head impossibly fast and one line of spectators being replaced by another.

Since most of these anomalies require the film to have been copied once the unspecified alterations had been made, the anomaly-spotters also need to have their claims checked against the Zapruder film that is at NARA by someone with the appropriate technical expertise, to see whether that film is a copy or the original. This idea probably never occurs to them.

The gold medal winners of the wider spot-the-anomaly game are, of course, moon-landings deniers, with flat-earthers and creationists taking the other places on the podium. The flag is moving, but there is no atmosphere on the moon, so the film is a fake! We can’t see the stars, so the photograph is a fake! And so on. Unfortunately, many of the people who would have made good moon-landings deniers have taken an interest in the JFK assassination instead. Even more unfortunately, some people combine both interests.

2: The Rear Exit Wound

Some of the medical staff who attended President Kennedy at Parkland Hospital claimed that the back of his head, and in particular the lower part of the back of his head on the right side, contained a large exit wound. The Zapruder film does not appear to show this wound, which demonstrates that the film has been altered, presumably by painting over the wound. Some copies of the film appear to show that the area in question, which is in shadow, contains a small patch that is darker than the shadow area.

The wound is also absent in one of the autopsy photographs, which shows the back of the head. That photograph too must have been altered.

Unlike other claims about the Zapruder film, this claim, that a small area on a handful of frames was painted over, is not invalidated by the authenticity of the Zapruder film at NARA, because this alteration would not have required the film to be copied. Nevertheless, we should expect that such an alteration would be visible upon expert examination. The experts who have examined the film up to now, even those who have used microscopes, have not mentioned it.

The medical evidence is a confusing mess, but Pat Speer has made sense of at least this part of it: there was no exit wound low down on the back of the head. For a lengthy, illustrated explanation, see:

The claim that certain copies show a black patch on the back of the head probably does not need to be answered; if there is a black area, it is likely to be nothing more than an anomaly introduced during the physical or digital copying or editing processes of that particular copy of the film. Nevertheless, there is positive evidence that the back of the head contains nothing but shadow. Hany Farid of Dartmouth College has analysed a good-quality copy of frame 317, using 3-D modelling software to recreate the lighting conditions. He concludes that:

This analysis shows that the shadow, which some have argued is the result of manipulation, is consistent with the 3-D geometry of the scene and position of the sun. While this does not, of course, prove that the 8mm original film has not been altered, it does prove that the shadow is physically possible.

(, p.8)

3: The ‘Other’ Zapruder Film

One of the more far-fetched arguments for alteration is that discrepancies exist between the familiar Zapruder film and one or more alternative versions, which a handful of assassination enthusiasts claim to have seen in several locations around the world. This ‘other’ film is supposed to contain several elements that are not present on the familiar version, although the details vary according to who is making the claim.

It is difficult to imagine how such a film could be accessible only to a small number of well-connected enthusiasts. The film would surely either be locked away, well out of the reach of the curious, or it would be in public circulation. As with claims of sightings of UFOs and the Loch Ness monster, we might reasonably expect conclusive physical evidence to exist. The absence of such evidence to support these claims renders them invalid.

The most charitable explanation is that what the claimants saw was one or more of the many reconstructions that were filmed either by official investigators or by commercial projects such as Oliver Stone’s movie, JFK.

4: President Kennedy’s Car Stopped on Elm Street

One of the strongest claims, at first glance, for alteration relies on the discrepancy between:

The purpose of this particular alteration is supposed to be to cover up the complicity of the driver, a Secret Service agent.

As with all cases of apparent discrepancies between physical evidence and eye-witness evidence, a more reasonable explanation is that the witnesses were simply mistaken. This is especially so in this case, given:

  • the serious practical difficulties any forgers would have faced,
  • the film’s consistency with the rest of the photographic evidence,
  • the fact that the car was moving directly away from most of the witnesses rather than past them, thereby making its speed more difficult to judge,
  • and the fact that the car was closely followed by the Secret Service car, which partially obscured it from most of the spectators.

Other aspects of the case show that large numbers of witnesses can indeed be mistaken. Many witnesses claimed to have heard only one, two or three shots, which cannot be true if the assassination was a conspiracy; and many claimed to have heard or seen shots from the grassy knoll, which cannot be true if the assassination was not a conspiracy. At least one group must be wrong.

In the case of the supposed car stop, the number of witnesses has been greatly exaggerated by the inclusion of many who claimed that the car merely slowed down. All of the relevant assassination home movies reveal the car slowing down by a consistent amount, and not stopping; see, for example, the synchronised pairing of the Zapruder and Nix films:

5: The Missing Left Turn

The motorcade sequence of the Zapruder film begins by showing three police motorcycles, which were well ahead of the presidential car, turning left into Elm Street. At frame 133, the scene suddenly changes, and we see the presidential car on Elm Street. This apparently contradicts Abraham Zapruder himself, who is said to have told the Warren Commission that he had filmed the motorcade continuously. Ergo, the film must have been altered to remove the car’s turn onto Elm Street!

The reason given for this particular alteration is that the shooting began as or shortly before the car was making its left turn, which contradicted the official account that the shooting began later, thereby necessitating the removal of this evidence of conspiracy. Exactly why an earlier start to the shooting should indicate a conspiracy is, however, left unexplained.

There is no credible evidence that the shooting began at that point, and a great deal of evidence that it began when the car was some distance along Elm Street. There were hundreds of witnesses who would have been aware of any shooting while the car was turning but who failed to mention it. Two other home movies, by Robert Hughes and Tina Towner, show the car at the time of the supposedly excised portion of the Zapruder film, and neither of them show anything untoward. Other home movies and photographs reveal that none of the spectators nor any of the people in the motorcade reacted to gunshots until the car was beyond the Texas School Book Depository.

The rational explanation for any discrepancy between Zapruder’s statement and his film is simply that, several months after the event, he made a mistake when recollecting an insignificant detail, as people often do. But even this plausible explanation is unnecessary, since no discrepancy actually exists. This is the part of Zapruder’s Warren Commission testimony which is brought up to support the claim:

I started shooting — when the motorcade started coming in, I believe I started and wanted to get it coming in from Houston Street.

(Warren Commission Hearings and Evidence, vol.7, p.571)

There is no implication here that Zapruder filmed continuously. His statement is entirely compatible with what the film depicts.

6: Alteration at Hawkeye Works

Dino Brugioni, a former CIA photographic analyst, was present at the National Photographic Interpretation Center on the day after the assassination, when prints were made from one of the Secret Service’s first-day copies of the Zapruder film. In an interview with Douglas Horne on behalf of the Assassination Records Review Board in 1997, Brugioni claimed to have seen details that he did not recall having seen in the Zapruder film that became public knowledge in 1975. Brugioni and another employee, Homer McMahon, also claimed that a second film arrived the next day from a top-secret CIA photographic laboratory named Hawkeye Works which was attached to the Kodak plant in Rochester, NY. Material related to these interviews can be found in a PDF file made available to the public in 2022:

Douglas Horne wrote an extremely long, multi-volume account of his experiences with the ARRB, the fourth volume of which contains a chapter about the supposed alteration of the Zapruder film. Horne accepted as accurate Brugioni and McMahon’s recollections of an event from 34 years earlier, and constructed a scenario around them in which the original Zapruder film was examined at NPIC on the Saturday and then taken to Hawkeye Works, where it was altered and returned to NPIC the next day.

Roland Zavada published a response to Horne’s claims, available as a PDF at In this document, which should be read in detail by anyone who considers the alteration claim to be at all credible, Zavada points out that:

  • some of Horne’s proposed alterations were technically impossible for several reasons, and creating a copy that contained the distinguishing features of an original film was also technically impossible (pp.18-29);
  • that the time required to make the proposed alterations would have amounted to at least twice the time that would have been available (pp.30-32);
  • and that the proposed alterations would have required a number of items of specialised equipment, many of which were not available at the site in question, as well as specialised personnel, who probably would not have been available either (pp.29-30).

When writing his response to Horne, Zavada consulted Prof Raymond Fielding, Dean of the School of Motion Pictures, Television and Recording Arts at Florida State University, and the author of The Techniques of Special Effects Cinematography. Zavada quotes Fielding’s opinion:

in my judgment there is no way in which manipulation of these images could have been achieved satisfactorily in 1963 with the technology then available … the results could not possibly have survived professional scrutiny … challenges regarding the authenticity of the NARA footage and assertions of image manipulation … are technically naïve.

(Zavada, Reply to Douglas Horne, p.32)

Zavada’s concluding words to Horne are worth reading:

The very interesting twist to your chapter is that it has done more to ensure the Zapruder film at NARA is authentic rather than altered.

Your interviews with Dino Brugioni and Homer McMahon and their handling of what they interpreted as “original” films, most likely were the Jamieson copies provided to the Secret Service by Zapruder and flown to Washington on successive days. …

Nonetheless, your analysis of those interviews and the conclusions you draw about the briefing boards have provided a tight focus to establish the time frame and possible venue for the purported ‘sanitizing’ of the Zapruder original. Both reinforce all of the technology and film reproduction constraints to confirm our conclusion that alteration to the 8mm original and its reconstruction, as a ‘sanitized’ KODACHROME II equivalent, was impossible.

(ibid., p.32 [emphasis in the original])

Further Reading About Zapruder Film Alteration

The Case for Zapruder Film Alteration

Extracts and supporting documents from Douglas Horne’s five-volume Inside the Assassinations Record Review Board can be found at Horne’s time at the ARRB was concerned more with promoting David Lifton’s body-alteration theory than the Zapruder film-alteration theory.

James Fetzer, ed., The Great Zapruder Film Hoax: Deceit and Deception in the Death of JFK (Catfeet Press, 2003; ISBN 0-8126-9547-X), puts forward the case for forgery. Fetzer has edited two other books about the JFK assassination, both of which include discussions of the claim that the Zapruder film was faked in some way: Assassination Science: Experts Speak Out on the Death of JFK (Catfeet Press, 1998) and Murder in Dealey Plaza (Catfeet Press, 2000). Much of the evidence and argument in these books is laughably weak, incongruously so given that Fetzer is a former professor of philosophy. The books’ credibility is not helped by the sad fact that one of the contributors, Jack White, believed that the moon landings were faked. This sort of association of beliefs is liable to contaminate public trust in rational critical thinking about the JFK assassination.

Fetzer is probably better known by the general public for another of his edited volumes, Nobody Died at Sandy Hook: It Was a FEMA Drill to Promote Gun Control, which earned him a large fine for defamation:

The Case Against Zapruder Film Alteration

For further refutations of the Zapruder film alteration hypothesis, see:

  • Josiah Thompson, ‘Bedrock Evidence in the Kennedy Assassination,’ at, discusses the ever-changing series of claimed anomalies, which Thompson calls the “anomaly of the month” phenomenon, and makes the important claim that the photographic evidence, including the Zapruder film, comprises a self-authenticating whole.
  • A collection of essays and reviews at, which includes a version in HTML format of the Zavada Report.
  • The Zavada Report is also available at the Internet Archive in several formats: (requires JavaScript).
  • Part two of Jeff Carter’s review of Alexandra Zapruder’s book, Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film, at Carter emphasises Zavada’s point about the impossibility of using 1963 technology to alter a home movie, pointing out that a suitable film must possess “consistent vertical or horizontal separation points or uniform backgrounds”, none of which exist in the Zapruder film: “a) the sequence is always in motion as Zapruder panned with the motorcade, b) the motorcade varies in size within the frame as it approaches and passes Zapruder’s zoomed-in lens, and c) the shaky hand-held filming is inconsistent (i.e. this is not a steady locked-off pan performed with a tripod).”
  • An experienced TV camera operator agrees with the claim that the equipment available in 1963 could not possibly have produced a flawlessly altered 8mm film: Mick Purdy, ‘How Likely Was Zapruder Film Alteration?’ (PDF) at
  • offers an appropriately sceptical discussion of the matter.
  • David Lifton, notorious for his highly implausible claim that President Kennedy’s body was surgically altered between the assassination and the autopsy, was one of the first to suggest that the Zapruder film was faked. Chapter 12 of Roger Feinman’s Between the Signal and the Noise: The Best Evidence Hoax and David Lifton’s War Against the Critics of the Warren Commission contains the dismissive reaction of early critics such as Sylvia Meagher.

Other Crazy Stuff

The moon landings nonsense in general is refuted by Bad Astronomy and Jim Scotti. The late Jack White’s claims about the moon landings in particular are debunked at:

White was one of the originators of the ludicrous Harvey and Lee theory, which claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald and his mother were each a pair of doppelgängers, recruited into a top-secret CIA plot while he and his doppelgänger were boys. In addition to claiming that the Zapruder film was a fake, and that the moon landings were faked, and that Oswald was a fake, and that Oswald’s mother was a fake, White completed his tin-foil-hat bingo card by also claiming that no planes hit the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001.

A Conspiracy Requires Plausible Evidence

Theories about the forgery of the Zapruder film range from:

  • the just-about-plausible, though as yet unsubstantiated, idea that a patch was applied to a tiny area on a handful of frames in order to conceal evidence of damage to the back of President Kennedy’s head;
  • to the outrageously implausible idea that the entire film is a fabrication.

Once it is acknowledged that a conspiracy took place, and that some evidence had been faked, such as the planting of the rifle and the bullet shells on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, it can be tempting to suppose that any of the physical evidence might have been faked. But it is still necessary to demonstrate how a particular instance of deception might plausibly have been achieved.

For example, the planting of evidence on the sixth floor is not in itself implausible:

  • the TSBD was occupied by several companies, not all of whose employees would have been able to identify strangers within the building;
  • the majority of the employees were not inside the building at the time of the assassination;
  • the presence of strangers would not have been noteworthy: it was common for delivery drivers, customers, and other non-employees to enter and leave the TSBD without hindrance;
  • and the building had several rear entrances that were unlocked and unguarded.

As far as the medical evidence is concerned, the alteration of some of the autopsy photographs is not implausible, since certain conspirators might conceivably have controlled all of the relevant photographic evidence, and would have had ample time in which to perform any alterations. For similar reasons, it is hardly unknown for investigating authorities to tamper with witness statements, as appears to have happened in the Oswald case.

On the other hand, the physical alteration of either the Zapruder film or Kennedy’s corpse would have had to be done within an infeasibly short period of time, and with incomplete access to all the information that would have been needed to avoid detection in the future.

Irrationality in JFK Assassination Research

The current state of the evidence does not justify the conclusion that the Zapruder film is a forgery. Of course, new evidence may emerge that will provide such justification. At the moment, however, that conclusion is the result of irrational thinking.

It is irrational to invent a conspiracy to explain every apparent discrepancy in the evidence. Not every such discrepancy even requires a specific explanation. Eye-witnesses can be mistaken, technical data can be incompetently assembled and analysed, and photographs can display unexpected visual effects. In any complex set of evidence, there are likely to be elements that do not match.

Cult-Like Behaviour Among Conspiracy Theorists

The desire to explain everything, whether in order to find an elusive smoking gun or to stake one’s claim to a particular area of study, is a harmful characteristic of much JFK assassination research. It has led to cult-like behaviour, in which anyone who fails to agree with every aspect of a particular explanation is damned as a heretic.

The Definition of a Conspiracy Theorist

Conspiracy theorist,’ when used as a derogatory term, usually refers to someone for whom a conspiracy is the default explanation for events, or at least someone who uses conspiratorial explanations for events when the evidence does not justify it. That definition applies to those who, on the current state of the evidence, conclude that the Zapruder film was forged.

The Credibility of Conspiracy Theories

As a general rule, conspiracies very rarely happen. In some types of event, such as the assassinations of political figures, conspiracies are not uncommon. In the case of President Kennedy’s assassination, it is almost certain that a conspiracy of some sort took place.

The important question is to define the extent of that conspiracy. The fewer people and institutions that are required to be involved in a particular conspiracy, the more plausible that conspiracy theory will tend to be. In the absence of irrefutable evidence in their favour, theories that propose the alteration of the Zapruder film, or of the president’s corpse, expand the JFK conspiracy beyond reasonable limits.

Irrational Conspiracy Theories are Harmful

Such theories are actively harmful in several ways:

  • they divert effort from areas that may produce genuine results;
  • they oblige rational critics of the official explanation to deal with two sets of arguments: the lone-nut arguments and the paranoid theorists’ arguments;
  • and they are useful to the print and broadcast media, which defend established institutions by claiming that the lone-nut explanation is more reasonable than the alternative: “OK, so there are lots of holes in the case against Oswald, but you should see some of the stuff those guys are saying.”

Media Misrepresentation

The last of these may be the most serious problem. The media gives little coverage to rational criticism of the official explanation, and tends to portray the JFK assassination debate as a simple conflict between:

  • the lone-assassin hypothesis
  • and outrageously impractical, almost paranoid conspiracy theories.

The media recognises that any reasonable alternative to the lone-nut hypothesis implies criticism of established political institutions. Consequently, it often treats the assassination in much the same way as it treats other forms of political dissent. Just as the media’s coverage of demonstrations tends to concentrate on the handful of idiots or agents provocateurs who throw bricks through windows, so criticism of the Oswald-did-it theory is often represented by the lunatic fringe. In both cases, little publicity is given to rational, critical ideas.

The similarity in each case extends to the target audience. The media’s misrepresentation of the JFK assassination is not aimed primarily at:

  • those who are interested in the subject and are predisposed to think critically; such people will hardly be prevented from discovering the large amount of informed criticism that is widely available;
  • nor at those who are inclined to identify with established authority; they are unlikely to look for critical ideas, or be persuaded by any they stumble upon;
  • nor at that relatively small number of people who are liable to be taken in by the more unbelievable conspiracy theories.

Instead, the media’s message is aimed mostly at rational people who are aware that there is a controversy about the facts of President Kennedy’s assassination, but who have no particular knowledge of the assassination itself. By emphasising the less credible conspiracy theories, the media tries to discourage a sizeable part of the general public from exploring the subject.