Figure 1. Still photo taken during a restaging of the assassination by the Secret Service in 1963. Six months later, the Warren Commission would independently label the limousine’s location at this approximate point on Elm Street “Position A.” The ghost image, which is inserted, approximates the position of the presidential limousine on November 22 at the moment Abraham Zapruder restarted his camera (see figure 2).
By Max Holland & Kenneth R. Scearce
In March 2007, the inaugural issue of Washington Decoded posited a radical new description of the shooting sequence in Dealey Plaza.
“11 Seconds in Dallas, Not Six” argued that the Zapruder film did not capture in full the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. Rather, the iconic movie recorded an assassination that had already commenced. Lee Harvey Oswald’s errant first shot was fired about 1.4 seconds before Abe Zapruder started his camera, or just after the president’s limousine reached a point on Elm Street identified by the Warren Commission in 1964 as “Position A,” which was “not on the Zapruder film” (figure 1).
This new explanation changed nothing, and everything, at the same time. In the first sense, it only underscored that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed President Kennedy. But it also lay to rest the notion, which had long haunted the official story, that Oswald’s feat of marksmanship was anything exceptional. Firing three shots in 11 seconds took no great skill.
Seeing is believing, the cliché goes. And it is a testament to the power of visual media that for 44 years, the Zapruder film was considered equivalent to the assassination. During that time, it was no secret that Abraham Zapruder had turned off his camera about seven seconds after he initially started filming, after seeing nothing but police motorcycles through the viewfinder. And it was also fairly easy to calculate that by the time Zapruder restarted his “Zoomatic,” the presidential limousine had already traveled about 70 feet down Elm Street.
Yet the presumption made at the outset—that Zapruder had captured the assassination in full—was never seriously questioned. As the critic Richard B. Woodward insightfully observed in 2003, the assassination quickly became “fused with one representation, so much so that Kennedy’s death [was] virtually unimaginable without Zapruder’s film.”
The March 2007 essay in Washington Decoded, and a subsequent Op-Ed in The New York Times, made the case for an 11 second-long shooting sequence on the basis of numerous earwitness and eyewitness testimonies, and because Oswald’s first shot missed—most likely because it ricocheted off a traffic-light mast overhanging Elm Street (see figure 1). An independent November 2007 essay by Kenneth Scearce, a co-author of this article, examined how the Zapruder film itself provided additional corroboration.
This new essay takes another fresh look at some old evidence, including several films from Dealey Plaza, to see if there were any additional clues that might have been overlooked during all those years the Zapruder film exerted its grip on the collective imagination. Several pieces of old evidence turn out to corroborate the observation that a shot was fired before Zapruder restarted his “Zoomatic.”
The new paradigm of 11 seconds cannot, in all likelihood, be proven beyond a reasonable doubt today, as might have been in the case in 1963 or 1964 had the traffic mast been examined promptly for metallic residue. But three shots in 11 seconds should now be regarded as the depiction with the greatest fidelity to all the known facts.