by Jerry Organ
As Life's "Reasonable Doubt" issue was being researched,
the magazine met with Josiah Thompson, a young philosophy professor from
Haverford. The magazine enlisted Thompson as its special consultant on the
assassination, granting him ready access to a first-generation copy of the
Zapruder film. Thompson shared his access to these superior resources with
coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht and Sylvia Meagher, author of Accessories After
Then, in February 1967, Life decided to temporarily suspend its work
on the assassination and concentrate those resources elsewhere. Fortunately,
Thompson's involvement lasted long enough to secure the confidence of Sam
Holland, the witness on the Triple Underpass who reported a "puff of
smoke" beneath the trees by the retaining wall. Thompson would feature
Holland in his 1967 landmark book called Six Seconds in Dallas. A
large excerpt was afforded the cover-page section of the December 2, 1967
issue of the Saturday Evening Post.
Thompson's request for reproduction rights of Zapruder frames crucial to
his book's hypothesis was turned down by Time-Life, forcing his publisher
to eventually use charcoal sketches in their place. A copyright infringement
suit by Life quickly followed, ruling in Thompson's favor. Actual
stills from the film would be used in the 1976 paperback reprint.
Life was outbid by Look magazine for the serialization to
the 1967 book The Death of a President by William Manchester, the
New England author chosen by Jackie Kennedy to chronicle the assassination.
Manchester was allowed insider access to the Kennedy family and JFK's staff.
The family backed away from the controversial book when they disagreed with
Manchester's interpretation of President Johnson's actions. Look
ran excerpts in four large installments starting in early 1967.
November 24, 1967 / 35¢
Cover photograph by John Dominis; inset photo by Zintgraff
For its second issue to feature the JFK tragedy on the anniversary date,
Life once again turned to Governor John B. Connally. Wearing a three-piece
suit and holding his trademark Stetson, the tall Texan appeared in color
on the cover's pastel-blue background. Looking Presidential himself, Connally
may be the only appointee to serve intimately with Presidents Kennedy (Secretary
of the Navy), Johnson (Washington aide until 1952) and Nixon (Secretary
Connally served three two-year terms as Governor of Texas until 1968, when
he joined a Houston law firm. Connally was Nixon's Secretary of Treasury
from 1970 to mid-1972, returning to Houston. Joining the Republican Party
in May of 1973, Connally's promising 1980 run for the Presidency was upset
by Ronald Reagan.
Above: The Connallys host the Nixons at their ranch (from Life, May 12,
The inset photo on the Life cover is a black-and-white image of the
Kennedys and Connallys in San Antonio. Two stories receive equal billing.
"A Contribution to History" and "Governor Connally sets the
record straight on the fateful visit" appears above the title "Why
Kennedy Went to Texas." "Together with unpublished pictures by
nine bystanders" accompanies the other story's title "Last Seconds
of the Motorcade."
Contents listing includes:
-- "Why Kennedy Went to Texas: The governor of Texas sets the record
straight on a controversial and widely misreported point. By John Connally;
-- "Last Seconds of the Motorcade: Unpublished photographs by nine
bystanders who came to see Kennedy in Dallas."
On the same page, an "Editors' Note" by George P. Hunt credits
the importance of amateur photographers and the work of Dallas stringer
Patsy Swank in uncovering more concerning the assassination. On the day
of the assassination, Swank was the correspondent who had alerted Richard
B. Stolley to Life's greatest exclusive: the Zapruder film.
The 17-page cover-story section begins with Governor Connally's article:
"Why Kennedy Went to Texas." The Governor dispels the notion that
the trip was to mend a rift between fractions of the Texas Democratic Party
as oversensationalized reporting.
Within the Connally article runs the 11-page photo-section called: "Nov.
22, 1963: Photos by nine bystanders." Life calls it "a
portfolio of hitherto unpublished pictures, taken by bystanders, of the
last moments of the motorcade in Dallas and then the return to the White
House in Washington." Portraits of the Dallas photographers, except
for one, accompany their pictures.
The photo section begins with two color images from the well-known series
of color slides taken by amateur cameraman Phillip Willis. They show the
turning of the President's beautiful navy-blue Lincoln
Continental stretch-limousine from Main Street onto Houston.
The caption for the Willis photos notes one of the pictures is distinguished
as a "rare last picture of both Kennedy and Johnson" (who's seen
in the background in a convertible two-cars behind the President). However,
the "last picture of both" may be the Altgens photo taken during
the shooting that showed JFK reacting to his wounds and, in the far right
background, a portion of the left side of LBJ's face, obscured by the man
sitting in front of him.
Under the Depository
Turning the page is a tantalizing spread showing: "Unique view of the
Depository -- and from a window in it." Three stills from an 8mm color
film by Elsie Dorman show her perspective of the limousine turn from Main
onto Houston. Dorman filmed from an open window on the fourth floor of the
Depository, where she worked as a mail supervisor. Overflowing the two-page
spread is a massive enlargement of one frame from the 8mm color film taken
by Robert Hughes. It shows the limousine turning from Houston onto Elm in
front of the Texas School Book Depository building.
Hughes inadvertently captured most of the building up to the sixth floor.
Life cited a finding from a study done for the magazine by Itek Corporation,
a Massachusetts-based photo-optics firm, that "the object in the window
was not a person." But in the 1993 Frontline documentary "Who
Killed Lee Harvey Oswald?" the film was stabilized on the Sniper's
Nest window and projected in motion. Clearly there is person moving in the
window just before Hughes stopped filming, most likely Oswald moving into
In 1894, the 411 Elm property was sold for $9,000 to a farm equipment company
headquartered in Rock Island, Illinois. Four years later, a five-story brick
structure was built but was ruin when struck by lightning on May 4, 1901.
That same year, it was replaced by the present-day structure and called
the Southern Rock Island Company building. It was destined to become the
most famous commercial building in America, as infamous as Ford's Theatre.
In 1937, the building was sold to the Carraway Byrd Corporation and purchased
outright two years later by Dallas oil tycoon Colonel D. Harold Byrd. It
was leased to the John Sexton Co. grocery wholesaler from 1940 until 1961,
and then the Texas School Book Depository from 1963 to 1970. Colonel Bryd
owned the building (except for two years) until purchased by Dallas County
in 1977. The infamous building was renamed the Dallas County Administration
Building, and now houses the seat of Dallas County government. The world-class
Sixth Floor Museum opened President's Day, 1989.
Life's next two-page spread might be termed a family album. It features
the work of Jim Towner and his 13-year-old daughter Tina. Jim's color slide,
enlarged to flow over most of the two pages, captured close-up the limousine
occupants as the big Lincoln turns onto Elm. A smiling First Lady looks
towards the camera, as it captures quite possibly the last clear image of
Kennedy's face while alive.
Three stills from Tina's 8mm color film show the car completing the turn
with the Depository's first floor in the background. Life notes Tina's
"last exposure (bottom frame) was made just 12 seconds before the fatal
shot." A story on Tina in Dealey Plaza appeared in the June 1968 issue
The First Shot
The following two-page spread showcases: "Nearly identical views record
an instant before the shots." The dominant photo is the black-and-white
image taken on 120 film by Hugh Betzner, Jr., which flows across the gutter
of the spread. A color slide by Phil Willis is positioned so that the common
elements of both photos are similarly-scaled and on the same lateral plane.
The effect at a glance is that of viewing a stereo image.
Willis stood just fifteen feet west of Betzner, pointed his camera in the
same general direction and just happened to snap his shutter less than a
second after Betzner. The Betzner photograph corresponded to Zapruder frame
186 and the Willis slide to frame 202. Abraham Zapruder can be seen in the
background of each photo, aiming his movie camera at the limousine. Zapruder's
famous 8mm film served as a timing mechanism of the assassination when it
was determined that it was exposed at 18 1/3 frames-per-second.
Seemingly unchanged in both images is the huge 1956 Cadillac stretch-limousine
nicknamed "Queen Mary," in honor of the oceanliner. The vehicle
carried the President's Secret Service detail and a few of JFK's assistants.
It was immediately behind the Kennedy parade car, all but obscured in Betzner.
The back of Kennedy's head does appear in both images, above and left of
the siren mounted on top of the Cadillac's front-left fender. The "Queen
Mary" was purchased from a private collector in 1997 by the Imperial
Palace in Las Vegas for its Auto Collection.
Life cited Itek's calculation that the Queen Mary had moved "five
feet farther along Elm Street in Willis' picture than in Betzner's."
Later analysis would increase this distance to between 13 1/2 and 15 1/2
feet. Itek placed "the time of the Willis picture as just before the
first shot," contradicting Willis himself who maintained elsewhere
that the unexpected loud report of the first shot so startled him it caused
him to press the shutter. Willis' impression would later receive confirmation
from Willis' own 10-year-old daughter.
Rosemary Willis recalled running down the infield of Elm Street after the
limousine when she suddenly heard a loud noise that stopped her in her tracks.
In the October 2, 1964 issue of Life, she appears, in white top and
red dress, in mid-run in the top Zapruder still on page 43.
Starting at frame 190, the Zapruder film captured the girl stopping suddenly
and turning to look in the direction of the Depository. The "Reasonable
Doubt" issue of November 25, 1966 shows her stopped at frame 193. Analysis
by the HSCA in 1978 determined that Governor Connally makes a sharp pronounced
head turn to his right at about frame 162, signifying the first shot event,
to which Phil and Rosemary Willis soon reacted. The sequence showing Connally's
head turn was later published in the September 1998 issue of Life.
A Dark Shape
The sinister form at the low retaining wall, to the east of where Zapruder
stood, was examined by Itek, who "verified it as the figure of a man"
who, by the moment of the fatal head shot, "joined two men seen in
Willis' picture standing behind a lamppost at left." Itek's "third
man" theory foundered when it was revealed that the third man on the
steps was wearing a white hat and white shirt beneath an open jacket, obviously
not in accord with the dark shape. Other analysis suggested the third man
seen on the steps so readily in later photos, was already on the steps in
the Willis photo, with a portion of his white pants visible just behind
the man highest on the steps.
Marilyn Sitzman, Zapruder's receptionist who steadied him as he filmed,
recalled in a 1966 interview -- and during a 1991 Geraldo TV appearance
-- that a black couple were having lunch on the bench behind the wall. Evidently,
the couple arose and went to the corner of the wall for a closer look as
the motorcade approach. Their combined figures would explain the strange
dark shape that appears in the Betzner and Willis photos.
In photos taken seconds after the shots (including the Bond photos in this
issue), a Coke bottle abandoned by the couple can be clearly seen upright
on the corner of the wall. Immediately after the fatal shot, one of the
two smashed their other Coke bottle onto the sidewalk behind the wall. This
action and the running away from the corner by the couple may explain why
some witnesses were under the impression that something suspicious had occurred
in the area.
Confusion in the Aftermath
The two-page spread ending the Dealey Plaza scenes show the immediate confusion
of the aftermath of the assassination. All but one of the six images feature
-- as does the Willis and Betzner photos -- the art-deco white concrete
structure atop the Grassy Knoll named the Bryan Colonnade in honor of the
city's founding father John Neely Bryan. His one-room trading post would
have been very near the scene of the shooting; the plot for the Depository
was included in Bryan's 1841 land claim.
Dealey Plaza opened in 1936 as the result of a WPA work project that diverted
the flood-prone Trinity River away from downtown and replaced it with a
massive railbridge called the Triple Underpass. Traffic from three city
streets funneled beneath the bridge and through the former bed of the Trinity
floodplain; the pergolas, landscaping and railbridge are largely unchanged
Patsy Paschall exposed her 8mm color film from an upper window of the "Old
Red" courthouse, the oldest building in the Plaza, completed in 1892.
The bottom portion of "Old Red" appears in shade on the right
in the Willis photos seven pages prior. A single still from Paschall's film
shows the Presidential parade car, Queen Mary and LBJ convertible entering
the Triple Underpass. Below the Paschall image is a color 8mm still taken
by Mark Bell, showing a motorcycle policeman running down Elm. The unidentified
woman in the white scarf is thought to have taken a movie film of the assassination
that has never surfaced. She is called the Babushka Lady.
Another color slide from Jim Towner shows several press cars entering the
area of the assassination, as a policeman with gun drawn approaches the
street. Several photographers from the motorcade are on the Grassy Knoll
filming a youth couple named Newman who dropped to the ground to shelter
their small kids after the fatal shot. Images of the couple would come to
symbolize the fear and panic of the aftermath.
Dominating the spread are three of Wilma Bond's remarkable color slides.
The largest one show the Newman family surrounded by photographers. Across
the street from this scene, wearing a red coat, is Jean Hill, crouching
next to her friend Mary Moorman, whose black-and-white Polaroid of the fatal
head shot was seen in newspapers all over the world that weekend. Hill's
account of what she saw on the Grassy Knoll was featured in the Oliver Stone
movie JFK. The Babushka Lady can be seen at the magazine's hinge.
Bond's second slide shows one of the two press buses going down Elm. In
Bond's next slide, the bus can be seen entering the Triple Underpass. Hill
and the Newman family are standing, recovering from the shock of the assassination.
Steps lead from the Elm Street sidewalk to a passageway between the wooden
stockade fence corner and a cement retaining wall. Atop the left end of
the retaining wall in all three images is the Coke bottle abandoned by the
black couple immediately after the fatal shot.
The final double-page spread of the photo-section shows the casket being
handled up the steps of Air Force One. The three black-and-white images
are part of a series of eleven images taken from the plane's forward door
by White House photographer Cecil Stoughton. Before the plane left Dallas,
Stoughton would record his most famous image ever: the swearing-in ceremony
of Lyndon Johnson.
Beneath the Stoughton images are two color photographs. One shows the flag-draped
coffin resting in the East Room of the White House and was taken at 4:30
AM while Mrs. Kennedy was still wearing her pink suit. The other was taken
on Sunday afternoon as the casket was carried through the White House corridor
en route to the Capitol Rotunda.
-- "Impact of the Supershot" (Saturn V rocket);
-- "A Tiny Enemy in Vietnam" (malaria);
-- "Senator Eugene McCarthy -- New Rallying Point for Dissent;"
-- "The Graduate" (a profile of Dustin Hoffman).
June 14, 1968 / 50¢
Cover photograph by Bill Eppridge
1968 was one of the country's most difficult years. Deep division over the
Vietnam War turned one generation against another; even brother against
brother. Blacks rioted in the wake of the senseless assassination of Martin
Luther King, Jr.. Youth was so alienated that many supported Eugene McCarthy
even after Robert Kennedy declared himself a candidate. When RFK was assassinated
in Los Angeles in June, radical youth later exploded outside the Democratic
Convention in Chicago.
The Life issue of June 14, 1968 lamented the tragic passing of yet
another Kennedy, though by now violence was so commonplace that there was
no need for a black logotype. The cover was a simple but typical image of
RFK running in the Oregon surf with his dog. In small letters at the lower-left
was "Senator Robert F. Kennedy."
Contents listing include:
-- "The Death of Robert Kennedy: An awful question revived again. By
Loudon Wainwright. The last wearing weeks and a last precious day. By Theodore
-- "Kennedy Family's Tragic Fate: Epic of the sons of Joseph Kennedy
whose minds and vitality matched his hopes and demands."
The 14-page cover-story section began with a two-page black-and-white photo
of Senator Kennedy passing through the Ambassador Hotel kitchen titled:
"Friendly pause on the way to a rostrum." An article by Loudon
Wainwright, covering the campaign, told of how Bobby's reckless campaign
style increased "the prospects for trouble, accidentally or deliberately
produced." Theodore H. White -- as he did five years earlier -- wrote
of a Kennedy full of promise struck down in "The Wearing Last Weeks
and a Precious Last Day."
Large full-page black-and-white photos conveyed the shock and confusion.
The ironic image of busboy Juan Romero comforting RFK is shown. A bandaged
Bobby can be seen through an ambulance window. Kennedy reaction was shown
in three photos: "Once again, anguish met with composure."
Large full-page black-and-white photos conveyed the shock and confusion.
The iconic image of busboy Juan Romero comforting RFK is shown. A bandaged
Bobby can be seen through an ambulance window. Kennedy family reaction was
shown in three photos: "Once Again, Anguish Met With Composure."
The assassin Sirhan B. Sirhan was profiled in "The Notebook That Read
'Robert Kennedy must be Killed.'" Photos show Sirhan's parents, his
Junior High photo and the assassin in custody.
Above: January 17, 1969 cover with Sirhan; busboy comforts RFK.
A one-page column on "The Presidency" by Hugh Sidey was titled
"For God's Sake, Live Under the Law." Sidey reveals that although
bitterness existed between the two, Lyndon Johnson feared so much for Robert
Kennedy's safety that he refused RFK's offer to serve as ambassador to Vietnam
in 1964. President Johnson was up all night, authorizing Secret Sevice details
to the other candidates and dispatching Air Force planes to transport the
Senator's children. Johnson had personal reminders of another Kennedy assassination,
in the form of Secret Servicemen Rufus Youngblood and Clint Hill, who performed
under fire in Dallas.
An 11-page article details the family's history of tragedy: "They Draw
the Lightning." It included two large photos of Bobby and Ted at the
nightime reinterment of President Kennedy's coffin in Arlington National
Cemetery in March 1967. A week after this issue, Life published a
96-page Special Edition called "The Kennedys."
-- "Books: Endless Drumbeat of Wars" (The Violent Peace
by Carl Mydans);
-- "Ancient Egypt: Part VI -- The Great Search in the Sands:"
-- "The Story of an Adoption."
Text copyright © 2000 Jerry Organ.
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