The Zapruder Film

Reframing JFK's Assassination

David R. Wrone

It is the most famous home movie of all time, the most closely analyzed 26 seconds of film ever shot, the most disturbing visual record of what many have called the crime of the century."

In 486 frames—a mere six feet of celluloid—Abraham Zapruders iconic film captures from beginning to end the murder of President John F. Kennedy in broad daylight. An essential piece of evidence, the film has become nearly synonymous with the assassination itself and has generated decades of debate among conspiracy theorists and defenders of the Warren Commissions official report. Until now, however, no scholar has produced a comprehensive book-length study of the film and its relation to the tragic events of November 22, 1963.

“. . . clearly written and accessible to a wide audience. It will be useful to students of American society, particularly in the fields of criminology and law, sociology, political science, and history.

—Critical Criminology

“Wrone has provided a stimulating, clearly written, and well-researched study of an issue that may never be satisfactorily resolved.

—Journal of Southern History
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David Wrone, one of our nations foremost authorities on the assassination, re-examines Zapruders film with a fresh eye and a deep knowledge of the forensic evidence. He traces the films history from its creation on the grassy knoll by Dallas dressmaker Zapruder through its initial sale to Life magazine and early reproductions and its analysis by the Warren Commission and countless assassination researchers, licensing by the Zapruder family, legal battles over bootleg copies, and sale to the federal government for sixteen million dollars.

Wrones major contribution, however, is to demonstrate how a close examination of the film itself necessarily refutes the Warren Commissions lone-gunman and single-bullet theories. The film, as he reminds us, provides a scientifically precise timeline of events, as well as crucial clues regarding the timing, number, origins, and impact of the shots fired that day. Analyzing the film frame-by-frame in relation to other evidence—including two key photos by Phil Willis and Ike Altgens—he builds a convincing case against the official findings.

Without fanfare, he concludes that more than three gunshots were fired from more than one direction and that most likely none were fired by alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. If true, then JFKs death was the result of a conspiracy, for the Commissions nonconspiracy conclusion requires a maximum of three shots and one gunman.

Wrone, however, does not speculate as to who actually shot JFK or why—or even if Oswald was a part of the conspiracy. In fact, he is no fan of conspiracy-think and is just as critical of the legion of conspiracy theorists as he is of the Warren Commission (which, he reveals, crushed dissent within its own ranks).

Doggedly pursuing the evidence wherever it leads, Wrone has produced a meticulous, clear-eyed, and provocative new reading of this remarkable cinematic Rosetta Stone.

About the Author

David R. Wrone is professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point.