Reactions to Six Shots in the Zapruder Film

Michael T. Griffith


@All Rights Reserved

Second Edition

The Warren Commission said only three shots were fired at President Kennedy. But there is compelling evidence in the Zapruder film that six shots were fired. We see reactions to shots in the following six sets of frames:

1. Z154-167

* Kennedy starts to turn his head rapidly from left to right at Z154.

* There is a significant blur episode at Z155.

* Connally starts to turn his head rapidly to the right at Z162.

* Several witnesses said the first shot was fired during the limo's turn onto Elm Street or just after it completed the turn.

* Rosemary Willis, running along the grass to the left of the limousine, starts to look back down Elm Street at around Z160, and by Z187-190 she has stopped and is looking back toward a point to the rear of the limousine.

This shot was probably fired at around Z145.

2. Z186-207

* The photographic evidence panel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded Kennedy was hit between frames 188 and 190. The panel noted that a fraction of a second later, at around frame 200, Kennedy's movements suddenly freeze and his right hand abruptly stops in the middle of a waving motion. It was further noted that JFK's head rapidly moves from the right toward his wife on his left.

* Based on its jiggle or blur analysis of the Zapruder film, the Select Committee's photographic evidence panel determined that the strong blur episode between frames 189 and 197 indicated a shot was fired "between frames 181 and 192." After correlating this blur episode with other evidence, the panel concluded the shot was fired just before frame 190. Tests have proved that people will jiggle the camera while filming if they hear the sound of a shot, even when they know the shot is coming.

* By frames 202-204, Mrs. Kennedy has made a sudden sharp turn to the right, toward her husband. When she reemerges into view at Z223, she is looking intently at her husband (obviously her attention was drawn to him because the reaction that he had begun at around Z200 had become more noticeable while the car was behind the freeway sign).

* At frame 207, Howard Brennan suddenly looks to his right.

* At the direction of the Secret Service, Special Agent John Howlett analyzed films of the shooting (mainly the Zapruder film) with the aid of a surveyor a few days after the assassination and concluded that Kennedy was first hit at around Z199.

* At around frame 200, JFK's hand not only stops suddenly in the middle of a wave, but it also drops to the chin or throat level in a fraction of a second and stays at that level until he disappears behind the freeway sign at Z207.

* Secret Service agent (SSA) George Hickey, seated in the left rear of the follow-up car, begins to turn his head to the right in frame 195; he continues this motion for as long as he can be seen in the Zapruder film, i.e., up to frame 207, "at which point he is looking off to the right of the motorcade.”

* William Hartmann, a member of the Select Committee's photographic evidence panel, reported that the panel found that Willis slide 5 indicated a shot was fired at or shortly before frame 190. Willis said he snapped the photo in a startle reaction to the sound of a shot. He took Slide 5 at Z202. "So," notes Hartmann, "that is very nice, consistent evidence that something happened, say, at 190 or shortly before 190" (2 HSCA 15).

* Kennedy's cheeks are seen to puff at Z188.

This shot was probably fired at around Z186. Evidence strongly suggests that this shot was a ricochet shot, that fragments from a bullet that hit a nearby curb struck JFK in the back of his head. At least two small fragments are visible in the rear outer table of the skull in the JFK autopsy x-rays. The impact of these fragments would not have caused serious injury, but they would have stung and startled Kennedy.

3. Z226-232

* Dr. Luis Alvarez, a Nobel-prize-winning physicist, in his 1967 blur analysis of the Zapruder film for CBS, concluded Kennedy was hit between frames 226 and 229.

* HSCA photographic evidence panel members Hartmann and Frank Scott did their own jiggle analysis of the Zapruder film and noted a blur episode from Z225-228. The panel obliquely conceded that this could represent another shot--not that it did, but that it could: "It is difficult to determine," they said, whether this blur "represents an additional shot."

* There is a four-frame blur at Z226-229.

* Beginning at Z226, Kennedy's body is visibly jolted sharply forward, and the position of his hands and elbows--particularly his elbows--changes dramatically, as they are flung upward and forward. The force and speed of these movements of his arms and elbows are quite startling when one compares frame 226, where they are first discernible, to frame 232 just 1/3-second later.

Although the WC, and to a great extent the HSCA, ignored these movements, they are among the most dramatic and visible reactions in the entire Zapruder film. They can be readily discerned by viewing any decent copy of the film online or on DVD.

This shot was probably fired at around Z224.

4. Z233-240

* John Connally himself, after carefully studying the Zapruder film, chose frame 234 as the actual moment of impact. When Life magazine showed Connally the Zapruder film and asked him about the frames leading up to and including frame 230, he replied, "there is no question about it. I haven't been hit yet."

* Dr. Robert Shaw, Connally's chest surgeon, studied the Zapruder film and concluded the bullet struck the Governor at frame 236, "give or take 1 or 2 frames."

* Dr. Charles Gregory, Connally's wrist surgeon, opined that the hit occurred between Z234 and Z238.

* In Z238 we see a very definite change in Connally, indicating the impact of a bullet: his right shoulder collapses, his cheeks and face puff, and his hair is disarranged. A few WC supporters claim the shoulder drop is an optical illusion. This claim has been refuted. The shoulder drop is plainly visible and measurable in the Zapruder film, as I discuss in my article "Five Myths About the JFK Assassination."

Some researchers believe Connally was struck by a bullet at Z222-224, and that his dramatic, visible reactions in Z236-242 actually begin at Z225. These researchers see great significance in the fact that Connally’s lapel flips up for a split-second at Z224. However, strong winds were blowing in Dealey Plaza at the time, and the lapel is nowhere near the spot where the bullet exited Connally’s chest. I am inclined to agree with Dr. David Wrone’s assessment on the lapel flip:

Posner also holds that a bullet caused the flapping of the governor’s lapel. This occurs on just one frame, 224, which shows a slight disturbance in the cloth of the lapel only 1/18.3 seconds in duration. But he does not tell the reader that gusts of wind swept the plaza that day, fitfully blowing throughout the motorcade. Thus, he completely ignores a possible, even probable, cause for the flapping lapel. He further states that the lapel has a bullet hole at the place the bullet caused the flap. But there is no bullet hole in the lapel of Connally’s jacket. The actual hole in the jacket is about 12 inches from the lapel and 2 inches below the right nipple, and its passing through the cloth almost a foot away from the lapel could simply not have caused the lapel to flap. (Wrone, The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK’s Assassination, University Press of Kansas, 2003, p. 118)

If Connally was struck by the same missile that struck Kennedy during this time frame, then we must wonder why Kennedy reacts so visibly from Z226 onward while Connally does not appear to markedly respond until Z237-238.

In any case, if both men were wounded by the same missile at Z222-224, this bullet most certainly was a different missile than the one that caused Kennedy’s Z200-207 reactions.

5. Z290-305

* There is a strong blur episode in the Zapruder film that starts just before Z290.

* Special Agent Warren Taylor said he heard a shot at the very instant his left foot touched the ground after he opened the door to exit the vehicle in which he was riding. A photo taken by newsman James Altgens at Z255 shows Taylor still in the car but in the process of opening the door.

* Texas Highway Patrolman Milton Wright said he heard a shot just as his car turned onto Elm Street. The above-mentioned Altgens photo shows that Wright’s car had not made that turn by Z255.

* SSA William Greer, the limousine's driver, snaps his head to the rear beginning at Z301.

* SSA Roy Kellerman, who is sitting next to Greer, is seen to "duck" his head beginning at Z293. His head tips noticeably forward, in an apparent ducking motion.

* Jean Hill begins to snap her head to the right at around Z295. She is standing to the left of the limousine, across the street from Zapruder. By Z298 we can see she has turned her head and is looking to the rear of the limousine.

This shot was probably fired at around Z285.

6. Z313-320

Little needs to be said about these frames.

* At Z312, Kennedy's head is pushed forward for a split second, but as the head is in the process of moving forward, it and his upper body are slammed violently to the rear and to the left beginning at Z313. Also, Z313 is noticeably blurred.

* This violent backward motion defies scientific explanation. Warren Commission supporters have proposed two theories to explain this motion: the jet-effect theory and the neuromuscular-reaction theory.

The jet-effect theory really is not worthy of comment. Ballistics tests have proved that FMJ ammo, the kind of ammo that Oswald allegedly used, does not cause a jet effect. Even ballistics expert Dr. Larry Sturdivan, an ardent defender of the lone-gunman theory, told the House Select Committee that the force that would have been generated from the right frontal explosion would have been minimal, and would have pushed Kennedy to the left, not back and to the left as seen in the film.

As for the neuromuscular-reaction theory, it is nearly as problematic as the jet-effect theory. The violent backward movement that followed the head shot simply occurred too quickly after the bullet struck to have been a neuromuscular reaction (the violent rearward motion starts less than 56 milliseconds after the bullet's impact). More important, such violent movement is not produced by neuromuscular reactions anyway, according to many medical doctors, physicists, and forensic pathologists, including neuroscientist Dr. Robert Zacharko. Many lone-gunman theorists cite a film of a ballistics test on a goat in which the goat’s body violently reacts to a head shot in about 40 milliseconds, but, as many scholars have noted, the goat’s reaction bears no resemblance to Kennedy’s reaction.

* Many conspiracy theorists suggest the violent backward movement was the result of a shot from the front. This seems wholly logical and reasonable at first glance. After all, objects shot from the front are normally propelled backward, and objects struck from behind are normally propelled forward. That is just common sense. However, the violent backward movement was too rapid to have been caused by the impact of a bullet striking from the front. In short, no bullet fired from the front could have caused Kennedy's head and upper back to move so rapidly.

* There is a third alternative to explain the violent backward movement: film alteration. Some conspiracy theorists now suggest that the Zapruder film has been altered, and that the head shot episode is actually a conflation of what were originally two separate head shots. They theorize that the original backward motion was much slower, and that the first head shot came from behind and the second from the front. This would explain why so much blood and brain matter was blown fiercely backward. It would also explain the evidence that there was a small wound in the area of Kennedy's right temple. And, it would explain why dozens of witnesses, including doctors and federal agents who saw the body, reported there was a large, exploded wound in the right-rear area of Kennedy's head. The film alteration theory cannot be dismissed out of hand. Indeed, given the fact that the violent backward movement defies all the known laws of physics and wound ballistics, film alteration is a distinct possibility.

A Shot at Z326?

Some researchers argue there is evidence, including evidence in the Zapruder film, that a shot was fired at around Z326.

* A gunshot impulse on the Dallas police dictabelt recording made in Dealey Plaza during the shooting seems to synchronize with Z326.

* A strong blur episode begins at Z330.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T. Griffith holds a Master’s degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force.  He also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College.  He is a graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas.  In addition, he has completed Advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England.  He is the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts, including How Firm A Foundation, A Ready Reply, and One Lord, One Faith.  He is also the author of two books on the JFK assassination titled Compelling Evidence (JFK Lancer, 1996) and Hasty Judgment: Why the JFK Case Is Not Closed (the second book is available for free online).