Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone to kill President Kennedy while he rode through Dallas on November 22, 1963, as the official Warren Commission report concluded? Or, was the murder actually carried out by a vast conspiracy that might have included the Central Intelligence Agency and organized crime? Did Oswald even fire a shot? Was movie maker Oliver Stone right?
David Wrone addresses these questions in the first book-length examination of the 26 seconds, 486 frames, and six feet of film taken by Abraham Zapruder on the day of the assassination in Dealey Plaza. He concludes that at least two shooters were responsible for Kennedy's death, that Oswald was likely not one of them, and that there were more than three shots fired. Wrone's message is clear: The Zapruder film proves that the Warren Commission was wrong.
The most important part of the book is Wrone's frame-by-frame analysis of the film. The book's method is not so much scientific as it is meticulous in its detailed evaluation of each frame against the proposition that Oswald alone killed the president. Wrone aids his case by wisely bringing other photographic evidence to bear, notably the stills taken by Phil Willis and Ike Altgens, that help to document what the Zapruder film purportedly shows.
What this approach yields, however, is inconclusive. The exercise, as was true in dealing with the Rodney King videotape, is a vivid reminder that what you see on film is not necessarily what happened. Take [End Page 321] for example, the critical frames in Zapruder's film and Wrone's analysis of them (337–338). Wrone insists that these frames show clearly that Kennedy was struck by bullets fired in front of the limousine rather than, as the Warren Commission reported, behind it. Yet the photographic evidence provided in the book and the corroborating evidence that Wrone provides are subject to a different interpretation. In the end, the photographic record, on which Wrone pins so much of his argument, is necessary but not nearly so sufficient as Wrone believes. These frames, Wrone insists, "clearly show the back of President Kennedy's head undamaged, with his clothing intact and unbloodied. It proves that the shot that caused the president's massive head wound came from the front and that there was no shot in the back of the head, thus affirming that two or more assassins conspired to kill him" (181). Wrone asserts that the Warren Commission had "misstated" the fact that the large wound in the front of his head was an exit wound, when it should have concluded that it was an entrance wound (183). Wrone then couples this finding with the movement of Kennedy's head backward, which suggests a shot from the front, with no evidence in either frame of damage to the back of Kennedy's head, which would have suggested a shot from the rear. Other scholars and technical experts using considerably more sophisticated techniques than Wrone employs have reached just the opposite conclusion. Such techniques led ABC News on the fortieth anniversary to conclude that the Warren Commission got it right.
The book treats what might be thought the perfect piece of evidence with far too much authority. What the Zapruder footage shows is that a man was killed before our eyes, but Wrone's efforts to determine the origin of the shots is, in the end, frustrating and ultimately problematical.