President and Mrs. Kennedy arrive at Love Field on the morning of November 23, 1963. This would be the last time that JFK descends the steps leading away from Air Force One. He was fatally shot not long after Cecil Stoughton took this picture. Public-domain image online via JFK Presidential Library and Museum.
NOTE: SOME LINKS IN THIS CHAPTER DEPICT UNSETTLING AND DIFFICULT-TO-VIEW MATERIAL.
Recording events at about 18.5 frames per second, Zapruder's film is the best evidence of the assassination of President Kennedy. The 26-second film, now owned by the American people through the U.S. National Archives (at a cost of $16 million paid to Zapruder's heirs), begins routinely and ends horrifically.
Panning from left to right, Zapruder followed the motorcade as it moved through Dealey Plaza. A highway sign momentarily blocked Zapruder's view of the President's limo. Staying focused, however, the amateur continued filming.
On the sixth floor of the Book Depository, at that moment located behind the motorcade, Oswald allegedly fired twice more from the southeast corner. Governor and Mrs. Connally, sitting in the front seat of the limo, later said they heard three shots coming from behind them. Three spent casings were, in fact, found on the depository's sixth floor, near the window. Connally "immediately thought it was an assassination attempt."
Zapruder continued filming, although at times one can sense that his hands were unsteady.
Between frames 220 and 230, both Kennedy and Connally have been hit. At about frame 230, we can clearly see evidence that the President has been wounded. He grabs his throat and slumps left, toward his wife. By Frame 235, Connally's body reacts to his collapsed lung.
Seconds later the fatal shot struck the right side of the President's head. The Zapruder film, shockingly explicit, recorded the horror. One cannot imagine what Jackie Kennedy was thinking at the moment she witnessed her husband's death blow. We do know what she said. Governor Connally recalled her words:
My God! I've got his brains in my hand!
Mercifully, portions of the President's skull remained attached by skin, allowing those sections to fall back into place after the energy of the explosion had dissipated.
Mrs. Kennedy, likely in an effort to retrieve other portions of her husband's brain, moved to the trunk of the limo. Clinton Hill, her Secret Service agent, pushed the First Lady back into the car and covered her and the President with his body.
That heroic act (which Hill discusses forty-seven years later) came too late for the 35th President of the United States. He was dying as his limo sped to Parkland Hospital. Shocked media personnel announced the unthinkable to the American people.
Ninety seconds after the shooting, police stormed the Book Depository building. An officer, hearing shots from that direction, had seen a flock of pigeons fly away from the roof of a building. He was "pretty sure" it was on the "northwest corner" of the street or, in other words, the Book Depository.
A student, Amos Lee Euins, told police he'd heard shots and saw a shooter.
Serious students of the assassination have often been bothered by that fact because it raises a difficult question. How could Oswald (within the span of ninety seconds) have fired the last shot, hidden his rifle opposite the open sixth-floor window, raced down four flights of stairs to the lunch room, and be calmly in that room when the first officer arrived on the scene?
No police officer detained Oswald at the depository.
When the investigators reached the sixth floor, however, they found evidence of a sniper's perch.