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Josiah Thompson and Rollie Zavada at JFK Lancer: A Critical Report

by Douglas P. Horne, author of Inside the Assassination Records Review Board

I recently attended the JFK Lancer conference in Dallas on the sad occasion of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's tragic assassination.  On Thursday, November 21st, I attended lectures by both Roland J. Zavada and Josiah ("Tink") Thompson trumpeting their strongly held and continuing views that the Zapruder film is an authentic film.  It is well known that Debra Conway, the long-time JFK Lancer organizer, is a strong advocate of the film's authenticity.  In fact, some months ago, I asked her organizer, Larry Hancock, if I could speak about the Zapruder film myself this year at the Lancer conference, and I was told that there were already too many speakers asking to present, and that I would have to be placed on the "waiting list."  I never heard anything back from Lancer.  Larry Hancock did offer me an opportunity to speak about The Two NPIC Zapruder Film Events last year, at the 2012 conference, and I demurred.  So it looks like I missed a crucial opportunity to present in 2012.  The impression I received this year was that since Rollie Zavada was on the program again, and had been placed there with some enthusiasm by Debra Conway herself, that any hope on my part of being allowed to present any opposing views was a "non-starter."

Even though I was not allowed to present this year, I nevertheless wanted to go "into the lion's den," to use a Biblical metaphor, and hear what my adversaries on this issue had to say.  I'm here today to announce that as a member of the "alterationist" community, I took their best shot, and my reaction is this: "If this is the best these guys can do---if this is their 'best shot'---then those who propose that the Zapruder film has been altered don't have that much to worry about."

PROLOGUE: In the previous month, at the Pittsburgh conference at DuQuesne University, Jeffrey Sundberg, a student at the University of Arizona who is an electrical engineer with a graduate background in optics and camera calibrations, gave a presentation in which he presented his conclusions that the "full flush left" Zapruder film intersprocket penetration demonstrated in the extant film in the Archives could not have been produced by the lens in the Bell and Howell camera used by Abraham Zapruder.  Having heard about this presentation from friends of mine, I began to correspond with Jeffrey Sundberg by e-mail and  he sent me a very brief description of what he presented.  Let me make it clear here what I am talking about: I am talking about the extreme degree of "full flush left" penetration seen on the extant film---the convex bulge beyond the leftmost edge of the sprocket holes seen on the extant film in the Archives---specifically, on the forensic copy made by NARA.  Jeff Sundberg made it clear to me that he had not yet published a peer-reviewed paper about this, and hoped to do so within the next year or so; and that his scientific paper would likely then be followed by a "popular science" type article written for the layman.  In his e-mail correspondence with me, he did summarize for me what he presented at the Pittsburgh conference in October:

   ...I finished over half of my horribly mistimed presentation on the imaging properties of Bell and Howell 414PD cameras in Pittsburgh last week.  As your prior analysis has been specifically singled out by Roland Zavada, you will no doubt take interest in my conclusion that the 'full flush left' problem is not a mere curious anomaly but is substantial, and cannot be accommodated by the physical extent of the lens as designed, as the 'full flush left' could not happen with a functional system stop ('iris') in place. Furthermore, formal lens simulation with lens design software shows that lens distortion, a primary subject of John Costella's essay A Scientist's Verdict, and which he measured at about 3% at the margins of the Zapruder images, and which the lens designers' own notes suggest should be around 3.5%, should be more than 7% if the image extended so far off that optical axis that it nearly reached the limits of the film itself.

This news certainly revived my interest in the milieu of Zapruder film authenticity issues.  I was well aware that some experimenters had shot double 8 mm film in Bell and Howell cameras, at full telephoto, on November 22nd in previous years (thus reproducing the lighting conditions on 11/22/63), and that this test film had shown complete, or nearly complete, "intersprocket penetration" of the Bell and Howell image in the developed test film---and yet the intersprocket penetration I have seen in these test images has not replicated the extreme convex bulge beyond the leftmost sprocket holes seen in the extant film.  Now, here was Jeffrey Sundberg, saying that the Bell and Howell camera, by his calculations, should not have been able to reproduce this degree of image penetration on the film.  The people who saw his presentation were very impressed, and like them, I await the publication of his paper(s) so that I can better understand the science here.  But the preliminary results he reported to me above are truly interesting, for they tell me that one of the principal "anomalies" I discussed in my Zapruder film chapter (chapter 14 of Inside the ARRB) may be truly significant in assessing the film's authenticity or lack thereof.  [This section has been edited to correct an inadvertent error made earlier today about Mr. Sundberg's credentials; he possesses one Master's Degree in optical science from the U of A, and is about to defend his thesis in geophysics in another Master's program at that institution.]

ROLAND ZAVADA's PRESENTATION AT THE LANCER CONFERENCE: Roland Zavada's presentation before the main conference audience repeated his contention that the extant Zapruder film is authentic, principally because of the edge print (consistent with Kodachrome II daylight film made in 1961), and the photographically copied unique leader number of 0183 (the one that is not physically present on the extant film itself, but which has only been photographically copied onto the leader for one of the first generation copies---and in the wrong location), are consistent with the affidavits associated with the film's sale to LIFE on November 25, 1963. And he then proceeded to say that because he could not figure out HOW the film could have been altered, he simply didn't believe it.  He focused on the registration problems that would have confronted any forgers attempting to alter image content.  (I agree with Rollie on this point; but then I have never thought that the forgers used a traveling matte process; I made it clear in my book that I believe they used aerial imaging, a much simpler process that only requires one pass with a process camera, and which is self-matting, thus avoiding the more severe registration problems one would encounter with traveling mattes.)  In 1965, Professor Raymond Fielding wrote the first textbook on the "black arts of Hollywood," titled The Technique of Special Effects Cinematography. Rollie interviewed him in 2006 about the possibility of Zapruder film alteration, and Rollie wrote in 2010 that Fielding had said any alteration of the Zapruder film in 1963 would be detectable today, and that such alteration would not withstand professional scrutiny.  This is exactly what I believe is already happening within the ongoing scientific investigation in California: a third generation copy of the extant film is being intensively studied using state of the art modern technology---6k digital scans---and it is not withstanding professional scrutiny. 

Rollie admitted that when he wrote his report for the ARRB he had concluded that all four films had been slit, or split, in Dallas on 11/22/63---the original and all three contact prints exposed at Jamieson's lab---but said he didn't believe that anymore.  Huh?  What caused him to throw his principal witness about the film's processing, Phil Chamberlain, under the bus?  The fact that the B & W dirty dupes in the possession of the Sixth Floor Museum show an unslit, or as yet unsplit, double 8 Zapruder film consistent with today's extant film, that's what.  What Rollie didn't tell the audience at Lancer was that contrary to disproving that all 4 films had been slit on 11/22, there was an alternate explanation: that the dirty dupes used by LIFE to print its fuzzy, muddy B & W images in the Nov 29th issue in 1963 were simply run off at Hawkeyeworks in Rochester on Sunday evening, 11/24/63, and then flown to Chicago for a quick and dirty print job in that week's issue.  I view the unslit "dirty dupes" at the Sixth Floor Museum as simply having been quickly run off from the altered Z film (masquerading as an original) immediately after it had been finished at Hawkeyeworks, early Sunday evening, 11/24/63.  Rollie didn't acknowledge that possibility.  I prefer my scenario: LIFE could not print color images of the Z-film in its first issue because the altered film, masquerading as an original, could not be sent to Chicago Sunday night, on 11/24/63.  Instead, it had to be sent to the CIA's NPIC in Washington D.C. for the making of sanitized briefing boards, and was not available to send to Chicago---indeed, it would not have been available, and in Chicago, until some time mid-day on Monday, at the earliest. LIFE had stopped the presses on Friday, the day of the assassination, and was desperate to complete its November 29th issue.  Instead of waiting until Monday afternoon or evening to receive the altered color film created at Hawkeyeworks during the day on Sunday, LIFE settled for the "dirty dupes" created at Hawkeyeworks late Sunday afternoon, or early Sunday evening---and the result was a large spread of very poor, very muddy black and white images in the 11/29/63 issue.  Some of those issues were sold as early as Tuesday, 11/26/63, and the issue only contained fuzzy black and white images because the printing plant in Chicago did not yet have in its possession the altered color film masquerading as the new "original."  This altered film---in an unslit double 8 format---had been sent to Washington D.C. Sunday night for the making of sanitized briefing boards.  The CIA's NPIC was not finished with it until dawn on Monday at the earliest, and perhaps not until mid-day.  If Rollie were to accept that all four films had been slit on Friday at Kodak in Dallas (as two witnesses told him in the late 1990s), then he would have to accept that the dirty dupes were made from a reconstructed, altered Zapruder film created in an optical printer at Hawkeyeworks.  He is not willing to believe the film was altered---especially not at his former employer's headquarters in Rochester---so he now chooses to disbelieve the firm recollections that all of the films were split on 11/22/63, provided to him by two credible witnesses who were working at the Kodak plant in Dallas the day of the assassination.

Rollie then showed his photographic evidence that the three first generation copies of the Z film in evidence today are bracketed exposures.   My response: yeah, I agree---so what?  Obviously, they are.  What Rollie did NOT tell the audience at Lancer was that the first response given to him by Bruce Jamieson in Dallas (whose lab exposed the 3 contact prints the day of the assassination) was that the 3 contact prints WERE NOT BRACKETED when exposed on the day of the assassination---that his lab people told him they had used the same light pack for all three exposures of the contact prints on 11/22/63.  What this means to me, and to anyone with an open mind who is an honest researcher, is that if the 3 first generation copies today show bracketing, then they are not the true first day copies made the day of the assassination.  [This would imply the creation of 3 new first generation copies from an altered Z film, and substitution of the 3 new copies for the three true first day copies.]  Rollie did an unforgivable thing when Bruce Jamieson gave him the answer he did not want back in the late 1990s---he "jawboned" Jamieson, i.e., presented him with the bracketing evidence, suggested Jamieson and his staff were wrong because of the evidence that exists today, and got Jamieson to change his mind about what had likely happened by asking him a leading, hypothetical question, very much like Arlen Specter did with many of the Dallas doctors in 1964.  This correspondence between Zavada and Jamieson is published in the authenticity study he prepared for the ARRB, and you can read it yourself if you wish.  It is in the JFK Records Collection.

Rollie then proceeded to make an incorrect statement about a major event which I myself witnessed.  He stated that "the National Archives would not let us run a film test in Zapruder's camera."  That is not a correct statement---that is not the way it went down.  In late 1997 I insisted on a film test (for authenticity purposes, to be used as a "control" which could then be compared to the extant film being studied in all respects).  I went into the office of Jeremy Gunn (the ARRB's new Executive Director) and, in fact, demanded it.  [Jeremy Gunn was reluctant to do so because he feared bad publicity when the test became known.  At the time, the camera was on loan from the Archives to the Sixth Floor Museum; the test I insisted on was to be conducted on 11/22/97, at 12:30 PM, to ensure the correct lighting conditions equivalent to those on 11/22/63 during the assassination.]  Jeremy Gunn called Rollie Zavada on the spot and asked him if this was a good idea, and a necessary procedure to assess authenticity.  I was in the room, and Rollie was on the speaker phone, so I could hear his answer.  Rollie said "It is not necessary to use the original camera because I have purchased several cameras of the same make and model on my own and we can use those."  The truth is that Rollie rejected the methodology itself---which is truly unforgivable, and inexplicable, to everyone in the film industry who is asked about this.  They universally say, "OF COURSE YOU MUST RUN TEST FILM THROUGH THE ORIGINAL CAMERA WHEN CONDUCTING ANY AUTHENTICITY TEST."  That should be the starting point.  All I can say is, I proposed the idea; I was in the room when Zavada was first asked; and I know what really happened: Roland Zavada said it was not necessary. Jeremy Gunn and I never asked the Archives if they would agree to a test using Zapruder's camera, simply because Rollie said it was not necessary to support his authenticity study.  (I remember being crushed at the time, for I knew we had just made a significant mistake in methodology.)

In a small breakout session for Q & A after the main event, Rollie admitted to his own preconceived bias that the film was authentic, when he began his investigation for the ARRB; he then said, in so many words, and implied with his tone, that he was proud of it!

In the breakout session, when Josiah Thompson asked him to display the controversial frame 317 and comment on whether the black object covering the rear of JFK's head was a natural shadow or evidence of alteration, Rollie put up the slide (a very dark, muddy image of 317 with much contrast present---an image greatly inferior to the Hollywood scans of the forensic copy), and then said words to the effect:
"It certainly looks like a patch; it looks like it could be an alteration.  But I haven't seen evidence of how it was done, so I refuse to believe it." [This is very close to a verbatim quote---guaranteed to be accurate in its substance.]

I and several others, including Leo Zahn of Hollywood, then suggested---demanded, actually---that Rollie display ALL of  frame 317---not just the portion showing JFK's head.  When this slide was finally displayed, I asked everyone present in the room what explanation those who were against alteration had for the extreme difference in density between the shadow on Governor Connally's head, and the extremely dense and dark (almost D-max) "anomaly" on JFK's head in that same frame.  The two so-called "shadows" have absolutely no relation or similarity to each other, yet both men were photographed in the same frame, at the same instant in time, on the same planet, with the same light source (i.e., the sun). The ensuing silence was more profound than that inside the whale that swallowed Jonah. Rollie and Tink had no explanation for this.  Nor does anyone else, who believes that the Zapruder film is an unaltered film.  The most reasonable, and currently the only known explanation for this paradox in frame 317, is alteration---the blacking out of the true exit wound on the back of JFK's head in that frame, and in many others, with crude animation.

JOSIAH THOMPSON's PRESENTATION AT LANCER: Tink Thompson demonstrated once again that he is an excellent speaker, a wonderful raconteur, and a relaxed, avuncular presenter with a rich sense of humor.  In his presentation, after destroying the old theories about the  "jet effect" and "neuromuscular reaction" by W.C. supporters Luis Alvarez and Larry Sturdivan, he moved on to a revision of the original shot sequence he wrote about in his seminal work Six Seconds in Dallas, in 1967.  In his book he posited a double head shot occurring almost simultaneously: a shot from behind striking JFK at Z frame 312, and then a shot from the right front striking JFK at frame 313, causing a double head motion measured by him and others (forward for one frame, and then sharply back and to the left).  Thompson explained that he now no longer believes the apparent forward motion of JFK's head at frame 312 was caused by a head shot from the rear, but was a mistaken interpretation on his part, actually caused by Zapruder's panning error---camera shake---in response to a severe external stimulus, probably the sound of a gun shot.  In other words, Abe Zapruder probably jerked the camera sharply (as proven by the frames he displayed showing extreme blurring), creating only the illusion of forward motion of JFK's head at frame 312.

Instead, Thompson proposed that the head shot from behind actually occurred at frame 328, and provided various visual and acoustical proofs.  This simply moves the head shot fired from behind the limousine temporally---"in time"---to being the last shot fired in Dealey Plaza, according to Josiah Thompson's new interpretation, instead of it being the first head shot.  I have no problem with that either.

BUT WHAT I DID HAVE A PROBLEM WITH WAS WHAT JOSIAH THOMPSON WAS SAYING ABOUT Z-FILM IMAGES FROM FRAME 328 THROUGH 337.  He showed many slides depicting how the top of JFK's head is apparently missing, and where you can actually see Jackie Kennedy's shoulder (in the pink Chanel suit) through what appears to be a huge golf-type "divit" of missing cranium in the top of JFK's skull.  It was easy to see how Tink had connected the dots: "The Z-film shows a huge portion of the top of the head missing, just like the autopsy photos, so therefore the Z-film is authentic."

But wait---Tink was clearly dodging an important issue: the same day treatment notes, and same-day and same-weekend statements to the media, of the Parkland doctors and nurses. NONE OF THEM MENTIONED ANY DAMAGE TO THE TOP OR RIGHT SIDE OF THE HEAD IN 1963.  In 1964 when they all testified under oath, only one Parkland witness, Dr. Giesecke, mentioned damage to the top of the head and side of the head, and he said it was the top and left side of the head (the wrong side).  His testimony is so anomalous that it can, and should be, discarded.  Just go back and read the same-day treatment notes from the Warren Report, and the sworn testimony of all of the other Parkland doctors and nurses from 1964.  They repetitively and definitively describe a wound in the BACK OF THE HEAD, not the top or right side of the head, using these phrases: "posterior; occipital, occipital-parietal; and occipital-temporal" (which is still behind the right ear if you check the skull drawings in an anatomy text).  Jackie Kennedy told the Warren Commission in her testimony: "From the front there was nothing," indicating she could see no damage to her husband's head when looking at JFK from the front.  Presumably she saw him from the front when he was removed from the limousine at Parkland, and also observed him lying supine on the gurney inside Trauma Room One.  When Jeremy Gunn and I interviewed nurse Audrey Bell and Dr. Crenshaw in 1997, face-to-face, and specifically asked them if they saw any damage at Parkland to the top or right side of President Kennedy's head, they emphatically said "no," and looked at us like we were crazy.   Dr. Ronald Jones volunteered to the ARRB under oath in August of 1998 that he saw no evidence of missing bone in the top of the head, nor did he see bones protruding from the right side of the head.  His clear intent was to impugn the bootleg autopsy photos that he had seen in many books, as not representing what he saw in Trauma Room One.  In a recent article Dr. Don Teal Curtis, another Parkland witness, was quoted as saying the autopsy photographs do not accurately depict the damage to President Kennedy's head that he saw in Trauma Room One; he specified that the head wound he saw was strictly posterior, not superior.   Here is the link to that article: Finally, the four Parkland doctors who saw cerebellum protruding from the head wound onto the treatment cart have provided compelling evidence that the head wound they observed was in THE BACK OF THE HEAD, NOT THE TOP.  Cerebellum could only have been protruding from the wound if that wound was in the back of the head, vice the top, as shown in the Z-film.

Furthermore, Josiah Thompson knows this.  He published medical illustrator Philip Johnson's depiction of the damage described by Dr. McClelland in his book in 1967.  It shows no visible damage to the top of the head or to the right side.  And I am confident that in 1966 and 1967 he read the same-day treatment notes, and the sworn Warren Commission testimony, of the members of the Parkland emergency room treatment staff who attempted to save JFK's life.  Beginning in 1998, the Parkland Hospital wound sketches drawn for the ARRB by nurse Audrey Bell, and Dr. Charles Crenshaw---both depicting a wound localized to only the right rear quadrant of the head, thus confirming the 1967 drawing approved by Dr. McClelland---have been available to the public via the JFK Records Collection, and have been published in more than one book.  So he is intentionally dodging the issue, which I do not at all respect.  This is egregious and inexplicable behavior for someone who was both a philosophy professor, and a "private eye."  He should have raised the issue himself and declared his position.  Does Josiah Thompson believe the remarkably consistent wound descriptions of the Parkland doctors and nurses, or not?   Did he think we were all so stupid that we would not think of this just because we were so captivated by his own line of reasoning?  Tink is a smart man; I'm sure he was aware of this major weakness in his continuing argument for Z-film authenticity.  He was just attempting to dodge it.  Buy the Lancer recording of his lecture, and see for yourself.

Ask yourself this: "What is more likely, that the Zapruder film is an authentic and unaltered film, and therefore matches what is seen in two thirds of the autopsy photos---and that ALL the Parkland doctors and nurses were either lying, or were wrong, and consistently wrong, in the same way? Or that the Parkland doctors and nurses were all correct and telling the truth, and that the Zapruder film was altered at Hawkeyeworks on 11/24/63 in an attempt to make it "match" the autopsy photos developed on 11/23/63---the day before the film went to Hawkeyeworks---autopsy photos which depict the results of clandestine, illicit, post-mortem surgery performed at Bethesda Naval Hospital to remove from JFK's body all evidence of shots fired from the right front?" After all, the new 6k digital scans of frame 317 and many other frames (currently the subject of an ongoing scientific investigation in California) appear to depict evidence of gross, crude alteration intended to black out the back of JFK's head.  In view of this new evidence (written about by me in 2009 in Chapter 14 of my book), isn't it more likely that the Parkland treatment staff were all correct in their statements the weekend of the assassination, and that the Zapruder film has been altered?  We need to show some intellectual rigor and apply Occam's Razor here.  Which is more likely?  That a film that is already suspect for good reason has been altered, or that all of the Parkland treatment staff was incompetent and didn't know what they saw or what they were talking about afterwards?  This is the same dilemma that confronts any assassination researcher who wants to believe BOTH the Dallas doctors and nurses, and ALSO believe that the Zapruder film is an authentic, unaltered film.

You can't have it both ways. As I said in my book, interpreting evidence in which there are so many conflicts requires that the researcher make judgments, and employ some critical thinking.  In my long essay at the site about "The Two Zapruder Film Events at NPIC," I have thoroughly explored the broken chain-of-custody of the film the weekend of the assassination; its presence at the Hawkeyeworks R & D lab in Rochester, New York (at Kodak headquarters); and the apparent creation there (in an optical printer) of a new double 8 unslit film masquerading as an unslit out-of-camera original. Here is the link:

Study my long essay at LewRockwell, and consider the issues raised here in this essay.  And then make up your own mind.  Don't blindly defer to the presumed authority of a retired Kodak (!) film chemist, or of an author protecting a lifetime of intellectual turf.  Sometime within the next 6 to 9 months you will be able to better assess the other side of the story using your own eyes, and your own mind---via a magnificent documentary being made in California.  You will then learn the current state of this ongoing scientific investigation.   Anyone who has any uncertainty about this issue right now, or who is interested in it at all, should keep an open mind, and reserve final judgment until that documentary is released.

That concludes this report on some of the interesting things I heard at the JFK Lancer conference about the Zapruder film.  END

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