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The Babushka Lady: A Critical Missing Wittness to the Kennedy Assassination

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On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in broad daylight in Dealey Plaza in Dallas TX, in broad daylight and in front of numerous witnesses.  The overwhelming majority of those who were close to the shooting or who saw anything that was of importance were identified immediately and gave statements to investigators.   Many were interviewed by police almost immediately.  Comprehensive testimony was recorded by the Warren Commission.

There were three motion pictures taken that show at least part of the assassination: the Zapruder, Nix and Muchmore films.  There were more than a dozen more films that were taken either immediately before or after the shooting took place.  More than one hundred photographs were also taken in the plaza on that day.  These films and pictures were examined as evidence and are now part of the historical record.

But one remains absent

A woman can be seen in the Zapruder film and on other films and photographs taken at the time.  She was standing just north of Elm street, slightly behind witness Charles Brehm and his son.  This would have made her one of the closest witnesses to the fatal shot.  She appears to be wearing a long coat, perhaps a raincoat.  She wears a distinctive pink headscarf, like those worn by older women in Eastern EuropeHer appearance has earned her the name “The Babushka Lady.”   The Term Babushka means “old woman” in Russian.

After the shooting, witnesses and photographs show that she moped around the area she was standing for a minute or two before crossing Elm Street and ascending the steps on the grassy knoll, toward the retaining wall.  Shortly after (around 12:40) she is seen as part of a crowd of people who had gathered on the south side of Elm Street.  Her movements are consistent with many of those in the area.  Those who saw the shooting were shocked or confused and most seem to just be talking and trying to get a handle on what had happened.  Some, who had a clear view of the events, such as Charles Brehm spoke to reporters or to members of the public, describing what happened.  At some point, a few of those in the crowd brought out transistor radios and others congregated around them to listen for reports.

Finally the Babushka Lady is seen walking east on Elm Street.  What happened to her after that is unknown.   She has never been identified or come forward.

What may be most important about the Babushka Lady is that she appears to have been taking a movie or photograph(s) at the time of the assassination.  In the Zapruder film and other films, she clearly has a camera to her face.  The fact that she holds it there for a period of time might imply that it is a motion picture camera, but it could also be a still camera.

Many conspiracy theories hing on the claim that there was a shooter in front of the motorcade, with the most common location cited being on the grassy knoll or behind the stockade fence, just south of Elm Street.   A photograph of this area, at the time of the assassination could well prove this to be true or put the issue to rest.  Unfortunately, the photos that exist are not adequate.  There is one photograph, taken by Mary Moorman, at almost exactly the time of the fatal shot, which shows the area of interest. H0wever, the Muchmore photograph is a Polaroid and lacks the quality and range to show anything definitive.  There is also the film taken by Orville Nix, but the Nix film was taken on stock intended for indoor shooting, and not well suited for the lighting conditions.  In the Nix film, the area of interest is obscured by shadows.  The Babushka Lady’s film or photograph may well have captured the area and could, quite possibly, be of sufficient range and quality to prove or disprove claims of a gunman in the area.

The photo has never been found.  However, a tantalizing clue comes from assassination researcher Gary Mack, who testified before Congress in 1994, recounting a story he’d been told by a retired Kodak employee about an unknown film of the assassination.

What I have found living here and talking with people is that there are a lot of people in the Dallas area who, for one reason or another, just would prefer not to come forward. I learned a story just a few weeks ago. A retired Kodak executive remembered that while they were processing Abraham Zapruder’s film out in the Dallas office out by Love Field, that a woman had come in, and this was a woman in her late 30s, a brunette, who had taken a picture at the assassination scene, and her picture was the first one out of the processor, and they were working on this because it was quicker to do stills than it was moving film.

He didn’t catch her name, but he stood next to her while she was explaining her story to some of the Federal investigators who were already there. She was running from Main Street up to Elm Street across the grass, realized she wasn’t going to get there close enough, stopped and took a picture. In the foreground were some people standing on the south curb of Elm Street. The Kennedy limousine was directly behind them, directly behind the limousine was the Book Depository Building. When the picture came out of the processor, the first thing they noticed was the exposure was terrific but the focus was way, way off. It was virtually useless, and she was told that. Well, she apparently went home and whether anyone even got her name or that is unknown.

If this story is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, the man – we sought him out, he did not seek us out, today if we can locate that slide, and this is a color slide, computer enhancement can return it literally to almost the best clarity you could have had at the time. Of course, back in those days nothing like that existed. The Kodak executive’s name is Jack Harrison. Jack said they were pushing the technicians very hard to do whatever you can to sharpen this picture and approve it, and they just said, hey, there is nothing we can do.

There is one individual who has come forward, claiming to be the Babushka Lady.  Beverly Oliver was  a singer and dancer at a strip club at the time of the assassination.  She claims to have been the Babushka Lady and to have taken a film of the assassination.  She has made some other claims, including that she was approached by FBI or Secret Service agents shortly after, who confiscated the film and never returned it.  Her claims cannot be backed up by anyone else and there’s no apparent documentation of this story before 1970.

Many mainstream assassination experts flatly dismiss the stories about Beverly Oliver being the Babushka lady.  I would tend to agree.

Even today, identifying this woman could turn out to be a breakthrough in historical documentation of the assassination.  With 51 years having passed, it’s likely she is no longer alive.  Even if she is, a decades old recollection isn’t likely to do much for the historical record.  But that photograph certainly could.  It’s impossible to know what kind of image could be extracted without seeing the photo.  Certainly, modern technology could provide at least some level of correction for bad focus.

Somewhere in Dallas, there is likely someone who would recognize this woman.  Perhaps she was their mother, aunt, grandmother, neighbor or family friend.

Unfortunately, the only photos we have of the Babushka lady show her from behind.  The exception to this is the Zapruder film.  However, in the Zapruder film, she is holding a camera up to her face, obscuring most of her features.  Zapruder also moved his camera to track the car.


Part I Tracking the Movements of the Babushka Lady Using Available Films and Photographs:

Immediately after the shooting, many in the crowd were on the ground, having attempted to take cover from the shots.  Most of those who were very close to the fatal shot were well aware that what they experienced was not a firecracker or car backfiring.

The Babushka Lady seems to have stayed in stayed in about the same place.  She is the only one in the immediate area who does not seem to have ducked and taken cover when the shots were fired.  Within moments of the shooting, Police officers on motorcycles, who had accompanied the motorcade can be seen in the street.

Minutes later, the press and support cars are past and the first press bus of the motorcade passes.  People are now up off the ground and many are walking toward where the shooting occurred.  The


At about the same time as the second of the above Wilma Bond photos, a photo was taken by Phil Willis.  It is from a different angle.  People are running or walking toward the area where the shooting had taken place.  There were more spectators in the area around Houston Street than there were in the grassy area on Elm street.  Now, aware that something had happened in the area they are approaching the area.  The Babushka Lady is stationary.

Less than a minute later, she is in the same place.  There are more spectators in the area and some are now going up the hill toward the stockade fence.  Jay Skaggs, a spectator,  snapped this photo as the second White House press bus passes.  It is the 6th exposure Skaggs took that day

During this time, post office worker Mark Bell films the area intermittently.  Because of the limited capacity of home movie cameras of the time, it was common to shoot for several seconds and then stop.  Thus, the Bell film is not a continuous record, but records segments of this time period.   She can be seen in many of the frames of the Bell Film.

(the text in this image is from the documentary video it was captured from)

After a pause in the recording of the Bell Film, she appears again, but this time she is on the other side of Elm street, climbing the stairs toward the stockade fence.  She is following the general flow of the crowd, many of whom are walking in that direction.

There appears to be a gap in the film and photographic record at the time when she crossed the street.  Photographs clearly show her standing on the south side of the street and then the Bell Film captures her on the north side, climbing the steps.

But how large is this gap?  How much time has elapsed when Mark Bell was not filming?

We can observe some of the events and changes in the two film sequences to gain some insight.   In the sequence where the Babushka Lady is on the south side of Elm, wittness Charles Brehm is standing along with his son.  In the sequence where she is on the north side, he is with a group of others.  Brehm had one of the best vantage points and was very aware of what happened, so he is likely explaining what he saw to others.

The woman in the bright red dress, who is also on the stairs, not far from the Babushka Lady may be Jean Hill.  Her dress makes her stand out in color images and films.  She was a friend of Mary Moorman, who took a famous Polaroid picture from the area where the Babushka Lady was standing.  In the previous Bell sequence, Jean Hill is, like the Babushka Lady, on the south side of elm, but when the Babushka Lady is next seen, Jean Hill has also crossed the street and begun climbing the steps.

Next we can begin looking for other photographs or films, which may have been taken during this gap in the Bell Film, the period of time when she crossed the street.

One photo does appear to have been taken during that gap in time.  It was taken by press photographer Frank Cancellare, from the opposite side of Elm Street.  (click to enlarge)

We can tell that the photo was taken during the gap in the Bell film for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, The Babushka Lady is not where she had been standing.  She must have already started to walk away, perhaps across the street.   Jean Hill is no longer standing with Mary Moorman.  Mary Moorman is seen showing her photograph, which is now developed, to a man.  In fact, Jean Hill does not appear to be in the photograph at all.  Based on other films, it seems she may be to the right of the photographer, along the stockade fence.

Charles Brehm and his son are still standing alone, in almost exactly the same pose as in the final frames of the Bell Film.  They have not been approached by the group of men seen in the next sequence, where the Babushka Lady has crossed the street.

So where is the Babushka Lady in the Cancellare image?   Perhaps she is already most of the way up the steps and is therefore out of frame.

The possibility that she had already ascended the stairs seems unlikely, because there is a film taken seconds later, which shows that very area.  In the Cancellare photo, note the man crossing the street, about to step onto the sidewalk, with the suit, sunglasses and thin tie. His left arm is extended away from his body, as if he is carrying something, but his hand is blocked by another man.

That man appears to be KRLD-TV cameraman Jim Underwood.  The object he is holding would be a small, portable, 16mm film camera.  He will begin filming as he begins to climb the steps, just seconds after the image was taken.  You can see the film Jim Underwood took here.   Note that the couple with with the woman holding a large purse can be seen running up the steps.  But the Babushka Lady is not in the film.

So where is she?  It seems like she would have to be in the Cancellare image.  She’s not on the north side of Elm street.  She clearly would have at least started to cross the street, but she’s not on the steps either, as one can see in the Underwood film.  Where could she be?

I think I f0und her

This woman certainly matches the profile and what we know of the Babushka Lady.  She is in the right place at the right time.   She does not have a camera bag, however.  It’s possible she is holding it in her left hand.

Part II, The Jay Skaggs Photograph:

Next we will move onto a series of photographs taken about ten minutes after the shooting which show a crowd congregating in the knoll area.  Some of those in the crowd were witnesses to the shooting and are describing what they saw.  Others just arrived in the area.  For the most part, people seem to be just trying to figure out what happened.  A number of photographs document the Babushka Lady being in this crowd, but all the known photographs show her from the rear or the side, back lack a good view of her face.

This photograph, taken my Jay Skaggs is the 10th slide of a 20 slide set.  It is believed to show the Babushka Lady in the background.

Larger, Zoomable Version from the 6th Floor Museum

Note the truck behind the witnesses.  This truck has a tarp-covered top and distinctive, elongated mirrors.   It is possible to get a good timestamp on this photo, to within a minute, by referencing it to photos taken across the street by William Allen and Jim Murray.  Motion pictures show that the traffic continued to flow, although at a slow pace.  So by tracking the progress of the truck seen in the Skaggs photograph and the cars and trucks that were with it, we can show that this series of photographs, on both sides of the street, happened within a period of a couple of minutes or less.  Because there is a clock in the pictures, we can even know the exact time.  These photographs were all taken between 12:39 and 12:40.

Note that one of these photographs shows the Babushka lady. She appears to be in approximately the same place as in the Skaggs Photo.  This reinforces the belief that the woman seen in the Skaggs photo is the Babushka Lady.  The Photo in question was taken by William Allen.

Just eyeballing it, it’s clear that the woman is in approximately the same place in both photographs.  However, we can do better than just eyeballing it.   If the photographs are alligned with an acurate 3D model of location, it is possible to project where she was standing more accurately.

It is therefore possible to tell where she was in these photos with a high degree of confidence.  Not surprisingly, she didn’t seem to move much in the couple of minutes that elapsed.

Now that her position has been established, we can look for other photographs taken at around the same time and from different angles to see if another image may have captured her.

Before taking slide number 10, Jay Skaggs took another photo from up higher on the grassy knoll.  After this, he walked down toward the street and took slide 10, seen above.  It is harder to estimate how much time has elapsed, but the crowd seems to be in about the same position in slides 9 and 10.  They seem to have been taken within a couple of minutes of each other.

The Babushka Lady *should* be in this image.  She was definitely on this side of the street when this picture was taken.  She could possibly be out of frame to the left, but it seems more likely that she would be in the group captured.

And, as it turns out, we have a woman matching her description in exactly the right place.

Granted, the head scarf she is wearing does not appear to be pink, but the lighting is poor and accurate color is not always captured in such lighting conditions.

Other Photos:

To me, these two women appear to be one in the same and I believe that the woman is the Babushka Lady.   Having found two pictures of her face, it is possible to go through the other avaliable photos and films to see if others can be found.

I have found one image of the woman in a film taken by Robert Hughes


If you are from the Dallas area or your family is, look closely at the images of the woman above.  I strongly believe, based on her location and movements, that the woman seen in the Skaggs and Cancellear photos and the frame from the Hughes Film is the Babushka Lady.   She might be your great aunt, grandmother, aunt or someone else you know.  If you know this woman, then there is probably an undiscovered image of the assassination somewhere in a family photo album or shoebox.


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