How a family from Volyn earned more than $17 million from the Kennedy assassination

Віктор Юрченко

Once an emigrant from Kovel, Abram Zapruder, took a movie camera with him to work. He won the gratitude of the special services, night terrors for himself and a bright future for all his descendants.

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy arrived in Dallas to settle a dispute among the leaders of the local branch of the US Democratic Party. The visit was planned back in September, and on November 19, the route of the presidential motorcade was made public. Dallas supporters of the Kennedys gathered at Dealey Plaza to see and congratulate the couple.

At 12:30 p.m., the motorcade appeared over the horizon and returned to Elm Street, slowing down a bit. John and Jacqueline waved to people, and people waved back.

Texas Governor John Connelly and his wife Nellie also sat in the limousine with the president and the first lady. Upon entering the square, Nellie said: “Mr. President, you can’t say now that Dallas doesn’t love you.”

“Of course I do,” replied Kennedy. These were his last words.

Picture of President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination
Джон Ф. Кеннеді поряд з дружиною Жаклін в лімузині на головній вулиці Далласа. Фото: Walter Sisco /

Within seconds, shots rang out, the president was killed, and the world was engulfed in the largest avalanche of rumors, theories, and hoaxes in history. Despite thousands of declassified documents, it does not stop to this day.

The latest set of documents was released fall 2017 by order of President Trump .

Controversies confuse truth seekers. For example, the commission of inquiry led by Judge Warren concluded that the killer acted of his own free will and did not participate in conspiracies. It is difficult for many to believe this, because sniper Lee Harvey Oswald was a Marxist and lived in the Soviet Union for 2.5 years.

It is also known that he shot from the window of the book store, which was left behind the motorcade at the time of the murder. But video evidence suggests that the decisive shot was fired from the front. The unique footage was accidentally shot by a native of Volyn.

Our people are everywhere

Abram Zapruder was born in 1905 in the district town of Kovel, Volyn province. Completed the 4th grade of a Jewish school, and that was all the education he had throughout his life. At the age of 15, Abram and his family migrated to New York, where he got a job in a clothing factory. Moved to Dallas in 1941, and in 1949 launched his own brand of women’s clothing, Jennifer Juniors Inc. Zapruder’s office was located at 501 Elm Street, next to Dealey Plaza.

The Zapruder family liked the liberal values espoused by the US Democratic Party and the Kennedys’ charisma. Daughter Myrna even volunteered during JFK’s 1960 election campaign. On the day of the murder, she was among the people who met John and Jackie at the Dallas airport.

Abraham (as Abram was called in the American way) was happy when he learned that the presidential motorcade would pass by his office. His subordinates persuaded him to bring a Bell&Howell Zoomatic Director Series video camera, a top model at the time. During the lunch break, he went to the square and began to look for a location. The best video recording of the assassination of John F. Kennedy was made from a concrete parapet two dozen meters from the road. The authors of the rest of the filming were in worse positions.

Abraham Zapruder Camera
Bell&Howell Zoomatic Director Series — відеокамера Абрахама Запрудера. Джерело: ФБР /

Bad dream

The total recording length is 26 seconds or 486 frames. Immediately after the murder, Abraham wanted to give the tape to law enforcement officers. Gesheft did not interest him. Secret Service agent Forrecht Sorrels promised that the material would be used exclusively for the investigation. Three copies were made of the tape, two of which were taken by the Secret Service. Zapruder kept one copy together with the original.

That same day, he gave an interview to local WFAA-TV, where he described the events at Dealey Plaza.

Дивіться відео Запрудера на сайті Музею шостого поверху. Епізод з Кеннеді починається на 50-й секунді.

The next morning, Zapruder sold LIFE magazine the rights to publish footage from the film for $150,000 (equivalent to $1.2 million today). The main condition of the agreement was the ethical treatment of the recording. Later, Abraham saw a dream in which frame #313, where the bullet hits Kennedy’s head, was published under the heading “Watch the president’s head explode!”. Zapruder woke up and insisted that this moment be removed from all possible publications.

According to the family, bad dreams about this video haunted Abraham for the rest of his life. Abraham Zapruder died in 1970 from stomach cancer. In 2007, the film “Frame 313” was shot, which tells the story of his life.

In the November 29, 1963 issue of LIFE, 30 key frames from the Zapruder video were published in black and white. The magazine’s red logo had a mournful black backing.

On December 6, the same footage was printed in color in LIFE’s John F. Kennedy Memorial Edition.

In 1971, the magazine’s publisher, Time Inc., sold the publishing rights back to the family of the video’s creator for the symbolic price of $1. The Zapruders, in turn, gave the tape to the US National Archives and Records Administration, retaining all rights.

Розворот журналу LIFE від 29 листопада 1963 року, де були опубліковані 30 чорно-білих кадрів з фільму Абрахама Запрудера. Фото: WAS

What happened next

  • Different people at different times approached the Zapruders to use the video in their investigations/films/publications. For example, in 1991 director Oliver Stone paid them $85,000 (according to other sources, $40,000) for using the video in the documentary “JFK”. He later suggested that the original clip had been tampered with.
  • In 1992, President Bush signed the JFK Act, which established a special archive of records related to the Kennedy assassination — the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). In August 1997, the ARRB declared the Zapruder video the “assassination tape” of President Kennedy, which meant transferring the tape from the National Archives to the ARRB. The law provided for remuneration for the author. Given the uniqueness of the evidence, in 1999 the government paid the Zapruder family $16 million.
  • In the same year, the descendants of Abraham Zapruder donated full rights to use and publish the video to the Sixth Floor Museum, located in the book depository from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired.
  • Abraham’s eldest daughter Myrna stayed to live in Dallas.
  • Son Henry moved to Washington with his wife and three children shortly after his father’s death, where he got a position in the Department of Justice. Henry’s children grew up in a “sunlit colonial house in the suburbs of Washington” that was “a hotbed of celebrations and parties.”
  • Grandson Matthew became the author of many poetry collections.
  • Grandson Michael is a composer and music producer.
  • Granddaughter Aleksandra has written several documentary books about the Holocaust, as well as a book about her grandfather. She was only 10 months old at the time of Abraham’s death, but she tells about him as an extremely kind person, a good family man and the soul of the company.