How the Zapruder Film Came to LIFE

Fifty years after JFK's assassination, Richard Stolley recalls his chase to secure the tragic images

Zapruder Film 1967 (Renewed 1995) The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

"Dick, Kennedy's been shot in Dallas!" I was in my office as Los Angeles bureau chief for LIFE magazine. The shouter was a LIFE correspondent who had wandered over to the Associated Press Teletype to find out (pre-Internet) what was happening in the world.

The AP machine was spitting out bulletins and flashes, with accompanying alarm bells, that gave the first news of the tragedy in Dealey Plaza. I ran to see for myself, then back to my desk to call my editor in New York City and ask what we could do. "How fast can you get to Dallas?" was the answer. An hour later, four of us were on a National Airlines plane.

About 6 p.m. I got a call from Patsy Swank, a part-time LIFE correspondent in Dallas who had spent the afternoon at police headquarters. Her news was astounding. She said another reporter had told her that a cop had told him that a local businessman had been at Dealey Plaza with a movie camera and had photographed the assassination.

Anticipating my next question, she said, "My friend couldn't spell the name, only pronounce it. Za-proo-dur."

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