JFK: The Babushka Lady
This November it will have been fifty years since the assassination of President Kennedy. I have always believed that two events occurred within several weeks of each other that combined to form a watershed moment in American history. A moment in history that, in my mind, ushered in that turbulent period of time known as The Sixties. Those events were the JFK assassination on November 22, 1963 and the first appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Eleven weeks separated the two events, 79 days.
While doing some research for a Hub on this period of time I came across the Babushka Lady. I had never heard of her before which surprised me a little. I am far from well-versed on the assassination; however, over a period of fifty years and all that has been written and/or filmed I would have thought I would have at least heard of her. She is an unknown woman who points something (binoculars, a camera, a movie camera) directly at President Kennedy as he is struck by bullets. As people flee the scene she appears to be continuing to film the presidential car before heading toward the grassy knoll and vanishing. This is her story as I have been able to piece it together.
In the hours and days that followed the assassination investigators, as with any investigation, found themselves relying heavily on the statements of bystanders who were there to see the president. More importantly, they scoured the witnesses looking for anyone who may have been taking photographs or movies of JFK as the motorcade passed by on Elm St. Once the photographs and films were processed investigators would view the resulting images to attempt to piece together exactly what had transpired on that fateful day.
It was not immediately clear what had happened. Immediately following the shots pandemonium had reigned. Bystanders reacted to the shots by looking in different directions depending on their perspectives and they ran off in varying directions. The information that was coming from those involved with the motorcade was conflicting, once again depending on the perspective of the witness.
The days immediately following the assassination were a whirlwind for the investigators. National television had gone to total assassination coverage, no commercials, no entertainment, until after the funeral of the president. Every television and radio in the country was tuned in and the public was looking for answers. No one was really able to grasp how something of this nature could happen. JFK was so young, so full of life and hope, how could he be dead? There was too much information – conflicting information – to satisfy the questions being asked. The capture of Lee Harvey Oswald was murky at best and when he was murdered, on live national television while in police custody by Jack Ruby, it just added to the mass of confusion. Out of this morass of information emerged the photographic evidence and specifically the Zapruder film.
The Babushka Lady
Eventually, as the photographs and films were developed and analyzed, a new mystery surfaced. Clearly shown in several of the photos is a woman with what appears to be a camera of some sort pointing directly at the motorcade at the time the shots are being fired. Her position is fairly close to Elm Street, a very good vantage point for the events that were unfolding. She is, in fact, very close to JFK’s car as he is being struck by the devastating shot to the head.
This woman is wearing a brown overcoat and a scarf on her head. This scarf led one of the investigators, Richard Sprague, to dub her the Babushka Lady. Sprague was the leading gatherer of photographic evidence of the Kennedy assassination. She is most clearly visible in a movie taken by Marie Muchmore, a spectator that day. However, her back is turned to Muchmore and therefore is not recognizable. She appears in several other photographs but never clearly enough to make an identification.
Investigators were intrigued; they wanted to know who this woman was and, even more so, they wanted to see what she had taken, whether it was photographs or film. Officials also found very intriguing that while many, if not most, of the spectators ran away from the motorcade as the shots began firing, this individual did not. The Babushka Lady stood her ground and continuing filming the motorcade, seemingly indifferent to the confusion around her.
Despite her prominent position, the Babushka Lady soon vanished after the event. The last recorded image of her is as she is walking east on Elm Street. She is the only “early” witness to the assassination that the FBI or the CIA never had the opportunity to interview. Not that they didn’t try. A general request went out for anyone present in DealeyPlaza that day to contact the FBI. They then specifically requested for this woman to come forward. From all available public information, the Babushka Lady has never come forward, has never been identified, has never been interviewed and whatever pictures or film she shot has never been seen by anyone in an official capacity.
Undoubtedly, the most important aspect of the Babushka Lady is her position on the south side of Elm Street. She is stationed close to eyewitnesses Charles Brehm, Jean Hill and Mary Moorman. If indeed she was filming, her film would almost certainly be the mirror image of the Zapruder film. Possibly more important than what could be seen in the limousine itself is what was going on behind it. Her film would most probably include the Texas Schoolbook Depository, perhaps even including the sniper’s nest window, and the grassy knoll.
One Kodak technician told the FBI that a thirty-something woman came to him the day of the assassination and asked him to develop a single color slide for her. He said the slide was blurry but from his description the FBI was able to determine that the shot was taken either from or very close to the spot where the Babushka Lady was standing.
Why hasn’t this enigmatic woman come forward? Does she have something to hide? One theory suggests that what she was holding was a pair of binoculars so she never realized she was the one the FBI was searching for.
Other questions include: Why was she covered from head to toe? Was she trying not to draw attention to herself? Theories abound that she was possibly a man in drag, a Russian spy, an illegal immigrant, a premeditated witness, a secret service agent or an alien. The only thing we can know for sure about her is that she has become a spectral American figure, a national ghost story.
In 1970 Beverly Oliver stepped forward claiming to be the Babushka Lady. She claims a federal agent she identifies as Regis Kennedy confiscated her camera the day of the assassination and that she fled the scene and remained hidden because she was afraid for her life.
The camera she claims to have been using was not produced until several years after the assassination. Regis Kennedy, a Federal agent, was actually in New Orleans on November 22nd. Others who had been standing near the Babushka Lady stated Oliver was not standing near them. Finally, photographic evidence seems to indicate the Babushka Lady to be much older and heavier than the slim 17-year old Beverly Oliver of 1963. For these reasons, though some believe her, she is generally regarded as a fraud.
No one really knows who the Babushka Lady is except for the Babushka Lady herself. Fifty years later she may not even still be alive. If there ever was anyone else who knew her identity they have kept quiet just as she has. Unless, of course, Beverly Oliver is the Babushka Lady; however, that seems to be a stretch.
Of course, if you’re a conspiracy theorist…