A Brief History of the Moorman Controversy

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With the discovery that Dr. John Costella's calculations of "the gap" are mistaken, the last support for the claim that Mary Moorman took her famous photo from the street evaporates. Nevertheless, it may prove enlightening to chart the recent history of what has proven to be a Monty Pythonesque adventure in assassination research.

It all began with Professor James Fetzer's book, Murder in Dealey Plaza (MIDP).

Fetzer published a fourteen-page color section put together by Jack White claiming to show the "great Zapruder film hoax and other photographic frauds perpetrated by the U.S. government." Headlining this section are two pages containing White's claim about the Moorman photo with the provocative leads: "Moorman Polaroid photo contains absolute proof of Zapruder film tampering... Mary and Jean were not on the grass; therefore, the Zapruder film is faked." In a separate article in MIDP claiming alteration of the Zapruder film, David Mantik repeats White's claim and adds an additional page of photos of White in Dealey Plaza.

What is White's claim?

He writes in MIDP:

"Since the Moorman [photo] is genuine, I decided to use it as a control to test the authenticity of the Zapruder film. To do this, it was essential to establish the exact position where she stood for the correct line-of-sight exposed in the image. I discovered a point within the photo that aligned two widely disparate points such that their alignment established that unique line-of-sight."

The two points form what White calls "a large cross (+)":

"Two edges of the window openings in the rear of the paragola (sic) (A and B) in the photo exactly coincide with the top and south edge of the pedestal (C and D). As you can see, the angles AB and CD form a large cross (+) which is readily perceived across Elm where Moorman stood to take her picture."

White notes "as you can see" and publishes an enlargement from the Moorman photo (below, left) which purports to show this. But if you try to see, you can't. Why? Because in White's illustration two heavy red lines obscure the precise area you have to look at in order to see if White's claim is correct. These two heavy red lines make it impossible to see if the two points he mentions (the top left corner of Zapruder's pedestal and the bottom right corner of the pergola window) really do line up.

They don't.

As the unobscured enlargement from the Moorman photo shows clearly (above, right), there is a significant "gap" between the two points. White is claiming clearly that the two points line up, and, equally clearly, his claim is mistaken. The needlessly-wide red "cross" overlays the crucial area and makes it impossible to tell by inspection that his claim is mistaken.

Since the left top corner of the Zapruder pedestal lay below and to the right of the bottom right corner of the pergola window, it was obvious that the true line-of-sight lay both higher and to the left (more southerly) than the mistaken line-of-sight claimed by White. By inspection, it is obvious that this true line-of-sight approximates Moorman's position on the grass as shown in the Zapruder film. Jack White simply made a mistake in interpreting the line-of-sight in the Moorman photo. His illustration in MIDP covered up the critical area so that the viewer could not discern the mistake. But the mistake was there, easy to see in any unobscured copy of the photo.

This was pointed out to White and Fetzer well over a year ago. One would have expected an immediate confirmation - one just had to look at the Moorman photo to see White's mistake! - and a commitment to remedy the mistake in future printings of the book. Their response was (1) to refuse to post an unobscured copy of the photo, (2) to deny that any mistake had been made and (3) to refuse to make any changes in the published book.

That is where things stood until earlier last year when Gary Mack went to Dealey Plaza with a copy of the Moorman photo. In addition, he took along a camera and a measuring stick. He lined up the pedestal and the window in the same way they appear in the Moorman photo (the left top corner of the pedestal below and to the right of the bottom right corner of the pergola window). He handheld his camera to record the line-of-sight he was measuring and measured the distance of his lens above the top of the curb.

Later on and quite independently, Todd Vaughan did the same thing. Still later, on November 25, 2001 during the COPA conference, Gary Mack and Josiah Thompson went to Dealey Plaza and did the whole thing all over again. Although none of the three used a tripod, all three came up with similar results: the true line-of-sight to the camera lens was about 53" to 54" above the Elm Street curb. The proof of this was the comparison of photos taken during the three tests with the Moorman original. Craig Lamson put together the comparison of photos (below). It shows that photos from each of the three tests very nearly replicated the line-of-sight present in the Moorman photo. A photo taken by Jack White (illustrating the "cross" line-of-sight) is shown to be significantly less accurate.

This was not rocket science. All three parties simply took good copies of the Moorman photo to the site and lined up the pedestal and the window as they appear in the photo. The photographs taken show that all three parties got it right, that on three different dates it was possible to get a camera lens to just about the position Moorman's camera lens was in on November 22nd.

Meanwhile, Ron Hepler used a simple demonstration to make the same point. By measuring horizontal ratios between identical points in the photographs, Hepler was able to show that the photos of Mack, Vaughan, Mack-Thompson and Moorman were all taken from approximately the same location whereas White's "cross" photo was taken from a different location.

At about the same time, Bill Miller came up with a proof of dazzling simplicity.

Dr. John Costella's work showed clearly that Moorman camera's lens was looking down on the tops of the motorcycle windshields and the strut over the top of the limousine. "In other words," Dr. Costella explained, "her camera was pointed very, very slightly 'downwards.'" From this it follows that the Moorman camera was positioned higher than the top of the limousine and the tops of the motorcycle windshields. How high was the top of the limousine? Numerous sources give the height as 57 inches. How high were the tops of the motorcycle windshields? Here Miller became quite ingenious. He got in touch with a motorcycle museum in Sturgis, North Dakota which had one of the Dallas motorcade motorcycles on display. The museum properly inflated the tires and put a man weighing 225 pounds on the cycle. They then measured the distance to the top of the windshield. It was 58 inches. Given the eight-inch curb, Moorman's camera as shown in the Zapruder film was most likely at a height above the pavement of at least 61 or 62 inches. Had she taken her photo from the street, her camera would of necessity have been located above her head!!

In November 2001, David Mantik, M.D., Ph.D., James Fetzer, Ph.D. and Jack White went to Dealey Plaza equipped with a rented transit to carry out their "experiment." White earlier had stated that they would align the transit with the "cross" line-of- sight and then measure the height of the line-of-sight two feet into the grass. With considerable fanfare, the "results" of their experiment were posted. The true height above the turf (according to White) was not the earlier measured 44.5 inches (see MIDP) but 41.5 inches. Oddly, photographs were taken of David Mantik looking studiously through the transit but no photos of the actual line-of-sight were taken.

Gradually and grudgingly, the truth came out. The "experiment" had not used the original White "cross" line-of-sight at all. Rather, recognizing that the two points did not line up (that in fact there was a "gap"), White, Fetzer and Mantik had taken the "gap" into consideration in "eye-balling" the alignment of the transit.

Some weeks after the "experiment," Fetzer began talking about the difference between a "PILOT line-of-sight" and a "FINAL line- of-sight." [emphasis in original] The latter is produced when we make the "final adjustments to set the final line-of-sight to account for the modest gap between the bottom of the window and the top of the pedestal," he wrote. None of this made much sense until Dr. Costella explained that Fetzer had admitted to him that White-Fetzer-Mantik had "eye-balled" their transit alignment, that it was not set on "the IDEAL line-of-sight arrived at by PERFECTLY aligning the top of the pedestal and the bottom of the 'window.'" [emphasis in original] However, since no photos were taken recording the alignment of the transit, it has proven impossible to tell where they aimed it. Accordingly, no significant information can be derived from their "experiment." It was irrelevant and useless.

Dr. Costella's work on the Zapruder film, however, did produce significant information. His deblurring of Zapruder frames showing Moorman and Hill showed Moorman in even more detail following the limousine with her camera, panning to her left from her position in the grass.

In addition, Dr. Costella came up with a new and more scientifically rigorous method to measure the true line-of-sight present in the Moorman photo. Since the "ideal line-of-sight" (the original White "cross" which lined up the left top corner of Zapruder's pedestal and the bottom right corner of the pergola window) could be measured with great exactitude on-site and since everyone agreed that this "ideal line-of-sight" had to be corrected by the height of the "gap," the only issue to be decided was the height of the "gap." Instead of simply going to Dealey Plaza and "eyeballing" the Moorman photo, Dr. Costella proposed measuring on the Moorman photo the exact height of the "gap" both at the pedestal and across Elm Street. This could be done, he pointed out, by counting pixels in the photograph itself. This procedure would permit measurements of great exactitude and should resolve the Moorman-in-the-street issue once and for all.

Not only did Dr. Costella propose this new line of inquiry, he actually carried it out.

Using quite stringent assumptions and mathematical calculations, he reached the following conclusion: The true Moorman line-of-sight passed just 0.55 inches above the top left corner of the pedestal which resulted in it passing 2.2 inches above the White "cross" line-of-sight on the other side of Elm Street. Dr. Costella calculated "an analytical uncertainty estimate of 0.4 inches" and also provided a computer printout of four and one-half pages of figures from his pixel-counting calculations. These conclusions appeared to show that Moorman's camera lens was basically in the position White had claimed it was in all along - a position much too low to accord with the position of the camera shown in the Zapruder film. Hence, the Moorman photo and its measured line-of-sight constituted a significant anomaly indicating that the Zapruder film had been altered.

All of this, of course, is turned on its head once we understand the errors Dr. Costella made in arriving at his conclusions. Using Dr. Costella's own method while correcting his flawed calculations, the true height of the "gap" is 1.88 inches at the pedestal (not 0.55 inches) and 6.7 inches (not 2.2 inches) across Elm Street. Using the original White "cross" line-of-sight as a reference, one would have to raise the camera 6.7 inches to replicate the true vertical position of the Moorman line-of-sight. Since the "cross" LOS crosses the curb at a height of 49 inches, adding on the height of the "gap" gives a height of between 55 and 56 inches for the true height of the Moorman LOS when it crosses the curb. This is what we found when we sighted the camera on a tripod and very carefully measured the height of its lens above the curb.

By a circuitous but more rigorous route, Dr. Costella's method has produced a firmer proof of what we earlier believed. Now everything comes together.

  1. The Zapruder, Nix, Muchmore and Bronson films all show Moorman standing on the grass taking her famous photograph.
  2. Shadows in the Altgens photo indicate Hill and Moorman were standing on the grass at Zapruder frame 255.
  3. The Altgens photo shows the outboard cyclist riding less than four feet from the curb where he would have run over Mary Moorman had she stepped onto the street.
  4. Dr. Costella has determined that Moorman's "camera was pointed very, very slightly 'downwards'" towards the top of the limousine (57 inches above the pavement) and the tops of motorcycle windshields (58 inches above the pavement). This alignment requires that the photo be taken from the grass eight inches higher than the pavement.
  5. "Eyeballing" the Moorman LOS with a camera placed on a tripod, it crosses the south curb of Elm Street at a height of between 55 and 56 inches.
  6. Using Dr. Costella's ingenious method for measuring the height of the "gap," the true Moorman line-of-sight has been seen to cross the south curb of Elm Street at a height of 55 to 56 inches.

The point about real science is that it produces an ever wider convergence of evidence. This has happened here. Although Dr. Costella's first calculations seemed to suggest a position for Moorman in the street, his method proved otherwise. Although his calculations were flawed, his method offered a rigorous proof for the fact she was standing in the grass. This proof aligned itself with every other known and relevant fact. No more could be asked of the scientific method.

Recently, Dr. Costella has turned his talents to an examination of the technical aspects of the Zapruder film. His examination has concluded that:

"The film is technically excellent... The field of view matches very closely the expected field of view for Zapruder's camera; there does not seem to be any anomalous magnification as had been suspected. The motion-blurring of objects has been self-consistent in every frame that I have checked.. The sizes and angles of objects are correctly affected by the distortion of the lens system used (excepting the Stemmons Freeway sign). The objects seen as `ghosts' in adjacent frames match up perfectly with both the actual geometry of Dealey Plaza.. as well as the scene in the main part of each frame."

Since the technical excellence of the film so impressed Dr. Costella, he invited those who wish to prove it a forgery to shift their focus to discovering "incongruities in content."

We agree.

Since the Moorman line-of-sight can now be discarded as a genuine anomaly and chalked up to sloppy research, the focus can shift to other purported anomalies. If Dr. Costella wishes to follow his own advice, he might turn his intelligence and expertise to examining the other alleged anomalies pointed out by Jack White in MIDP. Although Dr. Costella's calculations proved wrong with respect to the Moorman-in- the-street question, his method finally resolved the Moorman question decisively. Similar innovation in method may resolve the other purported anomalies.


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