This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
Orville Nix, too, had been filming at the moment of impact, but his camera was aimed across the president’s limousine, right at the “grassy knoll” further down the street from the Texas School Book Depository. That evening Nix returned to Dealey Plaza to complete what he considered souvenir film by filming the Hertz time sign on the roof of the Book Depository. He then gave his camera to his son, who went to a high school football game and filmed Nix’s daughter, a majorette, as she paraded at halftime. Nix had sent this bizarre mix—an assassination, the Book Depository at dusk, two minutes of baton-twirling majorettes—to a laboratory to be developed.
The FBI, which had learned of the existence of the Nix film from the laboratory, had screened it, analyzed it, and had then returned it—now badly scratched—to Nix as being of no further use in the investigation. Reinhardt had met Nix in Dallas, when the film was still with the FBI. Now, in January 1964, Nix called Reinhardt in New York, told him that the FBI had returned his film, and asked if UPI would like to bid for it. Life was interested, Nix said, and was flying him to New York. Reinhardt asked Nix not to make a deal with anyone before he had seen the film—and offered to pick him up at the airport. Nix had been using one of the cheapest brands of eight-millimeter color film, and either it had been underexposed or it had been underdeveloped at the lab: the colors were dark and contrasty, the grain structure was heavy, and the edges of figures and shapes were fuzzy. After some haggling, a deal was made: $5,000—which Time Inc. had also offered—plus a good dinner and a new hat.
Stills from the Nix film appeared in the UPI/American Heritage book Four Days, and some of the footage was used in a David Wolper documentary feature movie of the same title. UPI made money on the footage, but no one found it particularly noteworthy until, early in 1965, an assassination buff named Jones Harris came upon stills from the Nix film in the Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, commonly known as the Warren Report. Harris, a New Yorker of independent means, did not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald had pulled the trigger. He had found a picture that had led him to believe that Oswald was standing in the street in front of the Book Depository at the time of the shooting. Working with Bernie Hoffman, a talented film technician and photographer, he had sought to prove that the man in the street was, indeed, Oswald, but their findings were inconclusive.
In some of the pictures published in the Warren Report, Harris found something new. First off, he saw a station wagon with a machine gun mounted on the roof. Such a station wagon did exist in Dallas—it was used to advertise a Dallas gun shop—and it was Harris’s theory that the station wagon and the shop were involved in some way in the Kennedy assassination. Then he found a curious shape on the grassy knoll, a shape that could be read as a man aiming a gun at John F. Kennedy.
We gave Harris some of the key stills made from the Nix film. They showed the knoll and, atop the knoll, “the pergola”—a concrete structure consisting of two octagonal towers connected by a wall thirty-eight inches high and 100 feet long. In the process of enlarging these stills, two things happened: the station wagon went away and the head, shoulders, arms, and gun of the rifleman was standing behind this car, leaning on it, as he took aim.