The Babushka Lady is a nickname for an unknown woman present during the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy who might have photographed the events that occurred in Dallas' Dealey Plaza at the time President John F. Kennedy was shot. Her nickname arose from the headscarf she wore similar to scarves worn by elderly Russian women (бабушка – babushka – means "grandmother" or "old woman" in Russian).
The Babushka Lady was seen to be holding a camera by eyewitnesses and was also seen in film accounts of the assassination. She was observed standing on the grass between Elm and Main streets and she can be seen in the Zapruder film as well as in the films of Orville Nix, Marie Muchmore, and Mark Bell (44 seconds and 49 seconds into the Bell film: even though the shooting had already taken place and most of her surrounding witnesses took cover, she can be seen still standing with the camera at her face). After the shooting, she crossed Elm Street and joined the crowd that went up the grassy knoll in search of a gunman. She is last seen in photographs walking east on Elm Street and neither she nor the film she may have taken have been positively identified.
The Babushka Lady never came forward. The police and the FBI did not find her, and the film shot from her position never turned up, despite a request by the FBI to local photo processors that they would be interested in any pictures or films of the assassination. Jack Harrison, a Kodak technician in Dallas, claimed to have developed on November 22, 1963, the day of the assassination, an out-of-focus color slide for a brunette in her late thirties that showed a view similar to the Babushka Lady's position.[not in citation given]
In 1970, a woman named Beverly Oliver came forward and claimed to be the Babushka Lady. She had worked in 1963 as a singer and dancer at the Colony Club, a strip club that competed with Jack Ruby's Carousel Club next door. In 1994, she released a memoir entitled Nightmare in Dallas which purports to chronicle the events of the day of Kennedy's assassination. Oliver said that after the assassination, she was contacted at work by two men who she thought were "either FBI or Secret Service agents". According to Oliver, the men told her that they wanted to develop her film and would return it to her within ten days, but they never returned the film.
Critics have noted a number of inconsistencies with her story such as her alleged use of a model of camera that did not exist in 1963, and her claim to have positioned herself just behind Charles Brehm and his son despite Brehm's statement that he and his son had hurried to that position at the last moment. Also, the fact that the Babushka lady appears to be a stout, middle-aged woman, whereas Oliver was 17 at the time of the assassination, tends to cast doubts on Oliver's claims.
Beverly Oliver's recollections were the basis for a scene in Oliver Stone's 1991 film JFK in which a character named "Beverly" meets Jim Garrison in a Dallas nightclub. Played by Lolita Davidovich, she is depicted in the director's cut as wearing a head scarf at Dealey Plaza and speaking of having given the film she shot to two men claiming to be FBI agents.
In the 1992 film Ruby, the character of Candy Cane, portrayed by Sherilyn Fenn, is shown in Dealey Plaza with a camera and not wearing a babushka scarf. Though the character is a singer and nightclub performer, there is no evidence that she is based in any meaningful way on Beverly Oliver.
A 2013 tele-film, Bystander Theory, is a fictionalized account of the Babushka Lady.
House Select Committee on Assassinations report
In March 1979, the Photographic Evidence Panel of the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations indicated that they were unable to locate any film attributed to the Babushka Lady. According to their report: "Initially, Robert Groden, a photographic consultant to the committee advised the panel as to pertinent photographic issues and related materials. Committee investigators located many of the suggested films and photographs, however, some items were never located, i.e. the Babushka Lady film, a color photograph by Norman Similas, and the original negative of the Betzner photograph."
Public hearings of the Assassination Records Review Board
On November 18, 1994, assassination researcher Gary Mack testified before the Assassination Records Review Board that he had recently been told by an executive in Kodak's Dallas office that a woman in her early 30s with brunette hair brought in film purported to be of the assassination scene while they were processing the Zapruder film. According to Mack, the executive said the woman explained to federal investigators already at the film processing office that she ran from Main Street across the grass to Elm Street where she stopped and snapped a photo with some people in the foreground of Kennedy's limousine and the Texas School Book Depository. Mack said that he was told by the Kodak executive that the photo was extremely blurry and "virtually useless" and indicated that the woman likely went home without anyone recording her identification. After suggesting that the woman in the story may have been the Babushka Lady, Mack then told the Board, "I do not believe that Beverly Oliver is the Babushka Lady, or, let me rephrase that, she certainly could be but the rest of the story is a fabrication."
Also appearing that same day before the ARRB as "Beverly Oliver Massegee", Oliver stated that she was 17 years old at the time of the assassination. She told the Board that she was filming with an "experimental" 8 mm movie camera approximately 20 to 30 feet from Kennedy when he was shot and that the film was confiscated by a man who identified himself as an FBI agent. According to Oliver, she handed over the camera because the man was an authority figure and because she feared being caught in possession of marijuana.
- Muchmore frame
- Zapruder Frame 285
- "JFK Assassination Films". Jfk-online.com. Retrieved 2009-12-03.
- "JFK Assassination Films". Jfk-online.com. Retrieved 2009-12-03.
- Assassination Records Review Board, Testimony of Gary Mack, November 18, 1994.
- Marrs, Jim. Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy, (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1989), p. 36. ISBN 0-88184-648-1
- Turner, Nigel. The Men Who Killed Kennedy, Part 2, "The Forces of Darkness", 1988.
- Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 22, p. 837–838, FBI interview of Charles F. Brehm, November 24, 1963.
- Stone, Oliver; Sklar, Zachary (1992). "JFK: The Documented Screenplay". JFK: The Book of the Film : The Documented Screenplay. New York: Applause Books. pp. 119–121. ISBN 9781557831279. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
- Appendix to Hearings before the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives. VI Photographic Evidence. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. 1979. p. 13.
- United States of America Assassination Records Review Board: Public Hearing. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. November 18, 1994. pp. 25–26, 41–43.