Babushka Lady

Tonight I ran into the Babushka Lady. She’s the unknown woman who points a camera directly at President Kennedy when he gets shot in the head. Standing behind a father and son, she wears a headscarf and films the murder. Everybody scatters when the shots ring yet she keeps rolling tape before packing up and heading towards the grassy knoll. Then she disappeared. Nobody could find her. The tape never surfaced. She became a spectral American figure, the stuff of national ghost stories.

In 1970, a woman named Beverly Oliver announced that she was the Babushka Lady. She claimed the FBI confiscated her assassination film and told her to keep quiet. Most people said she was lying. They said she was too young, that she was an exotic dancer and could not be trusted. But Oliver persisted, saying she hung out at Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club where she was introduced to Lee Harvey Oswald and a handful of mob and CIA figures. These connections fueled the lights of Oliver Stone’s JFK, Don Delillo’s Libra, and James Ellroy’s American Tabloid.

I encountered the Babushka Lady while researching American sheriffs. Here’s a strange quirk in American history: Beverly Oliver’s husband was George McGann, a Dixie Mafia hit man involved in the murder of Sheriff Buford Pusser’s wife. Pusser was a badass sheriff and professional wrestler who was stabbed and shot fifteen times while fighting the State Line Mob, a Mafia outfit that ran gambling rings, prostitutes, and guns along the border of Tennessee and Mississippi. He survived. One night two cars pulled alongside Pusser’s patrol car and opened fire, killing his wife and disfiguring Pusser. He survived that too.

Pusser swore revenge. Three years later, Oliver’s husband turned up dead in Texas. In 1974, Pusser drove his Corvette into an embankment and died. I’ve driven the Buford Pusser Memorial Highway across Tennessee several times, unaware of the history behind that name.

Back to frame #285 of the Zapruder film. a shattering moment before my time yet fifty years later we still reel from its effects. Today the media is impressed when a president steps outside of his motorcade or breaks away from his security detail. They’ll tell you he is brave.

The Babushka Lady is little more than a purplish smear against a field of vivid green, a mysterious woman filming a dying president. It’s a blurry image that links so many strange threads of American history, the mythologies that surface as colorful names and capsule obituaries hyperlinked across the internet. Perhaps Beverly Oliver wasn’t the Babushka Lady, but we know a woman stood on the grass that day filming the murder of a president and nobody has seen her movie.

Notes: All of the Zapruder frames are available here; here’s a site saying Oliver isn’t the Babushka Lady; here’s a site that says she is. Here’s some general info on Buford Pusser and his movie. And The Rock.

5 thoughts on “Babushka Lady”

  1. Nice post.

    I was three when the shots were fired. But, I knew about it growing up.

    The Kennedy assassination was my intro to conspiracy theory, starting with a late night Geraldo Rivera special in the early 70’s. Followed it intensely. I’ve read all of the books over the years. Looked at it from all angles. Even made sure during a business trip to Dallas that I went to Dealy Plaza to see it for myself. It’s smaller than I thought. I’m sure that Bubushka Lady had a close-up view.

    All these years of study and discussions later, where do I come down on the assassination? I think Mark Furhman nailed it in “A Simple Case of Murder”, where he reinvestigated it as a homicide detective would have. Three shots. THREE hits (not two). Oswald alone.

    But, I’m a conspiracy theorist for life.

  2. LK says:

    Not a chance that Oliver was the Babushka Lady. READ Brehm’s affidavit!!

  3. I know the real babushka lady says:

    I know the real BL. How do I know its her? Because I’ve seen the film that she is filming. All of the sad and horrific details of it. I feel confident in being able to tell you that her name was Renate, she was visiting Dallas with her husband and mother in law.

    I am the only person who knew who she truly was. Not even her children knew and we kept it that way.

    To those of you who question me? I don’t really care. I know what I saw and I know who the real woman under that scarf is.

  4. Oloph says:

    Judging from the now revealed curves of Zapruder’s receptionist Marilyn Sitzman, who steadied him from behind when he was filming, the Babushka Lady might just as well be Mrs. Zapruder…

  5. Arjan Hut says:

    She carries a photo-camera, not a movie-camera. She’s a brunette, big hairlock sticking out, wears a pink or lilac & white floral pattern headscarf tied under the chin, actually a trendy look in ’63.

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