Netflix’s American Conspiracy Dangles a JFK Theory Even Oliver Stone Missed

American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders baits the white whale of Kennedy assassination researchers to the surface. Was the Zapruder film edited?

Cheri Seymour on American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders
Photo: Netflix

Conspiracy buffs rejoice. Netflix has got you covered. Photojournalist Christian Hansen and director Zachary Treitz’s American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders is a paranoia mother lode. Investigative reporter Danny Casolaro probed irregularities in government dealings with  criminal surveillance software designer INSLAW. His 1991 death, in a Virginia hotel room with multiple slash wounds to the wrist, including some which improbably tore tendons, was ruled a suicide.

The story Casolaro was chasing involved a cabal of important people tied in with branches of the Justice Department. The claims behind the four-part documentary series reach beyond the initial crime. The chase runs into almost every suspicion held against government agencies, and the shadow power they hold, by journalists and the public at large. Included inside American Conspiracy is the Holy Grail of every scholar of the John F. Kennedy assassination.

The Legend of the “Real Zapruder Film”

“Oh, the Zapruder film,” Cheri Seymour, author of the 2010 book on Casolaro’s death, The Last Circle, reminds herself about Abraham Zapruder’s 8mm home movie recording of the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. In American Conspiracy, episode 3, “The Game,” the investigative reporter recounts a 1992 meeting with Robert Booth Nichols (CIA code name “Mongoose”) on his home turf. Identifying himself as a “government facilitator,” Nichols derides Seymour’s inquiries because “no journalist has done enough work to deserve to know” what is being facilitated by his agency. To prove his point, Seymour claims Nichols projected a crystal-clear, frame-by-frame video of “the real Zapruder film.” What she describes is a legend in the Kennedy assassination obsession community.

In the documentary, a resolute Seymour maintains the footage she screened vividly shows Secret Service Agent William Greer, the driver of the limousine Kennedy was seated in, turn, draw a pistol, and shoot the president in the head. Seymour tells the documentary interviewers the footage was so slow you could see bullets leave the gun. She continues, saying Nichols then played the “media version” of the Zapruder film.

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There was a difference. A large chunk of a trunk of a tree is missing in a few frames, making it look like the tree is hanging in mid-air. This visual anomaly is shown with the intent to prove the authenticity of the first tape. Seymour, however, sees through even this. She says both tapes have been doctored in order to provide implausible deniability.

In the interview, Seymour explains anyone claiming to see a tape showing such a preposterous public display would never be taken seriously again. It would overshadow questions on what agency could be that brazen. Who embodies the audacity to execute a popular head of state in full view of a crowd of eyewitnesses, including journalists? The agency which is synonymous with regime change through selective assassination, according to The Secret CIA Assassination Manual: A Study of Assassination by Ron Collins. The same agency which flooded inner cities with dope of all tastes and cuts, according to American Conspiracy.

When Nichols reveals the extent the CIA will go to bend history to their preferred narrative, he explains, warns, or threatens: “Nothing is as it appears to be.”

The Origins of the Alternate Zapruder Film Myth

The first time this writer encountered the possibility of an altered Zapruder film came from the 1991 book Behold a Pale Horse, by the controversial William Milton Cooper. That book, along with Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s The Illuminatus Trilogy (1975) laid the foundation for the shadow government conspiracy genre. Through satire or zealotry, both books also kickstarted the fake news cycle.

Behold a Pale Horse reports a December 1988 phone conversation with an intelligence community acquaintance who denies claims about “Top Secret” documents Cooper saw in the Navy. He wanted to confirm the existence of a movie being withheld from the public. According to the book, Cooper’s contact “not only showed me the film but gave me a video copy. I showed the video whenever I spoke to a group of people. The film is titled ‘Dallas Revisited.’”

“Wild Bill” Cooper, who was killed during a November 2001 shootout with law enforcement, posited that Greer was Plan B to the Kennedy assassination. He would act in the event the other assassins were unable to do the job. The Zapruder film shows Greer turn to Kennedy twice. According to Cooper, the initial backwards view is to ascertain whether the first team of assassins delivered a kill shot, slowing the car as it entered the designated area of execution. The second time the driver looks over his shoulder is to complete the operation.

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Is The Theory in Oliver Stone’s JFK?

While Oliver Stone doesn’t spend a single frame of his historical drama, JFK, on the possibilities of a hitman driver, one scene contains a possible veiled reference to the myth. Eyewitness to the shooting at Dealey Plaza, Jean Hill (Ellen McElduff), tosses a nugget after she says “The driver had stopped.” Stone highlights her next line with sinister implications: “I don’t know what was wrong with that driver.”

The fact Greer slowed the car during the assault is obvious upon viewing Zapruder’s film, and there was controversy over orders shouted by Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman, but no agents were disciplined for their performance during the shooting. William Manchester’s Death of a President reports Greer openly wept to Mrs. Kennedy, who personally requested he drive the naval ambulance carrying the casket to the naval hospital, according to Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, by Kenneth P. O’Donnell. But My Life with Jacqueline Kennedy (1969), by Jacqueline Kennedy’s secretary Mary Gallagher, finds the First Lady critical of “one Secret Service man who had not acted during the crucial moment.”

Stewartstown, Northern Ireland-born William Greer served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He joined the U.S. Secret Service in 1945, and was personal bodyguard to Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. Greer testified to The Warren Commission on March 9, 1964. He was similarly investigated in many books on the events. His involvement in the assassination has never been officially considered, but almost every account makes it seem like something is missing.

What Does the Levitating Tree Mean?

Seymour is very insistent that the levitating tree visible on the “media release” version of the Zapruder film is only in the version shown to her by Nichols. It is not viewable in the copies released to news programs. This is true. The tree remains intact. However, the clip shown on Geraldo Rivera’s 1975 late-night ABC-TV talk show Good Night America, and some other prints available prior to the 2012 mass release, may contain the source of the image. What looks like a splice or fold of the negative as the limo passes the Stemmons Freeway sign is a glitch called pincushion distortion, prevalent in the Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series Model 414 Abraham Zapruder filmed it on.

Seymour is not the first to allude to alternative footage. According to Douglas P. Horne’s 2009 book Inside the Assassination Records Review Board, CIA National Photographic Interpretation Center analyst Dino Brugioni insisted the official version of Zapruder’s film vastly differs from the one he worked with on Nov. 23 and 24, 1963. Officially, six frames from two different parts of the original film were accidentally damaged by Life magazine staff. Brugioni maintains frame 313 isn’t the only frame missing in the most relevant moments.

Throughout the film’s many runs, credible witnesses contend they viewed differing versions. The Zapruder film first aired on Feb. 14, 1969 during a Los Angeles TV newscast on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s grand jury hearing of Clay Shaw. Low quality copies got into the hands of researchers and journalists. This could account for both the images of the mysterious tree, and the illusion of a gunman at the wheel.

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The official Zapruder film shows a direct connection between a focused motorcade driver and the presidential head wound. All the motions are there, if you look for them. The driver turns around, a gun replaces his hand as he moves it in line with the president, and a garish image follows. This cinematic anomaly is an optical illusion. The truth is, the film clearly shows Greer kept his hands on the steering wheel throughout the event. The glint of the revolver is actually a reflection from the hair of Agent Kellerman in the passenger seat, possibly because the shiny hair product Brill Cream was still very much in fashion. Another friendly fire theory maintains Secret Service Agent George Hickey, riding in the follow-up car, accidentally shot Kennedy.

Belief is the most evasive clue in the death of Danny Casolaro. The FBI and DOJ spin the narrative that the journalist was conned with a false story. Like Seymour, Casolaro knew how to parse disinformation from news. American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders tries to discern criminally insane stories told by sane manipulators of truth. The Zapruder footage is a global representation of that concept in a meme.

American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders can be streamed on Netflix.