Babushka Lady: The Unidentified Witness of Dealey Plaza

On November 22 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as he was driven through Dallas. Amidst the confusion and horror, a mysterious, enigmatic figure stood out, silently documenting the tragedy through the lens of her camera. Who was the babushka woman? Did she know what was about to happen? Read on to find out.

1 November 2023

The ‘babushka woman’ story sits at the heart of many theories about the death of President John F. Kennedy, and throws up almost as many questions as the assassination itself. This woman, who would later be dubbed the ‘Babushka Lady’ due to her distinctive headscarf reminiscent of those worn by Russian grandmothers, remains one of the most mysterious witnesses to the killing of JFK.

As the fatal shots rang out on November 22 1963, many witnesses dropped to the floor, ducked for cover or ran for their lives. The Babushka Lady did none of the above. Instead, she was captured in various photographs and films calmly standing with her camera close to her face, seemingly unfazed by the unfolding drama and the ensuing chaos.

Her poised demeanour and her camera suggest that she may have captured some of the most direct and close-up footage of the assassination. Yet, astonishingly, neither the woman nor any footage she may have taken has been conclusively identified or made public, intensifying the intrigue surrounding her.

Who was she, and why was she so calm when everyone else was in shock at what they had witnessed mere seconds before? And what happened to her camera and the potentially explosive film it contained? Did it reveal secrets that the powers that be wanted or needed to keep quiet?

The Babooshka theory is one that has left the world baffled since that fateful day. Here’s a dive into Dealey Plaza in an attempt to shed light on a truly perplexing mystery.

The Babushka Lady Mystery

Presidential motorcade, Dealey Plaza (Credit: Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images)

Over the years, the Babushka Lady has become an enduring enigma within the vast tapestry of conspiracy theories and debates that have arisen around the Kennedy assassination. While some believe she was just an ordinary bystander, caught in a historic moment, others contend she may have had a more covert role, perhaps even connected to intelligence agencies or other shadowy groups. Or, was she Beverly Oliver, a woman who came forward in 1970 claiming to be the mystery woman?

The Films

Abraham Zapruder's camera (Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

There are a number of films that captured events before, during and immediately after the assassination of JFK. However, it’s believed only four observed the woman who became known as the Babushka Lady. The most famous film is that of Abraham Zapruder, but three others, taken by local air conditioning engineer Orville Nix, Dallas dressmaker Marie Muchmore, and man called Mark Bell, each captured the babushka woman – perhaps in her late 30s or early 40s – standing on the grass between Elm Street and Main Street.

It’s believed she was wearing a tan-coloured overcoat, sunglasses, and a headscarf tied under her chin, which is why she earned the nickname ‘the Babushka Lady.’

Chronologically, her initial appearance puts her on the pavement near the entrance to the Dallas County Building seen to the right of the president. In order for her to be visible in the images shot of Dealey Plaza, she would have needed to have crossed Houston Street. It is of course possible that the cameras filmed two different women, but if it was only one, it’s conceivable that after the motorcade’s initial pass, she crossed the street to view it again from Dealey Plaza, this time appearing to JFK’s left.

She is then believed to have crossed Elm Street and taken up position on the famous grassy knoll. The last images of the woman have her walking east on Elm Street.

In the six decades since the assassination, several people have come forward claiming to be the mystery woman but each one was summarily dismissed for a lack of substantiated evidence. All except one, whose story was so outrageous, it can’t be true. Can it? Was she an innocent bystander, or is there more to her story?

Is Beverly Oliver the Babushka Lady?

Dealey Plaza in Dallas (Credit: Kirkikis via Getty Images)

In 1970, the babushka woman story took an unexpected turn. At a church meeting in Joshua, Texas, a woman who gave her name as Beverly Oliver told conspiracy researcher Gary Shaw that she was the babushka woman.

She claims that she filmed the whole thing on a Yashica Super 8 camera and in the carnage that followed the gunshots, her camera was confiscated by two men who presented themselves as FBI agents. They ensured she’d get the camera back within ten days. She said that she didn’t get a receipt and never bothered to follow up to find out where her camera was. Certain elements of this story could be plausible. She could have been in Dealey Plaza that day. Like several others, she could have been filming the events for posterity. She also could have been frozen with shock at what she had just witnessed, which may explain why she appeared so cool, calm and collected while everyone else was running for cover.

Yet as her story gained traction, and she took a starring role in the crime of the century, every telling and retelling was expanded a little more with additional details. This led many to question whether Beverly Oliver was in fact the babushka lady.

First, the camera she claimed to have used, a Yashica Super 8, was a format that wasn’t available until 1965. To counter this, she suggested a friend had given her an experimental model before they became widely available.

It’s also believed that Beverly Oliver was born around 1946 and was a tall, thin seventeen year-old in 1963, rather than a short woman who appears to be around forty or so in the available films and images.

There’s no conclusive proof that Beverly Oliver was in Dealey Plaza that day, and in 1979, the Photographic Evidence Panel of the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations said that there was no film attributed to her.

Who Was the Babushka Lady?

Background image credit: Historical / Contributor via Getty Images

To this day, the Babushka Lady mystery has remained a subject of speculation and intrigue. Various theories outside of the video lady in Dallas, ranging from the plausible to the more outlandish, have been proposed.

A Russian Spy

Given the Cold War tensions between America and the Soviet Union during the time of Kennedy’s assassination, some theories suggest that the babooshka theory might point to a Russian spy or agent sent to record the event. This theory is speculative and lacks concrete evidence.

A US Intelligence Agent

Some conspiracy theories suggest that the assassination was an inside job and that various government agents were present in Dealey Plaza to monitor and possibly manipulate the event. The babushka woman, given her calm demeanour and focus on recording, is sometimes posited to be one such agent.

A Member of the General Public

The simplest explanation is that the Babushka Lady was just an ordinary citizen, a bystander who happened to be at Dealey Plaza and wanted to record the presidential motorcade, much like many others present that day. This theory suggests that her identity remains unknown simply because she never came forward, possibly out of fear or a desire for privacy.

A Time Traveller

Among the more outlandish theories is the idea that the Babushka Lady was a time traveller who came back to witness and record the historical event. Proponents of this theory point to her seemingly modern camera and her calm demeanour as ‘evidence.’ This theory, while entertaining for some, lacks any substantive proof and defies our current understanding of physics and reality.

Part of a Wider Conspiracy

Some believe she might be connected to other figures speculated to be involved in a larger assassination plot, like the so-called ‘Umbrella Man’ or individuals on the grassy knoll.

Despite the many theories – of which it should be made clear there is no hard evidence – the identity of the Babushka Lady remains unknown. The absence of her photographic or film evidence, combined with the enigmatic nature of her presence, has made her one of the enduring mysteries of the Kennedy assassination.

In the Frame but Out of Focus: The Enigma of the Babushka Lady

A traditional Russian headscarf. (Credit: DALL-E 3)

The events of November 22, 1963 in Dealey Plaza have been examined, re-examined, and debated for decades, producing countless theories and divergent narratives. Yet, amidst all the known facts and high-resolution images, the babushka woman story stands as an enigmatic shadow – a silent observer whose identity and intentions remain a riddle.

While some see her as a mere bystander, others speculate on covert roles and deeper implications. Regardless of the truth behind her presence, the Babushka Lady serves as a symbol of the enduring mysteries surrounding that fateful day in Dallas, a testament to the idea that history, no matter how intensely scrutinised, nevertheless retains some of its most perplexing mysteries.


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