Author's note: An updated and revised version of this topic has been posted on the main website:
From what I’ve been reading in other threads, it seems that a few people believe Umbrella Man (UM) really was the Steven Witt heckler, while most others believe him to be a signal man of some sort. In this thread, I submit the theory that UM was not a heckler and was more than a signal man. This is based on information I found in two altered photos.
I’ll start by pointing out the photo alterations, and then get into the theories I formulated as a result of seeing them. Let’s start with the key change that proves the photos were modified.
In 1963, the Stemmons Freeway (SF) sign had two small signs attached to its left leg:
- A rectangular sign on top saying NORTH
- A badge-shaped sign below saying TEXAS U.S. 77
The signs were definitely attached to the leg on November 22, 1963.
But when you enlarge the Willis 5 (W5) photo, the signs aren’t there. In fact, the entire left leg of the SF sign is missing. The white vertical line that gives the illusion of being the left leg is actually the antenna of a DPD motorcycle. Notice how it extends above the bottom of the sign and is also too far to the left. The real leg would be below the “K” in “KEEP.”
The two small signs are not entirely missing, though. Some remaining artifacts, where portions of the signs were erased, are visible just below the SF sign and to the right of the antenna. The gap between the signs can also be seen.
The reason the leg and some portions of the signs are absent (and the remaining portions erased) is clearly due to the fact that something was in front of the sign originally, blocking the view of these items, but that object has now been moved somewhere else. That object was, of course, Umbrella Man.
Phil Willis said he snapped his picture when he was startled by the sound of the first shot. Charles Bronson said he snapped his picture for the same reason, at the sound of the first shot. So the Willis and Bronson photos should have been taken at the exact same, or nearly the same, instant.
We know from the Bronson picture, as well as from the Z-film and eyewitness accounts that at this point in time UM was standing in front of the sign with a raised umbrella. But in W5, he has been moved behind the sign with a lowered umbrella.
There are other alterations in this photo that I will discuss later in the post, but for now I’d like to point out just one more thing. In the Willis photo there is a piece of the umbrella on the right side (as we look at it) that is darker than the rest. It looks as if it has been added to the photo. Keep that in mind as we move on to look at Betzner’s picture, taken a few moments earlier.
Betzner 3 (B3) is also missing the left leg of the SF sign as well as the two small signs attached to it. Once again artifacts have been left behind from where the visible portions of the signs were erased. There is one portion of the bottom sign they forgot, or didn’t bother to erase, however. When enlarged, “77” can be seen essentially floating in air.
Although we don’t see UM at all and only part of his umbrella, we can still determine that similar edits were made to B3. UM is again behind the sign with umbrella lowered. And just as with W5, the right corner of his umbrella is darker than the rest of it and looks as if it has been added to the picture.
So far the modifications have been pretty consistent, but there are other alterations that are inconsistent between the two pictures.
- In W5, there are three boys under the sign and the brunette is the tallest. In B3, there are only two boys and the blond is taller. They also seem to be farther away.
- In W5, there is one woman standing in front of the right leg of the SF sign. In B3, she is a few feet behind the leg and a different woman is in front of the leg.
- In W5, the SF sign is straight. In B3, it is slanted even though Zapruder’s pedestal is roughly horizontal in both.
As for how the pictures got this way, Betzner gave his camera to authorities before the film was developed. The authorities gave him back the camera and most of the negatives except for a few they were “interested” in. This means Betzner never saw nor had control of the original negative. Presumably, this was the picture he received back from authorities when they were done “reviewing” it.
The Willis provenance has been harder to trace. I know he took the film to a Kodak lab himself, but whether it was knowingly or unknowing intercepted by authorities before he saw the developed slide, I do not know. The fact that he considered the slide to be original and put his copyright on it, I can only assume that he was unaware of the alterations and probably never saw the original slide, or didn’t see it long enough to notice the changes.
SO WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Everything I’ve discussed so far is factual, or at least self-evident. Now I will present my interpretation of why these changes were made.
Clearly, the editors of these two pictures wanted UM hidden. It wasn’t enough to merely lower the umbrella and leave him where he was. They went to the additional effort of moving him behind the sign.
To hide him even further, they moved other bystanders closer to him so he wouldn’t be standing alone, and they put him off to the side so as not to be in the center of the group. In the Betzner photo, they may have even gone so far as to move the man in the extreme foreground to hide UM entirely. His placement is incredibly convenient, and it almost looks like the floating “77” in the background is on top of his sleeve in the foreground.
But these changes also put the pictures at great risk of being discovered for their alterations. Compare these pictures to each other or to other pictures from the time and the edits become readily apparent.
So why did they go to so much effort and risk to hide UM? I believe the answer lies in that corner piece of the umbrella that had to be added to both pictures.
If we can trust the Z-film on this point, the side of the umbrella with the added patch would have been in front of the SF sign. In both photos, there is nothing that obstructs our view of the SF sign. Therefore, there shouldn’t have been anything blocking that side of the umbrella either. Yet, in both shots, it looks as if a patch has been created and placed on the same part of the umbrella. Why?
Many people have balked, and even outright laughed, at the idea of this umbrella being a flechette-firing model, but I think we must give it serious consideration. It’s entirely possible that the patch is there to hide part of a firing mechanism, or to replace a piece of the surface that was removed to accommodate the mechanism.
To add further weight to this hypothesis, in November 2013 one of the Parkland nurses spoke for the first time about something she saw in the ER on the day of the assassination. Phyllis Hall, the very first nurse to enter Trauma Room 1, said that while she was cradling the president’s head, she saw a bullet in JFK’s neck.
"I could see a bullet lodged between his ear and his shoulder," she said. "It was pointed at its tip and showed no signs of damage. There was no blunting of the bullet or scarring around the shell from where it had been fired."
"I'd had a great deal of experience working with gunshot wounds, but I had never seen anything like this before. It was about one-and-a-half inches long - nothing like the bullets that were later produced. It was taken away but never have I seen it presented in evidence or heard what happened to it. It remains a mystery.”
Phyllis’s description of the bullet sounds very much like a flechette, and JFK did have a neck wound in that location. In 1989, Tom Wilson, an electrical engineer and photonics expert, used special photo analysis equipment to examine the autopsy photos in 3D. He determined that the small defect in the neck was an actual wound.
Researchers have long suspected that JFK was paralyzed in some way due to his lack of movement and lack of speech, especially when compared to the extensive movements and vocalizations of Gov. Connally.
First and foremost, UM was not a heckler. I cannot envision any possible reason for conspirators to grab the film from Willis, Betzner, and others, rush it to a lab, spend hours surreptitiously editing it, risking exposure of the conspiracy, merely to keep the American public from seeing Mr. Witt standing on the sidewalk with a raised umbrella.
Second, UM was not a signal man. The people who planned the assassination were clever and, presumably, experienced at being discreet and inconspicuous during a covert operation. Dark Complected Man’s signal was discreet: step into the street, raise a hand to wave, make a fist, step back onto the curb. Hardly anyone notices. UM’s movements were so conspicuous that films and photos had to be confiscated and secretly edited to remove his activities. These were not the actions of someone trying to send a clandestine signal. Everyone in the vicinity saw what he was doing – they couldn’t miss it -- and that may be why the theory persists to this day that he was a signal man. DCM was the signaler – UM had a different role.
Unless I am overlooking another possibility, I think UM had to be a shooter. The most plausible scenario, IMO, is that he fired a flechette or dart containing a paralytic poison into the president’s neck as his limo approached the Stemmons Freeway sign. DCM signaled to the rifle team that the payload (paralytic) had been delivered, and signaled to Greer to stop the car so the turkey-shoot could commence. DCM’s signal was either picked up by the spotters with each shooter, or by a coordinator who was in radio contact with all shooters.
THE RISKS – IN DETAIL
As I mentioned earlier, UM’s actions and the subsequent cover-up of those actions were very risky to the conspirators. His role, therefore, must have been suitably important to warrant those risks. Let’s examine some of them in detail:
- Drawing attention to himself, he opened a large umbrella on a sunny day. He drew further attention by pumping it several times, raising it above his head, and twirling it.
- In addition to being seen by eyewitnesses, these actions were caught on film and in photos, all of which had to be collected and edited. What would have happened if they had missed some? They did miss one picture (Bronson), which gave us visual confirmation of what the witnesses had said.
- The edits in the Willis and Betzner pictures were also at tremendous risk of being discovered. Unlike the Z-film, which required special knowledge and/or special equipment to detect its alterations, any layperson can easily see the modifications in these two pictures. Even if someone was unfamiliar with the SF sign, just comparing the pictures to each other would show obvious differences.
- Anyone seeing those edits would have proof-positive of a conspiracy and cover-up. LHO could not possibly have edited the pictures, nor would he have any reason to. The fact that the photos were edited = cover-up. The fact they concealed the actions of someone other than LHO = conspiracy. Betzner (for sure) and Willis (probably) gave their film to authorities and received them back in this condition. The fact that there was no one else who could have altered the photos except the authorities = government conspiracy.
Consequently, the mission carried out by UM must have been so crucial to the operation as to be worth all those risks, including potential exposure of the conspiracy and its cover-up. What could have been worth all of that?
Unless I’m overlooking another option, I think it would have to be the paralyzing of JFK. He simply could not be allowed to duck out of the way of the coming onslaught. Therefore, they were willing to do whatever it took to fire the flechette no matter how conspicuous, and to cover their tracks afterward no matter how risky. It may have been the lynchpin to the entire assassination plot.
Realizing the great risk they were facing from the altered photos of Willis and Betzner, the conspirators did employ a few tactics to minimize the risk.
At the time of editing, they added a mysterious element to the photos to divert attention away from UM and the alterations. Black Dog Man only conclusively appears in these two photos, which we know now to be heavily altered. And the shape appears to be a 2-dimensional nondescript blob that lacks depth, shading, and texture – in other words, an artificial element that was added to the picture. He’s also a significantly different size in each photo when other objects (people, SF sign, concrete wall) are essentially the same size in each picture.
The hypothesis that BDM was added as a diversion is further aided by the fact that when Life magazine first published these photos in 1967, they went to great lengths to point out the figure to their readers. They confirmed that Itek verified it as a man, explained why he didn’t appear in other pictures (which was a clever touch), and reassured us that he was most likely just an onlooker. Nearly 40% of the narrative on the page was focused on BDM. Why so much print about one innocent onlooker if he wasn’t a diversionary tactic? (There was not one word about UM.)
Twelve years after the publication in Life, the conspirators were still so concerned about UM being found out that they went to the unprecedented lengths of fabricating the Steven Witt character and having him put on a theatrical performance for the HSCA to help dispel the growing mystery around UM.
Umbrella Man was taken completely out of public discussion in 2011 when the New York Times, Errol Morris, and Josiah Thompson created a “documentary” puff-piece claiming that Witt’s story was just so crazy that it must be true. That was all the “evidence” Mainstream Media needed to close the books on UM for good.
The truly sad thing is that if BDM was a diversion, it worked brilliantly. For nearly 50 years, most people who look at and discuss these two pictures focus on BDM. I find very little evidence that assassination researchers know the full extent of the alterations to these two photos or that UM was moved from front to back.
So ultimately, my reasons for presenting this lengthy dissertation were:
- To bring the photo alterations to light for anyone who was unaware of them
- To refute the allegations that UM was a heckler – he was, without any doubt, part of the conspiracy
- To give credence to the theory of UM being a shooter
- To cast (additional) doubt on the existence of BDM
- To invite other well-reasoned interpretations of the physical evidence
- To encourage new investigation into these photos and any others that seem suspect (i.e., not just rehashing the same theories, but looking at photos and film with a fresh perspective) – there may still be many things to find in them
Thank you for your indulgence.