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The Similas Affair

by Rick Nelson

Partially declassified government files on the JFK assassination reveal that a joint FBI/RCMP investigation was skeptical of the existence of a photograph allegedly showing two men positioned at the window where the WC concluded a "sniper" fired at President Kennedy.


Since witnessing the assassination, Toronto resident Norman Similas has maintained that he took a photo of the TSBD at the very moment shots were being fired at the motorcade. Similas claimed he was lined up with the sixth floor window and snapped a picture of two men sharing the same location from which he said a rifle barrel was pro-truding. However, Similas could not produce the photo for authorities.

Recently, the Canadian National Archives in Ottowa released an FBI/RUMP file on Norman Similas. They indicate that a joint US/Canadian investigation concluded that Similas made up the story for financial gain and notoriety. Unless the actual photo showing two figures in the window surfaces(a bigger bombshell than the first public viewing of the Z film) the findings of the FBI/RUMP will no doubt stand unchallenged. In the absence of the photograph, a review of certain documents is needed to pass reasonable judgment on Similas's account.


From Nov.17-21, Similas attended a bottlers' convention in Dallas, reporting for a Canadian beverage industry journal.

November 22: Similas witnesses the assassination of JFK and promptly leaves town. [What follows are statements to the press and memos related to those statements.]

On July 15, 1964, Liberty Magazine, a Toronto publication, prints an interview with Similas entitled "The DALLAS PUZZLE." Reporter Kenneth Gamble Armstrong, claimed Similas approved its contents, which included, "While I attended a national convention of the carbonated beverage bottlers ... I interviewed Vice President Lyndon Johnson and photographed him in several informal poses. I spent more than an hour chatting with Jack Ruby in his nightclub." [Nov. 22] "I witnessed from a distance of less than seven feet the assassination of President Kennedy, and unwittingly photographed his assassin or assassins as a rifle was leveled at him from a nearby building. I am convinced that if Oswald was the assassin--and this has never been definitely proven--he was not alone when he aimed from the sixth floor window of the depository. One of the pictures I took as the presidential car passed showed two figures beside the gun barrel in the window. A reporter for the Dallas Times alsow saw two figures. His newspaper published that story too. (The FBI determined that Similas was referring to photographer Robert H. Jackson.) More than seven months have passed since the horrors of Dallas. Never a day passes but what the projector has not flipped in my mind, and the scenes tumble out in sequence after sequence. I can see Lyndon Johnson smiling as he pushed his hand into coat and says, 'Shall I pose like Napoleon?' In the semi-darkness of the entrance of his night club, Jack Ruby throws a bear-like arm around my shoulders and ushers me to a table. He is saying, 'Save your film. Why shoot the entertainers when you can photograph the President tomorrow? He'll be passing by, just down the street.' There is a fade-out and I'm standing on the curb across from the Texas School Book Depository. I have selected a spot not far from the underpass where the crowd has thinned out. As the crowds cheer and wave, the limousine slowly passes the Book Depository." Part I of the story ended here, to be continued. However, the magazine folded up, but I have obtained a copy and it will be printed further below.

In the meantime, a 9/8/64 telex was sent from Hoover to the RUMP: "URGENT--appreciate knowing if you have on record any reference to one NORMAN SIMILAS or Toronto Canada being an eyewitness within ten feet to the assassination of President Kennedy on Nov.22/63." On 9/10, a subsequent FBI memo continued, "The President's Commision has requested that the author of this article (from Liberty Magazine) be contacted and the photograph referred to be obtained, if possible. The Commission has also requested that the name of the presumably Dallas Times reporter referred to in the article be determined in order to ascertain whether such a picture ever existed." On 9/11, an RUMP memo sought information about Similas, with an awareness that it was reported he had taken a photo showing two persons "at window from which fatal shots fired at late President Kennedy." Subsequent memos identified Robert Jackson as the Dallas individual in question, adding that he recalled hearing the shots, looking up, and seeing a rifle being pulled inside the window, but could not see the person holding the rifle. He also noted the presence of two "Negro individuals" in the window immediately below the window in which he saw the rifle.

Part II of the Similas account: "At the corner of three streets intersecting Main, I could see that the large crowd thinned somewhat. I checked my setting of my 120 Japanese camera, glanced upward to verify the position of the sun and stepped off the curb to catch an early view of the presidential procession. Time seemed to stand still as we heard the first shot. The president's car was now less than ten feet from me. Another agonizing second passed, and with the exception of this one grotesque incident, everything around me seemed so normally parade like. By this time I was close enough to the car to have kicked the side of it. A second and third shot were fired. Still no-one seemed to have any idea as to where the shots were coming from. My camera had methodically returned to my cheek and I flipped the shutter. The Presidential limousine had passed me and slowed down slightly. My camera was directly angled toward the [TSBD] in the back-ground. The picture that I took on the curb of Elm Street was trained momentarily on an open sixth story window. The camera lens recorded what I could not possibly have seen at that moment--a rifle barrel extended over the window sill. When the film was developed later, it showed two figures hovering over. I returned to my hotel room, packed and boarded a bus for Chicago....Upon my return to Toronto, I submitted my developed negatives to a daily newspaper. When they were not used on Monday, November 25, I phoned and asked that they be returned. Later I received a fat cheque in the mail, but the one negative which clearly showed what I believe to be two figures in the window of the asssassin's nest was missing. When i pressed for it, I was told that this negative had somehow become lost. It has never since been returned to me."

On 9/16, two Mounties visit Similas and take a statement. Note the differences from the narrative above: "The position I finally took was approximately 250 or 300 yards west of the TSBD building. Approximately five minutes later the auto-cade appeared at the corner of Main and Houston. I took my first picture as the lead motorcycle passed in front of me. At the same time as I took the first picture I heard the first shot fired. I didn't take any more pictures until a bus carrying the Presidential Press Party came into view. [En route to Chicago, I read a Dallas account of the assassination, which] indicated that he (Jackson) observed two people and the rifle barrel being withdrawn from the window in the building." Similas then tells that others developed his film, and was told that what he had was duplication of already existing photos. A Toronto Telegram reporter contacted Similas to see his negatives, and noted "there looks like two people at this window. Similas agreed that two objects were visible, and noted that the window was structurally different from the ones beneath it. It was agreed that the negative might have shown two people with a rifle barrel between them. The reporter took six negatives, and days later, Similas learned that the negatives had been lost and received a check for $50 from the Telegram. On 9/17, one of the Mounties filed a report not complimentary to Similas, noting he became "nervous and unsure of himself." On 9/18, the reporter, Colin Davies, was interviewed, and told investigators that it was Similas who suggested there were images in the photos. "Davies said he felt that it was the power of suggestion and that Similas wanted to see two people in the negative so badly that he actually believed he did." Davies said the negatives were worthless, and that they were lost, so a check was sent tocompensate Similas.

On 9/24, the editor of the defunct Liberty Magazine was interviewed. He indicated that Similas had both a story and photos for sale, and Similas swore the photos had been mailed to him. "...however, they never did arrive."

The RCMP report concluded, "The foregoing statement indicates that SIMILAS knowingly deceived ARMSTRONG into buying the story by promising him pictures which he knew to be non-existnent." Another weakness noted was that Similas claimed to have mailed the photos three months after receiving the check from Davies, who lost the photos.

The RCMP concluded, "I believe it is reasonable to conclude that a picture of two men in the 6th Floor window never least not in a picture taken by Norman Similas." [RUMP file no. 63-HQ-1180-!-Q-112]

[Ed. note: Has anyone ever identified Similas on the south side of Elm Street in the Z film? And, based on the chronology in the second installment, is his story credible? He claims the car was close enough to kick, and it passed him, and he took a photo showing the window. Does this make any sense? We also refer the reader to Richard Trask's account of this affair in Pictures of the Pain (Danvers, MA: Yeoman Press, 1994)]

Used by permission. Electronic or other reproduction is prohibited. All rights reserved.

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