The Similas Affair

Where is the "Smoking Photo"?

Did a Canadian's photograph reveal two men on the TSBD's 6th Floor ?

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 Warren Commission concluded a "sniper" fired at President Kennedy.

Norman Similas

Since witnessing the 1963 assassination, Toronto resident Norman Similas has maintained that he took a picture of the Texas School Book Depository at the very moment shots were being fired at the Presidential 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 protruding. However, Similas could not produce the photo for the authorities; in 1964, the Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed President Kennedy.

Recently, the Canadian National Archives in Ottawa released an FBI/RCMP file on Norman Similas. They indicate that a joint US/Canadian investigation came to the conclusion that Similas made up the whole story for financial gain and notoriety. Unless the actual picture showing two men at the window surfaces (which would be the biggest bombshell since the Zapruder film was first shown on national television) the findings of the FBI/RCMP investigation will no doubt stand unchallenged.

In the absence of this photograph, a review of the following documents is needed in order to decide whether Similas's account is a fraud. Perhaps the best way to proceed with this study is to follow the events before, during and after Similas's visit to Dallas in November 1963 in chronological order:

November 17-21st 1963: Norman Similas of Toronto attends a bottlers' convention at the Dallas Trade Mart, reporting for a Canadian Beverage Industry publication.

November 22nd 1963: Similas witnesses the assassination of President Kennedy and promptly leaves town.

These are the known facts up to this point. The information which follows is based on statements made to both the press and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Also included are internal memos and correspondence between the FBI & the RCMP.

July 15, 1964: Liberty Magazine, a Toronto publication, prints an interview with Similas. The title of the story is called "The DALLAS PUZZLE". The reporter who conducted the interview, Kenneth Gamble Armstrong, claims Similas approved its contents. The following excerpts are the words of Norman Similas:

While I attended a national convention of the carbonated beverage bottlers, the following events occured...Nov.21 - 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. November 22 - I witnessed from a distance of less that 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 also saw two figures. His newspaper published that story too. (The FBI determined that Similas was referring to photographer Robert H. Jackson of the Dallas Times.)

More that 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 his 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 next 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 One of The DALLAS PUZZLE ends here. Part Two of the interview with Norman Similas was to be printed in the August 1964 issue of Liberty Magazine, but the publication folded before that could happen. However, I have obtained a copy and it will be presented later in this article.

September 8th, 1964 - (Telex from J. Edgar Hoover to RCMP): URGENT.. appreciate knowing if you have on record any reference to one NORMAN SIMILAS of Toronto Canada being an eye witness within ten feet to the assassination of President Kennedy on Nov.22/63. Urgent wire reply collect.

September 10th,1964 - (Memo to RCMP from FBI Liaison Officer): The President's Commission 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.

September 11th,1964 - (Memo to Commanding Officer of the RCMP branch in Toronto from the RCMP Commissioner in Ottawa): FBI advise article appearing in July issue of Liberty Magazine by Norman Similas (address unknown) suggests Similas took photo which shows two persons at window from which fatal shots fired at late President Kennedy. Article also indicated reporter from Dallas Newspaper present when photo taken. Ascertain (a) whether such photo exists (b) identity of Dallas reporter.

September 14th, 1964 - (Memo to RCMP from FBI Liaison Officer): One Robert H. Jackson, a photographer for the Dallas Times was interviewed in this matter last year and stated that upon hearing the shots, he looked up at the Texas School Book Depository window in time to see the barrel of a rifle being pulled inside the window, but could not see the person holding the rifle.

He also recalled seeing two Negro individuals looking out of the windows immediately below the window in which he saw the rifle.

September 15th, 1964 - (Internal RCMP memo from Criminal Investigation Branch to Operations Division): Kindly endeavor to obtain a copy of the August, 1964 issue of Liberty Magazine. The FBI have requested that this matter be treated as urgent.

The following is a portion of the never-before-published second part of "THE DALLAS PUZZLE." The words are those of Norman Similas...

At the corner of three streets intersecting Main, I could see that large crowds had already gathered. So I walked on to a park near an overpass where the 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 Texas School Book Depository in the background. The picture that I took on the curb of Elm Street was trained momentarily on an open sixth storey 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. The trip was uneventful but when I reached Chicago I was interviewed by dozens of reporters & photographers who had learned I was en route. 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 assassin'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.

September 16th, 1964: Two RCMP officers pay a visit to the home of Norman Similas. They take down the following statement. Compare this statement with the article he provided for Liberty Magazine...
The position I finally took (for picture taking) was approximately 250 or 300 yards west of the Texas School Book Depository building. Approximately five minutes later the autocade 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.

I took a bus from Dallas to Chicago as I was unable to make airline reservations. En route I picked up a newspaper in St. Louis and noticed a story which was published on the day of the assassination and which was written by a Dallas reporter. His account of the assassination indicated that he observed two people and the rifle barrel being withdrawn from the window in the building. At Chicago I contacted T.C.A. Reservations where I received a message to call a local Chicago number. I called and a Ray Jefferies answered. It was the Associated Press Office. They sent a car for me and I gave him the rolls of film less one of which I did not know the locale. They developed the film there and advised me that they had coverage of most of the pictures that I had.

I arrived in Toronto at about 10pm on November 23rd. Almost immediately on my arrival at home, I was contacted by a reporter from the Toronto Telegram who advised they received word from the AP in Chicago that I had negatives that they might be interested in. He arrived in my home in five or ten minutes. He then examined the negatives, and while examining them he exclaimed, "there looks like two people at this window." I then went over and looked at the negative and I agreed that there were two objects in the window on the 6th floor south-east corner of the building. This window differed from the others in that it had an alcove above the window as opposed to the others on the 5th and other floors, which were square frame. The two objects appeared to be people and the Telegram reporter thought he saw what appeared to be a rifle barrel between them. I did not make any comment on this upon looking at it as it blended into the shadow of the object to the left. This negative was one of a strip of three and this strip plus another of three was handed over to this reporter.

The following Wednesday, my wife telephoned me at work and told me a letter had arrived from the Telegram. This letter apologetically explained that they had lost the negatives. In a matter of a few days I received a cheque for $50.00 from the Telegram. Since that time I have heard nothing further from the Telegram.

September 17th, 1964: One of the two investigating officers files a report on Similas. This is his statement:

During the course of this interview SIMILAS struck me as being a cocky, brash, individual who was quite anxious to create the impression of the "big-shot". When we began to question him on specifics he lost some of his composure and became extremely nervous and unsure of himself. It was not until Nov.23rd, 1963 when he and a Toronto Telegram reporter were examining the negatives of photos he took, that the idea that two persons may have been in the window came up. SIMILAS went on to say that it was this reporter who drew it to his attention, and SIMILAS is very careful to point out that the reporter said "two people".

I have attempted to verify the loss of the negatives by the Toronto Telegram newspaper as alleged by SIMILAS and enquires at the Photo Department have failed to produce them. The photographer who took this picture is one Colin Davis however, I have been unable to contact him to date, as he is on assignment and only reports in to the office when he has something for publication. [signed] C.A. Beacock RCMP Sgt.

September 19th, 1964: RCMP Sgt. Beacock interviews the Toronto Telegram reporter...

Further to previous report in this regard I interviewed Mr. Colin Davies, reporter and photographer of the Toronto Telegram. Davies stated that Similas was very excited at the time of this interview. While viewing the negatives Similas was said to have pointed out the window and asked Davies if he didn't think there were two people there. Similas drew his attention to the article written by a Dallas reporter in which two people were mentioned as being in the window. 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 that he did. It was Davies opinion that the negatives were worthless from a news standpoint, but due to Similas' state of excitement he didn't have the heart to disappoint him. Davies decided to take the negatives and let the Photo Editor decide what should be done. During the next day or so, the negatives somehow became lost and the Telegram, feeling responsible, sent Similas a cheque to pay for them.

I questioned Davies as to his impression of Similas and his story and he replied that he had no doubt that Similas has witnessed the assassination, but "he was sure going to get a lot of mileage out of the story". There appears to be a complete reversal of the roles played by SIMILAS and DAVIES depending on whose story you hear.

September 21st, 1964: RCMP Statement by Kenneth G. Armstrong, editor of Liberty Magazine

On our first meeting (with Similas) we discussed his visit to Dallas and the events leading up to the assassination. There were two subsequent meetings at which I got the remainder of the information that I wanted for my story. Similas offered to supply me with pictures which were taken prior to and during the assassination. These were to be used to illustrate the story. It was my understanding that one of these pictures was the one in which two persons and the gun barrel could be seen, and these were to be forthcoming when developed. I phoned Similas a day or so later and he said they had been mailed to me from a Post Office on Yonge St. After a week had gone by Albert Plock, Art Director of Liberty, and I went through the entire amount of mail received during the previous week but we found nothing. I mention this because it was so important to the story to have that picture which contained the two faces at the window. We still held out hope that they might arrive in time for the second installment, however, they never did arrive.

September 22nd, 1964: Conclusion of report submitted by RCMP Stg.C.A. Beacock

The foregoing statement indicates that SIMILAS knowingly deceived ARMSTRONG into buying the story by promising him pictures which he knew to be non-existent. The paragraph of the July issue which states "a picture I took showed two figures beside a gun barrel" was actually the main point of interest of this story. From all the enquires here I doubt that such a picture ever existed and it is a certainty that is does not now exist. It was pointed out to me that had SIMILAS taken the picture showing the assassin or assassins, it would have been an exclusive and every medium in the world would be after it. SIMILAS told ARMSTRONG that he mailed this photograph along with others to the Liberty Magazine fully three months after he had been paid for the pictures lost by the Toronto Telegram and which supposedly contained this picture.

SIMILAS' story to me, and to both Davis and Armstrong contains too many inconsistencies and outright lies to be taken seriously. I feel he was an opportunist who saw a chance to cash in on the fact that he had witnessed the assassination and in order to do so he had to make the story as convincing as possible. It is unfortunate that by a coincidence the negatives which would prove the lie have been lost.

The RCMP sent their report down to the FBI and closed the books on Norman Similas. The last statement by RCMP Stg. Beacock leaves the door open for reasonable doubt as to whether Similas' was lying. However, based on the statements of other witnesses, I believe it is reasonable to conclude that a picture of two men in the 6th Floor window never least a picture taken by Norman Similas.

SOURCE: Canadian National Archives/RCMP file no. 63-HQ-1180-1-Q-112

Rick Nelson is a broadcaster living in Sudbury Ontario. In 1993 he organized the first ever Canadian Symposium on the JFK assassination. Following the death of JFK-AIC director Larry Howard, Nelson moved to Dallas to help open a new center called the Howard Archives & Research Museum. The museum was to be located at the historical Texas Theatre, however the fire that nearly destroyed the theatre has delayed the opening indefinitely and Nelson has since moved back to Canada.

* * *