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Badge Man is the name given to an unknown figure reputedly visible within the famous Mary Moorman photograph of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. Some researchers have theorized that this figure is an assassin firing a weapon at the President from the area of the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza. An alleged muzzle flash obscures much of the detail, but "Badge Man" has nonetheless been described as a person wearing some kind of police uniform – the moniker itself derives from a bright spot on the chest, said to resemble a gleaming badge.
Speculation about the "Badge Man" figure helped fuel conspiracy theories about a plot by members of the Dallas Police Department to kill Kennedy. In response, abundant skeptics proposed numerous alternative interpretations of the image.
During the Presidential motorcade through Dealey Plaza, Dallas resident Mary Moorman took a series of photographs with her Polaroid camera. Her nonprofessional photos captured images of all of the Presidential limousine occupants, several other close witnesses (including Abraham Zapruder filming), two Dallas police motorcycle Presidential escorts, and much of the Plaza's grassy knoll. The "Badge Man" is reputedly visible in Moorman's fifth and most famous photo of the area, taken at the moment of the fatal shot. This photo has been calculated to have been captured between the Zapruder film equivalent concurrent frames of Z-315 and 316, less than one-sixth of a second after President Kennedy was struck in the head at Z-313.
The Moorman photograph was seen contemporaneously in world media through UPI, but the Warren Commission did not include it in the volumes of its Report (1964). The House Select Committee on Assassinations (1976–1978) sent a high-quality negative of the Moorman photo to the Rochester Institute of Technology for enlargement, enhancement, and analysis. RIT's report states that it found no evidence of human forms anywhere in the background, and the specific area behind the stockade fence was deemed to be so underexposed that it was impossible to glean any information from it.
In 1982 Gary Mack, the longtime curator and archivist for The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (the former Texas School Book Depository) first claimed to discover the "Badge Man" figure. In Mack's visual interpretation, a uniformed police officer can be seen standing behind the stockade fence, his face obscured by muzzle flash but with a small bright object on his chest. Mack initially believed Gordon Arnold to be the Badge Man figure.
The question of "Badge Man"'s existence helped perpetuate conspiracy theories which alleged that members of the Dallas Police Department had killed Kennedy and simultaneously framed Lee Harvey Oswald.
Some researchers have claimed that the "Badge Man" image is sunlight reflecting off a glass bottle: photos and films taken immediately after the assassination do show a bottle sitting atop the retaining wall. Researcher Dale Myers argues that measurements of the area prove that the alleged figure would have been in an impossible position to fire a weapon at the motorcade: "if [Badge Man were] truly a human being of average height and build, [he] was located 12–18 feet (3.7–5.5 m) behind the fence line and elevated 3–4 feet (0.91–1.2 m) above the ground."
In his initial observations, Mack had been assisted by photographer and assassination researcher Jack White, who continued his experimentation with the Moorman photograph. In the mid-1980s, White put forward a new version, enhanced in contrast and brightness, which he claimed revealed the policeman figure in high clarity.
White's research was shown and discussed in the 1988 documentary series, The Men Who Killed Kennedy. In it, a closeup of the enhanced Badge Man figure is repeated onscreen as a voiceover describes three shooters at Dealey Plaza, said to be in league with the Mafia. One of the three is described as standing in the Badge Man's position, behind the picket fence on the grassy knoll. The narration identifies this shooter as Lucien Sarti, a French national and alleged contract killer.
To the anatomical right (photo left) of the supposed "Badge Man" some researchers claim there is also seen a second person, self-proclaimed witness Gordon Arnold, who claimed in 1978 that he was filming the motorcade while wearing his US Army uniform when a shot passed close to his left ear. A third person claimed by researchers to be seen is a construction hard hatted accomplice to "Badge Man's" anatomical left (photo right) facing the general direction of the book depository.
Also claimed seen in the Moorman Polaroid photo by conspiracy theorists is the hatted head of a person located about 13 feet (3.9 m) west of the grassy knoll stockade fence corner (a different location from the "Badge Man"). This corresponds with an area where overpass witnesses stated they observed gunsmoke and where footprints in the mud directly behind a station wagon backed up to the stockade fence that also had shoe-bottom mud scraped off onto the station wagon’s rear bumper, cigarette butts, and muddy footprints 2.5 feet (0.75 m) up on a picket fence cross-beam support. This is part of the "grassy knoll" area in which the House Select Committee on Assassinations, determined that a shot was fired. However, that conclusion was based on an audio recording which critics say emanated from a different part of the city and was analysed using flawed methodology.