Phillip Willis

For the British politician, see Phil Willis.

Phillip LaFrance "Phil" Willis (August 2, 1918 in Kaufman County, Texas – January 27, 1995 in Dallas, Texas) was a witness to the assassination of President Kennedy who testified before the Warren Commission.[1][2]


Phillip Willis was the son of Alvin Samuel Willis, a school teacher, and Eliza Jane Phillips.[3] He had a brother, Doyle.[2][3]

On December 7, 1941, Willis was stationed at Bellows Field on Oahu, Hawaii as a second lieutenant assigned to the 86th Observation Squadron of the United States Army Air Corps.[2] He was present at the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and has been credited with leading the patrol that captured the United States' first Japanese prisoner of war in World War II, Kazuo Sakamaki.[2] Willis flew observation and fighter aircraft, as well as combat missions in the B-17 bomber, prior to retiring in 1946 due to a back injury he sustained after being shot down over the Pacific Ocean.[2] He received various awards and decorations for his military service including two Silver Stars and a Distinguished Flying Cross.[2]

After retiring from military service, Willis earned a bachelor's degree in government at North Texas State Teachers College in 1948.[2] He was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1946 and 1948.[2] As of 1995, Phillip Willis and Doyle Willis were the only brothers to have served at the same time in the Texas House.[2] Afterwards, he worked in real estate, building civil defense shelters, and became an automobile dealer.[2] Willis moved to Dallas in 1960.[1]

Willis was married to Marilyn Willis, and the couple had two daughters, Linda and Rosemary.[2]

Witness to the assassination of John F. Kennedy

Willis was present in Dealey Plaza during the assassination of Kennedy on November 22, 1963.[4] Standing near the curb at the corner of Houston and Elm Streets, he took a series of color slides immediately before, during, and after the assassination.[4] Willis appears in the Zapruder film until frame #206, just prior to Kennedy disappearing from view behind the Stemmons Freeway sign.[4]

During the assassination, Willis snapped a 35mm color slide (the fifth of twenty-seven he captured in Dealey Plaza that day)[5] showing the presidential limousine and its occupants, the United States Secret Service agents' follow-up car and occupants, parade onlookers, and the grassy knoll visible in the background.

Testimony and aftermath

On July 22, 1964, Willis provided testimony to Wesley J. Liebeler, assistant counsel of the Warren Commission, at the Post Office Building in Dallas.[1]

Twelve of Willis' color slides with descriptions served as "Willis Exhibit 1" for the Warren Commission.[6] Willis testified to the Commission that his fifth photo was inadvertently snapped when, just after he had prepared his 35mm Argus camera to capture a photo, he was suddenly startled by a gunshot related noise (the first of three shots he remembered hearing), and his finger that was already on the camera shutter button reacted to the gunshot related noise, then, he quickly depressed the button and the fifth photo was captured.[1] As documented by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, this fifth photo was captured concurrent with Zapruder film frame 202.[7][8]

In his fifth photo, some conspiracists allege that the image of a still-unknown person can be seen located up on the grassy knoll, seen near a 3-foot-tall concrete wall and near the 5-foot-tall stockade fence. The angled shape of this still-unknown person's outline has led to that person's image being labeled by authors in books and persons working in the Kennedy assassination research community the "black dog man."[8]

In 1978, when Willis's daughter Rosemary was interviewed by investigators from the House Select Committee on Assassinations, she stated to the HSCA that her father became upset when the Dallas policemen, sheriffs, and detectives—who first quickly ran onto the grassy knoll where Phillip thought the shots came from—then ran away from the grassy knoll.[9] In Willis's Warren Commission testimony he stated that shots came from the Texas School Book Depository.[1]

Willis stated in a 1979 interview: "There's no doubt in our mind the final shot that blew his head off did not come from the depository. His head blew up like a halo. The brains and matter went to the left and the rear.'[10]

Later life

On January 27, 1995, Willis died of leukemia at his home in Dallas.[2] The Texas House passed a resolution to honor him.[3]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Testimony of Phillip L. Willis". Hearings Before the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. VII. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. 1964. pp. 492–497.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Simnacher, Joe (January 28, 1995). "Pearl Harbor survivor Phillip Willis dies at 76" (PDF). The Dallas Morning News. Dallas, Texas. pp. 33A, 37A. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
  3. 1 2 3 H.C.R. No. 179
  4. 1 2 3 Moore, Jim (1990). "Chapter VII: Pictures Don't Lie". Conspiracy of One: The Definitive Book on the Kennedy Assassination. Fort Worth, Texas: The Summit Group. p. 123. ISBN 9780962621925.
  5. Before, during, and after the assassination. Trask, p. 108. Willis published a set of twelve slides in November 1964. U.S. Copyright Office, copyright registration #PA0000000068, registered January 31, 1978.
  6. "Willis Ex 1 - Series of 12 photographs relating to the assassination with 2 pages of descriptive material." (PDF). Hearings Before the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (pdf). XXI. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. 1964. pp. 765–773. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  7. Zapruder film frame 202.
  8. 1 2 HSCA Appendix to Hearings, vol. 6, p. 44, The Number, Timing, and Source of the Shots Fired at the Presidential Limousine: The Trajectory Analysis. HSCA Appendix to Hearings, vol. 6, p. 121, Conspiracy Questions: Alleged Gunmen in Dealey Plaza. The Warren Commission, inaccurately, estimated that Willis's fifth photo was taken at Z-210. Warren Commission Report, p. 112, The Shot That Missed: The First Shot.
  9. HSCA Appendix to Hearings, vol. 12, p. 7, Presence of Possible Gunman on the Grassy Knoll.
  10. "Witness Recall Seeing 2 Figures". Reading Eagle. Reading, California. UPI. June 5, 1979. p. 2. Retrieved March 8, 2013.

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