Did Abraham Lincoln's assassin get away? DNA could end questions
December 24th, 2010
12:45 PM ET

Did Abraham Lincoln's assassin get away? DNA could end questions

Inside a grave in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is DNA that could finally put to rest debate about whether Abraham Lincoln's killer escaped capture and lived for years before committing suicide.

What's that you say? Wasn't this all solved 145 years ago? That depends on who you ask.

The way it's written in history books, John Wilkes Booth was cornered 12 days after shooting President Lincoln at Ford's Theatre and killed in a tobacco barn before being laid to rest in a family plot. But there have been several historians over the years not entirely satisfied with this version.

"If the man who killed our greatest president got away and a giant hoax was perpetrated on the American people, then we should know about it," historian Nate Orlowek told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Descendants of Booth's have heard various stories about whether he was actually able to live another 38 years, traveling around the country and changing his name several times before killing himself, according to The Inquirer.

The theory has been debated before in published books, documentaries, TV shows and even Thursday night on the History Channel on Brad Meltzer’s "Decoded," which is examining compelling mysteries from the past.

Which brings us back to the present - and that grave in Cambridge. It contains the body of John Wilkes Booth's brother, Edwin Booth, who was a Shakespearean actor buried in 1893.

Descendants of the men have now agreed to exhume the body of Edwin Booth in an effort to put the family drama to rest.

“I just feel we have a right to know who’s buried there,’’ said Lois Trebisacci, 60, who told The Boston Globe she is Edwin Booth's great-great-great granddaughter.

In 1995, the family tried to exhume the body inside the family plot that contains the man shot in the barn, but a judge denied the request.

“The family was as much interested in disproving [the escape] theory as they were in proving it,’’ Mark Zaid, an attorney for Trebisacci, told the Globe.

So now, the family is going to try the route with Edwin Booth's body, family members told the media. Though an exhumation request has not been made yet, if and when it is, DNA from Edwin Booth's body could be tested against vertebrae of the man shot in the barn, which is currently in the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C., and the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.

But not everyone is keen on doing that.

A spokesman told The Inquirer that the National Museum of Health and Medicine was concerned about damage to the precious piece of history, just for the sake of trying to debunk a myth. But Jan Herman, chief historian for the Navy Medical Department and special assistant to the Navy surgeon general in Washington, said since only a small drill would be used, the sample wouldn't be damaged.

It's very much a case of weighing what's worth it.

"If it compares favorably, that's the end of the controversy," Herman told the Inquirer. "That was Booth in the barn, end of case.

"If it doesn't match, you change American history."

soundoff (530 Responses)
  1. dwhite

    The irony is if Lincoln had lived, it would have been MUCH BETTER for the South. Lincoln did not want ANY punitive measures and even allowed southern soldiers to return home to their homes with their side-arms.

    There were powerful, vindictive individuals in the North who wanted the south punished, and after Lincoln was dead, any notion of peaceful reconstruction was ruined.

    what a total idiot Boothe was. Failed actor and a failed human being

    December 25, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. David

    Orlowek is not a historian, he is a high school history teacher. I get sick of this crap. According to these conspiracy nuts, nobody ever did anything.

    December 25, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jane

    Just one of many cover ups our government has pulled over our eyes. Test the DNA.

    December 25, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. A. Lincoln

    Chris......the south lost because they did not have the industrial capacity that the north had, not because they were lazy. Your response was insulting not to mention bigoted and idiotic. If you can read, which I assume you can, crack a few books on the civil war and try to learn something before you make your inane remarks.

    December 25, 2010 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. NewRome

    Finally the parents of Abe Lincoln could have the peace they've always wanted.

    December 26, 2010 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  6. littledebbieoatmealcookie

    there's actually an artists rendition of Booth's get away from the theater, but that's not in question I know ... http://littledebbieoatmealcookie.wordpress.com/explosion/

    December 26, 2010 at 3:37 am | Report abuse |
  7. dwighthuth

    Yep, Lincoln's assasin got away. He is currently residing somewhere in Lower Manhatten. You might recognize him by his name that he goes by today which is......

    December 26, 2010 at 5:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. Robert

    Leave it be. What next, proving if Elvis is alive? How many myths are we going to double and triple check?

    December 26, 2010 at 7:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Bobolink01

      Yew mean to sit thar an tell me that Elvis is not a live?

      December 27, 2010 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  9. JesusNeedsABreak

    There are far more current and insidious hoaxes perpetrated on the american public then this old one. Certain secret societies have been altering history for far too long with their game play, Its time for the american people to open their eyes to this gruesome fact of american life and WAKE UP, unless its an act of GOD then everything is a conspiracy.

    December 26, 2010 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jake

    We have a mathematically proven terminal monetary system. The issue — and the only distinguishing process even — was and is "interest."

    It´s the interest that causes inflation because debts are irreversably mulitplied by INTEREST to a point where the vital circulation no longer can service the debt, and new money needs to be borrowed. So an interest based money system can only sustain itself by a growing money supply and therefore rising prices. Constant inflation is a fact CAUSED BY INTEREST.

    December 26, 2010 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  11. steve

    Edwin Stanton wanted Lincoln dead. He hated what Lincoln had in mind for the bonding of the country after the war. When the President said "malice toward none," that infuriated Stanton. Could he have been in a conspiracy with Booth? There were a good many pages of Booth's diary missing for some reason. Maybe one day history will tell.

    December 26, 2010 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
  12. you should be a standup comic

    Jman, have someone with reading comprehension skills explain my post to you. and thank you for proving my point

    December 26, 2010 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  13. ICUnurse

    One reason we "need" to have conspiracies about the death of the famous and the powerful - Lincoln, Kennedy, King, etc. - is that when you have someone who is nothing destroy someone who makes such an impact on the world stage, it doesn't balance in our minds. You are great, you shouldn't be able to be killed by a disgruntled actor, or a disaffected political crazy, or some redneck racist, a nothing that would have been otherwise forgotten by history - there needs to something about the murderer to bring him onto the same playing field, make him an appropriately powerful adversary. It's like an ant killing an elephant, it doesn't seem balanced.

    December 26, 2010 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. TPap

    I will not believe that our government has been lying for 145 years. It's O.K. for it to lie to us NOW, but back then government was so nice and pure. So who killed America's greatest president?

    December 26, 2010 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  15. whatever

    Umar- so go. Given the CBO numbers on the $ out from the NE and in to the SE do you really think we would be so very bothered at your exit?

    December 26, 2010 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
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