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. TJJMaxx

    If the Government was in anyway involved then Booth is not the man in the famliy grave. If youtrust your Government, then ask the Indians about trust?

    December 26, 2010 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. Matt

    What a poorly written article. This has the feel of something you'd read in a high school newspaper

    December 26, 2010 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  3. pat

    History is history– who said it was "correct" all the time? There's the rub, Mr. Booth.

    December 26, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Paul

    I saw Mr. Meltzer's special on last Thursday. I've wondered for years whether or noy Booth managed to get away. There was a book published in 1977 called the Lincoln Conspiracy by David Balsiger and Charles E. Seller Jr. This book laid out a rather elaborate conspiracy involving Stanton, Lafayette Baker, and many others to eliminate Lincoln. It was observed that Booth recorder quite a bit in his diary. When the diary came to light after the assasination, many people were alarmed, to put it mildy. When the diary was given to the government, 18 pages were missing. Someone had an interest in keeping certain things secret. I would suggest that Mr. Meltzer check out this book and do further research. The bone fragments in the possession of the government should be tested for the DNA to put this to rest in the interest of Historical accuracy.

    December 26, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • RANDBLABBERRINGS

      He w-a-s the lone gunman-aaaa-FUNNY HOW SECURITY ALWAYS SCREWS UP IN THESE SITUATIONS-WHICH IS WHY I NO LONGER RISK M-Y LIFE FOR A-N-Y ORGANIZATION-AND MY POLITICS ARE NOT A FACTOR. WHAT IS A FACTOR IN THIS DAY AND AGE-IS THE LACK OF COMPREHENSION OF WHAT MOTIVATED REDICAL SENTIMENT IN THAT ERA-IT WAS FAR MORE THEN ECONOMIC AND SLAVE ISSUES. EVEN TODAY-THE PUBLIC HAS ARMS GALORE-BUT SANE PEOPLE DO NOT CARE WHAT A FIGUREHEAD PRESIDENT DOES, OR DOES NOT. THEREFORE-IT IS INTRIGUING TO EXPAND ALL POSSIBLE AVENUES OF HISTORICAL INQUEST-FOR THE SHEER HISTORICITY FACTOR.9+

      December 26, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Michael

    It's unbelievable how many racist are out there. For the record it is not the South that is full of hate. The North calls us hillbillies, trash blah blah blah. To those that point fingers at the Southern people, it is time you take a closer look at what you are saying and doing. Being from the South (and white) does not make me a racist. I am not a hater. Nor is the vast majority of the South. Sure, there are a few idiots out there just like any where else in this country. Judging from the actions and words (name calling)coming from those commenting on this sad article I would be inclined to say you are the racist. The ones hating, descriminating against a group of people just because of where they live. Think about what you are really doing. Hating, and for what?

    December 26, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • yummy

      Don't worry, there are ignorant and racist Northerners... they just like to cover up their own insecurity by pointing at another group and laughing. Some people never move on from the grade school mentality.

      December 27, 2010 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
  6. RANDBLABBERRINGS

    WHY DO YOU YOUNGSTERS SHOW OFF YOUR ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER-CHRIST, WE KNOW YOU ARE ANGRY THAT YOUR POT-SMOKING PARENTS GAVE YOU MUTATED GENETICS-BUT T-R-Y TO STAY ON THE SUBJECT. AND BY THE WAY, MENTAL DISSOCIATED CHILDREN OF THE WORLD-YOU WEREN'T THERE IN FORD'S THEATER ON THAT EVENING-AT LEAST I WENT TO SEE THE PLACE! NOTHING TO SAY-SHUT THE HELL UP-JEEEEZ!

    December 26, 2010 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aarrgghh

      It is called a "caps=lock" button, troglodyte..... use it.

      December 26, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shaun

      I prefer Chevy's Theater.

      December 27, 2010 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
    • ChrisMeece

      Ok ... I shouldn't be laughing so much at that Shaun but I am. I am wiping tears from my eyes, now.

      December 27, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Carl

    How is a body dead for over a hundred years an important piece of history. Whatever, it's unlikely it's a hoax, it's just that the history channel likes to hype up conspiracies like this instead of talking about real history.

    December 26, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark S. Zaid, Esq.

      Actually, it is a very real question to quite a number of people whose family histories have them as relatives to JWB, but a JWB who lived past 1865. Some families have bibles dating back a century that contain family trees with JWB among their ancestors. Obviously they do not know the truth one way or the other, but they would like to find out.

      Think of it this way, many people who find out they are adopted after 30, 40 or even 50 years, notwithstanding they were raised in a loving family, still want to search out their birth parents. Why? The fact is that our society places a lot of weight on a person knowing their heritage.

      If the science will allow it, and that remains an open question, answers can finally be obtained.

      Mark S. Zaid, Esq.
      Attorney for Lois Trebisacci (Booth family relative)

      December 27, 2010 at 2:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. hank hill

    Whoever did was probably Lincoln's best friend, because Lincoln would have not lived long due to all the grief of the death of his son and suspending the writ of habeas corpus.........

    December 27, 2010 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
  9. bobby hill

    His wife went insane with the grief of having a con?"ederate brother and people asking her "other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln"

    December 27, 2010 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
  10. Mark S. Zaid, Esq.

    The fact that this case is back in the news again and based on the same old stories, quite frankly, proves exactly what I said in court 15 years ago: historians have failed to conclusively address this issue and science should step in and resolve it once and for all. That is the primary basis for the exhumation effort. Even noted Lincoln assassination historian and author MIchael Kaufman, who testified against the exhumation in 1995, has changed his mind and now supports it.

    I should also point out that the recent news is not entirely accurate as to what is currently ongoing.

    Mark S. Zaid, Esq.
    Attorney for Lois Trebisacci (Booth family relative)

    December 27, 2010 at 2:07 am | Report abuse |
  11. Daniel

    Greatest President? A country in civil war, emancipation of the slaves, indentured servatude of those same slaves and a theory that he could send all the blacks to Mexico...yeah a really great President

    December 27, 2010 at 2:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. Charlie

    Oh screw this "GWB took xx days of vacations, Obama took this many". Do any of you believe that either of them actually got days off ? That they got weekends off ? That they got 8 hours a night of sleep ? Worked an 8 hour day ?

    December 27, 2010 at 2:45 am | Report abuse |
  13. Tyrone in New York City

    OMG you're all idiots!!!!! Who cares, how does any of this impact you paying your bills? Or raising your kids? Or simply putting your pants on in the morning....geez, no wonder the rest of the world hates us.

    December 27, 2010 at 2:48 am | Report abuse |
  14. dj23

    i knew it nancy pelosi you time traveling son of a b____

    December 27, 2010 at 3:06 am | Report abuse |
  15. corralthesheeple

    the sheeple listened then/, just as they always do. When it comes time, they will listen again....

    December 27, 2010 at 4:42 am | Report abuse |
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