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. Jeff from the Philippines

    Is this what you called United States of America? Shame.

    December 27, 2010 at 5:14 am | Report abuse |
  2. John Watson

    There is no question as to whether John Wilkes Booth died at the Garrett farm. He was identified on the spot by his companion David Herald; his diary describing the assassination was found on his person; on his wrist was the tattoo of his initials which he placed there himself as a youth; his physician identified his body before it was buried and noted the fracture in his leg which he got jumping from the theater box after having shot Lincoln and which was set by Dr. Mudd; his brother and other close relatives identified his body before being reinterred in the family plot. Orlowek is one of several pseudo historians who, over the years, hype phony claims as to Booth's escape.

    December 27, 2010 at 5:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. Chong

    Dave's not here man! This is a bunch of hogwash signed Billy the Kid

    December 27, 2010 at 5:41 am | Report abuse |
  4. Chong

    I am not saying slavery was a good and decent thing, however at the time it was legal and represented a huge investment by those slave owners.
    The south was mainly farms, while the North was becoming industrialized.

    December 27, 2010 at 5:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Quincy9

      I can't believe that so many people believe that slavery was the cause of the civil war. No! It was about states rights for the most part. Lincoln actually considered deporting all of the slaves to Jamaica or Haiti. He simply didn't care where they went after slavery ended, but preferred that it not be here. I quote the 'great emancipator", "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.". Preservation of the union was his main objective. It was a political war and slavery had very very little to do with it, but Hollywood wants to have you believe otherwise.

      December 27, 2010 at 7:32 am | Report abuse |
  5. Sutler

    Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?

    December 27, 2010 at 6:41 am | Report abuse |
  6. jaer

    Jane says

    The person buried isn't asleep. They're dead.

    I bet your young and wow are you going to be surprised how your thinking will change when your over 50

    December 27, 2010 at 6:46 am | Report abuse |
  7. Quincy9

    I'd be interested to know, but I don't know how history changing it would really be. They're not debating if Booth was the assassin, but that he might have not died in the barn.

    December 27, 2010 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
  8. Ovie

    I will say that as a fan of Lincoln good and bad choices he made. I would like to know for sure that the SOB that shot him died like it was reported or if he did leave. I say dig the body do the test and end this once and for all.
    As for you southeners on here get over it you lost and it is done.

    December 27, 2010 at 6:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. Randy

    We send our kids to school to learn about the history so why have them learn the truth.

    December 27, 2010 at 7:04 am | Report abuse |
  10. tensor

    Lincoln opposed the *spread* of slavery to the then expanding midwest/west. He was aware that a great deal of the country's economy – not even 100 years after America was established – depended on the cotton trade to Europe. (Thus France financially backed the south and England supported the north.) However, northern manufacturing was quickly running on a parallel track to the southern agricultural economy. Lincoln was primarily concerned with preserving the Union, not ending slavery. And, yes, he did favor and even embark on a plan to ship blacks to both the Crribbean and Africa. http://www.caribbeanlifenews.com/stories/2010/11/2010_10_18_sub_views_on_slavery.html

    December 27, 2010 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
  11. tensor

    Lincoln opposed the *spread* of slavery to the then expanding midwest/west. Lincoln was primarily concerned with preserving the Union, not ending slavery. And, yes, he did favor and even embark on a plan to ship blacks to both the Crribbean and Africa. http://www.caribbeanlifenews.com/stories/2010/11/2010_10_18_sub_views_on_slavery.html

    December 27, 2010 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
  12. 99sparky

    Flippy1124: "Can't the British say the same thing about it's former colonies?"

    No No Flippy, there's a HUGE difference. The colonies WON their war for independance. The south LOST their revolt. Remember that history is written by the WINNERS.

    December 27, 2010 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
  13. Anne

    Sheeeeesh....!!! Exhume the man and do the DNA for cryin' out loud, and set the record straight for at LEAST that part of history! Holy cow. (No Jesus pun intended); What's wrong with you peeps..?!

    As for Jr alcoholic dubya Bush, he destroyed this country. Check your facts. How much surplus did Clinton leave when he left office? How much DEFICENT did killer war monger Bush leave when HE left office. Oh, and check your bank balance, the age of your car, the cost of your kids education IF they will even GIT one, your employment possibilities, look at how you've had to scrimp on groceries. don't these FACTS don't speak for themselves.... huh?

    December 27, 2010 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ohio State Rules!!!

    Who were these people anyway????

    December 27, 2010 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  15. Alfonso

    145 years from now, we will know the truth about JFK's assassination.

    December 27, 2010 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Ohio State Rules!!!

      WE ALREADY DO!

      December 27, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
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