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. Bobolink01

    December must have been a true "news free month." Must we dig up things that have no relevance to the present? Lincoln is dead. Booth is dead. Graveyards can only reveal so much "truthiness". This latest "what if" session is meaningless.We need to work on the world problems that are here RIGHT NOW, in hopes of any chance of survival

    December 27, 2010 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. Nick

    ... what? The American people lied to?
    Is this possible?

    ... History is fashioned by lies and cover-ups, take a more recent Presidential assasination, a lone gunman and a "Magic Bullet.... yeah...right...

    ...believe little of what you read, and only some of what you see....

    December 27, 2010 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. MassiveMarbles

    Is this a democratic society or not? I think it should be a vote put to the American people!!

    December 27, 2010 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
  4. legman

    "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.

    WHAT – he's working on the JFK murder? OOPS – wrong president!

    I guess he forgot about that conspiracy!!!

    December 27, 2010 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  5. Extremophil

    I heard that he rode off with Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray.

    December 27, 2010 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
  6. St. Nicholas

    Beware..... Disturbing the body could create a ghostie. Let the dead sleep in peace.

    December 27, 2010 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
  7. Anthony

    Why not get the Lincoln assassination wrong? After all, the US government has proved that it excels at this type of thing. It's been almost 50 years and they are still active participants in the cover-up behind the removal of JFK from office. History is written by the winners.

    December 27, 2010 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  8. Rednek1947

    Mary Lincoln hired a hit man to kill her husband because she wanted her slaves back. She was also tired of hearing people say "there goes the wife of the man that freed the n*****s".

    December 27, 2010 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  9. WILL

    So every time a someone starts a rumor about a historical event we will exhume the body or tear down a building. We can dig up anyone. Every thing is not a conspiracy.

    December 27, 2010 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
  10. JRH

    "That depends on who you ask."

    Uh, CNN, grammar please. Whom...

    December 27, 2010 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  11. Minneapolis

    What about the assassination of President James Garfield? Why is he left out of this debate? Charles J. Guiteau, was mistakenly identified and was hanged. Where is the outrage? Where is the outrage? The people demand answers! The people demand justice! I don;t care who is "sleeping" either. Wake them up!

    December 27, 2010 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. Minneapolis

    What about the assassination of President James Garfield? Why is he left out of this debate? Charles J. Guiteau, was mistakenly identified and was hanged. Where is the outrage? What happens when the truth is covered up? The people demand answers! The people demand justice! I don't care who is "sleeping" either. Wake them up!

    December 27, 2010 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  13. JaredCanada

    If the finding could change history then I say that the judge should allow the exhumation on the body. If the judge doesn't allow it then people will be forever wondering if John Wilkes Booth really did get away.

    December 27, 2010 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  14. Minneapolis

    Jesse Ventura will soon be showcasing story this on his next Conspiracy Theory show. 🙂

    December 27, 2010 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  15. Just dont get it

    What i dont get is why didnt the person taking the picture try and stop him from shooting the president? I mean after all, back then they have to stand for a long time for the pictur to be taken. Was the how TMZ got started?

    December 27, 2010 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
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