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. sargeanton

    I'm tired of all the Obama bashing here too. We should gentler and kinder to foreigners.

    December 27, 2010 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ben

    There shouldn't be any controversy over this... people are complaining that "you'll change history if you do this!!"... well, if it so happens to be true that Edwin was the one who was killed and not John, then that IS history, history was will never be changed, we are only now accurately representing what actually happened. Of course, this is all a big IF that remains to be determined once they do the analysis. But in the interest of portraying TRUE AMERICAN HISTORY, you should be in favour of this new theory!! There is nothing to preserve other than the truth itself.

    December 27, 2010 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  3. In America

    What a shame it is to listen to the Silver Backs pound their chests and talk of men who nothing to do with the story that was advanced for speculation.

    W. is no longer President! He never will serve as President of this Country again. Your fears are abated my friend. He will not serve time for their commission that is true and that all so assumes that all of you crying foul are lawyers and will be pressing charges against the to insure the traitorous monkey gets hung properly this time.

    WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH EX-PRESIDENT BUSH?

    The answer to that is simple, not ONE DAMN GRAIN OF ANYTHING.

    You are all on the wrong page and go away. Get a hobby, collect coins, take under provisioned expeditions in uncharted sections of the Amazonian Rain Forest if you can’t stick to the subject.

    This one is about (listen carefully boys and girls) President Abraham Lincoln and that murderous traitor creature against freedom and demon from Hell, John Wilkes Booth!

    Maybe you can all remember that now.

    Have a nice day.

    December 27, 2010 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jay

    I love how people who know nothing about history just spit off random "facts" that they made up.

    In other news, I find this kind of interesting if Lincoln's killer got away.

    December 27, 2010 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  5. SO TRUE

    John Wilkes Booth is buried at Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore City.

    December 27, 2010 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  6. Tim

    Oddly enough, Edwin Booth rescued Abraham Lincoln's son from being hit by an oncoming train.

    December 27, 2010 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  7. Chris

    Absolutely crazy. Lincoln a horrible president? I think not. With the exception of Washington and Roosevelt, he was the best. Stop the Bush bashing as well. A few months into his presidency he had to deal with 9/11. Thank god it wasn't Gore, or we may all very well have had to deal with another terrorist attack. Bush ended a situation we should have dealt with in 1979. If anything blame Carter.
    Another thing – Lincoln guided this nation during the most difficult time in American history, far worse than the great depression or our little recession we are currently dealing with. If Stephen Douglas would have won, slavery would have been nationalized, ..putting this nation into more turmoil and setting us back at least 100 years. The civil war would have not ended and more than likely put the south in a position to "win" the war. That would have changed American history. No more united states of america, it would have been the confederate states of america. The norm today would have put industry upside down. So don't bash Lincoln because of your skewed view of history, and stop bashing Bush saying he lied to us, so has every other president. The truth is we don't need to know half of what this country does to stay the greatest nation in the world.
    As for this story, do the DNA test. I am more interested in the science rather the changin of history. It is interesting and necessary. If this comes out to be true, (Booth not dying in the barn), then the Booth family deserves some answers to their family history.
    Posted by an ole southern born and raised centrist.

    December 27, 2010 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • kmltlusa

      AMEN CHRIS!! Well said!

      December 27, 2010 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • papau

      If it had been Gore 9/11 would not have happened because the Clinton folks had already decided that bib Laden was job one – and they would not have been blown off and ridiculed the way they were by Bush in Feb 2001 – indeed the CIA Aug 6 memo would have had a response other than going out to chop brush. Bush had 9/11 because Bush and the GOP are incompetent in protecting our security – post 9/11 bin Laden did not attempt another 9/11, so one can hardly give cheers for Bush protecting us from another attack. He failed with the first attack, and that is how history will remember him.

      December 27, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sing2me

    I'm sorry! I think maybe I missed something here. When I read the above article, I thought the conversation is about whether or not Booth killed Lincoln. How does the vacation days taken by George W. Bush and Obama (or any other president) plays into this?

    December 27, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  9. Logic33

    Reading these comments makes one thing clear – the American education system is a complete and utter failure. How can this many people not know the facts surrounding one of the most turbulent times in our country's history?

    I guess this should come as no surprise...do a quick Google search on the least educated states in the country...take a guess where they are located...shockingly, they are mostly in the deep south. Now do the same for the most educated states in the country – yup, you guessed it, almost entirely in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic (DC).

    December 27, 2010 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • pedant

      Would there be anything to surmise that those "highly-educated" states are also the most highly taxed and are governed by the most dysfunctional and nearly-bankrupt governments?

      December 27, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. gottahandittohim

    Do the test.

    December 27, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  11. kmltlusa

    When did Lincoln's assassination turn into a battle of Bush vs. Obama vacation time? Come on, folks, stick to the subject!

    Lincoln didn't start the war and yes, he was very unpopular at that time as president. The plantation owners needed their slaves (and I'm not saying I'm for slavery) in order to keep their cotton and other farming businesses going. Not EVERY slave owner mistreated their slaves and as a matter of fact, when they were freed, many slaves did not want to leave their owners because they had no where else to go and it was their only way of life as they knew it.

    I think this "myth" needs to be cleared up simply because it is our American Heritage. Go ahead and get the facts straight. In 150 years from now, I think the US citizens have a right to know the whole truth about Kennedy's assassination too.

    December 27, 2010 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  12. jack h

    lincoln was murdered because he wanted to close the rothschild owned central bank (same as our present federal reserve bank) lincoln wanted to print debt free money but that rothschild'smade him pay the same price as mickinly and jfk and others.

    December 27, 2010 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  13. david

    every new day brings about a new change,mystries and wounders.

    December 27, 2010 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  14. CanNorth

    Can we go one day without digging up a body?

    December 27, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Don

    Conspiracy theorists seize on these things and believe them, or act like they do. It wasn't Booth in the barn because the hair color was wrong. Booth, being an actor, wouldn't be able to color his hair? Two different men claimed to be Booth so one of them must be telling the truth? Somebody who they think looks like Booth was around at the same time is proof that Booth escaped?

    December 27, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
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