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. ProtoMan

    Yeah they're not decoding anything. Its always left unsolved. Oooooh conspiracy!!! Happy Holidays everyone.

    December 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Don D

    I was just woundering, has anyone checked to see if Booth had an muslum conection with Benlaudins great, great, great, great, grandfather. seems like real posability.

    December 24, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. killallthewhiteman

    The most accurate portrayal of what happened on the night was done by "The Whitest Kids You Know".
    If you have not seen it, I implore you to look it up on the tube.

    whitest kids you know Abe Lincoln

    December 24, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mmemery

    "History is a collection of lies that all men agree upon."

    Napoleon Bonaparte

    December 24, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cesar

    Yea, you ideots, they changd it. Cann't they spel?

    December 24, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. julie

    ok look the people have a right to know and if science can answer great. Lets them do their work and find out what do we have to loose. this is exciting looking back at history we could find out ok its him or not him and then the hisotry books would be wrong. who is up for some excitement raise their hands come on. I wish them luck i think were in for a shock i do not think its him then again who knows.

    December 24, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. David

    I think all of you are crazy. I know for a fact that Booth is an alien who now lives on the planet Talos IV that is located in the Talos star group.

    December 24, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Roland

    How about this questions: Is there any accomplices? Is anybody involve aside from the person accuse?

    December 24, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. HankRearden

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

    Not the first time that's happened.

    December 24, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sage Hazzard

    CNN, you totally ripped this from last night's Brad Meltzer Decoded on the History channel. I know it's Christmas, and people want off work, but don't just borrow story ideas from the History Channel.

    December 24, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. end

    Sounds like a weak excuse – the spokesman said, they're "concerned about damage to the precious piece of history, just for the sake of trying to debunk a myth". This situation is one of the main reasons why we preserve historical artifacts and bodies. So, when new information arises we can go back and study the object again to answer new questions.

    We don't just save stuff to look pretty in a museum, we save things because they might provide information to future researchers. Here's a big historical question that can be answered with a simple test.

    December 24, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. lorne

    it is a little late to say that a hoax may have been committed against the american people. the american people referred to are all dead. therefore it seems to be a very minor point if someone else killed lincoln.
    if it was someone else it was probably lee h. oswald.

    December 24, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JiminNM

    So the judge denied a request to exhume the body of John Wilkes Booth for DNA testing. Something else is rotten among the Khazar puppet masters.

    December 24, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Fullbag

    'If a man who killed two people, got away, and a giant hoax was perpetrated on the American people, then we should know about it' (quote corrected to reflect a more modern-day concern revolving around one Mr. O.J. Simpson)

    December 24, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Justin Livingsworth

    The assassination of JFK needs closer, serious re-investigating.

    December 24, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17