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. Md. Moyeedul Hasan

    Truth should be revealed at any cost....

    December 27, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Henry

    According to historian Nate Orlowek "If the man who killed our greatest president Abraham Lincoln got away and a giant hoax was perpetrated on the American people, then we should know about it,” The problem is that Mr. Orlowek don’t understand that the American people are the biggest dupes walking on the face of the earth, duped not once, but time after time throughout the history of the US.

    American were duped by the International Bankers into the war of 1812 against England, Americans were duped by the International Bankers into the Civil War, Americans were duped by the International Bankers into the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and the United States Revenue Act of 1913 also known as the Tariff Act.

    Americans were duped again and again by the International Bankers, into the first and second world wars and the Korean and Vietnam wars, and know they continue to fuel the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the lives of unsuspecting Americans.

    Get the hard facts http://t.co/fioGD8S and learn how the International Bankers controls the US Government that creates terrorism in order to frighten the populace into One World Government.

    December 27, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jerry

    The biggest question is why did CNN get the story from Brad Meltzers "Decoded"? Aren't they big enough to find their own news articles without having to watch TV?

    December 27, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Charles De Gull

    The South will always succeed.

    December 27, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ohio State Rules!!!

    Who are these people anyway?????????

    December 27, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Pat

    Now that your bloggers have refought the Civil War, decided which President took the most vacations, and complained that Lincoln had the nerve to go to the theater that fateful night, could we get back to the original premise of the article??? Did Lincoln’s assassin escape?

    I have 2 comments – if Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was so concerned about information “getting out” from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, was there a government conspiracy? And will the government release the true results of a DNA test if it is performed on Edwin Booth‘s body or will the results be covered up, still protecting someone or something?
    Will we ever know the truth?

    Secondly, why were so many people connected with John Wilkes Booth and Abraham Lincoln living in Enid, OK and area Jan. 13, 1903, the day that David E. George, a.k.a. John Wilkes Booth, committed suicide? Enid had only been settled for 9 years, opening for settlement in the Cherokee Strip Run of 1893, and while a thriving community, it was a small western rural town.

    People living in Enid, OK and area in 1903 with Booth/Lincoln connections – Joseph Hanks, 1st cousin of Abraham Lincoln made the Run in 1893; W.B. Williamson, special dispatch bearer for President Lincoln who was in the Ford Theater the night Lincoln was assassinated and with the troops when Booth was killed in the Garrett barn, was Postmaster at Ames, OK, about 20 miles from Enid; Levi Thrailkill, led a wagon train transporting supplies to Salt Lake City, UT for the troops with crew member Jesse Smith, a.k.a.. John Wilkes Booth; Boston Corbett, the soldier who shot John Wilkes Booth in the Garrett barn in April 1865. Coincidence? Maybe, but maybe not.

    There is copious information about this "Enid Legend" at the Public Library of Garfield County and Enid, OK.

    December 27, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Nate

    I think this is a fake or a hoax I know everything about the assassin of my favorite Pres. Abraham Lincoln and it didn't come up to be not John I believe this is not REAL!!! thanks a lot i do my research!!

    December 27, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Daniel Boland

    "Sic semper tyrannis"?? That's not John Wilkes Booth, that's Crazy Joe Divola when he went off his meds.

    December 27, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Nathan Utt

    One important function of the study of history is to dispel myths. Obviously, the issue of Booth's ultimate fate is of sufficient importance as to warrant the minor intrusion upon a bone.

    December 27, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jane Hamber

    Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

    H. L. Mencken

    December 28, 2010 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  11. LiberalforLife

    George Bush killed Abe Lincoln in a controlled demolition!! Alan Grayson for President

    December 28, 2010 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
  12. Willie

    It was a great tragedy. A lot of unanswered questions. Lincoln was not our greatest president and was not even one of the best. He aided a war that could have been avoided. Thousands lost their lives that should not have. He was not fighting to end slavery but to maintain an unfair tax on the South. Lincoln in short was close to our worst president. The Civil War was not about slavery. If it was why would Maryland, Kentucky, Delaware not have sided with the South in the war?

    December 28, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mike

    After they do this how about checking out Obama's birth certificate? If it's real, that's the end of the controversy. If it's not, it would change American history forever.

    December 28, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike

    I'm not an historian, but we know Booth killed Lincoln...and we know too that Booth is long ago dead. I don't really see the exceptional need to know whether he escaped or not at this time or to assuage the disires of only a few, probably delusional, history buffs (nuts?). But...it's interesting anyway. If the family closest to Booth wants to do it, and they have the permissions, go ahead...if it somehow turns out true there will be history jobs for writers for another 100 years trying to figure out where the guy wandered all that time...

    December 28, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. L. Hughes

    They tried this same nonsense with Lee Harvey Oswald's grave and body in the 1980s. And whadd'yah know? It really was that of the Presidential assassin! By the way, the original burial coffin of Oswald just went up for auction. I didn't catch the results

    December 28, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
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