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. Ranger One

    I say: Oswald did it. Then got into the Tardis and zoomed to the Book Depository, but of course, that was AFTER he stopped off in Berlin to sneak off Hitler, who's body was never found. I also hear he worked for a time on the Moon Landings that didn't happen. The guy's a Zelig.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      I once talked to a guy... who knew a guy... who knew a veteran U-boat sailor who swore he was a crewman on a boat that smuggled Hitler to South America the last days of the war!

      December 24, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dan

    tisk tisk Abe....... Ya don't whip the money changers or they are gonna come and get ya! Looks like JFK didn't learn his lesson from your attempt to create debt free money........

    December 24, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. do you have an OCD?

    Do you people have OCD's when it comes to misspelled words? Your as bad as the " who cares!" posts....Seek help.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • How Sad

      Yeah, you're right. Why should we care that news outlets use proper spelling or grammar or punctuation? Heck, why should we care if anyone does? That way, eventually we'll get to the point where nobody knows what anyone else is talking about.

      Then again, your gripe makes perfect sense coming from someone who made two basic mistakes in such a short comment:
      (1) The use of "OCD's" in your comment is incorrect. Apostrophes are used only for contractions (it is –> it's), or possessive nouns (tail of my dog –> my dog's tail). You do not use an apostrophe to indicate the plural of anything, even an acronym. To indicate the plural of an acronym, all you do is add an "s" at the end (more than one OCD –> OCDs).
      (2) The use of "your" is incorrect in the context of your comment. "Your" is a possessive pronoun. "You're" is a contraction of "you are". I sincerely hope you don't need further explanation as to why you used the wrong word.

      December 24, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Suzannah

      How Sad – thank you. Given all the money taken from my paycheck and my hide each April to pay for educating the masses it is so very disappointing to see that literacy rates really do not appear to be increasing. Of course, who could expect teachers who themselves cannot spell well to be able to teach our children to spell, write or read well? They are apparently so busy "socializing" children, stuffing PC notions into them and rewarding them for breathing that all that's left of their work days is devoted to bending the grading curve upon itself.

      December 24, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Fibber McGee

    Most likely the DNA will match. But think of what would happen if it didn't. THAT would rattle some bones.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • MojoHotep

      Yes if they prove Booth wasn't killed that would mean Lincoln is still our president and the Civil War isn't over yet, imagine what this would mean if we find out HISTORY is different than what we thought it was...(sarcasm) HISTORY=THE PAST.

      December 24, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert Haas

      Dear Fibber..How does Molly stand on these issues?

      December 24, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fibber McGee

      Molly stands on her two feet

      December 24, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John warren

    Ask Jesuits in the Roman Catholic system about Lincoln's assassination and they don't want us to know that they were responsible for it. Please click http://www.chick.com and you will be shocked. They did it again with Hitler trying to dominate the world into one religion but they failed again.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lou

      "They did it again with Hitler trying to dominate the world into one religion but they failed again."

      What religion would that be? Hitler was a Pagan.

      December 24, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • vrzlbix

      Hitler was roman catholic, actually. He didn't have a high opinion of thpse resurrected norse myths. Of course, he didn't really seem to have a high opinion of any religion. He saw them as levers for manipulating people.

      December 24, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. cityguy

    I bet they find Bush's DNA... we all know he did it..

    December 24, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. duke

    If this garbage is just making the news,145years later,then I guess Bush/Cheney will never be exposed!

    December 24, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. The Historian

    According to a new book, Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter, John Wilkes Booth was actually a vampire. I can't think of a better time to either prove or disprove that myth than during this investigation. He may of actually been a member of team Edward.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael In Phoenix

      At last! A conspiracy theory I can get behind.

      December 24, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fibber McGee

      That's not true. According to Clive Cussler in his book 'Sahara', Lincoln died on a Confederate ironclad called the 'Texan' in the Sahara desert.

      December 24, 2010 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jeff in Illinois

    One thing is for certain, it was either Obama or Bush's fault.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stupid is as Stupid does

      It was both of them working together. Oh wait...that is an impossibility.

      December 27, 2010 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  10. keevan d. morgan

    i don't know which is weirder–the "controversy" or some of these comments.

    the way i see it, the afternoon line is 92789.2 to 1 AGAINST them finding it wasn't jwb who shot lincoln.

    actually, i think we need to investigate whether brutus built a time machine and HE assassinated lincoln.

    sic semper stultus.

    keevan d. morgan, esq., chicago

    December 24, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Floyd

    Okay, RJ: The Repubs were in power at the time, Booth was an actor but an outsider. The Demos were not in power (the South lost the war, you know). So who's the "bigger group?" Are we going for shadowy people that supposedly ran things at the time, or some other paranoid fantasy that the rest of us can laugh about?

    December 24, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. banasy

    "Assassin" is not misspelled.

    Mr. Brieske: oh, boy, where do I begin? Racism much?

    This is an interesting topic. While I personally would like to know the truth, whatever that may be, I can understand why some would not want this further explored. After all, the truth, whatever it may be, would be much less interesting that all the conjecture that surrounds it.

    That being said, I wonder why a Judge would deny a family from exhuming a family member? There's a lot I don't know...

    And I agree: as much as I used to enjoy the "History Channel", lately I haven't learned much history...although I do know slightly more than I used to about pawn shops and truckers. Which to me, is not really historical, but must be to some, because it's still on.

    December 24, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Ever stop to think that maybe it has been corrected since the post stating it was?

      December 24, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. pat mclain

    well, one part of this story needs clarification. actually, "W" was our greatest preident.

    December 24, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • MojoHotep

      You must be talking about the 23rd letter as featured on Sesame Street right?

      December 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. banasy

    Uh...Historian...you are aware that book is a work of fiction, correct?

    December 24, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Historian

      If the book is fiction, where does that leave us on the topic of Santa? NORAD is tracking him this second. We all know it isn't like the U.S. government to make up stories and waste time and resources on things with little to no value.

      December 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. banasy

    pat mclain: George Washington?

    December 24, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
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