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. Joe

    This smacks of JFK and all the conspiracy buffs out there. sometimes things just are even if we don't want to believe. Let the dead rest in peace, thye have already paid their dues guilty or otherwise.

    December 25, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • dandydonny

      The dead are dead, Whether they are resting or not we will find out after we die. Digging up their corpse will not disturb them unless you believe in ghosts. Do you?

      December 26, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. rd

    I can settle the question, John died at home of old age. I know this because he is family. I even got in trouble in the 8th grade when we studied this and told the class and teacher what happened. Needless to say, I was sent home and my grandmother and mom told me I could not speak of this, that was over 45 years ago until today. Good day.

    December 25, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RON

    I love these "comment" sections– I have learned more in this one section about hitler and the ruskies–Nort versus the confedercy defending there way of life– what else-oh yeh ulmar with his educated officals wanting to re ignite the cival war-- HA HA HA--Well why not do dna testing just to see if old stories do have truth to them? I think that it is a good tjhing to be cremated and then you know some body wont be a diigen youall up in a hunderd yar or so just to prove a point or win a bet. Oh yeh I za learned what a backy barn is shoenuff.-RON from CANADA

    December 25, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carrie

      I can see that lame, obvious Canadian sense of humor shining proud.

      December 26, 2010 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |

      You God Damn Yankees! Virginia, Florida and the Carolina's will be right behind Texas. We are tired of you carpet bagging, racist hypocrites coming down here and taking our food, raping our women, stealing our jobs and all of you dirty Yanks at the beaches. Ulmar H for President of the new CSA!
      I think you Yankees must have been inbred too long in the cold up there. Go ahead close down our military bases. A third of the military is from the South and we no longer care about race down here. Thats a bigger problem up in y'all's towns where all you damn yanks sit around and talk about how great y'all are.
      Yeah how lovely you God Damn Yankees are, particularly the lady who said us Southeners can deal with the Mexicans. Well damn you woman! Seems like your a bit racist yourself there. I know what I will do with the Mexicans; start up a few divisions of southerners and invade the north! We got shoes now and food! How about that? You yankees are like cattle.Give me 3 divisions of Virginian Infantry and I will march from Boston to Milwaukee burning everything in my path. Yeah, you God Damn Yankees are so nice that right after you burnt Georgia you went out and burnt down a large number of Indian villages and chased the poor Nez Perce through the snow to prove you could win. And you wonder why we don't Yankees in our homes? Where is my shotgun!
      BTW I guess we will have California on our side this time. Anyway God Bless Texas, and to tell you the truth you can keep y'alls Yankee towns. No one from the beautiful South would ever live north of DC. The South has risen again and you Yanks best start running. As Wanda from Living Color said "I got you"! DAmn Right!

      December 26, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • dandydonny

      Ron, the only difference between citizens of the USA and Canada is we wanted self government and you guys preferred the monarchy, so when the revolution was won we sent our monarchy loving riffraff to canada where they would be happier and we bid them good riddence and never return.

      December 26, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • yummy

      I'm an American who now lives in Canada. I've never heard more ignorance or self righteousness in my life than I have heard from Canadians. Get over yourselves... you aren't any better than anyone else. There are ignorant and racist people there too.

      December 27, 2010 at 7:37 am | Report abuse |
  4. Roger Martin

    This is funny in a way,,,,,,,,,,,,
    The North demanded that the South abandon Slavery, yet the Northern States regularly refused to except freed men up north.It was fine for the black people to be freed, just dont send them up north to compete with Northerners for Jobs.
    Was slavery wrong> you bet it was, only an idiot and some of my "We never lost the war" fellow southerners would disagree .
    I love the South and love being a southerner but, the South was behind in its thinking,and fought a war it couldnt win.
    Slavery was on its last legs, and would have eventually died out on its own. Do not take what I say here to read the war shouldnt have been fought, the back man needed to be freed. But historical facts must be viewed in the context of thinking at the time. Judging the war on our way of thinking now is unfair to those that lived in the times.

    December 25, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • JesusNeedsABreak

      I respectfully disagree, historians have proved that the south could have won the war on the first great battle, but pulled back allowing the north to bring in conscripts forced to fight. I'm not saying that things would have been any better or worse only stating a often missed truth of the Civil war. Even though African Americans are traditionally thought of as slaves if you where to ask the Northern conscripts they (irish et al) would have told you "they" where slaves and cannon fodder as well. Today nothing has changed, you have the right to work until you are old or dead.

      December 26, 2010 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
    • dandydonny

      If people would actually study history instead of watching movies on the civil war they might find out much they don't know. The civil war was actually started by the south by attacking fort Sumpter in Charlston, SC. April 12, 1861. The emancipation proclamation was issued on Jan1, 1863 freeing all slaves held in the states that had seceded from the union. It excluded the states which had slaves but had not seceded. Slavery has th be the worst possible thing that one group of people can do to another, but nothing nor nobody is either all good or all bad. What could possibly be good about slavery? For the descendants of the slaves it was the best possible thing that could have happened to them. If not for slavery their forbears would have not been in this country so theu would not be here but in Africa, if even alive. For the descendents of the slave owners it was the worst possible thing that could have happened to them. I will let you figure that out for yourself. Actually the same applies to the great majority of the population but is too un PC to even think any more. If you were really interested in the civil was and what actually caused it you would know these things and much nore but I suspect you have no interest you just want to pop off and say what you think are hurtful things to some person you don't know nor have ever met. Our country is much closer to a second civil war than you might suspect and you may get the chance to fight in it to preserve the union you so dearly love. There are 24 states who have held meetings on the possibility of secedeing from the union again. 24 this time, Texas is one of them and probably the key. If Texas goes I expect most of the rest will follow. Who knows, we may meet briefly on the battlefield.

      December 26, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • corralthesheeple

      good call dandydonny. Im sure the Planters are " rolling in their graves" with the spread of their plague. Perhaps this
      time we wont have a president suspending habeus corpus, illegaly drafting, and making decrees concerning other nations. Go Texas! (NJ was a closet Confederate, dont you know...)

      December 27, 2010 at 5:05 am | Report abuse |
  5. Timmy

    People from other countries read this and laugh at us.

    To those people: Trust me, the lunatics posting here do not represent our country. Not all are lunatics, but they certainly are prevalent.

    December 25, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • JesusNeedsABreak

      They have them too Timmy, and they are currently running everybody's lives.

      December 26, 2010 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • yummy

      All nations have their share of idiots... but some nations choose to ignore their own and turn and point at the US and laugh instead... although they're no better than anyone else 🙂

      December 27, 2010 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
  6. Robb

    This accomplishes nothing. He still killed the president. What happened to him afterward is inconsequential. Would anyone really have cared if Sirhan Sirhan lived out his life in prison or was killed days after Robert Kennedy? Wouldn't have affected history one bit, any more than if it was Oswald or Booth. Seems to be more for the family and those whacky conspiracy folks than anyone else. Small wonder the judge denied the original request.

    December 25, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • dandydonny

      What if there was others who were not caught? Since they got away with it, should we continue to cover for them. I'll admit I know nothing about this except what I was taught in school. I watched the TV show that started this group of postings and heard things I have not heard before. If my view of history, or anything for that matter is wrong, I want to know the truth and not a fable. Intelligent minds are curious minds.

      December 26, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      I'd think that if it's not Booth in the grave, the family of the man placed there would like to know their own history more accurately.

      December 27, 2010 at 4:05 am | Report abuse |
  7. Robert Haas

    It all really doesn't matter. They are both dead. All is to be forgotten. On with the dance.

    December 25, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • JesusNeedsABreak

      Its time to change the song.

      December 26, 2010 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
    • dandydonny

      It really does matter, maybe not to you but to many millions who are smart enough to see the need for the truth to come out.

      December 26, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. peg

    The South lost the War because they had no manufacting plants. They had very little iron,steel or lead. Now,if we were to have another WW,we would have to by steel from our enemys. Think about it.

    December 25, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • JesusNeedsABreak

      Incorrect, the south lost because it hesitated at an important juncture in time, Historians have proved this, northern conscripts where brought in (forced) to cover positions. Both sides paid with dead, the southern Americans, and the north forcing immigrant Irish straight off the boat from Ireland. Read more current history, your old school notions need to be updated, if your going to comment.

      December 26, 2010 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
    • dandydonny

      Peg, am i to believe in something I am told by some person who doesn't even know how to spell the word "buy"?

      December 26, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stewart

      Dandydonny – correcting someone's spelling feels no different to RAF's earlier correction of the use of centuries – at that time you said "RAF, nobody likes a person that acts like you. You are not appointed to correct people gaffes."
      Enough said?

      December 27, 2010 at 5:13 am | Report abuse |
  9. WT Sherman

    Idiot newspeople out to make a scandal. Dirty little scriblers. The president is dead. Shot by a traitor actor at Ford's theatre. Let Lincoln alone, who gives a damn now anyway?

    December 25, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • JesusNeedsABreak

      You presume he was a traitor, do you know who he was working for? Just because he "may have" shot (at) a president does not make him the killer or a traitor unless you where personally there to gain first hand knowledge. Try to see the other side of your mouth when you speak, because it "may be" YOUR traitor.

      December 26, 2010 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
    • dandydonny

      Obviously not you, but I suspect millions of better educated people want to know.

      December 26, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Quincy9

      JesusNeedsABreak – Actually approximately 1,700 or so people witnessed the assassination during the play 'Our American Cousin' and Booth fleeing from the Presidential box down to the stage where he broke his leg upon landing. He was a well known actor at the time. He played Horatio in Hamlet, he was in Richard the 3rd, and did a great many smaller parts in various theaters around the North-East and occasionally preformed with his brother who's name escapes me just now. I used to know it. Sorry.

      December 27, 2010 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  10. Yobee

    How pathetic that this gets any play whatsoever in the news. Are that many people in this country really that damn stupid? Booth's body was positively identified by his fiance and personal doctor at the time of his autopsy. His positive identification has NEVER been at issue. That fact that anyone takes this seriously at all speaks volumes of our county's obsession with false drama and scripted reality. Disgusting.

    December 25, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. tim

    Lincoiln was our first gay president.

    December 25, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • dwhite

      Lincoln was the best president in the history of the USA.

      Do we ever need more leaders like him. WOW

      December 25, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • JesusNeedsABreak

      Lincoln was just a man, a man who made as many mistakes as anyone ...he approved a conscript army of slaves to defend Washington and NY because the south was on its doorsteps.

      December 26, 2010 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      @ Tim. Lincoln was Not the first president to be Gay or rumored to be! LOL In fact The president just before him! James Buchanan, Jr. (April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868, English pronunciation: /bjuːˈkænən/) was the 15th President of the United States, from 1857 to 1861, and the last president to be born in the 18th century. He is the only president from Pennsylvania and the only president who was a life-long bachelor.

      December 27, 2010 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  12. jbond

    During the CW more blacks were hung in NYC than in all the Southern states put together!! I would rather live in the South than in any dirty, crime-infested northern city. I'm comfortable on my wooded 60 acres and 2,100 SF home out in the county.

    December 25, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MJY

    Oswald did it!!!

    December 25, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Frank Mondana

    All this would do is add some paragraphs to history books. Sure, in the interest of "history" it has some value but often times these cases just end up spending money.
    Rather like the resources spent on "solving" the deaths of Tut or Cleopatra. There is no real value in doing it. Even if the books are changed, there will still be doubters since so many have some need to experience conspiracies.

    December 25, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. dwhite

    Those saying Lincoln wanted to export the blacks after the war are revisionists.

    Check your facts. Lincoln wanted to grant the blacks full citizenship.

    The south was, and is still, more often then not, on the wrong side of history. FACT

    December 25, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • yummy

      Southerners aren't the only people who believe that bit of mis-history. FACT.

      December 27, 2010 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
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