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Did Abe Lincoln's Assassin Escape? DNA May Solve Mystery

Dec 23, 2010 – 2:01 PM
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David Lohr

David Lohr Senior Crime Reporter

Descendants of John Wilkes Booth have agreed to exhume his brother's body for DNA testing in an attempt to determine whether the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln escaped capture and eluded justice, as the family has been told.

"I'm absolutely in favor of exhuming Edwin," Joanne Hulme, a Booth family historian, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "Let's have the truth and put this thing to rest."

Photograph showing portrait of John Wilkes Booth, seated, holding pipe.
Library of Congress
The descendants of John Wilkes Booth hope to answer the question of whether he escaped after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.
Booth, an actor from Maryland, shot and killed Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865. Most believe he was tracked down 10 days later and shot inside a tobacco barn in rural Virginia by Union soldiers and buried in an unmarked grave in Baltimore's Green Mount Cemetery.

That, however, is not the story that has been passed down in the Booth family. According to family members, Booth escaped capture and lived for 38 more years.

That story was also made popular in the 1907 book "The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth," written by Finis L. Bates. In the book, Bates suggested a Booth look-alike was mistakenly killed at the farm. Booth then assumed the name John St. Helen and committed suicide in 1903 in Enid, Okla.

In an effort to end the speculation, Hulme and her family want to compare DNA from Booth's brother, Edwin, to that of a bone specimen at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington. The bone is from the man who was gunned down inside the barn.

Before an exhumation of Edwin Booth in a cemetery in Cambridge, Mass., the family wants to get permission from the museum to obtain the DNA sample from the bone specimen. A panel of judges will make the final decision.

The museum's public relations department did not immediately returned a message today to AOL News.

Historian Nate Orlowek is also eager to get to the bottom of the story. He's spent decades investigating the case.

"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," he told the Inquirer.
Filed under: Nation, Crime
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