Before resuming where we left off, I need to tack on some info here that should have been included in earlier installments. First off, there were, as it turns out, at least three additional suspicious deaths that followed closely on the heels of the Lincoln assassination, so let’s take a quick look at those. And as I’m sure it will be recalled, these deaths are in addition to all the other curious deaths and confinements that have previously been discussed.
First up for review is Colonel Levi C. Turner, who was appointed Assistant Judge Advocate for the Army on August 5, 1862, which positioned him to be second-in-command to Judge Advocate Holt during the farcical ‘trial of the conspirators.’ The colonel also worked closely with notorious NDP chief Lafayette Baker during and after the Civil War to investigate suspected subversive activities. Turner died of unstated causes on March 13, 1867, less than two years after Lincoln was slain and about sixteen months before Baker himself turned up dead.
Also up for review is our old friend Silas Cobb, the guy who was in charge of guarding the Navy Yard Bridge and enforcing the curfew on the night of the assassination. Cobb was the accommodating gent who allegedly allowed both Booth and Herold to escape from Washington and then failed to offer any reasonable explanation for his actions, and of course suffered no repercussions for those actions. Cobb turned up dead in November 1867, two-and-a-half years after Lincoln was shot. According to reports, he was the victim of a drowning accident.
Finally we have Henri Beaumont de Sainte-Marie, the chap who was credited with tipping off authorities to the whereabouts of John Surratt, ultimately leading to Surratt’s arrest, extradition, and failed prosecution. De Sainte-Marie died at the relatively young age of forty-one while still awaiting a claims court decision on the hefty reward promised for information leading to Surratt’s capture.
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I also discussed in a previous post the fact that former British First Lady Cherie Blair is a descendant of the Booth clan, thereby demonstrating that the Booth family has continued to wield political power into the modern era. What I didn’t know at the time was that another member of the Booth dynasty wielded considerable power on this side of the Atlantic right up until her death at the infamous Watergate Apartments on October 9, 1987.
She was hiding right in plain sight, disguised only by the “e” that her branch of the family had added to the Booth name to mask the association. That wielder of power was none other than Clare Boothe Luce, who, along with her husband Henry Luce – a Skull and Bonesman who became a publishing magnate, launching such influential magazines as Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated – was a longtime asset of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Boothe was born on March 10, 1903 to unmarried parents who lived a shadowy life and moved around a lot. Her mother was known to use at least three aliases and her father used at least two. Clare briefly flirted with being an actress before embarking on a career as a journalist, war correspondent, politician and diplomat. Curiously, another woman born in 1903 and also known as Claire Luce also became an actress, creating a good deal of confusion after Clare Boothe became Clare Luce.
Clare Boothe Luce
Clare Boothe Luce had the distinction of being the first American woman named to a key diplomatic post, serving as the US Ambassador to Italy from 1953 to 1956. In 1959, she very briefly served as the US Ambassador to Brazil before resigning. From 1943 to 1947, she had served in the House of Representatives, representing Connecticut. During that time, she served on the House Military Affairs Committee, because she naturally knew a lot about military affairs.
During the 1960s, her and her husband busied themselves with sponsoring anti-Castro groups seeking to return Cuba to its former status as a US puppet-state. In 1973, she was appointed to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, because she obviously also knew a lot about foreign intelligence. In 1983, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Boothe Luce was also a Dame of Malta.
It is a strange world indeed when well over a century after the first acknowledged assassination of a sitting US president (historians don’t generally have much to say about the untimely deaths of William Harrison, who served for just one month, or Zachary Taylor, who served for some sixteen months), members of the alleged assassin’s family were still wielding considerable political power on both sides of the Atlantic. Last time I checked, there weren’t any members of the Guiteau, Czolgosz, Oswald or Sirhan families occupying such positions of power.
And now, we return to our regularly scheduled programming ….
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While Booth and Herold were supposedly taking their time getting from Washington to Garrett’s farm (traveling a distance of less than 100 miles in a week-and-a-half), the largest manhunt in the young nation’s history was underway, coordinated by our old friend, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. From the outset, Stanton’s goal seemed to be to avoid actually apprehending John Wilkes Booth and some of the other alleged conspirators.
Stanton had considerable manpower at his disposal, including idle US military forces in Washington, the Metropolitan Police, Lafayette Baker’s detective force, US Cavalry forces, and provost marshals. Working closely with Stanton were Metro Police Superintendent A.C. Richards, Washington Provost Marshall Major James O’Beirne, and General Christopher Columbus Augur, commander of US military forces in Washington. To say that Stanton misappropriated the available manpower would be a rather charitable assessment.
According to Bill O’Reilly’s error-filled bestseller, Killing Lincoln, there were three routes leading out of Washington into Virginia – the Georgetown Aqueduct, Long Bridge, and Benning’s Bridge – and just one, the Navy Yard Bridge, leading into Maryland. The Confederacy-friendly path into Maryland was by far the most likely route for an assassin to take, so it naturally was completely ignored.
The first troops to find themselves accidentally on the correct route were led by a David Dana. Dana just happened to be the brother of Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, who served directly under Stanton and who decided that the patrol’s presence on the trail of the alleged assassins was pointless and instead sent his brother’s troops on a wild goose chase. Major O’Beirne also found himself accidentally on the right trail, so he of course was recalled to Washington.
As previously mentioned, Stanton’s first dispatch after the shooting of Lincoln was not written until 1:30 AM and was not sent until 2:15 AM, about four hours after the shot was fired. That dispatch made no mention of John Wilkes Booth, despite the fact that numerous witnesses supposedly (but not actually) immediately identified Booth as the assailant. Booth’s name didn’t appear in a telegram until 4:15 AM, conveniently too late to make the morning papers. A telegram sent to the police chiefs of northern cities contained no mention of the name Booth.
Initial press reports, based on information leaked by Stanton himself, identified John Surratt as the perpetrator of the fictional attack on the Seward family. When it later became known that Surratt was nowhere near Washington at the time of the attack, Lewis Powell/Paine, who bore no physical resemblance whatsoever to John Surratt, was substituted in as the perpetrator of the alleged assassination attempt.
Christopher Columbus Augur
The first telegram dispatched by the War Department was a curiously worded message to General Grant, which read: “The President was assassinated tonight at Ford’s Theatre at 10:30 tonight & cannot live. The wound is a pistol shot through the head. Secretary Seward & his son Frederick, were also assassinated at their residence & are in a dangerous condition.” One would think that it would go without saying that someone who had been “assassinated” would be in “a dangerous condition.” Luckily though, neither of the Sewards were actually assassinated, although news of their ‘deaths’ quickly circulated around Washington.
One of the earliest actions taken by investigators was raiding the room at the Kirkwood Hotel allegedly rented by George Atzerodt for the purpose of assassinating Andrew Johnson. According to Guttridge and Neff, writing in Dark Union, “The room was registered as Atzerodt’s but had not been slept in. The Kirkwood’s day clerk, who had entered Room 126 earlier that morning, found nothing and said so. His testimony was ignored.” When detectives entered that very same empty and unused room, they allegedly uncovered a wealth of evidence.
Supposedly recovered from the room were a bankbook issued to John Wilkes Booth, a loaded revolver, three boxes of pistol cartridges, a map of the southern states, a Bowie knife, and a handkerchief with Booth’s mother’s name embroidered on it. Booth’s room at the National Hotel, Room 228, was similarly raided with additional evidence supposedly recovered, including a business card containing John Surratt’s name and a letter from Samuel Arnold conveniently implicating both he and McLaughlin, despite the fact that Arnold and McLaughlin, like Surratt, were nowhere near Washington at the time of the assassination.
“Wanted” posters issued by the War Department were wildly, and probably deliberately, inaccurate. John Surratt’s and David Herold’s names were both spelled incorrectly, the photo of Herold was of him as a schoolboy, which clearly wasn’t an accurate representation of how he looked circa 1865, and the photo of Surratt wasn’t John Surratt at all. In a blatant act of historical revisionism, corrected posters were issued much later. One widely circulated poster that was issued after Lewis Paine was already in custody inexplicably offered a reward for Paine and contained a richly detailed 160-word description of the already incarcerated suspect, along with a mere 42-word description of the guy who was still at large, John Wilkes Booth.
Original “Wanted” poster
Revised “Wanted” posters
The first alleged conspirator to be arrested was the hapless Ned Spangler, who was taken into custody at Ford’s Theatre on the night of the assassination. Samuel Arnold and Michael McLaughlin, implicated through what appears to have been planted evidence, were arrested on April 17, 1865, the former at Fort Monroe and the latter in Baltimore. Later that night, Mary Surratt and Lewis Powell were both arrested at Surratt’s boardinghouse. George Adzerodt was taken into custody in the early morning hours of April 20 in Maryland, following – by one account – a tip from his police detective brother. Dr. Mudd was arrested on April 24, four days after Captain William Wood, a close associate of Stanton and the warden of the Old Capitol Prison, had begun watching his home.
Why authorities drug their feet for several days before arresting Mudd even while rounding up some 2,000 other suspects who ultimately were not charged is another of the many unanswered questions surrounding the Lincoln assassination and its aftermath. In any event, that left just two of the alleged conspirators at large, David Herold and John Wilkes Booth. Finding them was going to require a specially assembled team – a team that would uncannily know just where to go.
The elite posse was assembled by NDP chief Lafayette Baker on April 24. The group thereafter all but made a beeline to the area around Garrett’s farm. How they knew to go there is a question not often addressed by historians. For the record, Baker claimed that he was tipped off by “an old Negro,” but said person was never identified and he or she never stepped forward to collect the substantial reward offered. A House Committee noted that, “upon what information Colonel Baker proceeded in sending out the expedition … is in no manner disclosed or intimated in his official report.”
An 1867 Minority Report of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives offered what were, by today’s standards, shockingly frank assessments of Baker’s character, such as, “Although examined on oath, time and again, and on various occasions, it is doubtful whether he [Baker] has in any one thing told the truth even by accident,” and “there can be no doubt that of his many previous outrages, entitling him to unenviable immortality, he has added that of willful and deliberate perjury; and we are glad to know that no one member of the committee deems any statement made by him as worthy of the slightest credit. What a blush of shame will tinge the cheek of the American student in future ages, when he reads that this miserable wretch for years held, as it were, in the hollow of his hand, the liberties of the American people.”
The posse assembled by Baker was led by his cousin, Lt. Luther Baker, and Lt. Col. Everton Conger, who had served as an aide to Lafayette Baker. Both had returned to civilian life and were recruited specifically to lead the mission. They were joined by Lt. Edward Doherty and a detachment of twenty-five soldiers. After completing the mission, all involved signed quitclaims and collected a substantial amount of reward money. One of the troopers, as fate would have it, had met Booth previously; some 33 years later, on April 20, 1898, he issued the following published statement: “It was not Booth nor did it resemble him …” Many Americans had reached that conclusion years earlier.
At the Garrett home, the guy later identified as John Wilkes Booth introduced himself as John W. Boyd. Herold was introduced as his cousin, David Boyd. During the standoff in the barn with the pair’s would-be captors, the name “Booth” was never spoken. When Herold surrendered and exited the barn, leaving his companion behind, he insisted that he did not know the other man, who he claimed was named Boyd. Boyd/Booth was wearing a Rebel uniform and did not have on a ring that Booth reportedly always wore.
It was not until he had been shot and lay dying that the suspected assassin was addressed by Luther Baker as “Booth.” According to Baker’s account, the mortally wounded man “seemed surprised, opened his eyes wide, and looked about,” as if he too was looking for the elusive John Wilkes Booth. At 7:15 AM on the morning of April 26, 1865, Booth/Boyd drew his last breath, some two-and-a-half hours after being shot, allegedly by Boston Corbett.
Mainstream authors and historians have labored long and hard to convince readers that Booth’s body was positively identified, leaving no doubt in the public mind that justice had been served. James Swanson, for example, has written in Manhunt that, “On the Montauk, several men who knew Booth in life, including his doctor and dentist, were summoned aboard the ironclad to witness him in death. It was all very official. The War Department even issued an elaborate receipt to the notary who witnessed the testimony. During a careful autopsy …” The same James Swanson has also written, in Lincoln’s Assassins, that, “When the assassin’s body was brought back to Washington, the government took rigorous steps to confirm the identity of the man killed at Garrett’s farm … Witnesses who knew Booth in life were summoned to identify him in death.” William Hanchett, in The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies (his contemptible attempt to ‘debunk’ so-called ‘conspiracy theories’), has claimed that “Booth’s body was identified beyond any possibility of a mix-up at a coroner’s inquest on April 27, 1865.”
All such proclamations are rather brazen and unconscionable acts of historical revisionism. The reality is that the body was not autopsied and it was processed in-and-out of Washington in record time. A mere forty hours passed between the death of the man at Garrett’s farm and the secret, late night disposal of his body, and that included the time needed to transport the corpse back to Washington. To this day, that initial burial site remains a mystery and several different versions of the disposal of the body have been published.
For reasons never explained in the historical record, the body was not transported back to Washington by the military detachment, but was instead escorted by only three men: Luther Baker, prisoner Willie Jett, and one unnamed soldier. Before reaching Washington, Jett somehow managed to, uhmm, ‘escape.’ The body was carried by steamer up the Potomac River, then transported by tugboat to the Washington Navy Yard and placed aboard the ironclad Montauk in the dead of night, at 1:45 AM on April 27, 1865, bypassing normal procedures. Before the day was done, the body would be covertly disposed of. The captain of the Montauk would later say that he “was not present at either time (arrival or disposal) or I should have put a stop to it.” The commandant of the Navy Yard would add that, “The removal of the body was entirely without my knowledge, an unusual transaction.”
Prosecutor John Bingham (left) and Judge Advocate Joseph Holt (center)
Dispatched to the Montauk to oversee the identification of the body were such disreputable characters as Surgeon General Barnes, Judge Advocate Joseph Holt, prosecutor/persecutor John Bingham, Stanton underlings Thomas Eckert and Lafayette Baker, and two of Baker’s most trusted men, Luther Baker and Everton Conger. Edwin Stanton had ordered Lafayette Baker and Thomas Eckert to personally intercept the boat carrying the body and clandestinely get it aboard the Montauk.
During the alleged inquest, none of Booth’s peers in the theater community, many of whom were present in Washington at the time, were brought onboard to ID the body. No members of the Booth family were enlisted to view the body. None of Booth’s alleged co-conspirators, many of whom were being held on the very same ship, were allowed to ID the body. According to Dark Union, “thirteen people were permitted to view the body. All but the war photographer Alexander Gardner, his assistant, and a hotel clerk were connected with the War Department.” If we’re being honest here, that should read, “all but possibly the hotel clerk were connected with the War Department.”
Even within the government’s handpicked and limited cast of witnesses, there was disagreement as to whether the body was that of Booth. Dr. John Frederick May, who had previously seen Booth as a patient, noted that “there is no resemblance in that corpse to Booth, nor can I believe it to be him.” May added that the corpse “looks to me much older, and in appearance much more freckled than he was. I do not recollect that he was at all freckled.” Dr. May would later write that the corpse’s “right limb was greatly contused, and perfectly black from a fracture of one of the long bones.” Surgeon General Barnes’ report to Stanton, however, held that it was “the left leg and foot” that were injured and “encased in an appliance of splints and bandages,” thus clouding the waters even on such straightforward issues as which of the corpse’s legs was injured.
Dr. John Frederick May
After the hasty identification charade, and without anyone who was actually close to Booth in life having seen the body, and without any public display of the body, and without any photographs of the body that would ever see the light of day, the corpse was quickly disposed of by either Lafayette Baker and Thomas Eckert, or Lafayette and Luther Baker, depending upon who is telling the tale. Following the announcement that the body had been disappeared, shouts of “hoax!” rocked Washington, with many convinced that Booth hadn’t been captured or killed and was still free.
On July 28, 1866, Senator Garrett Davis of Kentucky voiced his doubts about the identification of Booth: “I have never seen any satisfactory evidence that Booth was killed.” Senator Reverdy Johnson of Maryland, who had played a role in the mock trial, came back with: “I submit to my friend from Kentucky that there are some things that we must take judicial notice of, just as well as that Julius Caesar is dead.”
Davis though remained decidedly unconvinced: “I would rather have better testimony of the fact. I want it proved that Booth was in that barn. I cannot conceive, if he was in the barn, why he was not taken alive. I have never seen anybody, or the evidence of anybody, that identified Booth after he is said to have been killed. Why so much secrecy about it? … There is a mystery and a most inexplicable mystery to my mind about the whole affair … [Booth] could have been captured just as well alive as dead. It would have been much more satisfactory to have brought him up here alive and to have inquired of him to reveal the whole transaction … [or] bring his body up here … let all who had seen him playing, all who associated with him on the stage or in the green room or at the taverns and other public places, have had access to his body to have identified it.”
Senator Reverdy Johnson
Senator Garrett Davis
There was no way the powers-that-be were going to allow that to happen, of course, since the body clearly wasn’t that of John Wilkes Booth. Had it been, the government surely would have taken the actions necessary to convince a skeptical public. But such actions weren’t really necessary in 1865, just as they aren’t today. The omnipotent ones can tell us, for example, that Osama bin Laden was killed and his body promptly disposed of – and the majority of us will accept it as the gospel truth.
And those malcontents who choose not to accept a proclamation that lacks any objective proof? Well, they don’t really matter. Just as the voices of reason didn’t really matter 150 years ago.