Since I didn’t investigate this case until recently, I was surprised at how transparent the Lincoln assassination conspiracy has become over the years. Bill O’Reilly ignored every modern development to write a cover-up fantasy supporting the official story Booth was insane and the War Department had no idea what he was up to. In fact, Booth was surrounded by double agents, a list that included Louis Weichmann, James Donaldson and the beautiful Kate Brown, known as “The French Lady.”
The biggest issue with solving this case is the amount of noise and disinfo that’s been manufactured to hold back realization it was an inside job. There’s a cottage industry of researchers who will attack any suggestion Edwin Stanton was involved, even though the evidence against Stanton is overwhelming.
Periodically, new documents have been produced to bolster one side or another, yet few discuss how many of these are forgeries. Often, when a breakthrough takes place, the scoop is tied to a nasty piece of disinfo, a commonly used counterintelligence booby-trap for discrediting real information. I find this technique in play not just with Lincoln, but with JFK and 9/11.
I often found Roger Norton’s forum a valuable source of research material over the past few months, and there are obviously a number of dedicated researchers contributing to that site. However, I also noticed organized resistance to any inference of an inside job, and that makes me suspicious to say the least.
The single most important document to surface in the last fifty years is the original confession of George Atzerodt. At first, I assumed this to be a forgery like so many other documents involving the case, and I did not study it closely for many months. Today, I accept it as a real document, which means we have the Surratt Society to thank for its exposure, even though the current director is a cheerleader against the inside job theory.
I promise if you look deeply into this case, the cover-up will become obvious, and reading my book Killing Lincoln: The Real Story is a good place to start the adventure. My book is a concise over-view of overlooked details, all of which point to an inside job. Strange how no established press has exposed this information yet.
It’s sad to consider the entire hoodwink could have easily been blown sky-high when Steven Spielberg produced his Lincoln film recently, and you can find clues in that film. But Lincoln’s final hours were glossed over, including his request for additional security that night and his premonitions of the assassination. Both Lincoln and his wife were highly psychic, and the immense powers of the presidency may have lifted those powers even higher.
Since Thaddeus Stevens played a major role in the plot against Lincoln, it’s tragic Spielberg held Stevens up for adoration (while only hinting at his corruption). Stevens believed the ends justify the means, and seeking vengeance against the South was high on his to-do list. In the film, Mary Todd dresses Stevens down, not realizing the plot to assassinate her husband is already in full swing.
The reason John W. Booth accepted the hit was because he knew the “New York crowd” was going to have Lincoln killed and it was only a matter of time. And he also knew this crew had agents embedded deep inside the corridors of power in Washington, people who would aid the assassination. I don’t know what he was offered, or whether he took the hit to avenge the recent hanging of a Confederate spy he knew well, and I don’t know who actually pitched the deal to him, but there can be no doubt he was merely a pawn in their game, and must have realized this toward the end of his life.
Which is why every attempt by Booth to leave a statement about what really happened was destroyed, just like every attempt by Lee H. Oswald to leave a written statement with the FBI and Dallas police was destroyed. So open your eyes and do some research. And when you’re done, spread the news from every mountain top: Lincoln’s murder was an inside job.
“While standing on Ruhlman’s and Lichau’s porch between 11 & 12 o’clock PM a young man name unknown, as I cannot remember names, about 5 feet 5 or 6 inches high thick set, long nose, sharp chin, wide cheek, small eye, I think grey, dark hair, and well dressed, color don’t remember, said called Michael O’Laughlen aside and said J. Wilkes Booth wish to see us both at Gaither’s Saloon on Avenue.”
—George Atzerodt original confession (destroyed and not uncovered for 117 years).
“James Donaldson, a low chunky man about 23 or 24 years of age, small-potted, dark complexion (not very) deep plain black suit; only saw him one time & this was Wednesday previous to the murder, he was having an interview with Booth and told him to meet him on Friday eve & he replied he would and left and went up Penn. Avenue towards the Treasury building. I was under the impression he came on with Booth.”
In their initial confessions, both George Atzerodt and Sam Arnold came across as eager to convey any information regarding the assassination that might be helpful to the authorities. And even though they confessed knowledge of Booth’s kidnap plot, Atzerodt was not made aware of the Booth’s plan to assassinate Lincoln until a few hours before it happened. He did not believe it would happen, but when it did, he furiously walked in circles around Washington like a crazy man because he knew he was implicated. It’s safe to assume a key character on the primary list of suspects who must have been involved was James Donaldson, who should have been arrested and put on trial, along with Louis Weichmann.
So why wasn’t Donaldson even called to testify? Donaldson was a War Department clerk posted on the household staff of Secretary of State Seward. The attack on Seward took place on his watch, but he’d switched shifts suddenly that day with another clerk who was wounded during Powell’s attack. Both Donaldson and Weichmann were known to everyone inside Booth’s conspiracy as Confederate sympathizers, and the placement of Weichmann inside the Surratt boarding house was done to provide surveillance against Booth and Surratt. Weichmann became the key witness at the tribunal against Mary Surratt, while Donaldson (like Sanford Conover and Sarah Slater) dropped off the face of the earth.
We do know Donaldson arrived at Seward’s moments after Powell’s attack and according to an eyewitness: “In the middle of the room sat Donaldson, his face buried in his hands—crying aloud, like a child. I touched his shoulder & said—“Donaldson, you were not hurt?” “No Miss Fanny” he said—“I wasn’t here. If I had been here this wouldn’t have happened. If I had been here I’d have been a dead man. Oh, why wasn’t I here?”
On May 1, 1865, George Atzerodt made a full confession regarding the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln, a statement recorded by a detective working for Maryland Provost Marshal James McPhail. Strangely, this confession was never entered into the official records of the trial.
Atzerodt told a much different story at that trial, one that closely conformed to the prosecution’s wild theories that five simultaneous assassinations had been planned. But this first confession was the one he expected to get himself off the hook with, because it was the truth. Only the truth is not what the military tribunal’s rush to judgment was concerned with. They were actually burying the truth, and tossing out Atzerodt’s initial confession was part of that plan.
Atzerodt began by describing fellow conspirator Lewis Powell, known to him as James Wood or Mosby.
“He was brought from New York. Surratt told me.”
This is the first mention of the “New York crowd” who return repeatedly as the rambling confession unfolds. Next, he identifies James Donaldson as one of the primary conspirators, a man who’ll disappear off the pages of history and never be heard from again. According to Don Thomas (The Reason Lincoln Had to Die), Donaldson (like Louis Weichmann) was a War Department informant placed inside the Confederate secret services.
“Arnold, O’Laughlen, Surratt, Harold, Booth and myself met at a restaurant on the Aven. bet 13 & 14.”
No problems here, as this is the designated crew of patsies.
“The Saml. Thomas registered on the morning of the 15th at the Penn Hotel, I met at the hotel, he was an entire stranger to me.”
Mr. Thomas will never be investigated.
“I same a man named Weightman who boarded at Surrattt’s at Post Office. he told me he had to go down the country with Mrs. Surratt.”
Louis Weichmann appears, although Atzerodt has no clue Weichmann is a War Department snitch.
“Booth never said until the last night (Friday) that he intended to kill the president.”
Atzerodt goes on to explain his mysterious presence at the Kirkwood: He was sent there to collect a pass for travel to Richmond from Vice President Johnson, which is the same reason Booth will stop by the Kirkwood and inquire after Johnson on the day of the assassination. (Later, this story will shift to Atzerodt being there to murder the Vice President.) The confession goes on to incriminate Charles Yates, Thos. Holborn, as well three referred to as Bailey, Barnes and Boyle. But the most interesting name was that of a female who obviously had a close relationship with Booth and appeared just a few weeks before Lincoln was murdered.
“Kate Thompson or Kate Brown, as she was known by both names, put up at the National was well known at the Penn House…this woman is about 20 years of age, good looking and well dressed.”
Here’s a character worthy of investigation. If you know anything about spooks, it’s that 20-something super hotties play a significant role in operations and are known as “honey traps.” Why was Kate never charged or called to testify since Atzerodt clearly places her in the center of the conspiracy, along with an entity he only identifies as the “New York crowd?” It wasn’t because nobody looked, but that she simply never could be found.
Some say her real name was Sarah Gilbert Slater, a Confederate spy who disappeared without a trace. Since her name appeared frequently in two trials, investigators did look for her extensively, but since she wore a heavy veil at all times and changed names constantly, and was known mostly as “the french woman,” they really didn’t have much to go on.
In 1865, while being interviewed in Richmond for a passport to travel to New York City to see her mother, Slater was recruited as a spy by Secretary of War James A. Seddon and became a courier for messages between Richmond and Confederate operations in Canada. A large amount of money allegedly disappeared with her, as did her two brothers around the same time. Whether they were all mysteriously murdered over their knowledge of the conspiracy, or whether they created new identities in France will never be known.
However, Thomas has proposed an alternative theory, which is the mysterious French woman is Kate Warne, the first female detective hired by Allen Pinkerton, who died in 1868 with Pinkerton at her side. Somehow, I doubt this is true.
My guess is Kate was Sarah and she was turned by the “New York crowd.” A spook with her assets would have been extremely useful to any side, and any corporation, and in the real world of spooks, loyalty usually falls to the highest bidder, or the one who can keep you off the gallows, and not the one with the best dogmas.
Don’t feel bad for John Wilkes Booth—he was a great actor, and a great spook, no matter what the history books say.
He was also the first real matinee idol whose presence on the streets of Washington or Richmond caused some women to swoon. Had the Confederates won the war, and Booth escaped, he might have become President. It astounds me how spook assassins like James Bond are so celebrated by our culture, yet when a real life Bond appears before us, only his faults are celebrated.
Booth’s intelligence is evidenced by the complexity of his plots. He wasn’t sure which theater Lincoln might visit that night (there were two options), so he purchased the box next to the Presidential box in one, while drilling a peep hole and fashioning a door wedge for the other.
But even then, he didn’t purchase that box in his own name, but sent the manager of the billiard parlor he frequented to purchase the tickets. Booth was raining money right before the assassination, and gave a wad to George “Dirty Andy” Atzerodt to get an expensive room at the Kirkwood. He also purchased four colt pistols and rented four fast horses.
There had to be a benefactor, because a few weeks earlier, when the kidnapping plot was still being fomented, Booth had been crying poor and seeking additional funding. He had a bank account in the same Canadian bank used by the Confederate Secret Service so any funds he received from Richmond would have been transferred through this bank.
If Booth had spent less time on spook activities and more time on acting and earning a living, he was capable of manifesting an upper-class salary. But running spook operations required budget, and the bigger the plans, the bigger the budget.
Bill O’Reilly takes the obvious road and paints Booth as demented like most biographers, but that’s just one of many inaccuracies. O’Reilly falls into a few rabbit holes, and fails to pinpoint the center of gravity on the assassination.
Here’s how Booth looked at 18, sans mustache. Because he died without the mustache, I prefer to think of him this way. When he died, Booth already knew his bid for glory had been dashed. Even the Copperhead press was aghast and had turned on him. Not to mention, his letter of explanation had strangely never been published, and Booth was checking the papers every day. Booth frantically began writing a diary to explain his position. Too bad we never saw it.
Booth sometimes gets painted as a serial liar, but when you’re a spook, that just comes with the territory. If Booth said he was going to New York, he might have been going to Richmond, and if he said he was going to Richmond, he might have been going to Canada. He seldom told the truth about anything and spread lies and disinformation with great frequency. This was not done out of insanity, but to shield operations.
One of his favorite tricks was to pick up a horse at one stable, and then check the animal into another stable on the other side of town. This would give him an air-tight alibi, as he could claim he’d been out riding in the country and not in Washington during the allotted time.
The movies show him leaping to the stage, brandishing a bloody knife and shouting Sic Semper Tyrannis, but, in fact, eyewitnesses claim he jumped and instantly disappeared through the scenery, while mumbling “I did it!” under his breath. Booth had shouted Sic Semper Tyrannis, but that was when he was firing the derringer, and the shout mostly lost in the explosion. According to diary fragments that survived the vetting process, Booth broke his leg during a fall on his horse later that night, and not when he’d jumped to the stage. Booth did not make a grandstand display of himself on the stage like a demented psycho killer. He also lost his hat when he’d jumped, but in typical Booth fashion, had packed a spare in his saddle bag. He always seemed to think of everything that could go wrong and plan accordingly.
Booth waited on the other side of Navy Yard Bridge for his three accomplices to catch up, but only one appeared, David Herold, the weakest of the lot. This must have been a surprise and disappointment because the band of brothers had suddenly shrunk in half. Herold likely bolted when the nurse at William Seward’s house had screamed bloody murder out a third-floor window. If so, it meant he’d abandoned Lewis Powell, who didn’t know his way around town. And that would be the reason Powell got nabbed. With no place to go and his horse gone, Powell wandered over to Mary Surratt’s boarding house at 3 AM. But soldiers arrived there a mere four hours after the assassination. In fact, that was the first place they went to look for the assassins, even before investigating Booth’s hotel room. Had Powell not shown up there that night, Surratt likely would never have swung from the gallows.
The fourth rider who didn’t show should have been Dirty Andy, but he’d bailed the second he’d heard “assassination” and not “kidnap.” Booth entrusted Andy with his Canadian bankbook and maps of the Southern States. Andy was supposed to pick up a pass so they could travel through lines to Richmond under the guise of opening a theater there. When he was first picked up, Andy spilled the beans on everything he knew, but that confession was never entered into the trial and the original was destroyed. Meanwhile, Andy was forced to wear a suffocating hood night and day and went crazy and was soon willing to admit to any scenario presented before him. Soon he was confessing to having been told to kill the Vice President.
In truth, Booth never would have depended on Dirty Andy to assassinate anyone. Rowing his boat across the Potomac south of town, on the other hand, was Andy’s real role.
The invented assassination gave Stanton the idea of inventing even more assassinations because two others would soon be charged for other imaginary assassinations, one for Stanton and one for General Grant, and all three of these imaginary assassins would soon be found guilty, although only Dirty Andy was hanged. It was a veritable Valentine’s day massacre of political bigwigs held on Good Friday, but it was all a hoodwink designed to hang scapegoats as quick as possible. Meanwhile, the case against Andrew Johnson as the mastermind of Lincoln’s assassination was put on back burner. That card would be held close to the vest and played later on, during Johnson’s impeachment trial.
George Andreas Atzerodt could have been the original inspiration for Charles M. Schultiz’s Pig-Pen, and Dirty Andy (known to his friends as “Andrew”) stands out as the most disreputable-looking character in this complex and completely misunderstood saga. For the record, super clean General George B. McClellan is Atzerodt’s foil, as he stands out as the most elegantly refined character in the cast. Although the two never met, they would have made quite the contrast.
Suffice to say, Atzerodt was slightly hunchbacked in one shoulder, spoke with a German accent and garnered great suspicion wherever he appeared. He wore black-enameled cavalry boots stitched with white leather and a black slouch hat. Had he lived today, he would have been found seated on a Harley. Atzerodt was a big-time drinker and small-time smuggler during the Civil War, and owned a rowboat on the Potomac for this purpose. Little known fact: cotton trading was allowed between North and South during the war, provided you paid the proper duties and taxes and had the right permits. But there was also a brisk black market as well, and that’s how the sickly-faced Andy made his living.
But in late March, he’d suddenly started boasting to his sisters that something big was in the works, and he was going to make a great fortune or be hanged, a message they shared with their elder brother, a police detective.
Colonel John S. Mosby, Captain John Wilkes Booth (of the Confederate Secret Service) and his chief courier, John Surratt, organized an elaborate plot to kidnap President Lincoln and deliver him to Jefferson Davis inside the Confederate Capitol, where he could be locked away in Libby Prison while being bartered for ransom, a plan that involved dozens and perhaps hundreds of Confederate sympathizers, and like everything Booth did, this mission was meticulously plotted. Relay horses were situated at regular intervals, and a sabotage crew enlisted to fell trees and blow bridges to hamper the pursuit. And an entire regiment of Confederate cavalry was mustered by Mosby near the border to act as final escort, an operation that was stirring alarms along the front.
Treated contemptuously today as either fool or madman, Booth was one of the greatest spooks of his time, an original James Bond, although I have a feeling Lincoln was his only hit job. After four years of pulling off one incredible mission impossible after another (most involved smuggling life-saving quinine), all in support of the Southern cause, Booth had been given his ultimate challenge: kidnap Lincoln. This was big, maybe the biggest undercover operation ever planned by the Confederate Secret Services, and that’s why it quickly became known to the Union War Department, who inserted their own double agent into the plot to keep an eye on things.
Keeping this unit operational was deemed more valuable than busting it apart. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was a master spook himself, you see, and knew this cabal’s value in misdirection and sheep-dipping operations.
So when D Day arrived, and Lincoln’s plans suddenly shifted, the elaborate kidnapping was necessarily aborted, no doubt an immense disappointment for Booth, as he probably played the triumphant entry into Richmond with the captive tyrant at his feet in chains over and over in his mind for weeks.
Finally, his spook skills were going to be recognized, not that Booth needed publicity. He was already the most dashing, up-and-coming actor of his time, and women swooned at his sight. Imagine Johnny Depp being exposed as an undercover CIA agent and you might get an inkling of the true scale of this drama.
Flash forward one month and things have gone from bad to worse. In fact, the war is a done-deal, and Booth’s side has lost. Imagine a fellow supporter of the Confederate cause offers you with a new mission impossible: kill Lincoln and Seward. You’ll have unlimited funds, and escape is guaranteed by a high-placed agent in the War Department who will delay response. Keep in mind, when Booth was captured he reportedly had a very large amount of cash on him, all of which immediately disappeared naturally.
Also keep in mind, Union plots to assassinate Jefferson Davis and his entire cabinet and burn the city of Richmond have recently been discovered, and it’s Lincoln’s new policy of “total war” that’s murdering innocents and wreaking devastation on civilian populations. What do you do? In Booth’s social set, Lincoln was Hitler. If Booth had just been a little bit smarter, he might have sensed this generous offer was not emanating out of any need for retribution but because Lincoln was blocking all attempts to loot the South after the war.
The most savage killer from Mosby’s Rangers was moved up to Washington. He’d supposedly just deserted, and could easily have been taken straight to prison and held for the remainder of the war. But no, the officers at the border buy his phony story and allow Lewis Powell to sign the loyalty oath and go on his merry way. He will soon appear at Mary Surratt’s boarding house, a house that’s been under surveillance for weeks because John Surratt, Mary’s son, is Captain Booth’s primary courier. Surratt thinks he’s fooling soldiers—as they never have a clue as to where to look for his secret documents. In truth, Surratt is well-known to the War Department, just as Captain Booth is, and the War Department is letting them both slide for the moment as they have placed informant Louis Weichmann as a boarder in Mary Surratt’s home.
If more than two people had been meant to be assassinated that fateful night, why weren’t more assassins provided from Mosby’s nearby unit? Finding a savage killer was no problem during the Civil War, although the recruiting took place on the front lines, where natural born killers clearly stood out. Powell had slayed dozens no doubt and enjoyed every second, and used the top of one victim’s skull as an ashtray.
Booth gave Dirty Andy money to rent a room above the Vice President’s at the Kirkwood. But this room was for Booth, and never occupied. Atzerodt was the first to talk after being captured, although his initial statement was buried in snow.
Affidavit of Frank Monroe, captain U.S. Marines, monitor Saugus:
Atzerodt told me he that he was innocent of any crime, and also that he was instrumental in saving the life of the Vice President. Further that he was visited, about three weeks since by a man named John Surrat at Port Tobacco,, Md., Surrat informed him that Booth was to open a theatre in Richmond, and also that they had a vessel to run the blockade and in both enterprises he was wanted. Atzerodt came to Washington with Surrat and was told by Booth that he must assassinate Mr. Johnson. This he refused to do and Booth threatened to blow his brains out unless he complied. He still refused and returned to Port Tobacco. A second time Surrat came for him, and he came again to Washington and took a room at Kirkwood’s. He was again asked to murder Mr. Johnson, and again refused. The day on which the President was killed a man named David Herrold or Harrol brought to Atzerodt’s room, a knife and revolver, and then left the Hotel. Atzerodt, becoming frightened, locked his door and walked down the street. He knew that the President’s assassination was spoken of, but did not believe it would be carried into effect. When he heard the deed had been accomplished, he took a room at the Kimmel House of his cousin Rickter at which place he was arrested.
Booth dropped by the hotel later that day and left his card at the desk as he exited. Since his plots were always so meticulous, Atzerodt’s real mission remains a mystery, and the possibility exists that he was fed this Johnson assassination story while slowly going mad wearing a suffocating hood day and night. I simply can’t swallow the story that Dirty Andy turned down this hit job under threat of assassination and then was approached again and continued to assist these conspirators after the leader had threatened his life. All he had to do was turn Booth in to the authorities to save himself. His story does not ring true, but seems self-serving in all respects. In his original confession, Atzerodt claimed their interest in Johnson was for the purpose of obtaining a pass to travel to Richmond. It’s only after several days wearing a suffocating hood inside a metal box in summer that Atzerodt starts talking about a Johnson assassination, and by that time his lawyer was convinced he was losing his mind.
As the trial progressed, two of the men who’d been assigned with Surratt to intercept Lincoln’s carriage in the kidnap scheme were falsely charged with attempted assassinations and both were quickly found guilty despite zero evidence against them, except for faked testimony from paid perjurers (although that detail wouldn’t come to light for a while). So the government’s case had an imaginary assassination of Stanton, an imaginary assassination of Grant, onto which Atzerodt inserted a third imaginary assassination of Johnson.
All three of these supposed assassinations are now part of the official record and dutifully transcribed in every book on the subject. And at least two of them are transparent humbug. The only assassination attempts that night were on Lincoln and Seward, and I say this because assassins do not typically check into hotels of targets using their own names and leave incriminating evidence in their rooms. Nor do they do not hang around bars asking strangers about targets, especially if they’re clearly wildly out-of-their social sphere. Dirty Andy was not anyone’s idea of a professional assassin and it seems unlikely Booth would have depended on him for any such assignment. Andy was really only in this game for the money.
When Stanton sent a raiding party to Richmond with orders to kill Jefferson Davis, the leader was shot by Confederate home guards and is considered a great hero. But when Booth successfully pulled off that exact same mission for his side just a few weeks later, he was universally hailed as the greatest villain of his time. No wonder he seemed confused. Which just goes to show the winners write history, losers get screwed. Almost nothing you’ve been told about this assassination is true, and there’s a reason for that obviously, which is why I feel compelled to write a book for the 150th anniversary and blow this hoodwink sky-high once and for all. Lincoln was killed by a plot inside his own administration, and the evidence is in the cover-up.
Captain J.W. Booth of the Confederate Secret Service resided in room 228 at the National Hotel in Washington, which just happened to be the same residence as the War Department censor because the city’s only public telegraph office was directly across the street.
For six months Booth had been involved in a grand scheme to kidnap President Lincoln so he could be taken to Richmond in chains for a victory parade and then ransomed, but with the war almost over, that plot had suddenly become meaningless.
John Surratt, Booth’s primary courier, was working closely with Booth on this grand mission-impossible adventure, and so were dozens of others. Their primary accomplices, however, represented a motley crew of misfits and the mentally challenged, with one cold-blooded killer.
After a mule kick disfigured his jaw, Lewis Powell volunteered for the Confederate Army at age 17. He became such a devoted killer, he carried the skull of one of his victims as an ashtray. After many battles, Powell was wounded and captured, taken to a concentration camp and escaped with the help of the Confederate Secret Service in Maryland. He joined Mosby’s Rangers, where he became known as “Lewis the Terrible.” Although the official story is that Powell deserted this guerrilla force and decided to move to Baltimore to pursue a new life, in truth, he was more likely just moved into undercover operations, and the biggest at the time involved the Lincoln kidnapping, a plot led by Booth. In January of 1895, they met for the first time, and Booth enlisted Powell in the plot. From that point on, Powell always referred to Booth as “Captain,” and would show no hesitation following any command.
Booth and Surratt differed on the best plan of action, as Booth felt the kidnapping could take place at Ford’s Theater because the back exit offered an escape into a maze of alleys. Booth’s attention to spook-craft was amazing, and he probably got the idea of drilling a peephole in the door to the presidential box, as well as needing an improvised door-jam to prevent anyone from entering the hall leading to the box, all important details that would become employed for Lincoln’s assassination.
Surratt insisted the attempt needed to be done outside the city, where they weren’t surrounded by police and soldiers in all directions. This plot involved many changes of horses, as well as sabotage in their wake to slow pursuit—an entire squad devoted to felling tress and blowing bridges. Of course, the plot was immediately revealed to the War Department by one of its secret agents, Louis Weichman, an old schoolmate of John Surratt, and War Department employee, who abruptly moved into the boarding house, and started acting like a rebel. He begged to become an active participant in the kidnapping, but Surratt told him not possible since Weichman could neither ride nor shoot, while Surratt and Booth were expert at both. Weichman would eventually become the key witness against Surratt’s mother, but would later recant the testimony and insist she was innocent, and then recant the recant in writing right before his death.
The only others involved we know of for sure were David E. Herod, who worked as a drug store clerk and followed the famous rising-star Booth around like a puppy dog. Herod reportedly had a dimished IQ and acted 11 years old, which is why he’s usually described as a youngster. George “Andrew” Atzerodt was a German immigrant who’d recently been recruited because he had a rowboat on the Potomac, a boat needed for the escape. I call him Dirty Andy because he looks filthy in every photo. Atzerodt knew few details and was working for hire. He was a big-time drinker and and small-time blockade runner who was being put out-of-business by the end of the war.
On March 4, 1865, Lincoln was inaugurated for the second time on the steps of the Capitol and a photo by Alexander Gardner would later reveal Booth wearing a silk top hat in the VIP gallery, within spitting distance of the President as he took the oath of office. But in the front row of the peanut gallery on ground level nearest the President stand Powell, Atzerodt, Herold and possibly even Surratt disguised as a Union soldier.
This may have been another possible kidnap attempt that did not materialize. For whatever reason, shortly after this inauguration, Booth’s plan shifted to murder, although it’s not clear why. Lincoln had little fear of assassination during his first term because he believed any replacement would be worse on the South than himself. Yet right around this time, Lincoln began having premonitions of his imminent death, and seemed almost resigned to it.
Since the morning newspaper announced the President and General Grant would be attending a light comedy at Ford’s Theater that night, this news boded poorly since Grant’s presence would necessitate a higher level of security. Also, Grant was the national hero of the moment, and a rare sight in Washington, which meant all eyes would be on the box through much of the play.
The Metropolitan Hotel was just down the street from the National where Booth resided. On the morning of the assassination, Booth met with a prominent Jewish lawyer named Simon Wolf, head of B’nai B’rith. Wolf and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton were close as both were from Ohio.
Booth rented a horse for the day, and followed General Grant’s carriage as he suddenly departed town, almost as if to make sure the General was not going to disrupt his plans for the evening. The general and his wife were disturbed by the rider in black galloping alongside and staring into their coach.
Surratt had left town, likely because he didn’t want any part of Booth’s new operation, but also because he may have had a mission to seed letters from Booth back to the War Department to make it look like Booth was headed to Canada.
Four hours after the assassination, the first detectives on the case marched straight to Mary Surratt’s boarding house, which somehow had already been identified as the center of the conspiracy (though Booth had not even officially been announced a suspect yet). Meanwhile, the room Dirty Andy had checked into the previous day at the Kirkwood (and never occupied, as he already had a room at a different, cheaper hotel) was found stuffed with evidence implicating Booth, evidence that was initially strangely over-looked.
Meanwhile, although Booth was on the run for days, and assisted and aided by a dozen sympathizers along the way, only this little crew of misfits would end up hanged. And the cover-up might have worked, except Stanton tossed in Mary Surratt, and painted her as the evil den mother who hatched the plot. But the wheels on that hoax fell off, and knowledge Stanton railroaded an innocent woman onto the gallows destroyed his political career. He was dead within four years under somewhat mysterious circumstances.
A little-known fact about Stanton: he was found twice passed out at his desk and some speculated he’d acquired an addiction to opium. Perhaps, but his primary addiction was power. His first move as Secretary of War had been to move the telegraph into his office. His second move was getting control of the Union Gestapo, the National Detective Police (NDP).
In the first few weeks after the assassination, Stanton’s iron grip matched that of any fascist dictator in history, and though he fought tooth and nail to maintain this power, it would soon all be stripped away, and he died a broken man haunted by the ghost of Mary Surratt.
The official story of the capture and murder of John Wilkes Booth is so filled with contradictions and inconsistencies it could have been made into an hilarious episode for the Keystone Kops. There are numerous elements in Lincoln’s assassination that defy logic, but few can top the manipulations involving the corpse of the assassin.
One thing I’ve discovered in my research: Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who seized all power as soon as Lincoln was murdered, was a master at media manipulation, not to mention he declared martial law and had power to censor the press. His releases became the unquestioned headlines of the day and Stanton and his chief of secret police Lafayette C. Baker were famous for tossing innocents in jail and holding them without charges. Much of what is taken to be gospel in this saga, is really just a carefully contrived script. A good example would be the story of George Atzerodt, who was supposed to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson that night, at least according to the official story.
Atzerodt admitting being involved in Booth’s failed attempt to kidnap President Lincoln a month earlier, and later claimed to have only heard about the Lincoln assassination plot on April 15th. The previous day, he’d mysteriously checked into the Kirkwood House, the hotel where the Vice President resided, using his real name and repeatedly inquired about the Vice President’s whereabouts. Since Johnson’s room was accessible from the street and easily penetrated, there was no need for any assassin to show his face at the hotel. The sight of this disreputable-looking and obviously unwashed person having any interest in the Vice President caused significant alarm amongst some of the hotel staff. Immediately after Lincoln was shot, Detective John Lee was sent to the Kirkwood to guard the Vice President, and quickly found out about the mystery man, broke into his room and discovered the bed had never been slept in. Lee also discovered a Colt revolver, three boxes of cartridges, 12-inch bowie knife, brass spur, three handkerchiefs with different monograms, a black coat containing J.W. Booth’s Ontario bank book, and Perrine’s topographical War Map to the southern states.
For a supposed spook, Atzerodt could not have been more transparent as to the identities of himself and his fellow conspirators unless he’d left a written confession of their crimes. Since he was a known drunk, uneducated, and certainly not capable of an assassination of anyone, one wonders what could have been his real motive for checking into that hotel and inquiring about the Vice President, which only alarmed the hotel staff. There was no need for Atzerodt to leave incriminating evidence in his room. Atzerodt would not be located and arrested for five days, but the map and spur seemed an obvious clue he was fleeing south on horseback, almost too obvious. Which is why it’s so suspicious Stanton immediately announced Booth was headed north to Canada and closed all roads leading that direction. Strangely, the road to Maryland was left open.
It seems more likely Booth’s calling card to Johnson and his bank book in the same hotel may have been part of an unsuccessful sheep-dipping operation designed to paint Johnson as the true instigator of the assassination, something that, if successful, would have had a similar impact on removing him as his murder, only less blood on the floor. Mary Surratt would be soon hanged for owning a boarding house frequented by Confederate spooks, something not surprising considering her son was one of Jefferson Davis’ primary couriers. I do believe Atzerodt was supposed to back up Booth or Lewis Powell that night and then escape with them via horseback and help lead them south, but instead he wandered aimlessly about town before fleeing on his own once realizing the President was dead and he was implicated. But then he’d only recently met Booth and been dragged into Booth’s intrigues because he had a rowboat on northern bank of the Potomac, which was needed for the escape. In fact, the loss of this boat caused Booth much consternation. Most likely, Atzerodt was just working for money and being given the absolute minimum of information by super spook Booth.
Major James R. O’Beirne, Provost Marshall of the District of Columbia, the man who’d sent Lee to protect the vice president, quickly led a detail of men south based on the map found at the Kirkwood. O’Beirne was doing an admirable job tracking the assassin, and was first to arrive at Dr. Samuel Mudd’s house. Suspicion fell on Mudd because he’d served two years in the Confederate army, and even though Mudd reported to proper authorities two strangers passed through, one requiring medical attention for a broken leg, after Mudd was shown a picture of Booth and claimed it was not the man he’d treated (which might have been true, since his brother Edwin’s photo was discovered in the War Department files misidentified as John W.), that statement convicted him in the eyes of O’Beirne. Booth hid his mustache with a scarf and was wearing huge stage whiskers glued over his sideburns when he’d arrived at Mudd’s. He’d ridden off of his original path of escape to find a sympathetic doctor he’d hoped would keep quiet, but Mudd filed a report the next day.
There’s no doubt O’Beirne was closing in on Booth, but when he requested to move into Virginia, he was suddenly ordered to remain in Maryland and search only there. Meanwhile, Baker put his cousin in charge of a squad of soldiers, and sent them on the trail O’Beirne had sniffed out. Since $100,000 in reward money was at stake, Baker surely wanted himself and his cousin to collect the lion’s share, but they didn’t.
Here’s a staged photo of Lafayette Baker recreating the moment he tells Luther Baker and Enerton Conger where to find Booth. Since Conger was actually not at this meeting, this photo is no doubt a manipulation of Stanton, who was a master at propaganda. According to the official story, Baker drew a 10-mile diameter circle on a map of Virginia and sent his cousin off to Virginia with a troupe of soldiers. How Baker knew Booth’s precise location is a mystery, but some wild stories were later invented, the final story involved an unidentified black youth who dropped by the War Department to make an anonymous report.
Baker, Conger and a squad of 25 soldiers discovered Booth locked in a tobacco-drying shed. It was night, so a perimeter was placed around the shed at a distance. Only Baker and Conger remained inside that perimeter.
What happened next is a matter of great dispute since the stories of the eyewitnesses shifted several times over the next few days. The first official report claimed Booth was captured and then shot by Boston Corbett while trying to make an escape. When this report did not fly, the story began getting more convoluted each time it was told.
Conger was the first to enter the shed, and claimed initially that Booth shot himself. Baker was second to enter the shed and felt Booth had been shot by Conger, but immediately thought to himself, “if he had, it were better not known.”
Corbett was a mental case who self-castrated himself with a pair of scissors after visiting a prostitute, and then calmly went to dinner before seeking medical attention. A former hatter, everyone assumed mercury fumes had destroyed his mind and Corbett would wind up in a mental institution eventually. No doubt Corbett was told fame and fortune awaited him if he took the credit. Although orders had supposedly been given to take Booth alive, Stanton reacted by saying, “The rebel is dead, the patriot lives,” and Corbett was given $1,653.85 of the reward money.
There were no witnesses to the shooting as the soldiers were all in the dark, and on the perimeter. It’s likely impossible Corbett could have fired the shot, especially since the bullet followed a downward trajectory, as if fired from above at close range. In fact, the placement and trajectory were weirdly similar to the one Booth used to execute Lincoln, almost as if he were being served his own medicine.
But it was after Booth’s death that things got really strange. Luther Baker took the body and two soldiers on ahead before any death certificate or autopsy could be performed. This was done over the objections of Lt. Edward P. Doherty. Soon, Doherty’s two men returned, having been sent back by Baker to deliver some frivolous message. Meanwhile, Baker and the corpse completely vanished.
At 11 PM, Baker finally arrived in Alexandria claiming he’d “gotten lost” and his cousin Lafayette Baker was there to receive the corpse. An unexplained three-hour delay transpired before the body was transferred (in a sloppy and unprofessional manner) onto the ironclad U.S.S. Montauk. Even though some of the conspirators who knew Booth were being held prisoner on that same boat, the only person called to view the body (aside from those in the military) was a hotel clerk. Dr. Frederick May, a military doctor who’d removed a tumor from Booth’s neck, was also shown the body and claimed: “There is no resemblance in that corpse to Booth, nor can I believe it to be him.” No friends nor relatives were notified and May was massaged for a time and eventually changed his story so that the corpse might be Booth and was just too decayed to recognize, especially without his famous mustache.
The corpse then did a second disappearing act, and was removed from the Montauk in the same manner it had arrived aboard, which is to say without orders, documents or papers. “The removal of the body was entirely without my knowledge…This unusual transaction deprived me of opportunity for enclosing the body in a box….as ordered,” complained John D. Montgomery, commandant of the Washington Navy Yard. Lafayette Baker had seized the corpse and held a public display of dumping it into the Potomac wrapped in a horse blanket. Many years later, it would be revealed the body was taken to an old jail on the site of Washington Arsenal, buried in an old gun box. In 1869, President Johnson ordered all the conspirators remains returned to their families, although by that time nothing but bones remained.
Legend in the Booth family is that Booth was not killed, but moved to India, and while some family members would like to have his alleged remains DNA-tested, this has always been blocked and will likely never occur for reasons unknown. But even if a test discovered the bones were not Booth’s, it would mean little because there is no proper chain of custody. The body disappeared twice for long periods of time when anything could have happened.
I have to wonder if the bones of Booth weren’t worth almost as much on the black market as the reward money in some quarters. For example, in 1832, a junior at Yale founded a secret society based on one he’d been introduced into while studying abroad in Germany. Although that society was very Masonic in style, it would eventually become famous for obtaining skulls of famous revolutionaries. Known originally as “The Order,” that society is known today as “Skull & Bones,” and since it was founded by the slave and opium-running families of Boston and New York, I’ll always wonder if Booth’s bones maybe didn’t end up at the Tomb in New Haven. Could such a crook have taken place? Only the Bonesmen know for sure, and they ain’t talkin’.