Lincoln assassination: fakes, frauds & forgeries

Newspapers with inside stories concerning the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln sold out quick in the spring of 1865, both in America and Europe, although most articles were packed with outrageous fabrications designed to sell issues. Very quickly, manufacturing of fake evidence in this case became a cottage industry, as the gullible were easily led down a maze of rabbit holes, starting with Jefferson Davis, Andrew Johnson, Knights of the Golden Circle, The Vatican, and so it went through the decades, with inventive frauds appearing on a regular basis. Some of this muck may have been manufactured to obscure the real plot, but some was the work of con artists seeking fame, fortune and publicity. (The instant appearance of multiple rabbit holes would be repeated for JFK and 9/11.)

Not much is known about Dion Haco, the dime novelist who rushed out the first tabloid biography on Booth before the trial was over, a yellow-sheet published by Dawley’s New War Novels. The following year, Haco followed up with the even-more explosive The Private Journal and Diary of John H. Surratt. Strange a year later, when Surratt returned to face trial, he made no mention of this forgery, which claimed he was a made member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, an anti-Catholic organization. Although a military tribunal had hanged his mother, Surratt walked away a free man after the civil trial on the same charges. He gave two lectures afterwards, but left no diary nor journals. By this time, public opinion had shifted against accepting the tribunal that had found Surratt’s mom guilty because so many perjuries by government witnesses had come to light.  Within a few decades, however, few would recall how corrupt that trial had really been.

The Lincoln assassination may be one of the most investigated murders in history, but it’s astonishing how much research is tainted by obvious forgeries. You can’t believe the amount of people who take Haco’s melodramatic novels as gospel truth.

William Henry Burr also wrote some early books on the assassination and they all pointed toward a Catholic conspiracy. Apparently, his key evidence was advance knowledge of the assassination in the tiny hamlet of St. Joseph, Minnesota, home to a college for the training of Jesuit priests. According to Burr, the news arrived two hours before the assassination! This rabbit hole would become one of the most well-traveled since John Surratt, his mother and childhood friend found guilty were all Catholics….forget the reality Booth was not, and Booth was the actual assassin, while the Catholics were just patsies.

On January 13, 1903, David E. George passed away in Enid, Oklahoma, allegedly confessing to his landlady he was John Wilkes Booth. Upon hearing this story, Finis L. Bates rushed to Enid from Texas because he’d known a man named John St. Helen, who also claimed to be Booth. Bates wanted to view the corpse while still at the undertakers, and once he did, he declared it was the same man he knew as John St. Helen. Meanwhile, the landlady recanted George’s death bed confession, but no matter, Bates paid to mummify the corpse so it could be put on public exhibition for an admission fee. The mummy was sold through the years to circus sideshows, and at various times held under bond, seized for debt, banned from exhibition, or kidnapped. And, of course, Bates wrote a crackpot book purporting to tell the real story of Booth’s escape.

There’s a strong current in history pulling scholars toward accepting official stories and staying within those parameters, and since that route usually yields the best book and film deals, not to mention professorships, serious historians often remain on this tack. But suddenly, in 1937, after gaining access to long-hidden War Department files, Otto Eisenschiml published the ground-breaking: Why Was Lincoln Murdered? The book painted a compelling portrait of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton as possibly the instigator of Lincoln’s murder and was written in an entertaining, novelistic style. To marshal his case, the author stretched the truth here and there, and some points were quickly refuted by mainstream historians, however, the bulk of his case emerged unscathed, and most second-generation Lincoln researchers were influenced in some way by Eisenschiml.

At this point, a circus tatoo man had gained possession of George’s mummy, and the success of Eisenschiml’s book ignited renewed interest in Lincoln conspiracies, so in 1937, the mummy suddenly earned over $100,000 in exhibition fees, five times what Booth made as an actor in his best year. Obviously, there was a lot of money to be made fabricating Booth stories, which is why we’ve had a steady parade of fakes and forgeries ever since.

Twenty years after Eisenschiml’s groundbreaking book, Theodore Roscoe followed up with the even more comprehensive The Web of Conspiracy, three times the length and packed with even more supporting documentation. In his foreword, Roscoe described the assassination’s legend as “a towering edifice of so-called history built on sand.” For two decades a parade of apologists defending the official record had nitpicked every exaggeration in Eisenschiml’s book, but when Roscoe came back with a mountain of additional evidence, the best they could do was ignore him and pretend the book was never published or just a meaningless rehash of Eisenschiml’s. When you crack a deep political conspiracy like Lincoln’s assassination, it’s like solving a jigsaw puzzle. Suddenly you can see where to fit the missing pieces. Conversely, when you bend over backwards inventing complex rationalizations (magic bullets, etc.), remaining pieces fail to fit and require additional complex rationalizations. When you arrive at the truth, however, it lights up like a Christmas tree and everything falls into place.

In 1977, David Balsiger and Charles E. Sellier, Jr. published The Lincoln Conspiracy, which used a lot of material from Roscoe’s book, but added dubious evidence taken from transcripts provided by an unknown source acting through a lawyer as his agent. This person claimed to be a bastard descendent of Edwin Stanton and was offering to sell Booth’s missing diary pages, which identified the cabal behind the assassination. This source also claimed to have the letter Booth wanted delivered to the newspapers. In hindsight, I’d guess this was a clever intelligence operation designed to taint the story forever, and I file this effort under: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em—and throw in a ton of disinfo. And if that wasn’t enough, there was additional new material provided by a professor from Indiana State University named Ray Neff.

Neff claimed to have purchased a volume of Colburn’s United Service Magazine in 1957, a British military journal for professional soldiers. He soon discovered the book had notations in cipher in the margins, as well as the date: 2/5/68. In order to decipher the code, Neff claims to have taken the book to an unnamed cryptography expert. The first paragraph decoded went: “In new Rome, there walked three men, a Judas, a Brutus and a spy. Each planned he would be king when Abraham should die.” An invisible signature of Lafayette C. Baker was discovered on one page, and an analysis expert claimed it matched the real Baker’s signature.

Neff is obviously a fanatic researcher, and pursues documents from the era with enormous zeal, all of which are now archived at Indiana State University. Apparently, Neff sued the college for $90,000, but I found little information on that dispute. In fact, I find it odd I can’t locate a photo of Neff.

In a nutshell: the cipher messages stated Baker was being followed by professional spooks who wanted him dead. An enormous cabal had been working with Stanton, involving dozens of bankers, merchants, generals and government officials. However, only eight were supposedly intimately involved with the assassination, and those eight were not identified. Neff had a document from Baker’s archives proving he’d purchased a copy of Colburn’s. He had a hair analysis performed on Baker’s remains and announced he’d been poisoned with arsenic and did not die of meningitis as claimed. Eventually, Neff claimed to have discovered the arsenic had been laced in beer provided by Baker’s brother-in-law, a War Department employee.

Neff and an English co-writer eventually released their own book in 2003, Dark Union, which also claimed Booth escaped and died in India, that he’d been secretly married, and that James B. Boyd was the man shot in Garrett’s barn.

But that was 26 years after The Lincoln Conspiracy sold a million copies and became a major motion picture using the same information. But if you really peer deeply into this story, you’ll find fingers pointing in strange directions and dots lining up that don’t really connect, and while I’m sure Baker owned a copy of Colburn’s, I believe those ciphers were more likely added by someone else. In my opinion, all attempts to claim Booth wasn’t shot dead at Garrett’s farm are manufactured rabbit holes.

Today, few take Neff’s work seriously, but for a while, he did manage to grab the center of energy on Lincoln research, which was certainly unfortunate.


Why the Lincoln assassination matters

President Lincoln’s death was the first successful presidential assassination in United States history and as such deserves attention because many of the details mirror those found in later assassinations. The biggest missing piece from the officially sanctioned history are the names of the secret societies that manipulated events behind the scenes and the political operatives they often employed. If you saw Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, you saw that passage of the 13th Amendment was left to some professional political fixers who traded patronage jobs for votes.

John Wilkes Booth was an intelligence operative and possible member of a devious Southern rights secret society called the Knights of the Golden Circle, which had thousands of members sprinkled throughout the north. The network was uncovered by a Union War Department investigation shortly after the Civil War broke out and could have been set-up in anticipation of the war.

Prior to the assassination, Booth had made frequent trips to New York City and Canada (Montreal), and the reasons for these trips remain unknown, but since Booth was a spy working for the Confederacy, it’s safe to assume these were not vacations or family visits to his brother’s brownstone.

I believe Booth could have been meeting with Charles Dunham, a master spook based in New York who wrote under various names for a variety of New York papers. All his stories were immense fabrications.

The most likely candidate as Grand Poobah of the Lincoln hit would be Jay Gould, who made more money on Wall Street during the war than anyone else.

A few years ago, a researcher suggested Booth may have been meeting with Congressman and former Mayor of New York, Fernando Wood, who wanted New York City to secede from the Union in support of the South. Wood was a shipping merchant who rose to Grand Sachem of the Society of St. Tammany, the group that gained control over the city by uniting its just arriving immigrant population. Wood also apparently controlled a vicious Five Points gang known as the Dead Rabbits, whose totem was an impaled rabbit on a spike that was carried into street battles against the Bowery Boys on the Lower East Side.

But when Republicans got control of the New York State legislature, they attempted to disarm the Democrat Wood by eliminating his corrupt Municipal Police force, replacing it with a “Metropolitan” police force under their command. On June 16, 1857, Captain George W. Walling of the newly formed Metropolitan Police arrived at City Hall with an arrest warrant for Wood for the crime of selling the position of Street Commissioner to Charles Devlin for $50,000. However, 300 members of the Municipal Police (which refused to disband) were guarding the mayor, and tossed Walling and his warrant into the street, inciting an ensuing melee that lasted for days known today as the “New York City police riot.”

Since Wood represented Wall Street interests invested in the cotton industry, which involved both the South and Great Britain, he became an open supporter of the Southern cause, and was probably an equally active supporter of the Southern secret service. Spies were everywhere during the Civil War, and this landscape was dotted with double agents.

But one of the most ruthless and most effective secret services was being run by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, through his dirty tricks specialist Lafayette Curry Baker, a man famous for fabricating evidence and strong-arming bribes. It appears Stanton had a double agent planted inside Booth’s conspiracy, a man who worked as a clerk at the War Department named Louis Weichmann. Another possibility, of course, is that Stanton was fomenting the murder plot, and not just observing it from a distance.

Both Wood and Stanton have major parts in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, and many of their lines are real, like when Stanton erupts at Lincoln, “I am not going to listen to another one of your stories!” Wood is portrayed as a charming Southerner with a biting wit, and does not convey the ruthless gangster he actually was.

Strangely, Baker was demoted and shipped off to New York City just prior to the assassination. I believe this was to prevent him from stumbling across the plot, as he soon came to suspect Stanton’s complicity, but dared not shared these feelings with anyone.

The night of the assassination General Grant was scheduled to sit beside Lincoln during the play at Ford’s Theater, but apparently the Secretary of War ordered Grant elsewhere, which meant Grant’s entourage and body guards were not at the theater. Meanwhile, Stanton assigned a notorious drunk as the only guard for Lincoln, a man who left his post to have a drink at the tavern across the street as soon as the play started. Booth was having a drink in that same tavern and probably witnessed the guard arrive at the bar, signaling his coast was clear. Ask yourself why Booth carried only a one-shot derringer. Obviously, he was not expecting interference.

Once Lincoln was shot, Stanton should have become a suspect, but he was able to completely control the investigation by quickly rounding up all the suspects except Booth within 48 hours. Baker published a book titled The Secret Service in the Late War (John Potter & Co., 1874) and revealed the existence of Booth’s diary. This revelation prompted a Congressional investigation, and when Stanton was forced to produce the diary in Congress during President Johnson’s impeachment trial, Baker announced 18 leaves were missing.

Read Baker’s book here:
http://archive.org/stream/secretserviceinl00bakeiala/secretserviceinl00bakeiala_djvu.txt

Knights of the Golden Circle

The Knights of the Golden Circle was a notorious secret society you may have never heard of. In 1861, a history of the K.G.C. was published stating the Southern Rights movement began in 1834, although the first charter for a K.G.C. “castle” (their name for a lodge) was in 1854. I suggest watching The Conspirator, a film produced by Robert Redford a few years ago. I much prefer it to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

Redford spent years researching the Lincoln assassination, and the film focuses on Mary Surratt, the patsy, and Edwin Stanton, who took charge of the country after the assassination. After submitting almost entirely to Stanton’s will for a brief time, President Andrew Johnson attempted to fire him, and that’s what sparked the impeachment vote. Stanton barricaded himself in his office until the impeachment trial was over, at which point he was forced out of office.

Obviously, Lincoln’s assassination was a conspiracy, and since Captain John Wilkes Booth of the Confederate Secret Service would have most likely been working with elements of the K.G.C., and it’s offshoot, The Sons of Liberty, it might have also been useful to investigate those links during the trial. Strangely, that never happened. Instead, some innocents, including Mary Surratt, were railroaded into a military courtroom and quickly hanged, something that never could have transpired had they been afforded a regular trial and effective counsel. You have to wonder why Stanton was so eager to close the case with a fabricated trial stuffed with perjuries, and after some of his hoodwinks were unmasked, refused to vacate his office where the official records were stored. Stanton, it should also be noted, was a devoted Freemason, and his connections ran wide and deep.

The film doesn’t really go into Stanton’s motivations, although it does demonstrate some of his manipulations in the rush to judgment against an innocent woman he painted as mastermind of the assassination. Stanton would reverse Lincoln’s plans for national healing and instead open up the South to the sort of ruthless exploitation favored by Thaddeus Stevens and Ben Wade. Stanton supported General Grant for President, but was not rewarded with a return to the Cabinet, but later offered a seat on the Supreme Court, although Grant sat on that appointment for weeks and Stanton died mysteriously before it was signed.

Stanton got his job as Secretary of War in 1862, one year after the war’s start because the previous secretary had just been sacked thanks to implementing a ruthless strategy that had initially been suggested by Stanton. Lincoln was unaware of that fact, and probably felt having a Democrat as Secretary of War provided some strategic advantage. Mostly, Stanton had the backing of the leaders of both houses of Congress, as well as a reputation as the best lawyer in the country.

I find it fascinating Stanton got his start with a $500 loan from Clement Vallandigham (left), who would go on to become leader of the pro-slavery “Copperhead” Democrats, so named by Republicans to sheep-dip them as venomous snakes. However, before the Civil War got started, the K.G.C. was collecting funds for an invasion of Mexico (similar to the plans of British spook Aaron Burr, who’d been arrested and tried for fomenting a similar plot).

Vallandigham served two terms in Congress, where he voted against every proposed military bill, but after he lost his seat, he was arrested as an enemy agent, convicted and deported to the South as an alien.

Interesting John Brown was the terrorist who helped spark the Civil War and after Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid, Vallandigham was one of a handful of Congressmen allowed to interrogate the terrorist. I suspect the abolitionist movement might have been funded by economic forces making plans for war-for-profit. Brown’s biggest source of financing was William Russell, founder of Yale’s secretive Skull & Bones society, and whose family ran the North American opium cartel.

Redford’s film doesn’t mention any of these important details, including the connection between Vallandigham and the K.G.C., which had begun in his home state of Ohio. The society went through an interesting evolution, morphing into the Order of the American Knights and then becoming The Order of the Sons of Liberty, at which point Vallandigham emerged as the Supreme Commander.

There are many lessons in this story, but the most important is that whenever a military tribunal is called when a public criminal trial is needed, you should immediately suspect a hidden agenda and cover-up. And that’s why the creation of the Guantanamo Bay Prison and the torturing of people for decades, many of whom were found to have been innocent, is just another suspicious detail in the sordid history of 9/11.