Lafayette Baker is a key to the Lincoln assassination conspiracy

Most of what we know about La Fayette Curry Baker is taken from his autobiography, and undoubtedly lies mixed with gross exaggerations, as Baker didn’t even write the book, but had it ghostwritten. When grilled about it on the stand, he wasn’t completely sure of its contents. Baker was undoubtedly one of the most corrupt officials in Washington so why would the truth cross his lips with any frequency? The fact he never read his autobiography is an indication he was not a learned fellow, although street-smart and schooled in the arts of spookdom.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton hand-picked Baker to run the goon squad, the National Detective Police (NDP), which had been under control of the Secretary of State until Stanton snatched it away. Stanton also snatched the telegraph lines around the same time.

Stanton soon became a law unto himself, and Baker, chief enforcer. Admittedly, Baker wasn’t good at administration, although he did like dressing in disguise and doing his own gumshoe work. Interrogating suspected spies (especially pretty female ones), and manifesting fake evidence were among his admitted specialties, talents that made him quite useful to Stanton.

Right before the assassination, this duo got into a tiff, reportedly because Stanton discovered Baker had put a tap on his private telegraph line, which could have been deployed to communicate with an entity in Manhattan (likely Jay Gould, soon to be the richest man in America). Stanton and his allies running Congress (Wade, Stevens) had control of the flow of information concerning the outcome of battles. After Lincoln won his second term, he wanted to forgive the South and let their old representatives return to Congress, which would have taken control away from the Radicals.

Strangely, when Stanton discovered Baker’s tap, instead of firing him, Baker was moved to Manhattan. No doubt the head of the NDP office in New York, where Baker was moved to, was also involved in the conspiracy. Baker, however, was the odd man left out in the cold.
The Radical Republican cabal that had taken power in Washington viewed Lincoln as a novice and hick, and referred to him as “the ape” behind his back. Nothing like the saintly image we have today.
Precisely as the assassination plot went into action, Baker was demoted and moved to New York. Yet, a few weeks later, two days after the assassination, Stanton recalled Baker and reinstated him as NDP chief. Baker was considered the best detective on the force. No doubt Stanton was worried about the impression created by keeping him on the sidelines for the crime of the century. Using information gleaned from the army patrol that had visited Dr. Mudd’s home, Baker correctly pinpointed Booth’s location and sent a patrol led by a relative to retrieve him. At the last second, however, Stanton attached a civilian to the patrol, and he is the one who actually shot Booth in the barn.

When Baker got the news of Booth’s capture and death, he was elated since the equivalent of around $2.25 million in reward money was at stake and he expected to get the lion’s share. Baker bolted to Stanton’s home to give him the news. Stanton was an emotional man given to outbursts of rage and happiness, and Baker was curious what his reaction might be. At first, Baker did not tell Stanton Booth was dead, only captured, as he wished to judge the reaction. Surprisingly, upon hearing Booth was captured, Stanton registered nothing, but silently put one hand over his eyes while laying on his living room couch, remaining still as a statue until Baker told him Booth had not survived capture. Instead of becoming angry they could not move up the chain-of-command through torturing Booth, Stanton calmly rose and put on his coat for the trip to the office.

The young Lafayette Baker.

The story is revealing, and takes me back a few days to that initial meeting the duo had when Baker was recalled from New York and reinstated. Stanton spun his chair around and put his back to Baker. Baker assumed this was because Stanton was shedding tears over Lincoln’s death and did not wish to be seen in a moment of weakness. But knowing Stanton, it’s far more likely he turned around and feigned that moment, simply so Baker couldn’t look deeply into his eyes and read the guilt. Even though Baker was chief of the secret police, and involved in all sorts of nasty business, he remained on the outside of the assassination conspiracy as Stanton did not fully trust him.

After President Johnson went to war with Stanton and Thaddeus Stevens, and they mounted an impeachment campaign against him, word around Washington was the cabal had already decided Johnson had to go, and with manufactured evidence if necessary.

Just as they had invented the testimony that hanged Mary Surratt, they were already busy inventing evidence against Johnson. Under oath General Baker (he was promoted after Booth’s death) claimed to have seen letters between Johnson and Jefferson Davis, letters he promised to produce, but never did. Odd because forgery was not an issue for Baker.

To give an idea of the sort of shenanigans Baker fomented, he had a detective hire a prostitute to carry a pardon request to the White House. But when she arrived, Baker was waiting and nabbed her, claiming she was not of sufficient character to be in the White House. During the impeachment trial, this incident would be twisted to paint Johnson as a drunk who engaged prostitutes in the White House.

But it all backfired because Johnson survived his impeachment trial by one vote, meaning Stanton and Baker were both soon fired. Which is why Baker was forced to sign that publishing deal. He did put some clues in his book, however, and the most important had been to reveal the existence of Booth’s diary that had been captured at Garrett’s farm. Until then, the diary had never been revealed. This was an obvious case of obstruction, and Congress eventually forced Stanton to produce the diary so they could examine this curiosity, although when it finally arrived, many pages had been snipped out with a pair of scissors.

Baker received a pittance of the reward and became quite bitter later in life. Stanton and Stevens were both soon dead of natural causes and the head of Stanton’s telegraph operation would become the first CEO of Western Union, appointed by the owner, Jay Gould, who had profited immensely off uncanny Wall Street maneuvers involving Civil War battles. Almost as if he had advance knowledge.


"If you want me, you had better send for me"

There was no central intelligence during the Civil War, just a hodgepodge of competing spook units. Every army had its own spy system, as did every city’s police force. Ciphers were an ancient spook technology, handed down in spook world for generations. Aaron Burr had been an early master of the art, trained by His Majesty’s Secret Service, but the South had no one like him and the Confederates lost the cipher war.

Tapping telegraph lines was a constant endeavor, and that meant tapping both friend and foe, because things were really complicated due to the high volume of double agents. When the war broke out, everyone had three choices: join the rebellion, join the Union, or become a spook, which meant pretending to join one side while actually joining the other. This was not rocket science and spooks were soon strategically placed throughout both power structures. Keep in mind, the Congress and Cabinet were pretty much equally divided, and people who’d worked together as friends for decades, were instantly transformed into mortal enemies.

Ability to break codes got one promoted faster than anything in spook world, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton clearly had the best code-breakers on his side because they were constantly intercepting messages. On December 20, 1863, a ciphered telegraph message from the Confederate Secretary of Treasury to an engraver in New York City was cracked in a few hours and revealed the location of the printing press for Confederate paper money. Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana supervised the confiscation and destruction of money and plates. The fact a New York engraver had been selected was just an indication New York was a hotbed for Democrats and Southern sympathizers, some of whom wanted to secede and join the rebellion. Cotton was North America’s biggest and most valuable export, and the price of cotton quickly rose from 10 cents a pound at the start of the war to a high of $1.89.

The South burned massive amounts of cotton in hopes of creating a cotton famine that would help force European countries into the conflict because their economies depended on cheap cotton. But Europe had been expecting supply issues, and had been stashing cotton, and would not require more cotton for years. A brisk smuggling trade developed between Nassau and Bermuda and the Confederate States. Ships arrived stuffed with cotton and departed stuffed with armaments. These voyages could reap a profit of 500 percent, so every $5 invested in raw cotton in Mississippi became $2,500 in British rifles in Virginia. There is simply no profit stream that can compete with war, which is why many on Wall Street remained so friendly with the South. War profiteering during the Civil War likely dwarfed anything made during Prohibition, which spawned a national crime organization, and although we have a decent scorecard on players in Prohibition, the Civil War profiteers remain largely uncelebrated.

Great Britain made a fortune selling armaments to the Confederates, and their rifles were vastly superior, nothing like the junk J.P. Morgan was selling the Union, although Morgan’s contracts were enforceable, his weapons were flawed and obsolete. By the end of the war Morgan and Jay Gould would rule Wall Street thanks to their successful profiteering. The difference was Morgan was an ally of the British bankers, while Gould yearned to be King Midas and tried to go up against them (and lost).

A ciphered message was discovered in a trunk in John Wilkes Booth’s hotel room after the assassination, and it matched the cipher being used by Jacob Thompson, head of Confederate Secret Service in Canada. But there were no messages from Thompson regarding any attempted assassination of Lincoln. Clearly, Booth was getting both money and assistance during the final weeks of his life, but it wasn’t coming from Richmond, where the kidnapping plot had been hatched. No, someone who knew about the kidnapping plot was suddenly putting up money for a hit, and this operation was manifesting at lightning speed.

The day after the assassination, Secretary of War Stanton sent a terse message to his former chief of detectives in New York City. Lafayette C. Baker had been in charge of Stanton’s Gestapo, the National Detective Police (NDP), but had recently been demoted and moved to New York after Stanton discovered him tapping the War Department telegraph line.  Baker arrived the following day and was given zero information, despite all the clues found in Booth’s hotel room and the abandoned room at the Kirkwood, not to mention the investigations of the Surratt boarding house. Somehow, Stanton had already concluded this house was a center of gravity regarding the assassination, and Mary Surratt was about to be turned into Stanton’s chief patsy. But he shared none of this information with his former chief of detectives, and only revealed the suspect was John Wilkes Booth, so go find him.

That meeting happening on Sunday. Two days later, a letter arrived at the War Department:
New York, April 14, 1865
Mr. Stanton
Dear Sir: If you want me you had better send for me.
J. Wilkes Booth
P.S. What do you say?

This was the first of several letters written in Booth’s hand that arrived at the War Department over the next week, each one postmarked further north, an obvious attempt to convince the NDP Booth had escaped into Canada. I suspect John Surratt’s mission in this plot was to seed these letters into Canada, because that’s where Surratt ended up, and the first one was undoubtedly posted the same day as the assassination, although the stamp is smudged beyond recognition.

But Baker must have suspected this letter was also Booth’s clue to a possible secret connection between himself and Stanton, and Baker would become suspicious of Stanton’s motivations and actions over the next few days. And knowing Stanton, I’m sure those feelings of distrust were shared equally, if not magnified, on his end against his employee. After the JFK assassination a similarly cryptic letter would be discovered addressed to a Mr. Hunt and written in the hand of Lee Harvey Oswald. For years, many assumed it was a reference to CIA officer E. Howard Hunt, although late suspicion fell more toward the benefactor of the John Birch Society, H.L. Hunt.



String of suicides and suspicious deaths

Abraham Lincoln became inflated almost beyond recognition through positive mythologizing very quickly, just as his foil John Wilkes Booth received quite the opposite treatment and morphed into a cartoon character from a cheap melodrama. Forgotten is the reality Booth was the original matinee idol, receiving up to 100 love letters a day, frequently followed home to his hotel by adoring groupies, and the first person in recorded history to have his clothes shredded by fans desiring a piece of him. Not exactly the raving lunatic that’s come down in history, eh? We’ll likely never know the full list of missions Captain Booth undertook for the South, or anything close, but we do know that smuggling precious quinine was a big part of that puzzle.
During the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of soldiers contracted malaria, and at the time, no one knew it was spread by mosquitoes. Produced from the bark of the South American cinchona tree, quinine was the only known cure for malaria, and it was very hard to procure in the South, where malaria was a much worse problem than in the North. By smuggling quinine through the lines, Booth saved thousands of lives and performed a noble service that could have gotten him hanged for treason had he been discovered.

Ella Star Turner made a huge spectacle on a Washington street car the day after the assassination. She was carrying a framed portrait of Booth and reportedly dove into the aisle, threatening suicide. Some say she ran the fanciest sporting house in Washington, but we’ll never know because she quickly vanished off the face of the earth, leaving one to wonder what she may have known. Another rumor stated Vice President Andrew Johnson had visited Turner’s bordello the night of the assassination. Two thousand suspected Booth accomplices were rounded up quickly and George B. Love was just one of them. He slit his throat with a penknife in the guardhouse at Fort Stephens and they later found a baggage claim made out to Turner in his pockets.

On July 11, 1866, Senator James H. Lane of Kansas shot himself. He was the leader of the Jayhawkers, and Quantrill’s bloody raid on Lawrence was really an attempt to assassinate him and avenge some of his raids on the South. Lane was a leader of the Radical Republicans, but after the assassination he switched his support to Andrew Johnson, which must have infuriated Stanton and Stevens.

On July 3, 1868, retired General Lafayette C. Baker died in Philadelphia. He was 44. An examination of his hair decades later revealed he may have suffered arsenic poisoning, and not died of meningitis as claimed. Baker had been thrown under the bus and fired by Stanton shortly after the conspiracy trial was concluded. He had a ghostwriter whip out a pulp-novel style autobiography strung together with newspaper accounts and Baker’s own mythologizing, a book that explosively revealed the existence of Booth’s diary for the first time. Baker long suspected Stanton had been involved, and he seeded some clues in his book, but made no direct accusations. Baker had initially requested three quarters of the reward, the equivalent of almost $2 million today. But he only got a measly $3,500 (or approximately $90,000) and felt massively cheated by Stanton.

In December 1869, Edwin Stanton died shortly after complaining of being haunted by Mary Surratt’s ghost. Caleb Cushing immediately claimed Stanton had slit his throat, same as his brother had done many years earlier, and there was a coverup in progress. Although the Senate had approved Stanton’s appointment to the Supreme Court, President Grant sat on the paperwork for weeks, letting him twist uncomfortably in the wind. Stanton had been rudely rebuffed from a seat on Grant’s cabinet, as he was now one of the most unpopular politicians in the nation. R. F. Harvey had been in charge of preparing his corpse for the casket. In 1903 a Baltimore newspaper story reportedly written by Harvey’s son stated “no human being ever succeeded in getting him to deny or confirm anything on the subject [of Stanton].” The death certificate (severe asthma attack) had been issued by Stanton’s close friend, Surgeon General Barnes.

On November 12, 1875, ex-Senator Preston King tied a bag of bullets around his neck and jumped from the Christopher Street Ferry in New York. King had personally blocked Anna Surratt from an audience with President Johnson, which ended all hope of saving her mother, indicating this might be another death linked to Surratt’s ghost.

One of the more mysterious deaths was Louis Wiechmann, key witness against Mary Surratt, who was later rumored to have been gay and infatuated with the old school chum he’d betrayed, John Surratt. Wiechmann was put into “protective custody” and spent weeks traveling all over the northeast in the failed effort to bring Surratt to justice. He died on June 2, 1902, and according to Lloyd Lewis in Myths After Lincoln, the cause of death listed as “extreme nervousness.” Strangely, Wiechmann had recently signed a declaration stating: “This is to certify every word I gave in evidence at the assassination trial was absolutely true.”

No one knows what happened to John F. Parker, the guard who failed to protect the president. He returned to his post in the  White House and was chastised once by Mrs. Lincoln. In 1868 he was dismissed for sleeping on a streetcar while on duty. Similarly, the fall-guy for Booth’s assassination, Boston Corbett, was admitted to a mental institution, escaped and slipped off the pages of history forever.

Edwin Booth did all he could to make amends for his brother’s misguided act, even to the point of paying to rebuild the barn on Garrett’s farm. But Edwin also kept a framed portrait of his younger brother on his nightstand in his bedroom at the Player’s Club on Gramercy Park in New York City. The day of Edwin’s funeral (June 9, 1893), Ford’s Theater, which had been converted to a War Department warehouse by Stanton, collapsed. Apparently too many files had been crammed into the rickety third floor and 22 clerks were killed, and 68 injured.

The War Department files on Lincoln’s assassination remained sealed until 1937 in the interest of national security.

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.


Inside Stanton’s Secret Service

During the Civil War, the Union’s secret services were known as the National Detective Police (NDP) and headquartered in the basement of the Treasury Department, but directed through the office of the Secretary of State. After a railroad detective thwarted an assassination attempt on his life, President Abraham Lincoln elevated the supremely competent Allan Pinkerton (left) to head the NDP.

But on Valentine’s Day 1862, Lincoln transferred all control of the secret police to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who apparently was awarded control because many innocents were languishing uncharged in Carroll Prison. Lincoln was hoping Stanton’s organizational skills might manifest a more speedy resolution for these unfortunates. This may have happened, but more important, Stanton demoted Pinkerton as NDP commander, and replaced him with the brutal and obviously-corrupt Layfayette C. Baker, who began a reign of terror in Washington, closing bordellos, raiding gambling houses, confiscating smuggled goods, closing grog shops, running multiple kick-back schemes. How much booty was put in Baker’s pocket and how much shared with Stanton will never be known.

Although precise statistics on civilian imprisonment were not recorded, it’s estimated 14,000 were imprisoned by the North during the Civil War. On September 24, 1862, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, installing martial law so civilians were subject to military tribunals in which officers acted as judge and jury while suspects were not allowed to testify in their own defense. Stanton became an expert at stage-managing the trials of those officers he felt were not sufficiently loyal, which left him with a iron grip on ones that remained, lest they incur his mighty wrath. Pretty soon, it became obvious General George B. McClellan was on Stanton’s shit list.

McClellan’s sabotage was necessary because Stanton feared McClellan might win the Presidency during the next election, a post Stanton wanted to keep for a Radical Republican (if not Lincoln then Salmon Chase), but McClellan seemed too damned popular to beat and needed to be removed from power. Although commanding general of the Union army, McClellan was also a peace candidate who favored legal solutions rather than a national blood bath. And like many commanders McClellan was reluctant to mount suicidal frontal assaults, something Ulysses S. Grant was not adverse to. In one of Grant’s more bloody battles 7,000 Union soldiers perished in the first hour.

Lincoln had a soft heart and could not turn down a mother’s request to save her son from a firing squad because he’d run like a jack rabbit during his first encounter with the terrible ceremonies of death. But Stanton always tore up those pardons, claiming they’d destroy the army’s morale. So Lincoln usually relented and let those boys be hung or shot by firing squad, although those deaths weighed heaviest on his soul.

Right after the assassination, Stanton seized all power and had 2,000 suspects thrown into prison, including the staff and owners of Ford’s Theater. He seized the theater and converted it into his own warehouse, but not before ordering a private command performance of Our American Cousin, on grounds the play might hold some clue to the assassination. I’m sure a few actors were a bit worried because they knew any of them could also be declared a suspect without warning as they all knew Booth.

Considering how heartless Stanton was, it’s difficult to understand why not a single person who aided Booth past Dr. Samuel Mudd’s house was ever charged or arrested (and there were many). Or why the President’s only guard who’d abandoned his post was never charged with negligence. Or why the leader of that patrol that brought Booth back dead was awarded $15,000 after his patrol killed the key witness to solving the crime. Or why the three key witnesses who were later convicted of perjury before Congress were never charged for similar lies told at the conspiracy trial. The only way any of this makes sense is if Stanton was covering up something.

Keep in mind, no one was allowed to see the cipher messages telegraphed from the front lines except Major Thomas T. Eckert and Stanton. If they were working together on war profiteering scams, they were in a unique and powerful position to control the flow of all information.


Charles Dunham is a key to the Lincoln assassination

It’s tragic that no photo exists of Charles Dunham, aka San(d)ford Conover, whose career as a journalist, con-man, paid perjurer, and possible triple agent holds a place all its own in the parade of great spooks in history who dance through raindrops and come out dry as a bone. Apparently Dunham was dark and handsome and employed a facile tongue in all sorts of intricate intrigues. He was a Zelig of his time, appearing in the strangest places and always under a different identity. So you can understand why he seems to have had a strong aversion to cameras.

Only a few researchers would devote serious effort to peel this onion and unmask Dunham, most notably Joseph E. Missemer, David R. Barbee, James O. Hall, and Joseph George, Jr.

Carman Cumming wrote Devil’s Game, the only book devoted to Dunham, whose colorful exploits have yet to be fully exploited by the entertainment industry, something sure to happen eventually. I suspect this story is overlooked because it provides a window inside the Great Lincoln Conspiracy. The best I can do is a newspaper clipping that reports his presence in a Washington courtroom.

Dunham was a New York lawyer and possible dirty tricks operative for the Democratic party. When the war broke out, he was busy running a scam to collect money for a fictional Union regiment that never materialized. In April 1863, he obtained a Union military pass for traveling South, and soon found himself surrounded by a grinning contingent of Mosby’s Rangers on horseback, who turned him over to General John W. Winder, head of Confederate Counterintelligence. Dunham was immediately transferred to Castle Thunder, a former tobacco warehouse converted into a prison for suspected spies and traitors. But Dunham successfully charmed his jailers by telling them he wished to defect and raise a Confederate regiment through his connections in Baltimore, as he knew hundreds of Northerners like him ready to join the rebellion.

Unfortunately, after being released, he was soon re-captured in a heavily-guarded military zone, and his excuse for being there just before the summer assault was not believed, so Dunham was deported back to the North over his protests he would be hanged as a traitor upon arrival.

Funny how the first thing Dunham did on return was post a letter to Colonel Lafayette Baker, head of the Union Secret Services. Soon, he was back in New York and contributing regularly to three different newspapers, all under different bylines, although his primary identity had become that of Sandford Conover. But since he seldom signed his journalism, the one time his byline did appear, the typesetter left off the “d,” and since then, Dunham became known as Sanford Conover.

Dunham was a master of melodrama and wove some amazing tales. His favorite characters included the villainous Colonel George Margrave and Colonel Charles Dunham (yes, his alter-ego remained in Virginia and raised and led a Confederate regiment, although like most everything Dunham wrote, it was all a fabrication). Dunham would submit an explosive story for a Copperhead newspaper one day, and then attack that same article in a Union paper the next day, exposing his own lies. He pitted his fictional characters against each other in epic battles.

Dunham sent a letter to President Lincoln requesting permission to kidnap Jefferson Davis, and then wrote an editorial condemning an alleged plot to kidnap President Lincoln, a plan that didn’t exist yet, although it soon would take form under John Wilkes Booth and John Surratt. Dunham may have given Booth the idea, as Booth made several unexplained trips to New York before fomenting his plot, a plan that eventually turned to murder after the war was nearly over.

Dunham was a master at forging documents and signatures, and it doesn’t take much imagination to wonder if he might have invented a document indicating Lincoln was planning to capture and execute Jefferson Davis. Had someone like Booth been shown a document like that, he might have felt justified in serving Lincoln his own medicine. Booth did write a letter fully explaining his actions and motivations and had handed it to a fellow actor at Ford’s Theater the day of the assassination, requesting him to deliver it to a local newspaper. Big mistake. What happened next we’ll never know, but years later, that actor would finally come forward, now claiming he burned this crucial evidence in horror without showing it to anyone. More likely, he brought that letter to the War Department, where it was suppressed and maybe burned there, otherwise that letter should have come up for discussion during the trial of the conspirators. In his diary shortly before his death, Booth considered returning to Washington to clear his name, something he felt he could do. Booth was stunned to discover he was universally despised by all newspapers after the assassination. He had not achieved hero status from the Copperheads that he’d been expecting, and it crushed him.

Testifying as Sanford, Dunham made the case Davis was behind Lincoln’s assassination, a charge believed until he later appeared before the Judicial Committee in Congress, told similar stories and was convicted of perjury. Since those perjuries involved similar testimony he’d given earlier before the tribunal, one wonders why Dunham wasn’t charged in that more important case as well?

When John Surratt finally returned to stand trial, Dunham visited him and offered a deal: If Surratt agreed to implicate President Johnson in Lincoln’s assassination, he’d receive immunity and other rewards. The only person who could have possibly brokered that deal was Secretary of War Stanton.


Division of reward key to Lincoln assassination

Both Lafayette Baker and his cousin Luther were not happy with the division of spoils following the execution of John Wilkes Booth. They had been expecting the lion’s share of money because the operation had been fomented by Lafayette and he initially put his cousin in charge of the detail. Lafayette initially put in a request for the entire $75,000, so imagine his surprise when he only got $3,750.

Luther’s story was that Detective Everton Conger showed up and volunteered to accompany his expedition. Since Conger was the most experienced soldier, he soon assumed the command on his own initiative, which is why he was the first man to enter the tobacco-drying shed Booth was locked inside. Afterwards, everyone acted like Conger had been in charge all along.

Conger is the one who started a small fire on the side of the structure as a diversion before entering, but eyewitnesses claim his fire had not really caught hold when a shot rang out. Luther rushed in and immediately assumed Conger had shot Booth, but Conger initially claimed Booth had shot himself. But also upset was Lieutenant Edward Doherty, ranking officer in charge of the squad, although he seemed more peeved about not being called to testify at the trial, and wrote a complaint to his Colonel concerning that staggering omission, but since he believed Conger probably shot Booth, that perspective was not part of the script nor welcome in the court room.

The first official and signed and dated report handed in to the War Department claimed Boston Corbett shot Booth while he was attempting an escape.

The division of spoils was decided by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, a man now considered by many researchers as a primary suspect in Lincoln’s death. I’d suggest that after Stanton learned Baker was sending a patrol on Booth’s trail, he asked well-seasoned Detective Conger to go along, and, in great confidence, promised Conger the lion’s share of the reward money provided Booth came back dead rather than alive.

The split was contentious. A special War Department commission determined Doherty was the leader of the patrol and deserved $75,000. A committee of claims established by the U.S. House of Representatives overturned the decision and gave the largest shares—$17,500 a piece—to Lafayette Baker and Conger and reduced Doherty’s reward to $2,500.

Finally, Congress adjusted the shares. Conger received $15,000 and Doherty $5,250. Lafayette Baker’s payout was slashed to $3,750, while his cousin Luther was given $3,000. Corbett, the iQ-challenged patsy who took credit for killing Booth, got $1,653.85, the same as his 25 fellow cavalrymen. The remaining $5,000 was divided among four other investigators and soldiers involved in the manhunt.

The split probably turned both Bakers against Stanton, as Lafayette would soon be unemployed, looking for a publisher for his autobiography.


Is Simon Wolf a key to the Lincoln assassination?

Michael W. Kauffman is widely recognized as THE authority on the Lincoln assassination, and he’s a regular consultant to the History Channel and other media giants. Ten years ago, Kauffman published American Brutus, the most in-depth analysis of the movements of John Wilkes Booth just prior to and after the assassination.

Kauffman did an exhaustive amount of research, and was careful to deal only with primary sources from the period. The biggest stumbling blocks to an investigation are the many conflicting and contradictory elements. Any historian can pick a thesis and collect a book’s worth of material to support it, provided contradictions from more reliable sources are ignored.

Kauffman makes it clear from the outset he trusts Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and quotes liberally from newspaper reports that could have been sculpted by Stanton. He also dismisses the “conspiracy theories.”

The first theory to emerge involved Vice President Johnson, and Stanton may have encouraged that suspicion before promoting Jefferson Davis as the true instigator. Little known today is that Davis was declared guilty before the military tribunal even took place. And that tribunal did find Davis guilty at a time Davis was being held incommunicado in a jail in Virginia.

Strange Stanton did not wish Davis to attend his own trial, despite so much of the testimony being directed against him and his operatives in Canada. Plots to burn down New York City and spread Yellow Fever to civilians were unveiled, although much of the testimony was proven false and had been paid for. This revelation was something of an accident and occurred because some trial testimony was leaked to the press. Had they been able to keep the tribunal testimony secret, as Stanton wanted, the innocence of Mary Surratt would not have come to light so quickly. Her death destroyed Stanton’s political career and made him the most unpopular man in the country after it was exposed he engineered the first female execution in American history. And wouldn’t you know it, she was innocent. That left a really sour taste all across America, so much so that President Grant denied Stanton a position in his cabinet and refused to sign his elevation to the Supreme Court, sitting on it for weeks.

I have some questions for Kauffman after speed-reading his book, which I admit contains a wealth of insight and never-before-published details. And the first question is: Where is Simon Wolf?

Wolf admits meeting Booth the morning of the assassination, and apparently Booth told him (and no one else) that his proposal of marriage to the daughter of a United States Senator had been rebuffed. Wolf speculated this rejection drove him to murder Lincoln.

Strange no mention of this unexpected rejection appears in his notebook, which Booth composed while on the run. Also, the fiance reported no such announcement, although their engagement was a secret.

Booth’s secret fiance was also being courted by Lincoln’s son, a detail strangely left out of many history books. If the deed were done over remorse of Lucy Lambert “Bessie” Hale’s rejection, it would seem a duel with Robert Todd Lincoln, Booth’s rival for Hale’s affections, might have been a more appropriate response. Breaking up an engagement was certainly a dueling matter for a Southern gentleman like Booth.

A more accurate version, however, is that Bessie was being moved with her family to Spain, where her father was being posted as ambassador, and she promised to return to marry Booth in one year, so there was not a breaking-off of the secret engagement, unless Booth did it on his own initiative. And keep in mind, Booth is a spook and Bessie’s dad inside the Radical Republican cabal running Washington, so his affections for her could have all been part of his spook activities. Perhaps her father sensed this, or, of course, he could have been told this very fact by his friend Stanton. When did Senator Hale discover the man courting his daughter was a notorious Southern spy? Because this information was known inside the War Department for weeks prior to the assassination. I suspect Hale’s sudden appointment to Spain might have been triggered by a desire to get his daughter out-of-town so she’d not be implicated in the nasty business to follow.

But why is the connection between Booth and Wolf ignored by almost every historian?

Edwin Stanton was a devoted Freemason of the elite Scottish Rite, which means on Tuesday nights he was likely found doing ceremonies with his fellow masters of the craft at the glorious temple in Washington. I suspect Stanton was not a very spiritual person, however, but someone who recognized Masonry as a means to advance his career.

I also suspect Simon Wolf may have been a Mason, although his identity as the head of B’nai B’rith in Washington DC is well-documented. Like the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Ku Klux Klan and The Church of Latter Day Saints, the International Order of B’nai B’rith has some masonic elements in its origins, and was likely founded by Jewish masons. Masonry is an incredibly complex world, with many subsets and splinter groups. But the fact that Christians, Jews and Muslims were all welcome and everything spoken inside the temple was confidential made masonry an ideal venue for conducting conspiracy, which is why lodges were so often penetrated by spooks from various secret societies. Also, keep in mind that most researchers today consider B’nai B’rith’s ADL little more than a spook-infested propaganda arm for the Mossad, so you can see how these intelligence connections were wired into the secret society systems from their origins.

Lafayette C. Baker may have been corrupt and ruthless, but he was also good at his job, and he arrested Wolf in Philadelphia, where he’d traveled to meet with a Southern refuge who’d hired his services as a lawyer. Wolf did many similar missions in the service of fellow Jews. But Baker charged him as an enemy agent because of his leadership in B’nai B’rith, which Baker considered, “a disloyal organization which has its ramifications in the South, and…helping traitors.” The fact remains many Jews during this period sympathized with the South and found employment as blockade runners and black-market profiteers, and Wolf was their primary attorney of choice. In fact, General Grant at one point declared his own pogrom against all Jews, an order quickly rescinded by Lincoln, no doubt after a visit from the young Simon Wolf, who seemed to have some powerful connections.

But before those connections were known, Baker had Wolf tossed in Carroll Street Prison, where he could have remained for the war’s duration, except Wolf convinced another official Stanton would exonerate him. Stanton went into a rage when told Wolf had been placed into prison, and lashed out at Baker. Even though Baker worked for Stanton, the two obviously never trusted each other, and Baker would soon be demoted for spying on Stanton and shipped out-of-town, only to be recalled immediately after Lincoln’s assassination to head the investigation. It appears he was moved out-of-town so as not to bump into the operation.

What Baker didn’t know was that when Wolf had arrived from Ohio, he’d gone straight to Stanton’s office, where he presented a letter of introduction written by Stanton’s former business partner, Colonel George W. McCook. According to Wolf, “After reading the letter, the Secretary, looking over his glasses with a look as determined as all of his acts were, said to me, ‘Young man, if what Colonel McCook says is true, you have no business in the Department; get outside; and if it isn’t true, I have no use for imbeciles.'” (Presidents I Have Known by Simon Wolf, 1918, http://archive.org/stream/presidentsihavek00wolfrich/presidentsihavek00wolfrich_djvu.txt).

After arriving in Washington, Wolf swiftly became president of the Literary and Dramatic Society, which held meetings in a rented hall at 481 Ninth Street. This society also staged a production of Hamlet at Carusi’s to celebrate Shakespeare’s 300th birthday and Lincoln, Lord Lyons and Sir Edward Malet were specifically invited. Back when Wolf lived in Cleveland, he’d been involved in theatrical productions with both B.F. Peixotto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Booth. Cleveland was a stronghold for the Knights of the Golden Circle, a terrorist militia devoted to supporting the Southern cause who were the real muscle behind the Copperhead movement that opposed Lincoln in the North. Their numbers, however, were undoubtedly greatly exaggerated.
“I knew Booth well,” writes Wolf. “We had played on the amateur stage together in Cleveland, Ohio, and I had met him that very morning in front of the Metropolitan Hotel. He asked me to take a drink. He seemed very excited, and rather than decline and incur his enmity I went with him. It was the last time I ever saw Booth.”

You cannot understand history without a study of the secret societies operating at any given time. Since every known detail of that day is examined in Kauffman’s book in intricate detail, I have to wonder why Wolf never makes an appearance.

The incredible tale of Booth’s bones

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’.


Who was John Wilkes Booth?

John Wilkes Booth was only 27 years old when he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. History has portrayed him as a lunatic, and not the talented artist and super spook he obviously was. I think of him more like Johnny Depp meets James Bond.

Booth had been a dedicated spook working for the Confederate Secret Service since the start of the war, and undoubtedly fomented many missions in the service of the South, most involving life-saving quinine. Because he was a famous actor and well-off financially, Booth moved easily through the upper levels of society, which made him an ideal undercover agent.

Booth’s biggest operation, the one that was going to make him famous as a spook, was his plot to kidnap Lincoln so he could be ransomed. The North had ceased all prisoner swaps because former prisoners were immediately returning to the front to continue the fight. Kidnapping Lincoln had been seen as the best means of forcing those swaps to re-start. But as “total war” on civilians was waged by General Sherman, while secrect documents discovered of a Union plot to assassinate Jefferson Davis, and with the recent hanging of Booth’s greatest role model and friend, super spook John Yates Beall, one can see how it didn’t take much to move this man to murder. That plus all the brandy he was drinking at the time.

Dozens of people knew about the kidnap plot well in advance, although President Jefferson Davis was on record opposing it. Davis was not a vicious man and believed the chances of Lincoln resisting a kidnapping were too great, and Davis worried Lincoln might be killed during such an event, something he obviously was opposed to.

The kidnap plan failed not because the President of the Confederacy was opposed to it, however, but because the Union War Department got wind and changed Lincoln’s itinerary to avoid the trap. This was typical of Confederate operations as double agents were everywhere, which is why projects of this magnitude were nearly impossible to conceal. The informant who revealed the plot was Louis Weichmann.

However, around the time General Robert E. Lee surrendered, signaling the end of the war was at hand, Booth switched the kidnap plot to murder. Not only was Lincoln marked for death, but so was his closest Cabinet member, Secretary of State William H. Seward, one of his few true friends in the Cabinet. You might think Vice President Andrew Johnson, General Ulysses S. Grant, and even Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton were supposed to be assassinated that night, as that is the official cover story. However, a little research reveals those three supposed plots were invented during the trial, and the evidence produced manufactured by witnesses later exposed as perjurers. If anything, Booth was trying to lay the blame on Vice President Johnson by leading a trail to his door. There was no attempt on the Vice President or anyone else other than Seward and Lincoln, the duo who were united on the idea of total forgiveness for the South in hopes of binding the nation back together. And it’s somewhat suspicious neither Salmon Chase nor Thaddeus Stevens made any effort to visit Lincoln during his final hours.

At the same time Booth began contemplating the assassination, he began recording his inner thoughts in a leather-bound 1864 diary. It was an obsolete diary, leading me to believe Booth’s documentation of the events was not done casually, but was his attempt in his final days to hand down the truth of what had happened. Booth was not a murderer at heart and took no pleasure from the killing, although he did believe the South would honor him as a hero, a misjudgment on his part, at least for the majority, who were horrified by this pointless violence.

Consider Booth carried a one-shot derringer into Ford’s theater. Obviously, he was not expecting armed resistance. How did Booth know Lincoln would be left unguarded? After discharging his weapon, he jumped to the stage to make a getaway through back of the theater where his horse was waiting. But his spur snagged on the bunting of the Presidential box, causing Booth to fall and lose a spur in the process. According to his diary, he broke his leg, in a horse fall later during the escape. That broken leg is the only reason he got caught because he was awarded a massive head-start for unknown reasons. And the hunt for him was regularly impeded when it could have been accelerated.

All roads out of Washington were closed after the assassination except one, which just happened to be the route Booth took, and when he crossed the bridge out of Washington, he gave the guard his real name and was allowed to pass even though bridges were supposed to be closed to traffic at night as a security measure. Booth’s name and description would not go out for many hours, and the local telegraph line went strangely dead. But even the next day, the War Department acted like they didn’t know who the assassin was, when dozens of witnesses had already named him at police headquarters. When Booth’s picture was finally circulated, it may have been a photo of his brother Edwin because that misidentified photo later appeared in War Department files as Booth.

Despite the biggest manhunt in history, Booth evaded capture for over a week, yet one afternoon, Lafayette C. Baker, recently reinstated head of the National Detective Police (NDP), sent a detail of soldiers after drawing a 10-mile diameter circle on a map of Virginia. Baker explained Booth could be found inside the circle and sent his cousin to fetch him with a squad of 25 soldiers. How he knew Booth’s precise location remains a mystery, but since there was the equivalent of a $2.25 million dead-or-alive reward at stake, few wanted to share credit for anything. At the last second, Everett Conger was attached to the unit, and carried instructions to bring back Booth’s diary. Conger ended up taking charge at the scene.

I suspect Stanton gave Everton Conger instructions to kill Booth, but that will never be known conclusively. It is somewhat strange he was awarded the lion’s share of the reward.

Despite being a key piece of evidence, Booth’s diary never appeared during the trial, or was even mentioned at all, though it would have exonerated some of the suspects who were hanged.

But  a year later, after Baker lost his cushy job at the War Department, he shopped an autobiography to some major publishers and found a ghost writer to pen the pot-boiler. This is when the country learned of Booth’s diary and pretty soon Congress was investigating. After Baker examined the diary in the presence of a Congressional committee, he claimed 18 leaves had been cut out, as if with a scissors.

Yet, even the pages left intact provided some interesting clues, the most important of which was probably:

“I am tempted to return to Washington to clear my name, which I am sure I can do.”

How was Booth intending to clear his name? Booth would never have committed murder for money, although he was carrying a large amount when he was captured, and it all disappeared naturally. However, he might have committed this deed if some powerful person(s) made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Or if that offer came from someone within the Confederate Secret Services.