On November 1, 1864, Louis Weichmann moved into widow Mary Surratt’s boarding house, 604 H Street. Surratt’s son John was an important courier for the Confederacy who kept his mother and sister largely in the dark about his activities in order to shield them from culpability. Weichmann was an old friend of the family, an elementary school chum of John’s and a fellow Catholic.
Weichmann worked as a clerk at the War Department of Prisons and sat next to Daniel H.L. Gleason. After arriving at the boarding house, he immediately began telling Gleason the house was a nest of illegal activities. Of course, the possibility exists Weichmann was placed in the house as a confidential informant from the beginning. That fall Weichmann began informing on Surratt and his friend John Wilkes Booth.
On April 18, 1865, four days after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Gleason testified Weichmann informed him in March that “he was well-acquainted with some blockade runners, young fellows, not secessionists, who were out for money and excitement, who were currently involved in a new project that aroused his suspicion.” This message wormed its way up the chain-of-command and it soon came back down Weichmann should join this project, whatever it was. But in 1911, Gleason unloaded his conscience and confessed the real story: the War Department was made aware of John Wilkes Booth’s plot to kidnap Lincoln weeks before the assassination.
Since Stanton controlled the secret police, the army, the telegraph and the entire Washington DC police force, his power was absolute and once he discovered this plot, Booth was obviously at his mercy. At any time, Stanton could have arrested Booth and hanged him for treason, standard treatment for a Confederate spook like Booth, although Booth represented a high-profile celebrity trophy catch, and as such might expect special treatment.
So why wasn’t Booth arrested in March?
Even stranger, Stanton suddenly demoted his chief detective, moving the head of the National Detective Police to Manhattan, leaving the NDP headless for the crucial few weeks the assassination plot unfolded.
Stanton’s specialty was manufacturing evidence, and he had a entire crew led by Sanford Conover (real name Charles Dunham) for this purpose, so guilt or innocence never got in the way of his agenda. It’s possible Dunham’s real employer, however, was the treacherous Jay Gould, soon the be the richest man on Wall Street.
Booth claimed in his diary he could return to Washington and clear his name. I believe he intended to reveal that a detachment of Union soldiers had been sent into Richmond for the purpose of assassinating Jefferson Davis. This unit had been sent by Stanton and Lincoln had been purposely kept in the dark.
Booth was also a bit unhinged over the hanging of his mentor John Yates Beal, despite the pleas of many prominent Washingtonians to spare the spook for his failed attempt to free the Confederates held prisoners-of-war in the North.
Also, John Parker, the guard who deserted his post was never punished and went back to work inside the White House the next day. Knowing Stanton ripped-up most every Presidential pardon, this sudden overwhelming sense of forgiveness for both Parker and Boston Corbett (the alleged killer of Booth) was inexplicable, unless this is exactly what Stanton wanted: an unguarded President and dead assassin to tell no tales.
Let me be the first to admit there’s no evidence of anything unworthy or unseemly concerning Lord Richard Bikerton Pemell Lyons, 1st Viscount etc., and I don’t expect to find any, but if rumors of His Majesties Secret Service helping foment the Civil War are true, he’d be a key player in the game, having arrived two years before the outbreak of hostilities, just enough time to stoke the fires.
After all my years of spook study, I give credit to the English. They are the masters of the craft. Not only did they write the book on James Bond, they wrote the book on Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Knights of the Round Table. When you put these elements together, spooks plus magic, you get amazing results. Plus their idea of oligarchy is so much more transparent, with a clear chain-of-command, not anything like the murky and conspiratorial oligarchy of North America.
If Lyons is talking to Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton, the key person in the Lincoln assassination plot around whom all others orbit, it’s likely being done in whispers in the Grand Lodge of the Scottish Rite on Tuesday night or at some private 5-star restaurant afterwards. People have the illusion these major conspiracies involve people meeting in large groups, but in reality, the opposite is true. It’s one-on-one and done very quietly.
Someone put up a lot of money for the Lincoln hit, and Stanton easily could have handled that himself. Or maybe it was Clement Vallandigham, Jay Gould, Salmon Chase, or even Thaddeus Stevens, Fernando Wood, Jacob Astor, or just a combination of the above plus others unnamed. Any one of those people could have easily raised enough on a day’s graft at the office. (Things haven’t changed much, the budget on 9/11 was supposed to be $150,000 wired to Atta from a Pakistan ISI agent.)
The most significant moment early on in the Civil War concerned the Trent Affair, when two Confederate envoys were seized off a British ship to prevent them from seeking aid in Europe. This threatened to blow up into an international incident and force England to enter the war on the side of the South to preserve its honor, which would have led to an easy Southern victory. Wall Street would have relocated to Richmond or New Orleans. The North would have been returned to England officially and not just in the banking realms. The Union Jack could have flown from the White House. Lyons got the envoys released, which saved the day for Wall Street and the North, so we know what side he was working for. England had spawned and funded the abolitionist movement, and even though its economy depended on cheap cotton from the South, it’s trade with the North must have been far more important.
There’s only one person I know who consorted socially with Lyons, Booth and Stanton, and that’s Simon Wolf, young head of B’nai B’rith, someone active in the support of Jewish merchants caught in the middle of the war (and doing some narco-dollars-type profiteering, I might add). Notice British banking and intelligence employs many assets in these realms? That’s not by accident I assure you, and I know why.
When dealing with matters of intense sensitivity, it’s advisable to step outside your cultural realm and enlist agents from another social universe. The reason I suspect Wolf could have been the courier between Stanton and Booth is because he was very ambitious and very close with Stanton. I don’t know if Wolf managed to get close to Lyons, but he aggressively courted his approval. Wolf became a masterful social climber and rose to the top of Washington social circles and stayed there until he died. And he told a lie about meeting with John Wilkes Booth the day of the assassination, and when people tell lies, they are often covering something up.
I’d assume Booth was not told he was dealing with Stanton when he accepted the bag of money, whoever handed it to him. Booth would have been working for expenses only, anyway. He was a patriot, not a mercenary, and that’s what he’s was trying to make clear in his final messages, however corrupted and distorted they became through selective editing and negative mythologizing. If Wolf handed him a bag, the source could have been some anonymous benefactor inside the Union who admired his efforts. The first rule of spook craft is “need to know,” and a professional spook respects that rule religiously because it can save your life. You don’t want to be the man who knew too much because that’s how you get whacked during the final clean-up. And you don’t want to be haunted by the likes of a ghost as powerful as Mary Surratt.
One of the more fascinating pieces of evidence in this case is a letter from Booth sent to Stanton postmarked from Canada shortly after the assassination. This letter was designed to convince the War Department that Booth had escaped into Canada, which would have taken heat off his escape through the south. This was certainly a deft ploy and showed tremendous foresight and is evidence of Booth’s super-heightened spook craft. No doubt John Surratt hand carried and posted the letter before departing for Ireland. Many think Booth’s plan was to flee to Mexico because he left a map of that route at Garrett’s farm, although the map was probably just another ploy to throw off pursuers. England would have been a more likely designation since that’s where his boss in the Confederate Secret Service landed. The more I study Booth, the more impressed I am with his craft.
Louis Weichmann was kept several degrees from Stanton, although he was the War Department’s double agent placed in Booth’s cabal. But before the trial, Weichmann had a long, private meeting with Stanton, the details of which were never recorded, and the only time Stanton directly participated in the trial was to cross examine Weichmann, a man whose testimony was obviously sculpted to frame and hang two innocent people. Any examination of Weichmann could have veered into dangerous waters, which is why Stanton took the unprecedented step of doing it all by himself.
It’s amazing how Weichmann provided all sorts of minute and trivial information about Booth and Surratt, but was never once questioned about having been reporting their activities to the War Department for weeks. Many of his statements were fabrications and he’d later admit that Mary Surratt was innocent, and that nobody expected she’d be hanged. No one except Stanton, who was determined to make it happen, as she was his stand-in, sheep-dipped as the mastermind of the assassination.
But the murder of designated-scapegoat Mary Surratt became the flaw in the plan (to quote Harry Potter) that led to Stanton’s demise.
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.
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.