A shot was fired and, 143 years ago Saturday, John Wilkes Booth - assassin of Abraham Lincoln - collapsed to the ground, mortally wounded in the neck.
That's what history says.
But two Booth family descendants - Joanne Hulme of Philadelphia, and her sister, Virginia Kline of Warminster, Pa. - aren't convinced
They think that another man was killed and that Booth, who they believe was the president's assassin, lived to a ripe old age.
"Since I was a girl, I've been told that he escaped," said Hulme, 58, recalling Booth family lore.
"I want to know for sure who was in the barn," added Kline, 48.
The sisters' belief is shared by Booth researcher and educator Nate Orlowek, of Silver Spring, Md.; historian Jan Herman, editor-in-chief of Navy Medicine, the Navy's official medical journal; author and historian Leonard F. Guttridge, of Alexandria, Va.; Booth buff Ken Hawkes Jr., former autopsy assistant at the Regional Forensic Center in Memphis, and others.
Countless historians say the assassin gave his final performance at the Garrett barn. Hulme and Kline heard a different story.
"The first story my mother ever told me was that John Wilkes Booth was not killed in the barn," Hulme said.
The soldiers' victim was James William Boyd or John William Boyd, who bore a striking resemblance to the assassin and was sought for the murder of a Union captain by some accounts.
He was shorter than Booth and had red hair" instead of the actor's black wavy locks, Hulme said.
Her mother, Virginia Eleanor Humbrecht Kline of Warminster, was one of more than a dozen descendants who gave permission to open the Booth burial plot at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore in 1995.
They wanted to check the remains for identifying marks - a broken left leg and crushed right thumb - and to use photo superimposition, a technique that would have attempted to match the skull to photos of Booth.
But a judge turned down the family and Orlowek after learning that Booth had been interred at an undisclosed location in the cemetery to prevent desecration of his grave.
Most experts "have a vested interest in keeping the standard story unchanged ... but I'm convinced it wasn't Booth" at the barn, said Guttridge, coauthor of Dark Union: The Secret Web of Profiteers, Politicians, and Booth Conspirators That Led to Lincoln's Death.
Aided by Booth historians, researchers and scientists, the sisters may now be on the threshold of proving their theory through DNA tests.
Why not compare DNA from Booth family members to genetic material from the man in the barn, contained in specimens at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia and National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington?
And how about checking those museum specimens against DNA in the hair of the assassin's brother, actor Edwin Booth, which is preserved at the Players, a New York theatrical club?
A minuscule bit of the Washington museum's specimen - the size of a match head - would be enough to get DNA, said researcher Ken Hawkes.
"The specimen is sitting there in the National Museum of Health and Medicine, just sitting there," said Hawkes.
Added Hulme, "I just want the truth."
Apr. 25, 2008 05:36 PM