London, Dec 28 (ANI): Descendants of John Wilkes Booth have agreed to exhume his body for DNA testing in an attempt to determine whether the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln escaped his well-recorded shooting death and lived for 40 years in Texas and Oklahoma.
Booth killed the 16th President of the United States on April 14, 1865, just days after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E Lee, as the American Civil war approached its end.
He shot Lincoln in the back of the head during a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC.
Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer, fled on horseback but was tracked down 12 days later to a farm in northern Virginia where he was shot dead by Union soldiers while hiding in a barn.
However, like the assassination of President John F Kennedy a century later, the Lincoln shooting has its own conspiracy theory, that Booth was not the man in the barn and escaped to live for nearly four more decades under a pseudonym.
Booth's descendants now want that theory tested using modern DNA techniques.
They want to exhume the body of his brother Edwin Booth, who was one of America's greatest Shakespearean actors, and see if that is a familial match for the man in the barn.
Edwin Booth's DNA would be compared with that from three vertebrae taken from the man the soldiers shot at the farm.
The vertebrae are now kept in the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington. It will be up to the museum to decide if there are historical grounds for the test.
The proposed exhumation of Edwin Booth is the latest step in a long battle for the assassin's descendants who were refused permission to exhume what are believed to be John Wilkes Booth's remains in 1995.
His body lies in an unmarked grave in Green Mount Cemetery, in Baltimore, Maryland, and a judge decided against digging it up, partly because it would disturb the graves of three infants buried below.
The Booth conspiracy theory began with a 1907 book which contended that the suspect shot at the barn was actually a former Confederate soldier and prisoner of war called James William Boyd, who was said to have resembled the assassin.
Booth was said to have escaped to Granbury, Texas, and later Enid, Oklahoma, where he lived under the names John St Helen and David E George.
George committed suicide in 1903 and, in a deathbed confession, claimed to be John Wilkes Booth.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the story took hold and in the 1920s the body of "John St Helen" was dug up and displayed as "The Man Who Shot Lincoln" at a carnival.
"I'm absolutely in favour of exhuming Edwin. Let's have the truth and put this thing to rest," the Telegraph quoted Booth descendant and family historian Joanne Hulme, 60, as telling the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"The first story my mother ever told me was that John Wilkes Booth was not killed in the barn," Hulme added. (ANI)