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Kin seek to exhume assassin’s brother’s body

DNA test may show if Lincoln’s killer escaped

SEEKING CONFIRMATION The family wants to see if DNA from Edwin Booth’s body in a Cambridge cemetery matches that of John Wilkes Booth (left). SEEKING CONFIRMATION
The family wants to see if DNA from Edwin Booth’s body in a Cambridge cemetery matches that of John Wilkes Booth (left).
By Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / December 24, 2010

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The woman believed to be the closest living relative of presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth hopes to exhume the remains of his brother at a Cambridge cemetery to help determine if the man who shot Abraham Lincoln is buried in a family plot in Baltimore, as claimed, she and her lawyer said yesterday.

The woman — Lois Trebisacci, 60, of Westerly, R.I. — identified herself yesterday as the great-great-great granddaughter of legendary actor Edwin Booth, the trigger man’s brother. He died in 1893 and is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

She said by phone that the family may be able to compare Edwin Booth’s DNA to remains of the man believed to be John Wilkes Booth, located in the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C., and the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.

If there is a DNA match, said Trebisacci, the family would know that John Wilkes Booth is buried in a family plot in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore. Family members could then dismiss the theory that he escaped after shooting Lincoln in 1865 and lived under an assumed name for decades, she said.

“I just feel we have a right to know who’s buried there,’’ she said.

Neither Trebisacci nor the family have filed any requests to exhume the body in Cambridge. A spokeswoman for Mount Auburn Cemetery could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In 1995, a judge in Baltimore denied her request to exhume the remains of the man believed to be John Wilkes Booth in an effort to confirm his identity, her attorney, Mark Zaid of Washington, said yesterday. He said the cemetery objected to an exhumation, even though he had secured permission from 26 living relatives.

“The family was as much interested in disproving [the escape] theory as they were in proving it,’’ he said by phone.

Zaid said he plans to contact Mount Auburn about the possibility of an exhumation early in the new year.

Nate Orlowek, 53, of Silver Spring, Md., said by phone that he has spent his entire adult life researching the theory that the assassin escaped from custody and died in Oklahoma in 1903.

He said he appeared on the television program “Unsolved Mysteries’’ in 1991 with Arthur Ben Chitty, a former historiographer at the University of the South in Sewanne, Tenn., to discuss the case. Chitty has since died.

Orlowek said there is strong evidence that Booth escaped capture, including eyewitness descriptions of the body later said to be Booth’s that contradicted descriptions of the assassin in life. He said he believes the real Booth confessed to the killing to his friend and attorney, Finis Bates, in Texas in 1877.

Bates published “Escape and suicide of John Wilkes Booth’’ in 1907, a purported account of that confession, according to the Library of Congress.

Orlowek and Trebisacci said a program exploring the escape theory was scheduled to air last night at 10 on the History Channel.

Orlowek said he was interviewed for the segment and was pleased to see renewed interest in the case.

“I’m the troublemaker,’’ he said. “I’m the person who’s been behind this all along for 37 years.’’

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com.