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Body of Lincoln's killer is left in grave

John Wilkes Booth surely lies a-moldering in his grave here, a judge ruled Friday, but among a handful of ardent historical revisionists, the idea that it could be somebody else persists.

Circuit Court Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan barred exhumation of the body of President Abraham Lincoln's assassin, rejecting as spurious various claims that the grave is occupied by a stranger and that Booth escaped death at the hands of federal pursuers in 1865, living until 1903 in the Midwest.

"There is no compelling reason for exhumation," Kaplan wrote in a 13-page opinion after an intense four-day hearing.

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"We're now left with all these versions" of the escape, said Mark S. Zaid, attorney for two Booth relatives who had sought an exhumation order.

Zaid said he is considering an appeal.

Kaplan said Booth, the dashing 26-year-old Shakespearean actor who fatally shot Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington on April 14, 1865, was repeatedly identified by numerous friends, relatives and officials. Evidence that Booth was captured and killed 12 days later in a tobacco barn near Bowling Green, Va., "is indeed convincing," Kaplan said.

Also, Kaplan said, the body, reburied at Greenmount Cemetery here in 1869, is probably so deteriorated now that identification would be inconclusive.

Nathaniel Orlowek, a Booth researcher and history teacher at Beth Sholom School in Potomac, led two distant Booth relatives' challenge. He contended that Booth fled the barn shortly before Union troops arrived on April 26, 1865. An unknown man, Orlowek said, was fatally shot as troops set the barn ablaze.

Orlowek contended the real Booth made his way west from Virginia, living under various aliases, fathering at least one child and committing suicide in Oklahoma Territory in 1903.

Several historians attacked Orlowek's version. William Hanchett, a Lincoln scholar and emeritus history professor at San Diego State University, called Orlowek's account "fiction" and said the body in the Virginia barn had been reliably identified "so many times by so many people that there couldn't be any doubt of its identity."

John Wilkes Booth surely lies a-moldering in his grave here, a judge ruled Friday, but among a handful of ardent historical revisionists, the idea that it could be somebody else persists.

Circuit Court Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan barred exhumation of the body of President Abraham Lincoln's assassin, rejecting as spurious various claims that the grave is occupied by a stranger and that Booth escaped death at the hands of federal pursuers in 1865, living until 1903 in the Midwest.

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