Monday, April 25, 2016

Lincoln Assassin John Wilkes Booth was Killed (April 26, 1865)

This week (April 25 - May 1) in crime history – John Wilkes Booth was killed (April 26, 1865); Andrew Cunanan began cross country killing spree (April 27, 1997); Jaycee Dugard’s kidnappers plead guilty (April 28, 2011); Mutiny on the HMS Bounty (April 28, 1789); Martin Bryant began killing spree in Australia (April 28, 1996); Deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was executed (April 28, 1945); Police officers in the Rodney King beating trial were found innocent (April 29, 1992); First Federal prison for women opened in West Virginia (April 30. 1927); Tennis star Monica Seles was stabbed during match in Germany (April 30, 1993); Former NBA star Jayson Williams was indicted for the shooting death of Costas Christofi (May 1, 2002)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week –

On April 26, 1865, John Wilkes Booth was killed when Union soldiers track him down to a Virginia farm 12 days after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Twenty-six-year-old Booth was one of the most famous actors in the country when he shot Lincoln during a performance at Ford's Theater in Washington D.C., on the night of April 14. Booth was a strong supporter of the Confederacy. As the war entered its final stages, Booth hatched a conspiracy to kidnap the president. He enlisted the aid of several associates, but the opportunity never presented itself. After the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House on April 9, Booth changed the plan to a simultaneous assassination of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward. Only Lincoln was actually killed, however. Seward was stabbed by Lewis Paine but survived, while the man assigned to kill Johnson did not carry out his assignment.

After shooting Lincoln, Booth jumped to the stage below Lincoln's box seat. He landed hard, breaking his leg, before escaping to a waiting horse behind the theater. Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, made their way across the Anacostia River and headed toward southern Maryland. The pair stopped at Dr. Samuel Mudd's home, and Mudd treated Booth's leg. This earned Mudd a life sentence in prison when he was implicated as part of the conspiracy, but the sentence was later commuted. Booth found refuge for several days at the home of Thomas A. Jones, a Confederate agent, before securing a boat to row across the Potomac to Virginia.

After receiving aid from several Confederate sympathizers, Booth's luck finally ran out. The countryside was swarming with military units looking for Booth, although few shared information since there was a $20,000 reward. While staying at the farm of Richard Garrett, Federal troops arrived on their search but soon rode on. The unsuspecting Garrett allowed his suspicious guests to sleep in his barn, but he instructed his son to lock the barn from the outside to prevent the strangers from stealing his horses. A tip led the Union soldiers back to the Garrett farm, where they discovered Booth and Herold in the barn. Herold came out, but Booth refused. The building was set on fire to flush Booth out, but he was shot while still inside. He lived for three hours before gazing at his hands, muttering "Useless, useless," as he died. 

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes the recently published In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, April 4, 2016

Old West Outlaw Billy the Kid was Convicted of Murder (April 9, 1881)

This week (April 4-10) in Crime history – Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated (April 4, 1968); Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were sentenced to death for spying (April 5, 1951); Convicted murderer Sam Sheppard died (April 6, 1970: The Rwandan Genocide began (April 7, 1994); Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph agreed to plead guilty (April 8, 2005); Old West outlaw Billy the Kid was convicted of murder (April 9, 1881); Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata was assassinated (April 10, 1919)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On April 9, 1881, after a one-day trial, Billy the Kid was found guilty of murdering the Lincoln County, New Mexico, sheriff and is sentenced to hang. There is no doubt that Billy the Kid shot the sheriff, although he did it in the context of the bloody Lincoln County War, a battle between two powerful groups of ranchers and businessmen fighting for economic control of Lincoln County. When his boss, rancher John Tunstall, was murdered in February 1878, the hotheaded Billy swore vengeance. Unfortunately, the leader of the men who murdered Tunstall was the sheriff of Lincoln County, William Brady. When Billy and his partners murdered the sheriff several months later, they became outlaws, regardless of how corrupt Brady may have been.

After three years on the run and several other murders, Pat Garrett finally arrested Billy in early 1881. Garrett, a one-time friend, was the new sheriff of Lincoln County. On this day in 1881, a court took only one day to convict Billy of the murder of Sheriff Brady. Sentenced to hang, Billy was imprisoned in Lincoln’s county jail while Sheriff Garrett gathered the technical information and supplies needed to build an effective gallows.

On April 28, while Garrett was out of town, Billy managed to escape. While one of the jail’s two guards was escorting a group of prisoners across the street to dinner, Billy asked the remaining guard to take him to the jail outhouse. As the guard escorted him back to his cell, Billy somehow managed to slip a wrist through his handcuffs. He slugged the guard and shot him with a pistol either that he took from the guard or that a friend had hidden in the outhouse for him. Hearing the shot, the second guard ran back to the jail, and Billy killed him with a blast from a shotgun he found in Garrett’s office. Reportedly, Billy then smashed the gun and threw it down on the dead guard, yelling, “You won’t follow me anymore with that gun!”

After murdering the guards, Billy seemed in no hurry to flee. He armed himself with two pistols and, according to one account, “danced about the balcony, laughed and shouted as though he had not a care on earth.” Apparently, the people of Lincoln were either too fearful or too admiring of the young outlaw to act. After nearly an hour, Billy rode off. He was not able to ride far enough. Upon his return to Lincoln, Garrett immediately formed a posse and set off to recapture the outlaw. On July 14, 1881, Garrett surprised Billy in a darkened room not far from Lincoln and shot him dead.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: