John Wilkes Booth
Acting professionally on the stage is not a normal introduction to the art of murder, but Wilkes is the man who killed President Abraham Lincoln of the United States. His brother Edwin was an actor, too, of considerable reputation as a tragedian. Both were sympathisers with the Confederacy. Edwin was not, like his brother, a participant in the small conspiracy to overthrow Lincoln’s victorious government in the closing stages of the Civil War (qv).
Booth, born 1838, was, like his American imperial victim, tall and gaunt. Being a professional actor, he could never be said to have been a man of few words. In fact he had boasted in the taverns of what he intended to do ‘to save the Nation’.
On 14 April, 1865, when he was twenty-seven, he managed to move undiscovered with a loaded pistol in his belt through a maze of backstage passages in Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC, emerging at the back of the presidential box. With one shot he mortally wounded the President, and escaped the theatre. On horseback and by carriage, Booth got to Virginia, but the forces of law and order found him there and dispatched him without trial, on April 26. He was not the only one of the conspirators to die as four others were discovered and eliminated. It is not known what Edwin Booth, the more successful brother uttered on hearing that his kith and kin had ‘taken out’ the President.
Lee Harvey Oswald was born a century and one year later than Booth. He was very different. He had been trained to kill in the American armed forces, and had probably murdered a few victims for money before allegedly shooting President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. He was too cold to be a fanatic like Booth, and it obvious to anyone with a mind that he had been chosen by others to assassinate the President in public.
After the killing, witnessed live by hundreds of people, filmed and televised, Oswald was arrested, but before being charged he was himself killed by another professional, Jack Ruby before dozens of cameras. Later, the Warren Commission reached the odd conclusion that Oswald had acted entirely alone. Apparently he was the world’s finest marksman, because he had put two fatal shots in to Kennedy’s head and neck from an open window on an upper floor of a book depositary, at long range and acute angle, in a moving vehicle, and only one shot hit anyone else – the Governor of Texas. Oswald was using an expensive hunting rifle with a telescopic sight and the most effective ammunition, yet he was supposed to be penniless.
The United States has not accepted any other version but that of the Warren Commission. Dozens of learned and unlearned books have been written on the subject. In these, what is known as ‘The Industrial/Military Complex’ appears as prime suspect. There have been suggestions of Mafia participation, as well as Cubans seeking revenge for the Bay of Pigs incident. If other assassins were involved in Dallas, they left no evidence, as no bullets except Oswald’s were found in the dead body of John Kennedy; nor the live ones of Jackie or the poor Governor, who survived. No rounds fired from any gun but Oswald’s were found in the open limo.