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Crime Laboratories

Solving Old Mysteries

John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865) assassinated U.S. president Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., in April 1864. Booth dropped his gun, a single-shot pistol, as he leapt onto the stage and escaped out the back of the theatre. The pistol was put on display in 1940 at the theatre's museum.

In 1997, following the death of a suspected thief, records were discovered that he had stolen Booth's pistol in the 1960s and replaced it with a fake. The U.S. National Park Service, which runs the Ford Theatre Museum, asked the FBI to determine if the museum's pistol was real. Using a photo of the original pistol taken prior to 1960 and the pistol on display, the FBI's Firearms-Toolmarks Unit and the lab's Special Photographic Unit analyzed the pistol itself, the photograph of the pistol, and historic photographs of other pistols of this type.

The lab compared the museum's pistol to other pistols of the same time period and used a dental material to make a cast of the inside of the gun barrel. The FBI determined that the pistol had a number of unique markings and characteristics including a crack in the wooden part of the gun. These characteristics confirmed the pistol that was in the museum was from the time period of Lincoln's assassination, was not a replica made in later years, and was the actual gun that had killed the president.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawCrime Laboratories - Historical Perspective, Crime Laboratories, Fbi Crime Laboratory, Engineering Research Facility, Sniper Attacks, Solving Old Mysteries - Modern forensic investigations