W.D. Kenzie of Beloit was in Ford’s Theater when Abraham Lincoln was gunned down on April 14, 1865. “I was seated in the balcony,” he recalled, “when I saw Booth leap on the stage.”
Kenzie was a 20-year-old infantry sergeant who had met John Wilkes Booth while stationed in New Orleans two years earlier. “It required only one glance at him to be able to fix his striking features indelibly in one’s memory,” he remembered. So when the famous actor shot Lincoln, he said, “I knew him at once.”
The next morning Kenzie joined the soldiers pursuing the assassin. Twelve days later they caught up with the assassin in a tobacco barn, where another soldier shot him down. When Kenzie looked at the body, he was stunned.
“That’s not Booth,” he blurted out. His superior officers told him to keep his mouth shut, but for the rest of his life Kenzie believed that the man killed that day was an impostor and that Booth escaped in an elaborate coverup. “There was no chance of mistake,” he claimed.
This theory, like Kennedy assassination theories, persisted for decades and spawned dozens of books and articles. Some of them claimed that Booth fled to Europe or even Japan before sneaking back into Texas and living quietly for decades.
Most modern historians, however, with access to volumes of forensic and archival evidence, disagree. They have little doubt that Lincoln’s murderer actually met his end in the Virginia barn where Kenzie saw the body in April 1865.