Biographies & Memoirs

CHAPTER FIFTY

SATURDAY-SUNDAY, APRIL 15-16, 1865 

NEW YORK CITY 

MORNING

Lafayette Baker is in his room at New York’s Astor House hotel when he hears that Lincoln has been shot. The disgraced spy, who was sent away from Washington for tapping Secretary Stanton’s telegraph lines, is not surprised. His first thought, as always, is of finding a way to spin this tragedy for his own personal gain. Baker loves glory and money. He understands in an instant that the man who finds Lincoln’s killer will know unparalleled wealth and fame. Baker longs to be that man.

It’s noon on Saturday when a telegram arrives from Stanton, summoning him to “come here immediately and find the murderer of our president.”

If Baker were an ordinary man and not prone to weaving elaborate myths about himself, that telegram would be a very straightforward call to battle. But Baker is so fond of half-truths and deception that it’s impossible to know if he is traveling to Washington as a sort of supersleuth, handpicked by Stanton to find Lincoln’s killers, or if he is traveling to Washington to find and kill Booth before the actor can detail Secretary Stanton’s role in the conspiracy. Whatever the case, at a time when Baker could have been anywhere in the world, Stanton knew exactly where to find the fired spy so that he could be summoned to the capital.

Lafayette Baker takes the overnight train to Washington, arriving at dawn. The city is in chaos, and he will later describe the looks on people’s faces as “inexpressible, bewildering horror and grief.” Baker travels immediately to the War Department, where he meets with Stanton. “They have killed the president. You must go to work. My whole dependence is upon you,” the secretary tells him. The entire detective forces of New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston have traveled to Washington and are devoting their considerable professional talents to finding the killers. But Stanton has just given Baker carte blanche to move in and take over the entire investigation.

One of Baker’s specialties is playing the part of the double agent. Even though there is evidence that Baker and Booth are somehow connected to each other through the 1781/2 Water Street, New York, address, Baker claims that he knows nothing about the case or about the suspects. His first act is to post a reward for $30,000 leading to the arrest and conviction of Lincoln’s killers. He also has photographs of John Surratt, David Herold, and John Wilkes Booth plastered all around town.

One of several reward posters for the capture of John Wilkes Booth

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