Michael Burris, crime scene coordinator for the Fort Wayne Police Department, has certain expectations when he investigates a homicide.
He assumes he can take DNA evidence, for one. And check for fingerprints. He expects he can go to the physical crime scene. And ideally, talk to witnesses.
But six months ago, his working conditions suddenly changed.
In November, librarians at the Allen County Public Library approached Burris and asked whether he could investigate President Abraham Lincoln’s death. His research tools would be the Lincoln Research Collection in the library. And at the end of the investigation, as a way to promote the collection, he would present his findings at a public lecture.
At the time, I really didn’t know what I was getting into, said Burris, who presented his findings at the library Sunday. I didn’t know what to think, but it’s amazing what they have here (in the collection).
Close to 60 people, some in Civil War costume dress, came to listen to Burris’ presentation. During his talk, he showed slides of Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot; pictures of the gun used in the assassination; and images of the Lincolns and other people who attended the play. Toward the end of his presentation, he compared the 1865 investigation to how it would be handled today.
The basic story Burris uncovered is well known: John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor, came into Lincoln’s theater box about 10:30 p.m. April 14, 1865, and put a bullet through the president’s head. Booth then jumped to the stage, hurting his leg, and fled, only to be killed later when he was caught.
But during his research, Burris discovered at least one fact that surprised him: Booth’s plan was part of a larger conspiracy, he said, and though he acted alone, others knew of his plan.
Cheryl Ferverda, communications and development manager at the library, says she hopes Burris’ talk will spread awareness about the library’s $16 million Lincoln collection.
In 2009, the Lincoln Financial Foundation announced that the collection from the closed Berry Street Lincoln Museum would be donated to Indiana. The $20 million collection, the world’s largest private collection of Lincoln memorabilia, was split between the Allen County Public Library and the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis. The library largely retained the books, documents and letters, while the museum received artifacts and a few key documents.
Visitors to the library must schedule an appointment to view the collection, which includes Mary Todd Lincoln’s family photo albums, her letters, photographs and some notes written by Lincoln.
The library plans to have another event examing Booth’s escape route and capture in the late summer or fall.