Back to the Surratts. And why not? Few families are shrouded in more mystery.
Perhaps the most mysterious member of that family was John. Where was John while Lincoln was being assassinated? In Elmira, New York, shopping apparently. He was such a sharp dresser, that clothing stores in Elmira competed for the honor of being his alibi – a sort of "John Surratt shopped here" advertising opportunity.
After Elmira, he was protected by a network of Catholic priests in – where else – Canada, until he could be hustled off to Europe. It is fair to say that there was more anti-Lincoln intrigue going on in Toronto and Montreal than in all the Southern States put together. In fact, if the St. Lawrence Hotel alone had closed its doors, the entire assassination conspiracy might have folded on the spot – to say nothing of the Confederate Secret Service Bureau going homeless.
In Rome, John became one of the Zouaves at the Vatican, until Pope Pius IX summarily kicked him back to America for trial – a wise decision considering the anti-Catholic feeling of the times.
Two trials followed, with John Surratt acquitted at both of them. Because he was in Elmira at the time of Lincoln’s assassination, he could not be linked to the scene of the crime. Now Vincent Bugliosi would have gotten around this nicely. Remember, Charles Manson wasn’t at the scene of the crime either and accurately claimed he "never killed anybody."
Where did John go with his new-found freedom? To South America, and ultimately to Baltimore, where he found a comfortable job at the Baltimore Steam Packet Company until his retirement at seventy-one.
Where did I get all this stuff? From Andrew Jampoler’s book, The Last Lincoln Conspirator. If you’ve got Surratts on the brain, as I obviously do, check out this book for some surprising facts about John’s life after Lincoln.
Jampoler, just as troubled as most historians by the fact that John did not stand by his mother during her trial and execution, grimly reminds his readers that if he had, there surely would have been a 5th body on the scaffold, and a mother-and-son execution even more disturbing than Mary’s alone. Some things are best left the way they stand.