The Mystery Man Who Let John Wilkes Booth Escape

Lieut. Charles H. Jones Witnessed Lincoln’s Assassination And Claimed Someone Came On Stage And Stopped The Pursuit of John Wilkes Booth

Lincoln assassination witness Lieutenant Charles H. Jones

Lincoln assassination witness Lieutenant Charles H. Jones

On April 14, 1865 Lieutenant Charles H. Jones came to Ford’s Theatre to see General Grant who was supposed to attend that evening’s performance of the play Our American Cousin.

But, General Grant had decided earlier in the day that he was going to visit his children in Burlington, NJ, so he was not at the theatre to the great disappointment of many in the audience including Lieutenant Jones.

Instead of seeing General Grant, Jones witnessed the shocking assassination of President Lincoln.

Lieutenant Jones in 1915 telling his account of the assassination said he saw something that no other history of the Lincoln assassination ever mentions: that a man came on stage a few seconds after Booth had fled the theatre through a side stage door and announced that the assassin had been captured. This announcement the mystery man made was not true, and it delayed the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth.

In an earlier 1908 account of witnessing the assassination Lieutenant Jones said he never entered the President’s box after Lincoln was shot, which contradicts the account he gave below. So does his eyewitness account have any validity?

From The New York Call April 14, 1915

When John Wilkes Booth sprang from the president’s box in Ford’s Theater, April 14, 1865, and challenged the world with his dramatic cry, “The south is avenged,” only one man in the audience seemed to feel the shock of the world-tragedy. ‘ For several seconds after the bullet carried its death blow to Lincoln’s brain the audience seemed paralyzed with fright.

But from the top-most gallery Lieut. Charles H. Jones, then connected with the quartermaster’s department at Washington, sprang from the gallery in time to hear a man on the stage announce, “The assassin is captured,” and thus prevent immediate pursuit of Booth.

This is Lieut. Jones’ story: “It was the third act of ‘Our American Cousin’ I heard the shot in the president’s box; I saw Lincoln’s head fall forward—a man sprang from the box, tripped on the American flag that curtained it, and stumbled to the stage 14 feet below.

“As he arose to his feet be cried ‘The south is avenged.’

“Not half a dozen people in the theater realized they were witnessing a great tragedy, but I seemed to divine what had happened. I leaped over the gallery and balcony rails, swung into the president’s box just in time to see Major Rathbone remove his hands from the president’s head.

They were covered with blood. I knew then the emancipator was dying.

Overlook This Fact

“Histories have been written about Lincoln’s assassination, but all of the histories omit one important thing—a thing that I saw and no man can contradict my statement in regard to this— “As soon as Booth disappeared from the stage a man in evening clothes announced ‘He has been captured’ and turned back the people who were pursuing the assassin.

“One man had followed Booth when he rushed from the stage, but he was outwitted when Booth shut the stage door in his face. The audience seemed stunned: for a few seconds there was no pursuit; then several army officers sprang upon the stage, but they were turned back by the mysterious man in evening clothes, supposed then to be an attache of the theater when he announced ‘He has been captured.’

“Who was that man?

“Why was he on the stage?

“Why did he delay pursuit of the assassin with a lie?

Laura Keene Comes

“These things have never been accounted for. In fact I never heard about the man during the excitement that followed the tragedy, and none of the histories of the assassination refer to him. “I remained only a few minutes in the Lincoln box, but before I left Laura Keene had reached the dying president. Her beautiful white silk gown was soon vivid with the blood of the martyr whose head she held in her arms.

“One actor assassinated Lincoln. Another actor ministered to him as he died.”

In Jones’ 1908 account he described the man who stepped on stage to announce that Booth had been captured as “a good sized man, probably about 180 or 190 pounds, smooth face, and with a black mustache.”

In looking at many eyewitness accounts of the assassination available through various books and online archives, no one else has brought this fact up. Is it because Jones was mistaken or lying? Did the many years that had passed betray his memory? Or, in the confusion and pandemonium in the moments after the shooting, no other eyewitness who later told their versions of what transpired that night hear the announcement except for Jones?

Until evidence is unearthed corroborating Lieutenant Jones’ version, the mystery man will remain a mystery.


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