ASSASSIN! The Second Life of John Wilkes Booth by Bill Walker | Script Revolution

ASSASSIN! The Second Life of John Wilkes Booth

When Booth escapes justice for assassinating Lincoln, he assumes the identity of a dead man and disappears, unaware that one man knows the truth and will pursue him to the ends of the earth.



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On a rainy Friday evening in April, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary, attend a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington. The famous theatrical actor John Wilkes Booth, fortified with whiskey, enters the theatre after the third act has already begun. Booth makes his way to the state box with ease, and with a single bullet murders the President.

Successfully escaping to Maryland, but with a broken leg, Booth meets up with co-conspirator Davey Herold. Booth and Herold make their way by boat down the Potomac River to Bowling Green, Virginia, to the barn of a southern sympathizer. There they run into a Confederate deserter, Private Wilson Beech. The man recognizes Booth and attempts to capture him for the large reward being offered. A fight ensues and Beech is shot in the throat and killed.

Union soldiers are but minutes away, all avenues of escape blocked. Booth gazes at the dead soldier and recognizes Beech’s uncanny resemblance to himself. Booth trades his clothing and all of his identification with the dead man; he even shatters the body’s left ankle with a sledgehammer. The corpse is positioned upright, a gun in its lifeless hand.

As twenty Union soldiers descend on the structure Booth flees from the barn but Herold, exhausted from the twelve-day pursuit, chooses to stay. When the barn is set ablaze to force out its inhabitant, an overzealous sergeant shoots Beech’s body through a crack in the building’s wall. Union soldiers rush in and drag the dead man from the flames. All are convinced the assassin has been killed, with the exception of Langford Upham, a newspaper reporter from New York. Having met John Wilkes Booth previously, he is convinced the body is that of another man, and the President’s murderer is still alive.

Booth realizes the newspaper reporter suspects the truth and, with the little money he has, takes a westbound train to St. Louis. But the reporter is tenacious, and picks up his trail.

With all his plans laid to waste, Booth uses a letter found on the dead soldier to determine his destiny, and heads for Montana Territory by riverboat. On board, he makes the acquaintance of some locals from the town of Fort Benton. He puts his previously untapped talent for drawing to good use, earning some money sketching portraits of the more affluent passengers. The town of Benton—small and in the middle of nowhere—appeals to Booth. The hamlet is populated by colorful inhabitants such as Moody Suggs, a hard-drinking, Lincoln-hating ex-confederate who refuses to acknowledge the war is over. But Langford Upham has located Wilson Beech’s wife and, convinced that his instincts are correct, undertakes the trek to Montana. 

Through the long winter, Booth—now using the name John Marlowe—builds a new life for himself in the frontier town. His paintings of people and wildlife sell well. He meets a young schoolteacher, Fern Jamison, whom he eventually marries. With her encouragement, he stops drinking and even the terrible nightmares, recalling that awful night at Ford’s Theatre, begin to subside.

The Fourth of July pageant in Fort Benton is to feature re-enactments of famous historical moments in U.S. history, and “John Marlowe,” with his fine speaking voice, is asked to play Lincoln and recite the Gettysburg address. Booth is horrified at the thought, but his beloved Fern intervenes, and he very reluctantly agrees.

The pageant is great fun and everyone eagerly awaits the recital of Lincoln’s most famous speech. Langford Upham is there, too, ready to denounce the murderer. But as the actor begins to speak, a reverent silence falls upon the crowd. Every soul present, including Booth, realizes that through these humble words, Lincoln still lives. The assassin has brought his victim back from the grave. 

All are enthralled except Moody Suggs, who through whiskey-soaked eyes can only see the destroyer of his beloved South. In a drunken stupor, he pulls out a pistol and shoots Booth, mortally wounding him. Following the funeral Langford Upham takes the train back East, steadfast in his resolve to let the truth remain buried in Fort Benton.

Submitted: November 1, 2017
Last Updated: November 1, 2017

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The Writer: Bill Walker

A graduate of Emerson College's prestigious film school, Bill produced and directed his first feature film, Pawn , while still a student. After graduation, he co-founded Newbury Filmworks, Inc., an award-winning production company renowned for making high-quality corporate films and commercials. In 1990, Bill relocated to Los Angeles, and began a freelance story analysis career for various studios and independent production companies, while devoting his spare time to the writing of novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is also a highly-respected graphic designer, specializing in book and dust jacket design. He has worked on books by such luminaries as: Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson,... Go to bio

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