“I’m just the patsy,” said Lee Harvey Oswald. By that Oswald meant he was just the fall guy, set up to take the blame. And so too was Louis Paine – a different person than the stone-cold killer Lewis Powell – set up to take the blame for the savage knife attack upon William Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, on April 14, 1865.
Louis Paine (image above) was just some imbecile who had knocked on the wrong door at the wrong time. But it was a stroke of luck for Colonel Lafayette Baker that Paine happened to appear at the boardinghouse of Mary Surratt when he did. The tentative patsy for the attack on William Seward was to have been George Atzerodt, who looked not at all like Lewis Powell. But then Louis Paine, fortuitously for Baker and other wicked persons, seemed to drop from the sky into the hands of the National Detective Police (NDP), the Union secret service headed by Col. Lafayette Baker. Louis Paine, unlike Atzerodt, did somewhat resemble Lewis Powell.
Lewis Powell, the real knife-wielding fiend, had first come to the Surratt boardinghouse about ten weeks earlier. He had wanted to talk with John Surratt, son of Mary Surratt. John Surratt was involved in the Civil War underworld up to his ears. Meanwhile, elsewhere, John Wilkes Booth had been indulging a pipe dream: a dramatic, theatrical kidnapping of President Lincoln with a stunned audience recognizing the brilliance of the performance. This would have been a sort of “street theater” long before the term was invented!
New York City was the birthplace of the murder plot. In exile there was Colonel Lafayette Baker. Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, had banished Baker from Washington City because Baker had become too corrupt even for Washington’s standards. (Stanton hurriedly recalled Baker to Washington when Lincoln was assassinated.) Lewis Powell visited New York City. Lafayette Baker later admitted that “Payne” (Powell) was a “hired assassin” sent from New York. John Wilkes Booth went there on April 1, 1865, still attached to his kidnap idea. But Booth returned to Washington from New York City on April 8th converted by John Surratt to murder instead of kidnapping.
In Washington City, Lewis Powell was Booth’s “handler”, just like the woman in the polka-dot dress was later the “handler” for Sirhan Sirhan. Returned from New York City around April 8, 1865, Booth made frequent visits to Powell’s lodgings at the Herndon House in Washington. Lewis Powell was in charge in Washington while “other parties” in New York City had a higher level of control.
John Wilkes Booth began to drink heavily in the time from April 8th to April 14th, to still the nagging voice of conscience and to fortify the new idea planted in his mind. The mesmerized Booth was under the control of Lewis Powell, “a subtle, persuasive, and unprincipled man” who aimed John Wilkes Booth at the target, Abraham Lincoln.
On the evening of April 14th, hired assassin Powell performed his knife attack on William Seward but did not succeed due to an extensive metal splint around Seward’s jaw. (Seward had been injured earlier in April by a carriage accident.) Lewis Powell had his escape well-planned. He rode his horse north at a leisurely pace so as not to attract attention.
By July of 1865, with Louis Paine about to be hanged and “case closed”, it was safe for Lewis Powell to re-visit Washington. The criminal had returned to the scene of the crime. The daring former Mosby’s Ranger wanted to get a good look at Louis Paine, the patsy who was to hang in his place. On July 6, 1865, Powell boldly visited Paine’s defense counsel, Colonel William Doster. He told Doster that Paine was his younger brother, “an insane man who had escaped from a private lunatic asylum the year before…” Could Powell get a look at his “younger brother” just to be certain? No formal permission could be obtained, but Powell managed nonetheless to get a look at Louis Paine as he was led to the gallows.
As for John Wilkes Booth, he was to have been quickly murdered by David Herold, acting the same part as did the later Jack Ruby on Lee Harvey Oswald. But Herold’s attempt to poison Booth did not fully succeed, as described more fully in “Herold Poisoned Booth?”, the March 10, 2013 Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry.
(Acknowledgement to: Mask For Treason, by Vaughan Shelton. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1965)