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  • Writer's pictureSara McNabb

Abe and Me—Who Knew?

In addition to his accomplishments as a president, a leader in wartime, an emancipator, and savior of the Union, Abraham Lincoln was also a true crime writer.

That’s right, knowers, the sixteenth President of the United States—the guy on the five-dollar bill—and your favorite podcast host (turn in your SOMEBODY KNOWS card if in your head you immediately asked, “Joe Rogan?”) have both prepared and presented detailed accounts of true crimes we’re connected to.

Abe and me—who knew?

You all know my story by now (and if not, go check out the podcast—what are you waiting for?), but President Lincoln’s is barely known. Lincoln’s story featured his detailed and intimate knowledge of a sensational murder case that rocked Springfield, Illinois throughout the month of June in 1841—knowledge he acquired firsthand while working as defense attorney for the two prime suspects.

Honestly, it’s more Perry Mason than Criminal. The whole story revolves around three out-of-towners, Archie Fisher and brothers Henry and William Trailor who were together visiting Henry’s and William’s brother Archibald in Springfield. When Fisher disappeared, suspicion immediately fell on the missing on the three Trailor brothers, who were accused of murdering the missing man for $1,500 in gold coins he was allegedly carrying with him after the Warren County postmaster contacted the Springfield postmaster to report his suspicions about William and the sudden wealth he’d returned home with. Searched for the missing man went on for days in Springfield, but no body was found.

Arrested and pressured by the Springfield mayor and prosecutor, Henry flipped on his brothers, narrating how they had recruited him to help hide Fisher’s body, which he claimed to have seen them carrying. Things weren't looking good for William and Archibald, who at that point were actually relieved to be taken to jail—public sentiment in Springfield had become so heated they now worried about being lynched.

Enter Abraham Lincoln.

The clichéd cocky young attorney, thirty-two year old Lincoln prepared a few days and went to court to defend William and Archibald. After patiently sitting through the prosecution’s case, witness testimony, and cross-examinations, Lincoln called upon a Dr. Gilmore, a Fulton County resident who stated that he was Fisher’s physician and proceeded to detail how he’d been treating Fisher in Fulton County over the same days the Springfield volunteers were searches for his corpse that Henry testified he’d seen his bothers spirit away to conceal. So convincing was Gilmore’s testimony, the discharged William and Archibald. Sent 'em home innocent men. And a week later, Fisher himself appeared before the court to testify to his health and living state.

According to Lincoln, Henry Trailor never spoke of Fisher or the trial again.

If you wrote a courtroom mystery with that same twist, no one would ever believe it. And yet this did happen—to a future President of the United States, no less, who went on to write about it. And if you’re curious, knowers, about what that might read like, put your curiosity to rest and check out Lincoln’s account of the case for yourself.

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