Delicacy is critical, says Mr. Sledzik, who would treat the man in the grave with the care he would a dinosaur egg. He expects to find the corpse in a crumbling wooden coffin, or wrapped in a shroud. "We're talking bare bones, because the body was skeletonized when it was first exhumed in 1869," he says.
His trained eye will spot clues quickly. Is the left leg fractured? Are the neck vertebrae missing? A cursory examination at the gravesite could answer key questions, says Mr. Sledzik. The remains will be photographed, wrapped in tissue paper, packed in cardboard boxes and taken to the Baltimore medical examiner's office for X-rays and cleaning. Next stop: the Washington museums, where the body will receive an elaborate "physical" to determine age, sex and stature at death.
Using computer imaging, the scientists will then put a "face" on the skull, a process known as morphing, and compare it with photographs of Booth, a handsome, celebrated and passionate actor who became obsessed with politics and fame.
DNA analysis is possible but unlikely if the remains are badly damaged. Even if scientists could extract DNA from a bone, says Mr. Sledzik, "We'd have to compare it to a blood sample from a female descendant of either Booth's sister or mother -- and that lineage must be strictly women. [From what we know] no one alive fits that description."
But, genetic testing may not be needed, says Mr. Sledzik. "If the photos and fractures all match up, we can pretty much say it's him," he says. And the bone detectives will have their man. But science only goes so far, says Mr. Sledzik: For instance, exactly why Booth shot Lincoln will never be known.