Back in Washington, the authorities returned to Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse. John Surratt was still suspected of being Seward’s attacker, and the authorities wanted to arrest Mary and her daughter Anna to put pressure on them to talk.
Still largely without clues about Booth’s whereabouts, the authorities centered their focus on the Surratt family. Although John Surratt had had nothing to do with Lincoln’s killing, his absence seemed suspicious.
At the very moment when the women were being questioned, Lewis Powell showed up at the boardinghouse. Instead of Mary Surratt, a soldier answered the door and immediately began questioning Powell, who carried a pickax. Powell claimed Mary Surratt had hired him to dig a gutter for her. The soldier asked Mrs. Surratt for confirmation of the man’s story. Although she recognized Lewis Powell, Mrs. Surratt denied ever having seen him before. Caught in a lie, Powell did not fight against the soldiers, but allowed himself to be arrested. Soon, the servant identified Powell as the man who had attacked Seward.
Had David Herold not abandoned Powell at the Seward mansion, Powell would likely not have wandered straight into the arms of the authorities. Powell had lost the will to fight violently for his principles. The barbarity of his own actions when attacking the Sewards had been too much for him. Two days spent hiding in a tree, uncertain of what to do next, had also softened his resolve to kill for Southern principles. Despite being armed, he let himself be taken in.
Photographs of Confederate generals, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and John Wilkes Booth found in her boardinghouse proved that Mary Surratt was a Confederate sympathizer. But under questioning, Surratt was careful not to reveal anything that investigator Colonel Wells did not already know. She gave nothing away about Booth’s visit to her the day of the killing or about her ride to Surrattsville to prepare the shooting irons for the killer to pick up. Still, the investigator sent her to Old Capital Prison. She would never return to her boardinghouse again.
Mary Surratt remained loyal to Booth. Through him she hoped to aid the Confederate cause, which she believed in. By prolonging the uncertainty surrounding the case and failing to disclose what she knew, however, she became a symbol of treachery against the Union. This failure to disclose what she knew made her an unapologetic enemy of the Union, and a prime candidate to receive the death sentence for her involvement.
Also on April 17, the authorities arrested Michael O’Laughlen and Sam Arnold, who were mentioned in the letter found in Booth’s room and who had been involved in the earlier failed kidnapping plot. They also arrested Edman Spangler, who had done nothing more than briefly hold Booth’s horse in the alley outside Ford’s Theatre. The Fords themselves and other theater employees were also arrested, under the suspicion that they had helped Booth to escape. In fact, more than a hundred people were arrested under suspicion of aiding Booth. But despite his fame, the authorities had no leads on Booth’s whereabouts.
Given the seriousness of Booth’s crime, in the absence of any clue to his whereabouts, the authorities focused on arresting as many people as possible. They hoped to get maximal information out of all those who had dealt with Booth, whether they had known about his earlier plan to kidnap Lincoln or not. The authorities underestimated how much Booth’s own expertise about the theater had allowed him to act independently on the night of the crime; they suspected the theater owners and staff of helping him.
Edwin Stanton had already spent too much of his energy on the manhunt. After all, the war was not yet over, with Confederate armies still fighting in some places and Confederate President Jefferson Davis also being sought by manhunters. Stanton decided to delegate authority in the manhunt to Colonel Lafayette Baker, who had arrived from New York.
Although a tipping point in the war had been reached, the forces of the North still had to deal with Southerners who would not give up fighting. The manhunt for Booth was only one element in the ever-changing political and military picture of the country in mid-April 1865.