Marilyn sez, "With all this brouhaha about Secret Service agents misbehaving in Cartagena, I remembered this story in Smithsonian magazine two years ago about the unreliable presidential bodyguard who was supposed to be protecting Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theater the night he got shot. The story is by Paul Martin (my former boss), who is researching unknown people who've changed the course of U.S. history. His first volume, on forgotten heroes, is just out, and he's working on the forgotten villains, which will no doubt include this one."
Parker’s record as a cop fell somewhere between pathetic and comical. He was hauled before the police board numerous times, facing a smorgasbord of charges that should have gotten him fired. But he received nothing more than an occasional reprimand. His infractions included conduct unbecoming an officer, using intemperate language and being drunk on duty. Charged with sleeping on a streetcar when he was supposed to be walking his beat, Parker declared that he’d heard ducks quacking on the tram and had climbed aboard to investigate. The charge was dismissed. When he was brought before the board for frequenting a whorehouse, Parker argued that the proprietress had sent for him.
In November 1864, the Washington police force created the first permanent detail to protect the president, made up of four officers. Somehow, John Parker was named to the detail. Parker was the only one of the officers with a spotty record, so it was a tragic coincidence that he drew the assignment to guard the president that evening. As usual, Parker got off to a lousy start that fateful Friday. He was supposed to relieve Lincoln’s previous bodyguard at 4 p.m. but was three hours late.
Where was Officer John Parker that night? Off getting loaded in the same bar as John Wilkes Booth, as it turns out.
(Image: File:John Wilkes Booth wanted poster new, Wikimedia Commons)