This month the National Archives announced the results of an investigation into a criminal defacing of a document signed by Abraham Lincoln. A soldier’s pardon signed by Lincoln in 1864 was altered to read 1865 in order to pass the paper off as Lincoln’s last official act before his assassination. The culprit, well-known Lincoln researcher Thomas Lowry, confessed to the crime.

Lowry brought himself notoriety in 1998 for “discovering” the document and issued his false claim in his 1999 book, Don’t Shoot That Boy: Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice.

The document is a pardon for Civil War soldier Patrick Murphy who was court-martialed for desertion. Lincoln actually issued the pardon on April 14, 1864, but Lowry altered the year so that he could claim it was Lincoln’s last official act before he was assassinated on April 14, 1865.

Recently the National archives had become suspicious of the claims about the document.

National Archives archivist Trevor Plante reported to the National Archives Office of Inspector General that he believed the date on the Murphy pardon had been altered: the “5” looked like a darker shade of ink than the rest of the date and it appeared that there might have been another number under the “5”. Investigative Archivist Mitchell Yockelson of the Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team (ART) confirmed Plante’s suspicions.

After repeated attempts to confront Lowry with the accusations, the researcher finally admitted his crime. Unfortunately there can be no prosecution of the man because the statute of limitations has passed. Lowry has, however, been permanently banned for using the National Archives.

The Archives said that they would look to see if they could restore the document by removing the offending ink overwriting using document restoration methods.