Manhunt: Who was Sanford Conover? What Happened to Him?

Apple TV+’s historical drama series, ‘Manhunt,’ takes the audience to the year 1865, focusing on the events surrounding Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. With the search for John Wilkes Booth picking pace, the media becomes an important part of the arsenal of the authorities to employ against Booth and his accomplices. A journalist named Sanford Conover is first on the scene and soon becomes an important part of the story as he digs into Booth’s connection with the Confederate Secret Service. He is given this task by one of the men in charge of investigating and catching Booth. But with time, it turns out there is more to Conover than meets the eye. Who was he really, and what happened to him? SPOILERS AHEAD

Sanford Conover was a Conman With Many Aliases

The man introduced as Sanford Conover in ‘Manhunt’ isn’t exactly Sanford Conover. In fact, this is one of the many aliases he used over the years. His real name was Charles Dunham (though this may have been another alias), and he appeared in many roles throughout the years, ranging from journalist to spy. Reportedly, he had more than ten different identities and used them for different purposes. What he is most remembered for is his role in bringing false witnesses to testify against the accused in Lincoln’s assassination.

Conover testified in court that he had seen Booth and John Surratt in Canada with Confederate agents, proving that they had plotted the President’s assassination and planned to topple the government after the Civil War. Another witness he had brought in was a man named James Merritt, who later retracted his words in court, saying that he had committed perjury because Conover had paid him and another man, Richard Montgomery, to lie to the authorities.

By the time the truth about his lies came to light, Conover had moved to Canada and taken over the alias of James Wallace. However, when caught in his lie, he claimed that a man named Conover had pretended to be him and lied in front of the court. He claimed he was no one but Wallace and had been wronged by Conover, even going as far as to offer a reward of $500 to catch Conover and bring him to justice. There, Wallace claimed never to have met with Confederate agents or to have seen Booth and his accomplices in Canada. Still, he was arrested, though he was later arranged to be released and brought back to the US to be questioned about his lies.

This wasn’t the first time that Conover had been caught in a lie. He had started out as a lawyer. In 1863, he traveled to the South but was arrested by the Confederates under the suspicion of being a spy. However, he found a way out of his predicament by coming up with a story about how he wanted to bring together the Northerners who wanted to join the South in the Civil War. Though his lies didn’t get him very far, he was eventually sent back to the North. Once in the safe territory, he found work in journalism and started working for three newspapers at the same time.

He is believed to have written for the likes of the New York Herald and The New York Tribune. Reportedly, he would write an article in one newspaper and then write another article in another newspaper, countering his first article. He also reported about the rumors, especially surrounding the Confederates, which made things more tense in an already volatile environment of the country. Through his articles, he was also found to have worked towards the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and he later wrote in Johnson’s favor, exposing his enemies!

A life full of lies is bound to catch up eventually, and Dunham was convicted of lying to the authorities. In 1866, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. He spent two years in jail in Albany but was pardoned by Andrew Johnson in 1869. Following this, Conover, aka Wallace, aka Dunham, retreated into the shadows. If he had spent his life spinning any more lies, it would not have come to the public’s attention, and he died sometime around the turn of the century in 1900.

Read More: What Did John Wilkes Booth’s Code Mean?