Ray Allen Neff, an emeritus faculty member of Indiana State University passed away on Sept. 29, 2011 in Marshall, Illinois. He was born on January 23, 1924 in Prince William County, Virginia.
In his 87 years, Dr. Neff was involved in many activities, including service in the Navy during World War II, where he earned the rank of pharmacist mate third class. He was accomplished as an inventor, holding several patents. His taught courses at Indiana State University in the area of health, physical education, and recreation. A lifelong passion was the study of history. Over the years through accident and design, he became immersed in the Civil War, acquiring several collections pertaining to John Wilkes Booth. He wrote a book on the Neff family in the Civil War and was continuing his research on Booth when Leonard Guttridge and he joined forces to eventually produce Dark Union, a book which is boiled down from a much longer work which was never published but is housed in the Neff-Guttridge Collection.
Dr. Neff began donating his collection to Indiana State University in 2000. He was concerned that the materials he had acquired, such as the Kate Scott Papers, the Potter Papers, the Turner-Baker Papers, and the Lincoln Assassination Suspect Files, be made available to researchers and maintained in perpetuity.
His and Mr. Guttridge's conclusion that the assassin Booth had survived and escaped captivity after murdering President Lincoln is controversial and has been largely dismissed by mainstream historians. Neff and Guttridge allowed that they could never completely prove their beliefs correct from documents alone and hoped that DNA tests of Booth family members and "Booth" remains available in public repositories in Washington and Philadelphia could be used to determine the accuracy of their interpretation of documents and other findings. Dr. Neff frequently made requests over at least two decades to officials, including sitting U. S. presidents, that such tests be conducted, but was unsuccessful.
Others have taken up Neff's cause. It will be interesting to see what transpires.