Florida assistant state attorney could be Lincoln's last living descendant

2008: Assistant State Attorney Tim Beckwith. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

Tim Beckwith doesn’t want to talk about it.

The Palm Beach County assistant state attorney has turned down numerous requests over the years by The Palm Beach Post — including for this story — to discuss a topic that has absolutely nothing to do with his legal work in Florida, but which makes him one of the most historically interesting men in America.

On the old television game show "I've Got a Secret," a celebrity panel had to figure out why a contestant was famous. That's Timothy Lincoln Beckwith all over. His secret is revealed in his middle name.

Beckwith may be the only living direct descendant of arguably the most famous president in American history.

Or not.

When he was a toddler, a very public court fight made newspapers across America. He allegedly was the child of Abraham Lincoln's great-grandson, a premise that was challenged in court because the man, Robert Beckwith, was reported to have had a vasectomy years before, and it was argued Tim was the result of an extramarital affair.

The mother, Robert’s second wife, refused to allow a blood test but insisted in court papers that Tim was her husband’s flesh and blood, vasectomy or not.

After Robert Beckwith died in 1985, Tim, then 17, and his mother quietly accepted a settlement in which they waived all claims to the presidential bloodline — and a trust worth millions. At the time, the amount wasn't revealed. It later turned out to be more than $1 million, according to reports.

Even today, Tim's secret isn't that big of a secret. His connection to Abraham Lincoln has been part of numerous magazine articles and is all over the Internet.

Now 49, he has been with the State Attorney's Office since 1995. He was in the news in 2016 for something work-related; he signed off on the decision not to charge with embezzlement a former treasurer accused by police of stealing more than $66,000 from the Bak Middle School of the Arts.

Why the fascination with royal bloodlines in an America that fought a revolution over, among other issues, that very thing?

"Despite Americans' supposed resistance to the trappings of European royalty, we have always yearned for political dynasties, hoping that the qualities admired in one leader will be replicated in the leader's progeny," presidential historian Michael R. Beschloss said in The New Yorker magazine in 1994 when he wrote the definitive recounting of Abe's tragedy-plagued bloodline, "Last of the Lincolns," which is a primary source for this story. It was in that article that Beschloss revealed the million-dollar payoff.

“In no case could this hope have been stronger than in that of the greatest president in American history,” Beschloss wrote. But, he added, “history played a practical joke on the Lincolns,” generating a line of succession that wasn’t much of a dynasty at all, to say the least.

The key player in the Tim Beckwith soap opera is Tim’s dad — if he is.

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith was the grandson of Robert Todd Lincoln, the only one of Abe's four children to reach adulthood. Educated at Exeter and Harvard, Robert Todd Lincoln was a lawyer, a banker, and head of the Pullman Palace Car Company, the famed maker of train cars. He would be Secretary of War — forerunner of Defense Secretary — to presidents James Garfield and Chester Arthur and minister to Great Britain under Benjamin Harrison.

In 1875, Robert Todd Lincoln went to court to have his mother, Abe’s widow, Mary Todd, institutionalized. She was freed after just four months, but by 1882 she was dead at just 64 of a stroke, She left Robert, her only heir, and her perceived tormentor, 64 trunks of goods as well as an estate of more than $84,000 — about $2 million in today’s dollars.

Robert Todd Lincoln had three children. Son Abraham II died of blood poisoning at just 16. Of two daughters, the youngest was Jessie, who in 1904, had a son: Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith.

The legal wrangling that would ensue eight decades later, about whether Robert had fathered Tim and thus extended the House of Lincoln, was of importance to more than just historians. As always, it was about money.

Before her death at 90 in 1937, the president’s posthumous daughter-in-law, Mary Harlan Lincoln, who had married the then 23-year-old Robert Todd Lincoln in 1868, had left an estate of $3.3 million — equal to about $57 million now. She created a trust to be distributed to her descendants — and by extension, descendants of Abraham Lincoln.

The only one left was Robert Beckwith, a “gentleman farmer,” short, stout and balding, who bragged that his passions were sailing, fast cars and beautiful women. In 1925, he married a widow with two children. When she died in 1964, he became a recluse and grew depressed about being the end of the Lincoln bloodline.

But three years later, in November 1967, he married German-born Annemarie Hoffman. She was 27. He was 63 and early into Parkinson’s disease.

Six months later, he learned his new bride was with child: Tim. This was a surprise to Robert, he claimed. Recounting a vasectomy six years earlier, he had a doctor declare him “completely sterile.”

In this image from the U.S. Library of Congress, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln sits for a portrait February 5, 1865. (Photo by Alexander Gardner/U.S. Library of Congress via Getty Images)

In “The Last Lincolns: The Rise and Fall of a Great American Family,” author Charles Lachman writes that Beckwith claimed Annemarie confessed to an adulterous pregnancy and suspected his chauffeur, whom he fired. And he forced Annemarie, on pain of leaving her destitute, to sign a document listing the real father or saying he was unknown. She would say later she signed under duress.

Tim Beckwith's 1968 birth certificate, penned by Annemarie, names Robert Beckwith as Tim's father and gives Tim the middle name of Lincoln.

Annemarie and her 2-month-old baby, booted from her husband’s compound, would go to Europe and stay there for seven years. Robert sought rulings that he was not Timothy’s father and eventually filed for divorce. The judge awarded Annemarie court and lawyer fees on the condition she submit herself and Tim to a paternity test. She refused.

A judge eventually ruled Tim was the result of an adulterous encounter but did not preclude him from continuing to pursue his alleged birthright.

Robert Beckwith actually would marry a third time in 1976. Nine years later, he was dead.

That left the trust, now reported at eight figures. With no official heir, it would be distributed to charities, including the American Red Cross.

The trust had one loose string to resolve: Timothy Lincoln Beckwith. He and his mother took the money and agreed to the settlement.

“A thousand things can happen in a lawsuit, and it usually does,” John A. Beck, a lawyer for the trust, told Charles Lachman for his book. He said that without a blood test, common law called for a strong presumption that a child born while two people still are married was the flesh and blood of the marriage. Beck said the settlement was in the best interest of the trust.

Annemarie’s fate isn’t known. She could not be found for this article. Tim graduated from the University of Florida College of Law in 1995 and immediately became a Palm Beach County assistant state attorney, where he has tried to stay out of the newspapers.

In 2013, he told the Indianapolis Star: “I don’t do interviews. Let’s let the past be the past.”