WE ALL KNOW the history behind the public assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and we have been taught that happened to Booth 12 days later. Interestingly, this may not be the correct history, and we got involved with an adventure to find out more about the theory that Booth did get away.
If you don't care to read this entire blog post, we talked about it on our live YouTube show, "Let's Talk Paranormal". You can watch the replay of that show below.
Our adventure began in the fall of 2016, when I saw a book on Amazon entitled, The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth by Finis Bates. I purchased the book and put it on the pile of other books I was collecting that I wanted to read and thought no more about it until the summer of 2017 when we were packing for our road trip through Virginia. We had planned on stopping at several places during this road trip and had a lot of driving a head of us. One of the things that passes the time during these drives, is Marianne will read a book out-loud while we are in the car. For some reason this makes hours go by without too much of a problem. As, I mentioned, when I was packing, I went to my stack to look for some books to take in the car, and this one was on the list.
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Details about the book
The book was written by former Attorney General of Tennessee, Finis Bates and published in 1907.
It is written from an Attorney's perspective as if it was a case being presented to a jury, including newspaper accounts, official records, and sworn affidavits.
He recounted how he met a man named John St. Helen and they became friends, after St Helen went to him asking him to represent him as an attorney in a Federal Case. He told him, after he retained him, that he could not go into Federal Court since he was worried that they would find out his true identity.
John St. Helen was a charismatic man who was a fluent Shakespearean presenter.
On night in 1877, St. Helen became extremely ill and was thought to be on his deathbed.
On his "supposed" death bed, he made a confession to Bates, he was John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.
He told Bates that the original plot was to kidnap President Lincoln. This was apparently not known to the public until the records were released to the public in 1935.
He told Bates that he had a photograph that he wanted sent to his brother. When asked who his brother was, he confessed that his brother was, "Junius Brutus Booth in New York, City".
After his confession, St. Helen got better and disappeared.
Twenty Five years later, the same man going by David E. George, confessed to being Booth, then committed suicide by drinking arsenic.
David E. George died on the morning of January 13, 1903. He left instructions that the people there should contact Finis L. Bates who was living in Memphis, Tennessee.
Bates well telegraphed, and when he arrived at the funeral parlor, he insisted that they mummify the body. Since no other family members were around to claim the body at the time, that is what they did.
Side Note: Finis L. Bate's granddaughter is actor Kathy Bates
While we were out on our adventure, and Marianne was reading this book, we had noticed that the book would reference photographs, but in the copy we had, there were no photographs. We were already planning on going to the Library of Congress to see some other books within the collection, so we made sure to add this one to the list so that we could see the pictures, and left it at that until we arrived at the Library of Congress.
We talked about some of the ordeals we went through when we got to the LOC in a previous blog post (linked above). The book we mentioned in the previous video that they could not find, was the Bates, "The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth". To date of writing this (three years later), we still have not been notified that they found the book ( in fact, now we are not able to find the call number in a search of the LOC site). Two different people went to the locations in the stacks where the books (and I say books, since due to copyright law, 2 should be there) are supposed to be, and they are not there. Interesting. We planned on someday, digging into this issue more and create a video talking about this interesting experience. Well, that day has come, and let me tell you... a very interesting topic it is indeed and one that will make you wonder. Could this be true? Is something being covered up? Is this, yet another Government conspiracy? Well, we always try to keep and open mind, and present to our viewers and readers the information we find out and let you make up your own mind. So, let's move on with more of the research that we found so far.
The Booth Manhunt
First, let's back-up and set the tone so that you understand the time frame and the mood of the entire Nation at the time. General Lee had just surrendered in Appomattox Courthouse signaling the beginning of the end of the American Civil War. Lincoln was finally able to relax and celebrate the fact that he would be able to rebuild the Nation and see the end of the War. He reluctantly left the White House on the night of April 14, 1865 to attend the theater with his wife and a couple of guests at Ford's Theater. At approximately 10 p.m., Booth, crept into the Presidential Box and fired a single round to the back of the President's head, then pulled out a knife and made his escape while wounding others.
For 12 days, private investigators and the military were searching the country for Booth and others involved in the assassination. During this time frame, the Lincoln Funeral train had already left Washington on it's way to Springfield, Illinois while hundreds of thousands came out to view and grieve over the fallen President. There was a lot of pressure put on the military to find Booth and bring him back to Washington, ALIVE and quickly! The War Department issued a $50,000 bounty for Booth, which is equivalent to over $791,000 in 2020. That is a huge price tag to have on you when you are on the run. According to conventional history, Booth and Herold (spelled Harold on the wanted poster) eventually made their way to the Garret Farm after hiding out in the woods for 5 days.
On April 26, 1865, Federal troops finally caught up with them and surrounded the barn. They demanded that Herold and Booth come out of the barn and surrender. According to all accounts, Herold did come out and surrender, but the other man refused and stayed in the barn. Colonel Conger issued a command to set the barn on fire, but Booth still refused to come out. Against orders, and peering through the slats of the barn wall, a zealous sergeant named Boston Corbett shot Booth and severed his spine. Union soldiers carried the paralyzed Booth to the porch of the Garrett farmhouse where he expired several hours later.
The Potential Cover-Up
It is believed that Booth already went farther south, and the man in the barn only appeared to look like Booth to help protect Booth's get-a-way.
The $50,000 reward for the capture of Booth, was motivation enough to put an end to the manhunt, and some of the military men present at the time of the alleged capture did receive over $5000.
A single photo of the man believed to be Booth was taken, but it quickly disappeared from the files of Secretary of War Edward Stanton along with 27 or more sheets from the diary found on the man in the Barn. It is believed that Booth left his diary with the imposter.
Rumors began to circulate that Booth did escape at the time.
Later, the photographer's adult son, claimed that the photograph was never actually taken since the face of the man captured at the barn was not recognizable.
On the orders of Stanton, Lafayette Baker staged a mock burial of Booth's body in the Potomac River. In front of a large crowd on the shores, weights were wrapped up in a horse blanket to look like a body and it was tossed over board. The boat made it's way up the river to the grounds of the Washington Arsenal, where the "actual" body was supposedly buried inside a gun box that served as a casket.
Official reports of identification were made by Booth's Dentist and Physician in Washington. However, both of these gentlemen where close friends of Booth and the Booth family. There are questions to whether the identification can be trusted.
Dr. Barnes (Surgeon General of the United States who tended to Lincoln as he laid dying in the Petersen House) performed an autopsy on the body before it was buried. He removed the third, fourth, and fifth vertebrae (roughly 18.9 grams) from his neck and they now reside in the same museum, the National Museum of Health and Medicine, that houses the bullet that killed Lincoln.
A simple DNA test between Booth's decedents and that vertebrae (or the exhumed body), can prove this conspiracy once and for all; however, the Federal Government refuses to grant permission for this test to be done as it requires .4 grams of bone tissues to be destroyed for the test. A U.S. Penny is 2.5 grams. The average cervical vertebrae in a human is 6.3 g.
Even after Booth's Death, reported sightings of Booth were made across the country; 1872 - Sewanee, TN, 1877 - Grandbury, Tx, 1878 - Nebraska City, Nebraska, 1885 - Forth Worth, Tx, 1899 - Hydro, OK, 1900, El Reno, OK, 1902 - Enid, OK.
What Happened to the Original Tin-Type Photograph?
As mentioned David E. George (allegedly Booth) died in 1903, and Bates had the body mummified at the funeral home. He believed that the body was too historically important to just be buried (he used to work with the New York Sun as a editor and believed this man to be Booth).
What happened to the original tin-type photo that John St. Helen asked his attorney (Finis Bates) to send to his brother?
At the time of David E. George's death, Booth's brother had passed. Bates saw that Junius Brutus Booth Jr. who was the oldest son of Booth's brother, was playing at the Lyceum Theater in Memphis and decided to go and meet with him with the photograph. When Booth saw the picture he said, "This is the greatest likeness to my uncle I have ever seen." A stenographer was brought to get Booth's statement and it was notarized.
That photograph now resides in the Swaim Collection at the Lauinger Library at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Finis Releases His Book, and controversy begins
As soon as Bates releases his book, a battle began between historians across the country. To this day, there are still two endings to the story -- those who believe they can prove that Booth was killed at Garret's Farm and those who believe that he got away. Even school history text books in Oklahoma, once had printed that David E. George was actually John Wilkes Booth. We will not know the answer for sure until a DNA test is done to prove either theory.
Booth's Mummy Tours the Country
As mentioned, Bates had the body of George mummified. Why? Was it to preserve history? or was it to promote his book? Or was it to profit from touring it around the Country trying to prove history was incorrect? Either way, that is exactly what the mummy did, tour the country. At first, it stayed at the W.B. Penniman's Mortuary and furniture store in Enid, Oklahoma where it set in a chair as if it was reading a newspaper. Then in 1907, when Bates published his book, Bates gained custody of the mummy and rented it out to carnivals, State Fairs, and midways across the country.
In 1923, after Bates died, his widow sold the mummy to William Evans, the "Carnival King of the Southwest". It continued to tour until about the 1950s with a variety of owners and was last seen in public in the late 1970's. The whereabouts of the mummy today is unknown, but believed to be in the hands of a private collector.
Discovery Channel and Facial Recognition Test
As we were conducting research for this post and our show, we found that the Discovery Channel aired a show on April 17, 2019 Called "Mummies Unwrapped - Hunting the Mummy of Lincoln's Assassin", where they went into detail about Bate's ideas from his book and the Booth Mummy. Furthermore, they went to Facial Recognition Expert, Roger Rodriguez to compare three photos. A photo of Booth to the St. Helen Tin-Type photo, and a photo of Booth to the David George mummy. Shocking to everyone, results showed they were a match within 1%. This was an interesting show, and you can find out more information about it in this article.
Was Booth captured on Garrett's Farm or did he get away only to take his own life as David George in 1903? The purpose of this post is not to answer that question, but to present you with the information that we have uncovered while researching this fascinating topic. You be the judge, you do you own research into this matter. Better yet, travel to some of these places we have mentioned, and let us know down in the comments about your adventures and experiences.