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Did John Wilkes Booth Survive?

by Les Hewitt

Garret Farm – April 26, 1865

What if a deliberate lie was dressed up as truth and given to the waiting world as accurate? One such example could be the death of Presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth. Mainstream history records that Booth was tracked down to a rural tobacco barn situated on Garrets Farm 12 days after he shot Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head.

The Garrett Farm House. Image: Library of Congress.

The Garrett Farm House. Image: Library of Congress.

Having surrounded the barn, Union soldiers waited as a lone man meekly made his way out from inside. This man, later identified as 21-year-old David Herold, is one of the conspirators behind the Lincoln assassination. Convinced that Booth is still inside, Lt. Edward Doherty ordered the barn set on fire in an effort to smoke out the fugitive. The occupant of the barn stubbornly refused to submit to this tactic and was subsequently shot by an impatient Boston Corbett.

The pivotal question behind this entire conspiracy was: Who was inside the barn in the early hours of April 26th, 1865?

Evidence Suggesting it wasn’t John Wilkes Booth

Nate Orlowek is a historian who disagrees with what history states. Orlowek is convinced Booth wasn’t anywhere near Garrett Farm at the time of the soldier’s arrival. He isn’t the only one either. In the years following those events, even some of the United States military have called into question the official events.

Did John Dillinger Really Die?

Just after the turn of the century, John Schmuker was General Counsel to the Department of the Army and went on record insisting that evidence supporting the conclusion that Booth was executed at Garrett Farm would not stand up to cross-examination in a court of law.

“It Doesn’t Look Like Him”

When Herold exited the barn, the first thing he was reputedly to have said was Booth was not inside the barn. This has been hotly debated for many years now. After the second individual was shot, Doctor John May was summoned to make an identification. Being acquainted with Booth, he calmly let the presiding officer know that whoever the victim was, it was not John Wilkes Booth. May’s statement is now inside the National Archives and in summation, it read:

I’m sure this is Booth. But it doesn’t look like him. But this is certainly John Wilkes Booth

John Frederick May


Hair Color Discrepancies and Leg Injury

john wilkes booth

John Wilkes Booth portrait.

Several witnesses went on record saying that the man inside Garrett’s Farm that evening had red hair. Just about every historical account says Booth had black hair. At some point during his flight from Ford’s Theatre, possibly while being treated for his broken leg, Booth may have altered his appearance by dying his hair red. Some reports also state he shaved his mustache off too. Another contentious point in the identification process concerned this leg injury. Both Joseph Zisgen and Wilson Kenzie were members of the Federal detail tasked with the apprehension of Booth, but were actually friends of the man and knew him well. When they came face to face with the man from the barn, neither saw fit to mention this injury: almost as if the man they saw didn’t have one.

Other Peculiarities

There were other curious incidents reputed to have occurred on that night. Booth’s papers were found at the scene during a subsequent search of the barn. Despite the fire that had been set, they appeared undamaged. Another curiosity was an extraordinary claim made by a guard who was on duty at one of the many bridges out of Washington called Frederick Demond.

According to a letter he later wrote, all bridges out of the city were closed overnight and guarded. On the night of the hunt, Demond’s superior officer, a Captain, gave him explicit instructions to allow passage to anyone using the password: T.B. Road. Someone would later approach the bridge and use the code, something Demond considered peculiar as it was the first and only time it ever happened.

Assuming that all of this is true and actually happened then the question remains: What became of John Wilkes Booth?

Assumed a New Identity?

Perhaps a man called John St. Helen would have an answer to that. St. Helen lived in Granbury, Texas, in the mid-1870s. In 1877 he fell ill and was convinced that his life was over. When his attorney and friend Finis Bates was called, St. Helen felt compelled to reveal a long-held secret. His name wasn’t really John St. Helen, it was John Wilkes Booth. Bates put this statement down to hallucination and only when St. Helen detailed in his confession his escape from Washington and how he was part of a conspiracy to first abduct, then kill Abraham Lincoln, did Bates start to believe it. St. Helen recovered from affliction and promptly left town.

Nothing more was heard from St. Helen for another quarter of a century. But in 1903, a man calling himself David George drank a glass of wine laced with Strychnine. When Bates, the grandfather of actress Kathy Bates, discovered this he instantly recognized David George as John St. Helen and made arrangements to secure the corpse. Traveling all the way to Enid, Oklahoma, Bates took extensive photographs of the body and was startled at the strong resemblance between the man he knew as John St. Helen and John Wilkes Booth.

john wilkes booth

The corpse of David George

Bates had the body mummified and fully intended to prove that the official story was either a lie or deliberate cover-up. When the body was examined 30 years after, a trio of injuries that Booth was known to have had were recorded in the findings.

Did John Wilkes Booth manage to escape Union soldiers as their net tightened during the early hours of 26th April 1865 only to commit suicide almost 40 years later?

Pulled 21 June 2015

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