Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 3 Num. 91

("Quid coniuratio est?")


The following, based largely on information to be found in the book Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth, by attorney Finis L. Bates of Memphis, Tennessee (Memphis: Pilcher Printing Co., 1907), was originally posted in Conspiracy for the Day, December 14 and 15, 1993.

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I have long hesitated to give to the world the true story of the plot first to kidnap and finally assassinate President Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth and others, as related to me in 1872, and at other times thereafter, by one then known to me as John St. Helen, but in truth and in fact, as afterward developed, John Wilkes Booth himself, in person telling this story more than seven years after the assassination of President Lincoln, and the supposed killing of Booth at the Garret home, in Virginia. Far removed from the scene of his crime, he told me the tale of his dastardly deed at Grandberry, Hood county, Texas, a then comparative frontier town of the great Western empire of these American States.

This story I could not accept as fact without investigation, believing, as the world believed, that John Wilkes Booth had been killed at the Garret home in Virginia on or about the 26th day of April, 1865, by one Boston Corbett, connected with the Federal troops in pursuit of him, after he (Booth) had been passed through the Federal military lines which formed a complete cordon surrounding the city of Washington, D.C., on the night of and after the assassination of President Lincoln. But after many years of painstaking and exhaustive investigation, I am now unwillingly, and yet unanswerably, convinced that it is a fact that Booth was not killed, but made good his escape by the assistance of some of the officers of the Federal Army and government of the United States, located at Washington -- traitors to President Lincoln, in whose keeping was his life -- co-operating with Capt. Jett and Lieuts. Ruggles and Bainbridge, of the Confederate troops, belonging to the command of Col. J.S. Mosby, encamped at Bowling Green, Virginia. And the correctness of these statements, as well as to my convictions, the readers of this story must witness for or against the conclusion reached, for it is to the American people that I appeal that they shall hear the unalterable facts to the end that they may bear testimony with me to the civilized world that the death of America's martyred President, Lincoln, was not avenged, as we have been persuaded to believe, and that it remained the pleasure of the assassin to take his own life as how and when it best pleased him, conscious of his great individual crime and the nation's loss by the death of President Lincoln, the commission of which crime takes rank among the epochs of time equaled only by the crucifixion of Christ and the assassination of Caesar; in the contemplation of which the physical man chills with indignant emotions and the cold blood coursing his viens [sic] makes numb the fingers recording the crime that laid President Lincoln in the silent halls of death and made Tad fatherless. But the truth will be told, if needs be, with tremors and palsied hands, in the triumph of right and the exposure of the guilty ones whose crimes blacken history's page and to associate their names through all coming centuries with Brutus, Marc Antony and Judas Iscariot, if they are to be condemned in the story that is to be told.

Author Finis L. Bates (see part 1 of today's CfD) relates in his book how he notified what was then still known as the War Department (now known as the "Defense" Department) as to his knowledge that John Wilkes Booth might still be alive. Bear in mind that the government had never paid the thousands of dollars in reward money for the capture of Booth. The government had maintained that there had never been an absolutely positive ID of the person shot at the Garret home in 1865, purportedly John Wilkes Booth. What follows is the correspondence between Bates and the War Department.

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Law Office of F.L. Bates
297 Second Street
Memphis, Tenn., January 17th, 1898.

Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir:
Would it be a matter of any importance to develop the fact to the War Department of the United States that John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln, was not captured and killed by the Federal troops, as is supposed?

By accident I have been placed in possession of such facts as are conclusive that John Wilkes Booth now lives, and have kept the matter from publication until I have communicated with the War Department of this government. Very truly yours, F.L. Bates

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[Bates notes "In reply the following endorsements were made on this letter and returned to me, viz.:"]

[First endorsement]
Office of the Secretary of War Department January 19th, 1898
(294) Memphis, Tenn., Jan. 17th, 1898.
F.L. Bates says that he is in possession of such facts as are conuclusive [sic] that John Wilkes Booth was not captured and killed by the Federal troops, and asks if War Department would consider the matter of enough importance to develop that fact.


[Second endorsement]
(3808) War Department
Judge Advocate General's Office
Washington, D.C.
January 21st, 1898.

Respectfully returned to the Secretary of War. This is a request by F.L. Bates, of Memphis, Tenn., for imformation as to whether it would be a matter of importance to develop the fact to the War Department that John Wilkes Booth was not captured and killed by the Federal troops.

He says that by accident he has recently been placed in possession of such facts as are conclusive.

It is recommended that he be informed that the matter is of no importance to the War Department.

                       (Signed) G. NORMAN LIEBER
                       Judge Advocate General

Received back War Department January 22d, 1898. (294) Assistant Secretary (L.S.S.)

[Third endorsement]
War Department
January 25th, 1898.

Respectfully returned to Mr. F.L. Bates, No. 272 Second street, Memphis, Tenn., inviting attention to the foregoing report of the Judge Advocate General of the Army.

                       (Signed) G.D. MICKLEJOHN
                       Acting Secretary of War

"The Wave" is and/or was an Oklahoma newspaper circa 1903. The following are clippings from "The Wave" taken from Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth, by Finis L. Bates. [Memphis: Pilcher Printing Company, 1907.]

Enid Wave: Enid, Oklahoma Territory, January 17th, 1903 (Special) -- David E. George, a wealthy resident of the Territory, who committed suicide here, announced himself on his deathbed to be John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln.

He stated that he had successfully eluded the officers after shooting Lincoln and since he had remained incognito. His statement caused a sensation, and an investigation was made. Surgeons examined the body and stated the man to be of the age Booth would be at this time, and announced that his leg was broken in the same place and in the same manner as that of Booth after jumping from the President's box at Ford's V6eater after the assassination. All the time George has received money regularly from unknown sources, and telegrams arriving yesterday and today ask that the body be held for identification. It is claimed that one telegram came from the address, George E. Smith, Colfax, Iowa, the same as the mysterious money remittances. Smith is unknown to anyone in Oklahoma. Upon his arrival in Enid today he commanded that no other person be allowed to view the remains, and promised to return for the body later.

Mr. Smith was asked if George had ever confessed any of his life's history to him, to which he answered: "Well, yes, to some extent. He has had a past of which I do not care to speak at the present. I think he killed a man in Texas. He may be Booth."

George committed suicide in the Grand Avenue Hotel, taking poison. He previously attempted suicide at El Reno. A letter found in his pocket addressed, "To Whom It May Concern," sets aside a former will which he made, although its contents are not known. He was worth about thirty thousand dollars, owning property in El Reno, Oklahoma; in Dallas, Texas, and a lease on six hundred acres in the Indian Territory. He carried $5,000.00 insurance.

No reason for the suicide is known. George maintained on his death bed to his attendants that he was John Wilkes Booth, and his general appearance closely resembles that of the murderer of Lincoln.

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Enid, Oklahoma, January 21st, 1903 -- The Wave's editorial and reportorial force have been searching closely for data and evidence to sustain or obliterate the report that the remains lying in the Enid morgue, under the name of David E. George, could possibly be those of J. Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Abraham Lincoln nearly thirty-eight years ago. All the history or account of that sad and terrible affair to be found in the city has been searched, and while the history at hand leaves but little doubt of the decease of Booth in attempting to escape from the burning barn in Virginia, that he was shot by Boston Corbett upon his first appearance from the barn, and that he died on the porch of Garrett's Virginia farm home, was taken to Washington, identified and buried secretly, that a diary was found on his person, etc., yet the fact still remains that a doubt did exist with the government as to the positive identity of the man killed; hence the reward for his capture was never paid, for the identity was not clear. The Wave is still of the opinion that the possibility of the dead man being all that is mortal of John Wilkes Booth remains in doubt, but it must be admitted that the evidence goes to show that if George was not Booth he was his double, which, in connection with his voluntary confession to Mrs. Harper, makes the case interesting and worthy the attention of the Attorney General's department of the United States.

Doctors Baker and Way unearthed the December, 1901, number of the Medical Monthly Journal in their office, which number was almost wholly devoted to the consideration of the murderers of the Presidents of the United States [CfD -- Then, officially, Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley had been assassinated] and European potentates. In this pamphlet we found a portrait of J. Wilkes Booth, with quite a writeup as to his character, a physical and anatomical description among other descriptions. It said the forehead of J. Wilkes Booth was Kephalonard, the ears excessively and abnormally developed, inclined to the so-called Satanic type; the eyes were small, sunken and unequally placed; the nose was normal; the facial bones and jaw were arrested in development, and there was a partial V-shaped dental arch; the lower jaw was well developed.

Yesterday the editor of the paper, in company with Dr. McElreth, visited the corpse and compared it with the above description of Booth, and we must acknowledge that the dead man shows all the marks credited to Booth above in every particular. The satanic ear is not much larger than the ordinary ear, but the lower lobe thereof clings close to the side of the head instead of projecting outward like the common or ordinary ear. The corpse has that kind of an ear. The eyebrows of the dead man are not mates in appearance, which fits the description of Booth. The Booth chin, mouth, upper lip and general description is absolutely perfect in the corpse.

The Wave has been searching for a fac-simile of Booth's handwriting. It was found today in a copy of Harper Brothers' Pictorial History of the Civil War, and we were startled when we compared it with the round, little, scrawly boy writing of D.E. George. We placed the very last words George wrote by the side of the fac-simile writing of Booth, and it really seemed to us that one and the same man had written both, Booth's fac-simile signature shown in Harper's Pictorial History indicated the same irregular handwriting as George's.

History readers will remember that a supposed attempt was made to poison President Lincoln in a hotel in Meadeville, Pennsylvania, in August, 1864. A notice appeared in the window of the hotel, saying: "Abe Lincoln departed this life August 1st, 1864, by the effects of poison."

After the Washington tragedy this handwriting on the window was found to be the handwriting of J. Wilkes Booth, and as it appeared in Harpers' Pictorial History of the Civil War it is a fac-simile of the writing of D.E. George, now supposed to be Booth.

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The Perry, Oklahoma Republican [Another Oklahoma newspaper]: Perry, Oklahoma, June 5th, 1903 -- The Booth Case:

It is now fully developed that the man at Enid, who committed suicide on January 13th last, was none other than John Wilkes Booth, the slayer of President Lincoln. Junius Brutus Booth, the nephew of John Wilkes Booth, has fully identified the picture of David E. George as that of his uncle, John Wilkes Booth.

It has always been known by the Booth family that John Wilkes Booth was alive, and they have been in constant communication with him ever since April 14th, 1865, the day of President Lincoln's assassination and the escape of John Wilkes Booth. This knowledge on the part of Junius Brutus Booth, the actor, was what prompted him, or his brother Edwin, to make remarks about the supposed grave of J. Wilkes Booth. He or they well knew that the body in the grave was not that of J. Wilkes Booth.

People conversant with the history of the published capture of Booth, and with the fact that the reward offered by the Federal government for Booth's capture has never been awarded, many always believed him to be alive. From the time of Booth's supposed capture, in April, 1865, until January of this year, J. Wilkes Booth has been in almost constant touch with his friends. Being an actor, and also secluded by the wilds of Texas and Indian Territory, and through the anxious efforts of friends and relatives to preserve his life, it has been an easy matter for Booth to conceal his identity. In this he has been as smooth as was his disguise as an old colored man moving. [CfD -- Booth is reported to have hid in the wagon of an old black man who he had persuaded to pretend to be moving. This reportedly occurred soon after the assassination of Lincoln, when Booth was being hotly pursued by at least some of the Federal forces.] There are no records, and never have been, in the Federal archives which go to show any positive or direct proof of the death of Booth. There has always been a lingering desire in the hearts of the people to believe that such was the case, but to the close student of affairs a doubt has always existed.

At the time of the suicide of George in Enid and his claim to be none other than John Wilkes Booth, the Republican stated its belief in the confession of the man. All the facts in the case have pointed, and do now point, to the truthfulness of his death bed statement. For many years George, alias Booth, has been furnished funds by his friends.

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The Daily Democrat [Another Oklahoma newspaper]: El Reno, Oklahoma Territory, June 3rd, 1903 -- From the evidence at hand there is no doubt that the man who died at Enid last January, and who was supposed by some to be John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln, was really that man, he having been identified by many who knew John Wilkes Booth before the war, during the war and since that time.

After the death of the man certain papers found on his person led to the opinion that he was the fugitive assassin supposed to have been killed thirty-three years ago, and the body was embalmed to await a thorough investigation. It has been in an undertaking house here ever since, and all possible efforts have been made to verify the remarkable claim made by the dead man's lawyer, who came from Memphis, Tennessee, and asserted that his client was none other than the slayer of President Lincoln.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch: St. Louis, Mo., June 3d, 1903 -- A special from Enid, Oklahoma says: "Junius Brutus Booth, the actor, a nephew of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln, has fully identified from photographs, etc., the man, David E. George, as his uncle, John Wilkes Booth.

George, or Booth, committed suicide here January 13th last, and in his effects was found a letter directed to F.L. Bates, Memphis, Tenn., who came here at once and identified the body as that of John Wilkes Booth, and has since secured confirmation of his statement that George is in fact Booth.

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[CfD -- Finis L. Bates notes that "the foregoing are a few of the many comments made in the various publications." Unsolved Mysteries covered this story. Following are excerpts. Note that the person named "Orwellek" (sp?) has been investigating aspects of the Lincoln assassination for years.]

ORWELLEK: Bates had the body preserved. He took many pictures of the body. Eventually, he had the body mummified to preserve it for posterity; to prove once and for all that the government had fooled us all. And he was not going to allow that cover-up to stand.

NARRATOR: In 1931, six Chicago physicians examined the mummified body of John St. Helen [a.k.a. David E. George, John Wilkes Booth]. According to the findings of this affidavit, they specifically noted a scarred right eyebrow, a crushed right thumb and a broken-limbed leg. John Wilkes Booth is known to have had all three of these unusual characteristics.

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Aperi os tuum muto, et causis omnium filiorum qui pertranseunt. Aperi os tuum, decerne quod justum est, et judica inopem et pauperem. -- Liber Proverbiorum XXXI: 8-9

Brian Francis Redman "The Big C"

Coming to you from Illinois -- "The Land of Skolnick"