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John Wilkes Booth

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John wilkes booth2 john st. helen

Booth (right) and St. Helen (left)

Real Name: John Wilkes Booth
Case: Mistaken Identity
Date: January 13, 1903
Location: Enid, Oklahoma


Details: On April 14, 1865, actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln, the Sixteenth President of the United States. He escaped Washington, DC and fled to the Garrett Farm near Port Royal, Virginia where he was tracked down by Union Officers under Colonel Everett Conger. On the Garrett porch, he never once denied being Booth to Colonel Lafayette Baker, the Union officer who had lead the pursuit for him. He wanted a message delivered to his mother, asked for his hands to be held out and cried out "Useless, Useless..." before breathing his last. He was further identified by a pin through his vest to his undershirt.
According to some conspiracists, several people including David E. Herold who fled with Booth denied it was he who died in the barn. Several witnesses claimed that the body from the Garrett Farm was not Booth. Other strange incidents seemed to add more doubt. Secretary of War William Stanton had all photos of Booth's body destroyed. Complicating the matter is the fact that a man variously known as David E. George and John St. Helen later confessed to lawyer Finis Bates on his 1903 deathbed that he was in fact the escaped assassin.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the September 25, 1991 episode.
It was also explored in the TV series "Brad Meltzer's Decoded."
Results: Unresolved. The Smithsonian requested that Booth's body be exhumed for an autopsy with the cooperation from his family. A state court, however, refused to give them full permission and the case goes unsolved to this day.
One rumor to come out in later years is that George/St. Helen was actually Boston Corbett, the soldier who had claimed God told him to kill Booth. This theory claims that his behavior became quite erratic through his life; he once even opening fire in the Kansas State Legislature, later eventually committed to a sanitarium which he escaped, supposedly for Texas where he worked as a traveling salesman before he met Finis Bates as John St. Helen.
In 2007, however, Edward Steers wrote in his book, "Lincoln Legends," that the so-called "proof" of Booth's survival had no provenance. The entire legend was based on the files of Andrew Potter, a man who was supposedly in the National Detective Police under Lincoln. However, the National Archives has no record of Potter's existence or his membership in the NDP. The Potter Files are also filled with numerous discrepancies and historical inaccuracies which call doubts on the myth of Booth's escape.
Regardless of these facts, several members of the Booth family still believe Booth escaped, and believe DNA comparisons of his remains would lay these myths to rest. In 2012, a judge ruled against Booth's remains being disinterred for such experiments based on there was not enough evidence to warrant the tests.

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