It was the night of April 14, 1865, and only a few days before the Civil War had ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered the last major Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. The actor John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in the head, leaped from the theater box where the president had been seated and escaped into the night. On April 24, it was reported that Booth had been shot and killed outside a barn in Virginia. But is that version of the assassin's death the truth?
The 26-year-old stage actor had a $100,000 bounty put on his head, and the story told was that he refused to surrender and was shot in the neck by a cavalry sergeant. He died three hours later.
In 1869 the body was turned over by the War Department to the Booth family and buried in the family plot in the Greenmount Cemetery at Baltimore. The body was identified by members of the family and by a dentist’s report. However there was always the whisper that the man killed that day was not Booth, but someone else.
In an effort to put these doubts to rest a group of researchers using facial recognition technology compared photographs of Booth to others that were believed to be him, and they were stunned with their findings.
The comparison was made between three photographs. One was of John Wilkes Booth taken in 1865, a man called John St. Helen dated 1877 and the embalmed corpse of David E. George taken in 1903.
The software took measurements such as the spaces between the eyes, the jawlines, the shapes of the cheekbones and noses. The conclusion was that it appeared that the three photographs were of the same man. Which means Booth died in 1903 of natural causes, age 64, using the alias of David E. George.
Short of DNA comparison, the facial recognition test is very definitive and is widely used by law enforcement agencies and the results are considered reliable in a court of law.
The comparison with John St. Helen was within the top 1% of those bearing similar features, and it was short just one pixel short of having the same eye structure, thus making it almost a perfect match. Police examiners as a rule give special attention to results that come up at 5% or less.
The rumors that Booth had not been killed in 1865 circulated from the beginning when several people viewed what was supposed to be his body and claimed it didn't look like him, however others confirmed that it was him and the government informed the public of Booth's death on that day.
In 1995 a request was made to exhume Booth's remains from the family plot, however a judge turned down the request when it could not be determined where the body was buried. It was hoped that photographs could be superimposed over the skull, and verification could be made of Booth's recent injuries before death, which was a broken leg and a crushed thumb.
Nate Orlowek a historian believes that Booth fled to Granbury, Texas using the name of John St. Helen. In 1877 he fell deathly ill, and believing that he was going to die, confessed to his friend Finis Bates (grandfather of actress Kathy Bates) who was an attorney that his real name was John Wilkes Booth, along with details of how he had fled from Washington as part of the conspiracy to kill the president. When he recovered, the unwise confession prompted him to leave town quickly, and he faded into obscurity until 1903.
In a small Oklahoma town named Enid, a man calling himself David George committed suicide by drinking a glass of wine laced with Strychnine. Bates found out about his death and thought that George looked like John St. Helen, and he made arrangements to secure the corpse which had already been embalmed by the undertaker at Enid. He took photographs of the entire body, and he was startled at the strong resemblance between the man he remembered and the mummy.
In 1907 Bates published a book titled Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth that contended that Booth was both St. Helen and George and had not been killed in 1865,
He took the mummy on the road and displayed it at traveling carnivals. Throughout the years it changed hands several times, bringing bad luck to each owner. Nearly every showman who exhibited it had been ruined.
In 1931 the mummy was examined and three injuries that Booth was known to have were recorded in the findings.
Never in his wildest imaginings did John Wilkes Booth the vain stage actor imagine he would tour the country as a leather-faced mummy named "John".
Source - Mirror
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer