FBI: Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth

“In the passing of the late Wm. P. Wood, in Washington, several weeks ago, there has gone a man whose associations with the central figures in the Lincoln assassination tragedy were of the most intimate character. Col. Wood was of the Secret Service at the time of the assassination, the thirty-eighth anniversary of which will occur next Tues­day, and was in Cincinnati when President Lincoln was shot. A telegram from Secretary of War Stan­ton to him requesting him to come to Washington was the first information Col. Wood had that John Wilkes Booth was the assassin of President Lincoln.

“Col. Wood, in speaking of the burial of the body of Booth, said:

” ‘The body of Booth was taken off the steamer Ide April 27, 1865, down the Potomac river; from the steamer it was placed on a boat by Capt. Baker and his nephew, a lieutenant in the New York Seventy-first Volunteers, and carried to an island twenty-seven miles from Washington, and secretly buried there. That story was given out that Booth had been buried under the flagstone in the district jail was only told to keep the public mind at ease and satisfy public curiosity.”

So, while Gen. Wallace and Gen. Dana contradict each other they are both contradicted by Col. Wood, making confusion confounded, while Capt. E. W. Hillard, of Metropolis, Illinois, recently published a statement in which he said that he “was one of four privates who carried the remains of Booth from the old Capital Prison in Washington to a gunboat, which carried them about ten miles down the Potomac river, when the body was sunk in the river/’ etc. Therefore, Gen. Dana, Col. Wood and Capt. Bollard say by their statements that Gen. Wallace is mistaken. Gen. Wallace, Col. Wood and Capt. Hill-ard say that Gen. Dana is mistaken, while Col. Wood and Capt. Hillard say that both Gen. Wallace and Gen. Dana are mistaken, and Col. Wood and Capt Hillard are agreed upon the material points that the supposed body of John Wilkes Booth was buried in the Potomac river, differing only in the immaterial point as to the distance the body was carried down the river. Therefore, from the weight or prepon­derance of proof, it appears that the body was bur­ied in the Potomac river. If this was in fact the body of John Wilkes Booth, why was it secretly and mysteriously handled around, as shown in these statements, while the masses of the people of the United States were clamoring for the avenging of the death of President Lincoln? What could have been more satisfactory than for the government to have made public profert of the body? This, it seems, common judgment would have dictated to the officials then in power. And we believe it would have been done if in truth and in fact this body in question had been that of John Wilkes Booth. And why did not the government in this instance turn the body over publicly to Booth’s family t This is the custom of the government— State and national—in dealing with their executed dead. This was done in the case of Guitteau, the as­sassin of President Garfield, and Czolgolsz, the as­sassin of President McEinley. Why this exception with the body of Booth?

Col. Wood says that the story of the burial of Booth’s body at the “Navy Yard was circulated to gratify the people.” The people would have been much more gratified at seeing and identifying the body. What mattered it to them where the body of Booth should be buried? They were only anxious to know that Booth was dead. This was the gratifi­cation supposed to be desired. The truth is, but one purpose was served, and that the one desired, the concealment of the body claimed to be that of Booth, because it was known that it was not the body of John Wilkes Booth. From the true facts and cir­cumstances as they existed there is neither sense nor reason for any other conclusion.

On the 22d day of January, 1898, I addressed a communication to Mr. H. M. Alsen, editor of Har­per’s Weekly, giving a full statement of the facts in my possession respecting the escape of Booth, asserting that in my opinion Booth had not in fact been killed, as reported, at the Garrett home in Vir­ginia, in April, 1865, but had made his escape, and I believed Booth then to be alive and at large in the West. Mr. Alsen replied as follows:

“Harper & Brothers—Editorial Booms, “Franklin Square, New York,

“January 25, 1898. “Dear Sir: In reply to your letter of January 22. * * * Of the facts you mention we have not the slightest doubt. The rumor that John Wilkes Booth was still alive frequently reached Edwin Booth, the actor. Yet it was frequently investigated, found false or quietly ignored. Sincerely yours,

” (Signed) H. M. ALSEN, Editor.”

And now comes the climax in the shape of a vol­untary letter from the United States War Depart­ment, as follows:

“War Department, “Office of the Judge Advocate General, “Washington, May 13, 1898. “F. L. Bates, Memphis, Tenn.

“Dear Sir: I am collecting matter for a detailed account of the assassination of President Lincoln by J. Wilkes Booth, and seeing your letter to this de­partment concerning the evidence you therein state you possess, that Booth was not captured and killed by the Federal troops, I have been prompted to write you in my private capacity as a citizen, and not as an employe of the War Department, and in­quire if you will kindly give me for publication, if found available, such information on the subject as you may possess.

“While I have not what may be styled direct or positive evidence that the man killed was Booth, I have such circumstantial evidence as would seem to prove the fact beyond doubt. Still, I would be glad to examine any evidence to the contrary.

“Hoping to hear from you soon, I am, very re­spectfully, your obedient servant,

” (Signed) JOHN P. SIMONTON. ‘

The voluntary statement of Mr. Simonton being true, establishes beyond question the fact that the government has no positive or direct proof of tfte capture and killing of Booth. Then this explains why the government did not expose the supposed body of Booth. Because they had no conclusive proof of its identity they kept it concealed from the public, for the good effect the deception would have on the public, that they might lull to rest the out­raged and restless public sentiment demanding ven­geance.

Gen. Wallace refers to the monument to John .Wilkes Booth, in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland, standing in the family lot, the last resting place of the members of the Booth family who have joined the pilgrims in the shadowed valley of the spirit land beyond that river, the boundary line be-tween the dwelling of the living and the home of the dead. It is worthy to mention in this connection that on this monument is chiseled only the name “Booth,” and that on the base, the white shaft stands barren of name or epitaph to John Wilkes Booth. Why is this? Does St. Helen’s story explain? When the keeper of the Booth lot asked Edwin Booth if the name of John Wilkes Booth, with an epitaph to him, should be placed on the monument, his reply was, “Let it remain blank.” By the light of subsequent investigation we understand Edwin Booth’s reason for this order. It was in fact not the monument of the dead John Wilkes Booth, as the keeper and the uninformed public believed.

On one occasion a friend asked to speak to Edwin Booth respecting the subject of John Wilkes Booth’s crime, when Edwin Booth interrupted him by say­ing, “Yes, that Washington affair was a horrible crime, but then John Wilkes is my brother.” He uttered this with great emotion and ended the sub­ject.

Notice Edwin’s unwitting reply, “John Wilkes is my brother,” not “John Wilkes was my brother.”

To strengthen the theory that Booth had been cap­tured and killed there was a publication in the Balti­more Sun of January 18, 1903, under the head lines:

••WHERE JOHN WILKES BOOTH LIES.” (Published thirty-eight years after the assassination of the President.)

“It is an interesting fact that Edwin Booth never desisted from his potent and quiet endeavor to re­cover the body of John Wilkes Booth until he deliv­ered it to his mother in Maryland. Of John Wilkes Booth’s burial there can be no doubt. John T. Ford, the Baltimore theatrical manager, and Charles B. Bishop, the comedian, both told me that they wit­nessed for Edwin Booth the exhuming of the body.”

(Then we ask where from? Out of the obliterated grave described by Gen. Dana; from under the brick pavement in the room in the old Penitentiary Build­ing described by Wallace, or from the waters of the Potomac river, as described by Col. Wood and Capt. Hillard?) “And that the same was identi­fied and sent to his mother. This should set at rest the rumors that Booth lives.”

Of the exhuming of this body and its identification by John T. Ford and Charles B. Bishop, as published by the Baltimore Sun. is incomplete as an historical fact, for the reason that there were others present at the same time with Mr. Ford and Mr. Bishop, who have likewise spoken of the manner of the identification of this body as that of John Wilkes Booth, which was shipped to Baltimore and claimed by some to be the body of John Wilkes Booth. Among the others present was Miss Blanche Chap­man, leading lady in the play, “Why Smith Left Home” company, and in referring to the story pub­lished in the Baltimore Sun, she says:

“One morning in 1872, just after rehearsal, my godfather, John T. Ford, manager of the theater, came to me and in a strangely serious voice for him to assume when addressing me, said: ‘Blanche, keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut, and follow me.’ I followed him out through the back of the theater and across the street to Mr. Weaver’s undertaking establishment, which was just opposite. He led the way to a sort of private room at the b&ck of the shop, furtherest from the street, and upon entering I saw a number of people seated or standing around a rough, earth-stained box, which contained something that was wrapped in a muddy army blanket. Some of the people present I kne# at the time, but there were some I did not know. Of course, I afterward learned their names, and the company was made up as follows: John T. Ford, my godfather and manager of the theater; Charles B. Bishop, the comedian; Mrs. Booth, widow of the elder Booth and mother of Edwin Booth, Junius Brutus Booth, and a still younger brother, whose name I did not know; Mr. Weaver, the undertaker, my little sister and myself.

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JOHN WIL.KES BOOTH, AGED 38. The Picture Taken at Glenrose Mills, Texas, on the Bosque River. (A reproduction from the tin-type.)

“It was not long before I began to realize what the solemn little conclave meant. The muddy brown army blanket was partly removed from the object inside of it with a decorous solemnity that I could not misunderstand. Mr. Bishop approached the box, and turning to Junius Brutus Booth, said in a low tone: ‘ You are sure about that being the only tooth in his head that had been filled!’ ‘Yes.’

“Mr. Bishop then gently pressed down the lower jaw of the body in the box and with his thumb and forefinger withdrew the tooth indicated. It had been filled with gold, and the peculiar form of the filling was at once recognized by Junius Brutus Booth. Mr. Bishop then carefully drew off one of the long riding boots, which were still on the feet and limbs of the body, which had evidently lain in the earth for years, and as he did so the foot and lower portion of the limb remained in the boot. An examination was then made, and it was plainly seen that the ankle had been fractured. By this time, of course, I realized from what I saw and heard that the remains in the box were those of John Wilkes Booth, returned to the family by the government,”

It will be remembered that President Lincoln was assassinated in the Ford Theater, at Washington, D. C, a place owned by this same John T. Ford, or run by him; that Ford and Bishop were warm per­sonal friends of John Wilkes Booth, and the others were friends of the Booth family, who of all people were anxious that the government officials and the American people at large should believe that John Wilkes Booth, their relative and friend, had been killed. For this belief meant absolute protection for the living John Wilkes Booth at Glenrose Mills, Tex., known as John St. Helen.

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THE HOME OF DR. MUDD AND THE RIDING BOOT OF BOOTH. Which Was Taken Off the Inured Booth by Dr. Mudd on the 15th of April, 1865, Where It Was Afterward Recovered by Federal Troops.

Suppose these people had failed to recognize and had announced that the body shown was not that of John Wilkes Booth. The government would have been up in arms, figuratively speaking, and the people of America frenzied with indignation over the deception practiced upon them, would have de­manded punishment and justice for the deceivers.

There is no question that there was a body ex­humed, or otherwise obtained, at Washington, as stated in the Sun’s publication, and as disclosed in the statements of Ford, Bishop and Miss Chapman* But the examination of this body discloses the fact that it was not the body of John Wilkes Booth. The government could not afford to have been caught red-handed in the act of attempting to palm off a spurious body on the friends and relatives of John Wilkes Booth. Therefore the body was kept for seven years, at the end of which time it was identi­fied by a gold-filled tooth and a limb that came off in a boot which had been left at the home of Dr. Mudd seven years before.
It is a physical fact that Dr. Mudd cut one of the riding boots from the injured limb of Booth on the morning of April 15, 1865, the limb at that time be­ing so swollen and painful as to render it impossible for Booth to longer endure the suffering it caused, and from that time to the date of his supposed cap­ture and burial Booth had on but one riding boot. And at the time this supposed identification was being made in Baltimore, as described by Miss Chap­man, the very boot said to have been drawn off, carrying with it the wounded foot and leg, was at that self-same time in the archives of the govern­ment at Washington, where it was placed after be­ing removed from the home of Dr. Mudd. So that the identification story published in the Baltimore Sun, the same as described by Blanche Chapman, must fall flat, for the reason that the very means of identification accepted as physical facts proving the identity of the exhumed body to be that of John Wilkes Booth, actually prove it to have been the body of some one else who had on two boots.

In this connection I reproduce what Mr. Moxly says in a published interview:

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Home of Dr. Mudd

“Mr. Basil Moxly, veteran doorkeeper at John T. Ford’s Opera House, after a silence of years, in­forms the world that the body buried in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, was not that of the as­sassin, John Wilkes Booth, but that of another man, forwarded to Baltimore by the government at the solicitation of the Booth family and their friends.

“Mr. Moxly is the sole survivor of the men who acted as pall-bearers at what he now terms a ‘mock funeral,’ and he has deemed the time ripe to tell the facts in this strange disclosure.

” ‘I knew Booth well,’ said Mr. Moxly, ‘and I conversed with him only a short time before the af­fair in Washington. I am the only one of the pall­bearers left. The man who was brought to Balti­more did not resemble Booth; he had brown hair, while Booth’s was jet black; there was also a dif­ference in their general appearance.’ “

The statement of Mr. Moxly is positive and con­clusive that the body buried at Baltimore was not that of John Wilkes Booth, and the question, “Was John Wilkes Booth killed!” again arises, and we revert back to the evidence held by the government, where we find the circumstance of finding Booth’s letters, pictures, check, etc., on the body of the man killed, which John St. Helen, the mysterious cultured gentleman of leisure living at the very edge of civili­zation, explains were in the possession of the dark-haired, swarthy complexioned man, not quite so tall or large as himself, by the name of Buddy or Boby, his better recollection being that it was Buddy or a name sounding the most like the word “Buddy.”

That Buddy or Boby was the man killed there can no longer be a well-founded doubt, and I leave the submitted facts for reflection while taking up the most interesting part of Booth’s life in the West, the home of the Indian, the Mexican and the cow­boy.



Baltimore has the distinction of being the chief stage upon which Booth played his romantic part as an actor, where the footlights separated him from the people, and from that city of beautiful and cul­tured women and honorable and intellectual men John Wilkes Booth drank the inspiration that made him famous as an actor, and that made him ever the courteous and cultured gentleman during his wan­dering life on the Western plains. For Baltimore and her people he carried and cherished in his mem­ory, love and gratitude and honor to the hour he commanded his heart “Be still.”

He has often said to me: “In the morning of my life the star of my fate rose from without the firma­ment of Baltimore’s elite, and I love and honor her.”

How vividly do I recall his proud and haughty, yea, his beautiful and defiant face, when he spoke of Baltimore, the home of his youth and early manhood, and the Baltimorean as his friend. And yon of Baltimore who remembe* him in his strength and honor, this greeting I send as a message from him, from his home nearer the gateway of the Day, where twillight greets the evening star, where darkness makes of ours a dreamland and of the Orient a land of day: “John Wilkes Booth’s fondest memories are of thee and of his friends in Baltimore.”

The life of John Wilkes Booth is, however, cer­tainly no less, and perhaps far more interesting, in the part he played on the Western plains, on the stage by Nature set, in which he had before him the wild man and the semi-civilized people of this wild section as an appreciative audience. And while there are doubtless many residents of the Monu­mental City who treasure up reminiscences of Booth’s bright youth and splendid, misguided gen­ius, there live today thousands of people on the plains who cherish his memory and love his personality without a knowledge of his true name, his crime or his wasted genius, and would, like the cowboy, build a monument to his memory.

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EDWIN BOOTH, At the Age of 31.

Of John Wilkes Booth his brother, Edwin, himself a genius and a judge, said: “He has the genius of my father, and is more gifted than I,” while Joe Jefferson, the “Bip Van Winkle” of all ages, with whom the world laughed or wept at his will, saw John Wilkes Booth in the last years before his in­sane deed at Washington and told me that he never saw so great a performance as his impersonation of “Bichardm.” In “Bichard m.” he played un­der the name of John Wilkes, and never used his surname until he played Horatio to Edwin Booth’s Hamlet. When for the first time his name was given on the bills as John Wilkes Booth, at the close of the play, as usual, the call came for Edwin Booth, and as the curtain went up Edwin Booth came down the stage leading his brother, John Wilkes Booth, by the arm and, pointing to him, said:

“I think he has done well, don’t yout”

Then came from the audience cries of “Yes!” “Yes!” and tumultuous applause.

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