FBI: Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth

Mrs. Harper makes the following statement: 41 Mr. George (Booth) had been a resident of the Territory for several years. He had always been well supplied with money, the origin or source of which no one knew, for from some mysterious source he received a regular remittance. He was a familiar figure in Guthrie, El Reno and Enid. My acquaint­ance with Mr. George led me to believe him to be a very different person from what he represented hinu self to be as David E. George, the painter. He was eccentric, and though he claimed to be a painter of houses, yet he did no work. He was possessed of f the highest degree of intelligence, had always the bearing of a gentleman of cultivation and refine­ment, and in conversation was fluent and captivat­ing, while he discussed subjects of the greatest mo­ment with learning, familiarity and ease. There were very few people with whom he cared to asso­ciate. Generally he was gloomy, though at times he would brighten up, sing snatches of stage songs and repeat Shakespeare’s plays in an admirable manner. He was so well versed in these plays and other writ­ings that he would often answer questions with a quotation.

“At one time the young people of El Reno had a play of some kind. One of the actors became ill and identifies booth.

Mr. George (Booth) filled the place to the great ad­miration and entertainment of those who saw him. When surprise was expressed at his ability as an actor he replied that he had acted some when he was a young man.

“Regarding his people, he told different stories. One time he said his father was a doctor, and he and a brother were the only children; that his mother had married again and two half brothers were living in the Indian Territory, their name being Smith, and that he had property in the Indian Ter­ritory. Again he seemed very lonely at times, and said that he had not a relative in the world. He was subject to fits of melancholia, was extremely sensi­tive, quick tempered and rather excitable. He said he had never married. There seemed to be some­thing constantly on his mind about which he thought, and which made him miserable. He seemed to love to have one understand that he was in trouble and appreciated sympathy.

“He remained with the Simmons family three months and treated everyone with the greatest kind­ness and consideration. Never do I remember his mentioning4 the history of his past life or that he was other than David E. George until the time he thought he was going to die—that was about the middle of April, 1902.

“He had gone up town, but returned shortly and, entering the room where Mrs. Simmons, Mrs. Bears and myself were seated, he made some remarks re­garding the weather, which was unusually fine for the time of year. He then went to his room and in about fifteen minutes called for us, and said:

” ‘I feel, as if I am going to be very sick.’ He was lying on his bed and asked me to get him a mirror. For some time he gazed at himself in the mirror.

“Mrs. Bears said she could see the pupils of his eyes dilate and believed that he had taken mor­phine. Being uneasy, she went out of the room and got him a cup of coffee and insisted until he drank it, but when she suggested sending for a physician he roused himself and in a peculiar and dramatic manner and voice said, while holding the mirror in front of his face:

” ‘Stay, woman, stay. This messenger of death is my guest, and I desire to see the curtain of death fall upon the last tragic act of mine/ which passion­ate utterance brought tears to our eyes. And when I turned to wipe the tears from my eyes he called me to his side and.’said:

” ‘I have something to tell you. I am going to die in a few minutes, and I don’t believe you would do anything to injure me. Did it ever occur to you that I am anything but an ordinary painter f I killed the best man that ever lived.’ I asked him who it was and he answered:

” ‘Abraham Lincoln.’

“I could not believe it. I thought him out of his head and asked: ‘Who was Abraham Lincolnf

” ‘Is it possible you are so ignorant as not to know!’ he asked. He then took a pencil and paper and wrote down in a peculiar but legible hand the name, ‘Abraham Lincoln,’ and said:

” ‘Don’t doubt it, it is true. I am John Wilkes Booth.’

” ‘Am I dying nowf’ he asked. ‘I feel cold, as if death’s icy hand was closing my life as the forfeit for my crime.’

“He then told me that he was well off. He seemed to be perfectly rational while talking to me. He knew me and knew where he was, and I believe he really thought in fact that he was dying, and asked me to keep his secret until he was dead, adding that if any one should find out now that he was J. Wilkes Booth they would take him out and hang him, and the people who loved him so well now would despise him. He told me that people high in official life hated Lincoln and were implicated in his assassination. He said that the suspense of possibly being detected preyed on his mind all the time and was something awful, and that his life was miserable. He said that Mrs. Surratt was innocent and he was responsible for her death as well as that of several others. He said that he was devoted to acting, but had to give it up because of his crime, and the fact that he must remain away from the stage, when he loved the life and profession of acting so well, made him restless and ill tempered. He said he had plenty of money, but was compelled to play the character of a work­ing man to keep his mind occupied.

“In the mean time Dr. Arnold arrived and as a result of his efforts Mr. George was restored. After this he was very anxious for weeks regarding what he had told me and questioned me concerning it. I answered him that he had told me nothing of im­portance, but he seemed to know better. One day he saw me looking at a picture of Lincoln and asked me why I was looking at it. I told him that I had always admired Lincoln.

” ‘Is that the only reason you have for looking at itf he asked, regarding me with a fierce look. A peculiar expression came over his face, his eyes flashed and he turned pale and walked off.

“One peculiar feature of Mr. George, or Booth’s, face was that one eyebrow was somewhat higher than the other. I have noticed him limp slightly, but he said it was rheumatism. That Mr. George had a past we all knew, but what his secret was remains unknown except in so far as he may have communi­cated the truth to me.”

Booth’s, or George’s, life at El Eeno was much the same as I have found it at other places—a simi­larity and accumulative evidence unmistakably establishing his identity of person and character wherever he located. It seems to have been his pol­icy to change his name and character as often as he changed his place of residence. It will be remem­bered that when he left Hennessy for El Beno that he changed his name from George D. Byan to David E. George, and his occupation and dress from that of a gentleman of leisure to that of a journeyman painter of houses, which character he acted to such perfection that, although he painted but one house, and did that in such an uneven and unworkmanlike manner as to show that he knew little or nothing about painting, yet people thought he knew all about it, and just why he did no more painting the general public did not understand. Upon inquiry, however, George, or Booth, was always ready with a satis­factory explanation. When the editor of the El Beno Democrat, in which paper he put an advertisement as a tradesman of house painting, at a cost of four dollars a month, thinking it a useless expense, so universally was it known that George, or Booth, did no such work, suggested this to him, George, or Booth, indignantly demanded to know if the editor was uneasy about the price of the card, if so he would pay for it in advance. The editor apologized and the card continued from month to month for two years, up to the date of the death of George.

Booth’s purpose in this is obvious. He wanted to keep himself constantly before the public as a paint­er, not that he wanted work, but to keep alive his identity as a painter while he played the deceptive character. The little cottage painted for Mr. An-stien was the stage setting to the character, the card in the paper was his program and he played to a suc­cessful finish this drama of the journeyman painter.

Booth’s idea in purchasing the cottage and estab­lishing a home for himself was probably because he thought he would enjoy it after a long and homeless life, alone whether on the plains, in the mountains or the best hotels—for it was his custom to put up at only the best hotels wherever he went. Thus, when he reached El Reno he went to the Anstien Hotel, the best one then in the city, and as good as any there now. But three months of home life was quite sufficient for him and he moved into the Ker-foot Hotel, the newest and most up-to-date hotel in El Reno, which was completed after he left the An-stien for his cottage. Just how it was possible for Qooth to stay at this hotel, the stopping place of most of the traveling public, and escape detection in his changed character from “Gentleman Ryan” to “Journeyman House Painter George,” by people from Hennessy, only about sixty-five miles away, who must have frequented this hotel, is hard to un­derstand. Nevertheless it is true. It would be pos­sible, perhaps easy, to deceive as to occupation, but to successfully disguise his person, and change his name, is remarkable and certainly required all the genius of the actor, John Wilkes Booth, who played the change of name, person and character practically in the same community. At El Reno, Guthrie and Enid he was known as George, while at Hennessy, within the same section, he was known as George D. Ryan, and that he was not recognized and exposed staggers comprehension and creates disbelief, nev­ertheless Booth did this successfully, as he did many other surprising things.

Leaving El Reno, Booth, or George, arrived at Enid on the 3d day of December, 1902, and registered at the Grand Avenue Hotel, under the name of David E. George. In the meantime Mr. Harper and his wife had removed from El Eeno to Enid, from which place she made the following statement:

“Enid, Oklahoma Territory, Jan. 23d, 1903.

“On the evening of January 13th, I was startled and surprised by reading in the Enid Daily News of the suicide of David E. George, of El Eeno, with whom I first became acquainted in March, 1900, in El Eeno, at the home of Mr. Simmons.

“Mr. Harper went down on Wednesday morning, the 14th instant, and recognized him, and told the embalmers of a confession that David E. George had made to myself, and that they had better investi­gate.

“I went to the morgue with Mr. Harper on the 15th and identified the corpse of David E. George as the man who had confessed to me at El Eeno that he was John Wilkes Booth, and, as brevity has been enjoined on me, will reaffirm my former statement made in detail of David E. George’s confession to me at El Eeno, about the middle of April, 1900, as fully as if same were set forth herein.

(Signed.) “MBS. E. C. HABPEB.”

“Territory of Oklahoma,

“County of Garland.

“Mrs. E. C. Harper, first being duly sworn, upon her oath says that the facts were written above by herself; that she knows the facts she has written, and that the same are true.

(Signed) “MBS. B. 0. HAEPEB.

“Sworn to and subscribed before me tins the 24th day of January, 1908.

(Signed) “A. A. STRATFOBD,

“Notary Public.

(L. S.) “My commission expires November 18th, 1906.”



“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 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 Theater after the asassination. 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 any one 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 Beno. 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 Beno, 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.”

The following appeared in the same paper under proper date:

“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 doabt 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 re* mains 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 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 Y-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. B. George. We placed the very last words George wrote by the side of the f ac-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.”

The Post-Dispatch, of St. Louis, Missouri, through its reportorial staff, made a similar investigation, writing an editorial report in confirmation of the in­vestigation made and published by the Enid Wave as above given, but which is not here reproduced be­cause it would be but cumulative evidence of the sub­ject. However, we do give the following:

The Perry, Oklahoma Republican: 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 gmmmm not that of J. Wilkes Booth.

“People ‘mmmmt 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. 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.

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