FBI: Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth

“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.”

The following is an editorial from the Daily Democrat :

“El Reno, Oklahoma Territory, June 3d, 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.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch contained the follow­ing:

“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. The foregoing are a few of the many comments in the various publications made at the time of the suicide confirming the identification of the man known as George to be John Wilkes Booth, showing and reflecting the opinion of the disinterested masses through the expressions of the press, the best and only medium for gathering facts from expression of opinion. I could fill this volume with press reports supporting the identity herein given, and these have merely been used for the secondary purpose of showing how I became advised of the suicide’s death.

While I have never been able to secure the letter referred to in the last clipping—it having been taken from the body of the dead man as he lay in the morgue awaiting identification by a mysterious man who claimed to have known George in life, and who disappeared before my arrival on the scene—still it was seen by two gentlemen of integrity and served the direct purpose of additional confirmation of the identity of the body as that of Booth. I presume that this letter was the basis of the telegram received by me about the 17th of January, 1903, asking me to come to Enid and identify the body of John Wilkes Booth. In answer to this telegram I left Memphis that same afternoon for Enid.

Owing to many washouts over the Frisco System, which line I took to Enid, I was several days reach­ing the latter point. I missed connection at El Beno on account of these delays, where transfers are made for Enid, and had to remain there one night. I wired the clerk of the Grand Avenue Hotel, how­ever, that I would reach there the next morning. I was met at the Enid depot by Mr. Brown, the clerk of the hotel named, who informed me that my com­ing was awaited with great anxiety by a large and much-excited throng of people from widely located sections of the country, and that there was a large number of old Federal soldiers in the city, who, it had been whispered about, intended to take the body into the streets and burn it, if it should be identified as that of John Wilkes Booth. He suggested that I register under an assumed name, and that I should play the role of a drummer for a furniture house, carrying as a specialty feather top mattresses, say­ing that as T. B. Road was the pessword for Booth at the Potomac bridge, so feather top mattresses was to be the password which would make me known to Mr. Pennaman, who was a large furniture dealer as well as proprietor of the undertaking establishment and morgue of the city where the body of Booth lay in state. It was estimated that more than fifty thousand men, women and children had viewed the body of Booth. The crowd had grown so great that the doors to the morgue had to be closed, as it seemed that the place would be actually picked to pieces by the souvenir hunters; they had cut up the carpets, rugs, curtains, shades, furniture and every­thing else in the house convenient at the time.

We had plenty of time to talk on the way from the depot to the Grand Avenue Hotel, as it seems a part of the plan in the West to locate the depots as far from the town and hotels as possible, to add as much inconvenience and expense as the traveling public can stand, I suppose. Arriving at the hotel we found a large crowd of excited men in earnest conversation, but scanning every passenger who en­tered the hotel. I walked up to the desk and reg­istered as Charles O’Connor, of New York City. As I turned away from the register a tall, well-dressed young man glanced at the name and I could not help a quiet smile at his disgust when he read the name I had just written. And I smile even now when I recall the tall, dark, olive-complected, black-eyed re­porter, who expressed such contempt in his manner as he glanced at the insignificant man with so ex­press comments m suicide of david e. caosa. sited a name. He was on a hot trail, but so far away. If he is living now I hope he will read this story and learn how well he judged his man, and that I now forgive him.

After being dusted off and otherwise perfecting my toilet, I walked into the spacious breakfast room of the hotel, where I was again met by Mr. Brown, who joined me at a private table specially prepared and removed from the other guests in the room.

By this time I was well on to my job—necessity being the mother of invention—I had early made my plans, and said to Mr. Brown, in the most familiar way:

“Well, Brown, how did you like that last furni­ture shipped you by my house! We had to ship the feather mattresses out from Cincinnati, not having them in stock in New York, and hope they proved entirely satisfactory. We are anxious to maintain our already established reputation in the West for correct dealing. Especially do I hope those light walnut suites, which I personally inspected before shipment, were satisfactory, and that no fault could be found with them, as they were of patterns a specialty by our leading designers.” Then in an un­dertone I asked Brown if the word “designers” was the correct thing in this connection.

“D–if I know,” he replied in a whisper. Then in a pleasant, natural tone of voice, audible to those present, he said: “The shipment made us by your house, as a whole, has been entirely satisfactory, and the feather top mattresses were by far the best of their kind in the market. By the way, W. B. Pennaman wants to carry those mattresses in this market, and it would be well for you to see him.”

“Thank you very much for this information, and since I don’t know his location in the city I shall trouble you for directions as to how to find him. I shall certainly call on him the very first thing.

“By the way, Brown, what is the meaning of all this excitement in town! Is there a widely adver­tised circus or an election going on!” I asked, turn­ing to him, showing surprise in both voice and man­ner.

“No,” he said, “it is on account of the suicide at this hotel the other day of a man who is supposed to be John Wilkes Booth.”

“Yes, I have read something of that in the news­papers during the past few days,” I said, “but did not suppose a report of this character would create the present state of excitement. But, from what I read in the newspapers, I thought Booth killed him­self at El Reno.”

“No, Booth lived at El Reno, but killed himself in this place, Enid.”

“Is this all a farce f” I asked, but at this junc­ture Mr. Brown was called to the office and I fin­ished my breakfast in silence and alone.

Gaining the information as to the location of Pen-naman’s place of business, I at once went to the store of the undertaker and furniture dealer. On entering the store I saw a number of clerks, all busy. At the center desk was a handsome man of thirty-five or forty; but which of these men was Penna-man, to whom I was to talk feather top mattresses, was my proposition. I sized up the men, walked over to the center desk, introduced myself as Charles O’Connor and inquired for Mr. Pennaman. The gen­tleman before me acknowledged himself to be the man inquired for, and I told him that I was representing one of the largest furniture houses in the East; that we made a specialty of feather top mat­tresses, and I would be glad to make a date with him to present the merits of the line of goods car­ried by my firm, and invited him to call on me at the commercial parlors of the Grand Avenue Hotel at any hour convenient to him, where I would take pleasure in presenting samples and prices, which I thought would prove attractive. He told me he was then quite busy, but asked that I be seated, and unlatching the gate to the railing around his desk, he invited me inside and pointed to the papers on the table. This done, he excused himself and with a polite indifference to my presence proceeded with his letter writing.

As a matter of fact, this table and chair had been placed there for me in anticipation of my coming. The papers were those containing the news of Booth’s suicide, etcetera, as well as photographs taken of Booth after death. I could only admire this delicate way of furnishing me, unobserved, the means of identifying the body of Booth without ac­tually seeing it, if it should not be opportune to do so. The recognition of St. Helen, or Booth, in the pictures provided was instantaneous.

On the back of the pictures was written in a small, fine band with a pencil: “Conceal and take these pictures with you and call my attention when you desire. I am busy, you know, and must not be an­noyed by you.”

Having finished my inspection, I turned to him and said: “Well, Mr. Pennaman, how are you off for feather top mattresses!”

“I have none in stock,” he replied, rising and leading the way out.

That I might be identified as a drummer for a furniture house we continued our conversation for the edification of others as we passed through the store, discussing classes, prices, grades of mat­tresses and furnitures, we walked back to a side en­trance, commanding a view of the street on which the morgue fronted. Seeing the way clear—no peo­ple having collected there—we passed back through the store, where Mr. Pennaman introduced me to the man in charge of the morgue and the body of Booth as Charles O’Connor, a drummer for a furniture house. This gentleman led us through a back way to the morgue, which we entered from a rear door into the front room, where lay the body of John Wilkes Booth, the man who had been called by the people in this community David E. George. In the presence of the attendant and Mr. Pennaman, cold, stiff and dead, I beheld the body of my friend, John St. Helen. After a separation of more than twenty-six years I knew him as instantly as men discern night from day, as the starlight from moonlight, or the moon from the light of day.

You ask what did I sayf I don’t know. Mr. Pennaman says I exclaimed, “My God! St. Helen, is it possiblet” Then my manhood softened into sentiment and soul into tears. Spread the veil of charity upon the deeds of the dead, that mantle of death cast in the loom of sorrow and woven in the warp and woof of sighs and tears. Shaken with emotion for my dead friend, I had no thought of the crime that this man had committed while his body lay at rest, seeming to sleep in pleasant repose.

In a few minutes I recovered. I realized now for the first time that I was in the presence of John Wilkes Booth, though I had, in fact, been told so more than a quarter of a century before. I had the tintype picture which St. Helen had given me at Granberry, Texas, twenty-six years ago. I took it out and called upon Pennaman and the attendant to bear witness with me to the identity of this dead man with the picture, which I showed them, when they replied without a moment’s hesitation:

“We need no picture to identify this man in your presence. Yes, this is the same man. It is an axio­matic fact, not debatable, they are one and the same man.”

We then compared the high thumb joint on the right hand, the small scar in the right brow—the un­even brow—the scar received in the accident men­tioned by Miss Clara Morris, raises this brow to an uneven line with the left; the right leg was ex­amined and we found a slight indentation on the surface of the shin bone—Booth’s leg was not literal­ly broken, there was a fracture of the shin bone six inches above the ankle; I should say a split or slight shivering of the bone, for besides the identation on the front of the shin bone there were small scars plainly discernable, where particles of bone seemed to have worked out through the skin (St. Helen, Booth, told me this himself), leaving small round scars, while the general shape of the leg at this point seemed curved a little. His eyes, head, forehead, chin, mustache and hair were all the same as John St. Helen’s, and compared exactly with the picture of St. Helen, taken at the time before stated, and given to me, the only difference being that the hair and mustache were streaked with gray now, espe­cially the mustache, which was quite gray at its parting, under the nose. His complexion, even in death, retained somewhat its characteristic olive tint, and his beautiful neck and shoulders were yet preserved. His weight was about one hundred and sixty pounds, height about five feet, eight or nine inches. His shoulders were square, while his neck rose from his chest and shoulders as beautifully as the most beautifully formed woman’s, masculine it is true, but with that beautiful symmetry of form. The embalmer called my attention to this fact, say­ing that when he began the operation of embalming the body he thought it advisable to make an incision at the point Where the threat enters the <she*t, just above tile breastbone, and showed me a slight abra-sion there, but noticing this beautiful formation of the. body, he let it remain intact, regarding it as a formation of art too beautiful to destroy, even in a dead body.

Jiest my presence might be discovered, we kit the morgue, and not a word was spoken until we readied Mr. Pennaman’s desk. He was almost in a state of collapse. He held out his hand, I clasped it, it was eold and clammy, as the hand of the dead; he was’ pale to pallor, and told me that he had never under* gone such a mental and physical experience. He explained to me that he had formerly been connected with the New York Sun, was one of the city editors of that paper; that he had written up John Wilkes Booth in detail, supposing him dead, and that now, after all these years, that Booth’s dead body should fall into his hands was truly and unmistakably a shock to him. Even the veteran embalmer looked pale and worn, and as he stood leaning against Mr. Pennaman’s desk he remarked, “This is the expe­rience of my life.”

I returned to the Grand Avenue Hotel, passing on my way crowds of men standing here and there in earnest conversation, with serious faces and de­termined manner. While walking through these groups of men I imagine I had the feeling possessed by the man who, robed in a red blanket, passes in the presence of a mad bull in the Mexican amphitheater. Nevertheless I must go, and I went with the full de­termination to say feather mattresses and all kinds of furniture talk to the first fellow who looked ugly and angry at me; however, my knowledge of West­ern customs and Western habits stood me in good stead now. I knew who to trust, and he was there in large force. With mimic snakes around his hat, spurs on his boots, goat skins on his legs and quirt in his hand he was there, and he was my friend— one on whom I could depend—the Cow Boy.

You ask, did I belong to the Cow Boy Union t There is no such thing that I have ever heard of. No* The fact is, one Cow Boy is often the whole thing by himself.

What would I say to him t Well, I would not have said feather top mattresses to him, as I did to Pennaman or others. But in good Western style I would have said, if pursued by an angry mob: “Mill ’em, boys. Mill ’em. Bound ’em up. Keep your eye on the lead steer.” This is meaningless to you, but to the cow boy it would have been an introduc­tion, as a cow boy, and to be a cow boy among cow boys is a thing to be appreciated in times of per­sonal danger.

However, with a manner that indicated indiffer­ence to surrounding dangers, I wended my way to the hotel, where Mr. Brown gave me the inside facts about Booth’s, or George’s, coming to the hotel. He said:

“The press reports about George’s coming to the Grand Avenue Hotel and registering on the morning of the 3d day of December, 1902, are correct. While here George was a constant reader of newspapers, re­maining in the reading room and office most of the time. He seemed to be a man of perfect leisure, paid his bills by the week promptly, was genial and pleasant in his manner, had a tendency to drink a little too much at times and remained up late at nights, but was a reasonably early riser. When I was on night watch he was great company to me; he was well read, often repeating parts of Shakes­peare’s plays and reciting other poetry, which it seemed natural to him to know, reciting it in such a manner as to be highly entertaining.

“At times George would become sad or rather thoughtfully silent. In these moods his discussion would drift to matters of the ‘hereafter.’ I asked him, ‘You mean after death?’ He replied, ‘Yes.’

“I remember one night we were alone; he was in what I called his ‘off mood. He raised himself erect in his chair, and in a tragic manner, with gestures and expression suited to the words, he said:

” ‘Am I better than the dog? Oh, no. He is far better than I! He is capable of no sin or crime. Yet when he is found dead his body is placed in the garbage box. Then why not ship my body without a crate to the potters field of the dog? But I, even I, a man, am unworthy that the putrid flesh shall be torn from my bones by the vultures that pray upon the flesh of the dead brute.’

“These utterances were made with such strong self-accusation that I wondered what it could mean, and frirat that tinie on I watched every move of the man and listened attentively to every vrord he said. Whether it was what George said or the manner in which he said a thing, I can’t quite understand, but what he said always impressed you. Of this I am sure, in all my twenty years experience in the hotel business I hate never seen such another character.

“He was a handsome man for his age. His black eyes, when in repose, seemed to have lost luster by age, but in conversation or when repeating verse* from Shakespeare, or otter recitations, they would kindle, flash and sparkle as if inspired or ignited into flame from the burning souls of the eternally damned, while his shapely face and magnificent fore­head paled rather from his natural olive. Sitting or standing with a natural, easy grace, in such moods be made a picture one felt privileged to behold, and never to be forgotten. To my dying day the meet­ing of this man George, or Booth, will be remem­bered by me as an epoch in my life.

“It is true, Bates. Be this man who he may, George, Byan, Marr, St. Helen, Smith or Booth, he is a man without a model. He looks like no one else, he acted like no one else and he talked like no one else that I ever knew or saw.”

“Well, Brown, who is this mant”

“I believe him to be John Wilkes Booth, as he stated on his dying bed. In fact, I don’t think he could be any one else.”

“Did he at any time before his death intimate his identity other than George t”

“No, he did not. In his manner he was quite un­obtrusive and mixed but little with the people in the hotel, and the scenes and recitations I have re­ferred to would always be at a time when we were alone, and the people in the hotel supposed to be asleep.”

“I noticed that some of the press reports state that George committed suicide in the morning.”

“This was not the case. On the night of the 13th of January, 1903, George came into the office and reading room as usual and spent some time reading and finally writing letters. When he had finished the letters, about ten o’clock p. m., he said he was going down to the drug store, just half a block up the street. He was gone only a short time, when he came to the desk, obtained the key to his room and bade me goodnight, requesting to be called for breakfast if he should oversleep his usual time. I saw or heard nothing more of him until about half past eleven o’clock, when I heard groans coming from the first floor just above the office, in the di­rection of the room occupied by George. The watch­man came in hurriedly and we went at once to his room. On forcing his door we found him writhing and groaning in great pain. A doctor was called, he pronounced the patient suffering from the effects of poison and began vigorous treatment at once. The pains seemed to come and go, and George seemed to be suffering the greatest agony. After awhile I no­ticed that the pains or spasms seemed to come closer together, and the patient was drifting from under the control or force of the antidotes, and witnessed the most horrifying struggle for life I ever saw or ever could imagine. About four o’clock in the morn­ing the doctor lost all hope of saving his patient, and informed George that if he had anything to arrange he had better do so. In the meantime Mr. Dumont, the proprietor of the hotel, had come into the room, the doctor having left. George said:

” ‘I have only to say, my name is not George. I am John Wilkes Booth, and I request that my body be sent to the morgue for identification,’ when death came and relieved the suffering of the man whose name we did not then know, and he died at 6:20 o’clock on the morning of January 14th, 1903.

“The undertaker was notified and George’s body removed to the morgue, as he had requested. When it became generally reported that the man’s true name was John Wilkes Booth neither Mr. Dumont or myself had ever seen Mr. Booth nor any member of his family and consequently could not affirm or deny the fact of the true identity of the man, though I was ready to believe then, and do now believe, that George, the man who died, is, in fact, John Wilkes Booth, as he said. The truth is I would believe any­thing he said, and I understand that he confessed his true identity to a Mrs. Harper of this city, who has identified the body as that of Booth.”

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