FBI: Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth


“Enid, Oklahoma Territory, Jan. 21st, 1903.

“To Whom It May Concern: We, S. S. Dumont, proprietor, and B. B. Brown, clerk, of the Grand Avenue Hotel, in the eity of Enid, and Territory of Oklahoma, declare that we, and each of us, knew a gentleman who registered as a guest of said hotel on the 3d day of December, 1902, under the name of D. E. George, who on the 18th day of January, 1903, committed suicide in said hotel by taking fif­teen grains of strychnine or arsenic, and died from the effects of said poison at 6:30 o’clock a. m., on the 14th day of January, 1903, and that we have this day been shown by F. L. Bates, of Memphis, Ten­nessee, a small tintype picture, together with a pho­tograph, and we say that said tintype picture and photograph are the same and perfect pictures or likenesses in each and every feature of the said D. E. George, the only difference being that George, or whomsoever he was, was older at the time of his death than when the pictures were taken.

(Signed) “B. B. BROWN.


“Sworn to and subscribed before me this, the 22d day of January, 1903. (Signed) “GUT S. MANOTT,

(L. S.) “Notary Public.

“My commission expires October 22d, 1906.”



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JOHN WILKES BOOTH, AGED 38. This picture taken at Glenrose Mills, Texas, on the Bosque River. (A reproduction from a tin-type.)

At the conclusion of my interview with Messrs. Dumont and Brown I left the confinement of the hotel for the fresh air and scenes of the street. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon, the streets were thronged with people, as they had been in the morning, while men, women and children were hur­rying to and fro on the sidewalks. But the crowds seemed to have in a measure left the public square, where the whole surface of the earth had been worn perfectly smooth by the press of human feet. In the rear, to the north and west of the little city of Enid, could be seen many camps and covered wagons, near which staked and hobbled horses browsed on the outlying commons. Small camp fires burned slowly and watch dogs lay silent on the camp grounds, near or under the front wheels of the wagons, keeping guard while the master, mistress and the children walked the streets of Enid or stood in groups around the camp grounds. Everywhere was that expression of hard, intense feeling that I had never seen before at any time, and never expect to see again. Why was this? It was said that the body of the man who had assassinated President Lincoln lay in the morgue in Enid. It was expected that this body would be identified by a man who should have arrived in the morning. If the body was pronounced to be that of John Wilkes Booth it was planned to make a great bonfire and burn it in the public streets of Enid. Yes, the body was to be tied to a shaft and burned while surrounded by men, women and children, hooting, shouting and chanting triupmhant songs of revenge for the death of President Lincoln. And when the savage deed was done the flickering flames from the burning body of the assassin would have lighted the pathway of the avengers as they homeward trod.

And I, th6 man expected and looked for with such anxiety, walked among them, and they knew it not. I stood there, not in fear, not in awe, but in bewildered horror as imagination conjured up be­fore me the contemplated scene. And as I gazed about me at these people I asked myself: What manner of man was Abraham Lincoln that his mem-ory should be thus entombed in the hearts of these people, so far removed from him and the scenes of his life and death—many of whom, in fact, were born long years after he had died? How wonderful was this strange appreciation of the man. It was a lesson to me, a living proof of the truth that “the good men do live after them.” About me were men and women bowed with age, shaking with palsied limbs, earnest men and women in middle life, ordi­narily busied with its duties and demands, and bright youth, girls and boys, flushed with it dreams and hopes, and tender children, all treading the paths and streets which led from camp and home to the threshold of the morgue, where lay the sup­posed body of John Wilkes Booth, silent in self-in­flicted death, his own hand avenging the crime it had committed.

Strange, indeed, was this spectacle 1 I moved here and there among them, watching, wondering, my heart beating in unison with the hearts of the strange human concourse about me, until twilight came and the darkness was starred by electricity as the cur-Tent reached the arcs that light this beautiful city. Then I turned and walked back to the hotel, ac­knowledging the pleasant greeting of Mr. Brown as I entered the dining room.

Shortly after dinner Mr. Pennaman called for a consultation with respect to the disposition of the body of Booth. The first conclusion reached was to perfectly preserve the body, if it could be done, which was much doubted by the embalmer, Mr. Byan, though he promised that his best efforts would be put forth to this end. The only defect at that time existing was a small black splotch on the right cheek just under the eye, which was puzzling the undertaker, who said it might be due to coagu­lated blood, which would be a bad sign; then, again, the same condition might be brought about by the large amount of poison taken, which might or might not be conducive to the preservation of the body.

This question being settled, the second proposi­tion was likewise disposed of by Mr. Pennaman, at my suggestion agreeing to take out letters of ad­ministration on the estate of the dead man, which would include the body, and this he did. Mr. Ryan immediately left us to begin his efforts at absolute preservation of the body.

Mr. Pennaman remained with me, going to the depot and saying good-bye. For, my mission being now completed, I paid the bill of Charles O’Connor of New York and took the *bus for the depot. On arriving at the depot we found the train would be on time, in fact, over the undulating prairie the beacon light of the engine could be seen rising like a star above the horizon; it grew larger and larger, then rushed onward until the ponderous engine and heavy train slowed down to stop at the station. Un­like the Arab, I did not fold my tent and quietly steal away, but boldly took the southbound cannon ball of the Rqck Island. On this train there was much discussion of the tragic affair at Enid; every pas­senger had his or her own theory as to the suicide and proper identity of David E. George, while some wise men asserted that it was all a fake on the part of the citizens of Enid to advertise that little town and let the world know there was such a place. These and kindred expressions were heard on all sides. There was an old man on the car who had evidently belonged to the Federal army, for I over­heard him saying something about belonging to post so-and-so of the G. A. B.’s, a man who had dis­tinguished himself, in my mind, for having more brains and less tongue than the majority of the others. He said: ” Well, boys, if the man who killed himself at Enid is Booth, he has not yet been so identified, and it’s reported that he left considerable of an estate, and judging others by myself, I would say, if he had been a dear, misguided dead relative of mine, with an estate of thirty or forty thousand dollars, I surely would have looked him up and been chief mourner, and shed tears like our crocodiles on a sandbar in the sunlight of an August midday on a Southern beach. My sorrow would have found vent like unto the sound of foghorns at sea. Then, too, I would not have been particular as to the char­acter or appearance of my very dear relative, the main point being was he dead, very dead; did he have the property and was it mine. Then, too, I understand that this man confessed to his identity as John Wilkes Booth, and that he has never been identified as David E. George, therefore fc£ must be John Wilkes Booth, for in God’s name what had thai man to gain by such a confession! Could it add to his pleasures, or could it profit the dead! And since by his own hand he died, notoriety could not have been his purpose. No. For what good does notoriety do the dead! No, as to me, I had rather be a living private than a dead general.”

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John Wilkes Booth, aged 64. In the morgue at Enid, 11 Days after death and swollen from the poison he had taken. Download The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth in PDF here.

What this old man said put me to thinking, look­ing for the motive a man could have in taking his own life and the confession of a crime on his dying bed which he did not commit, which could only bring upon him the contempt and condemnation of all men. On the other hand, if this man had been George, the fake, it would have been his glory to have impersonated Booth while he lived, to have masqueraded as a notorious murderer, that he might have enjoyed while he lived a character akin to the village bully, the red-eyed-gentleman-from-Bitter-Creek style, a personal character usually as cowardly as it is contemptible. And today I find no reason so satisfactory to nature as that Booth, burdened with the crime he had committed, conscience whipped and at bay, ended his life by his own hand, willing that his taking away should be deliberate, that he should yet have time and opportunity to confess his crime; for I can conceive the horror of men who die without the opportunity to confess, for remember we have prayed from our infancy up, “De­liver us from sudden death.”

The man who commits suicide does so from a mo­tive, for a purpose, being insane does not change the purpose, the motive, death preferred, superinduced by sorrow of heart or insanity of mind or a desire to die as a punishment to one’s self, or in reparation of our wrongs to others.

Who can so well take his own life as the man who takes the life of another by assassination f It is the man of deliberation who assassinates. It is the man of deliberation who suicides. The acts are kindred of purpose—the immediate taking of life by vio­lence, premeditated and deliberate as a wicked and depraved purpose, or for a wrong, imaginary or real, by the assassin.

In truth it can be said that the man who sheds blood with the assassin’s hand, by his own hand his own blood, will most likely be shed.

While on our train plunged as if mad with fright, the engine with her five-foot driving wheels meas­ured the length of her burden over tracks of steel on time that must soon land us at El Beno. Then I felt the pulsation of lessening momentum, I heard the signal ciy of the air brakes, the touch of assum­ing power and the echo of the wings of the wind as they wound us within their folds, when motionless we stood, while the engine was throbbing with its pent-up power and hissing from its cylinder heads as if angered at this intrusion and delay. I looked and we were at El Reno, in the midnight hours. Then I was off for the Kerfoot Hotel, for a few hours of rest.

I retired with orders to be called for a ten o’clock breakfast. Going upstairs, I found that by incident I had been given room sixty-four, the very one oc­cupied by George, or Booth, the greater part of the past two years, during his residence at El Beno, he having left this very room for Enid just forty-one days before his suicide. Retiring, tired, restless, worried, yet rewarded, I pillowed my head with its feverish brain to enter the land of sleep, an exile from the cares of life.

Rap, rap, rap sounded on the door, and I was awake. The night was gone and the morrow had begun. First to breakfast and then on the street I looked with interest on each thing because it was to me a city new and strange. Then, too, an addi­tional interest was lent because it was the last known home of John Wilkes Booth, the murderer, the as­sassin of President Lincoln. I looked with wonder and astonishment at the evidence of wealth, civili­zation and refinement around me. I passed the banks with their hoarded wealth. I passed the mer­chants who held their wares behind plate glass fronts. I passed the homes of 4;he press, from which were issued the daily papers. I looked upward to see the towering churches and cathedrals with spires which point to the dial of heaven, builded by the hands of reverent men.

El Reno then can not be the home of soulless peo­ple, of murderers and assassins alone, for I met and intermingled with its people, its bankers, its mer­chants, its editors and its ministers, and all I found to be just, honorable and God-fearing people, who spurned, as you do, the murderer, and would punish as you would the assassin. Men who would turn pale and women become agitated at the realization that they, in fact, had known and associated with John Wilkes Booth for more than two years without ever knowing his identity.

I shall never forget my meeting with Mr. Grant, then the proprietor, publisher and editor of the Re­publican, a daily paper of El Reno, who when I called on him, requested to see my pictures of John Wilkes Booth, and who recognized them to be like­nesses of David E. George. When told that George was, in fact, John Wilkes Booth, Mr. Grant expressed great astonishment and indignation at the idea that George could possibly have been John Wilkes Booth. Finally, putting his head forward for a moment, as if in thought, he said: “I tell you what I will do. If you will go with me to the El Reno State Bank and show these pictures to Mr. Bellamy, one of the officers of that bank, and when you show the pictares to him don’t say who they are, and if he recog­nizes them, as I have done, as being true likenesses of David E. George, then I am ready to admit that John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lin­coln, has been a citizen of our town in the person of David E. George.”

His proposition was accepted, and over to the bank we went, some few blocks away. Walking to the desk of Mr. Bellamy, I was properly introduced and handed him the tintype picture which St. Helen had left with me in Texas, as well as the photographs which had been taken for the identification of D. E. George as Booth. On handing the pictures to Mr. Bellamy I asked him, “Who is this man in the picturef” Without hesitation he replied, “Why, this is David E. George in his younger days.” Then followed the recognition of the pictures as those of David E. George by the other officers and employes of this and other banks, as has been heretofore men-tioned.

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