The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

December 28, 2010

Mystery of Booth

ENID — Descendants of John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, want to know where their ancestor died and have agreed to DNA testing to finally answer the question.

A Dec. 23 Philadelphia Inquirer story reported Joanne Hulme and her family want the issue settled. They have approved exhuming the body of Edwin Booth, the brother of John Wilkes Booth who also was an actor, to help determine DNA.

The exhumation may reveal whether an Enid legend involving a transient known as David E. George is true.

According to the legend, Booth, under the alias George, actually died in Enid in 1903. George committed suicide in what now is Garfield Furniture after allegedly confessing he was Booth.

Curt Roggow, of Kremlin, who lobbies for Enid in the Oklahoma Legislature, said he always has been intrigued by the story.

“I remember talking to the curator, or a docent, at Ford’s Theatre Museum in Washington during a group tour. He dismissed the (David E. George) story completely,” Roggow said.

Rumors have been circulating for years the man shot at a tobacco barn in rural Virginia was not Booth.

Booth, an actor from Maryland, shot and killed Lincoln in  Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., in 1865. He reportedly was killed by Union soldiers after being tracked down to the barn 10 days later and then was buried in an unmarked grave in Baltimore.

A story that has passed down through history is Booth actually escaped and fled to Oklahoma Territory, ending his life in Enid.

The bone specimen from Edwin Booth is expected to be compared to a bone specimen from the man who was killed in the Virginia barn. The National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C., will perform the test.

A panel of judges will make the final decision whether to grant a request of the Booth family to obtain the DNA sample from the bone specimen. The issue of whether the family may obtain the DNA sample must be decided by a panel of judges before the exhumation of Edwin Booth’s body.

A book in 1907 titled “The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth,” written by Finis L. Bates, perpetuated the story that Booth escaped. Bates stated a Booth look-alike mistakenly was killed at the farm. Booth then assumed the name of John St. Helen and committed suicide in 1903 in Enid.

People are interested in knowing if Booth actually perished in the barn, or if a hoax has been perpetrated on the American people, commented historian Nate Orelowek.

According to the legend known in the Enid area, Booth changed his name to John St. Helen and lived in Texas before changing his name to David E. George and moving to Enid. He reportedly poisoned himself in 1903 in an Enid hotel room.

“I hope more research is done to find out what really happened. It’s always been an interesting story for me,” Roggow said.

To read the Philadelpha Inquirer story, go to www.philly.com.

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