The John Wilkes Booth Theory That Would Change Everything

The official story of the Lincoln assassination holds that the professional actor who shot him, John Wilkes Booth, was himself shot dead in a barn in Virginia 12 days after his infamous crime. As Britannica notes, it was in the early morning hours of April 26, 1865, that Booth made his last stand. Or, as some would go on to speculate, his supposed last stand. Holed up in a tobacco-curing barn with his confederate David Herold, Booth was forced out when one of the lawmen lit the barn on fire. Booth was shot in the neck upon exiting the burning structure. Booth's death was a painful and protracted affair. He reportedly begged the lawmen to kill him while he suffered for hours before finally dying at around 7 a.m.

Or did he die? The question must be asked, for this was a presidential assassination, after all. Just like the JFK assassination theory that would change everything, some speculation has been tossed around regarding the official story of what happened to Lincoln's killer. Let's take a look into the John Wilkes Booth theory and see if it holds water.

The theory asserts that John Wilkes Booth acted his way to freedom

John Wilkes Booth was a pretty famous actor before he became the most infamous actor in U.S. history. As historian Terry Alford told NPR, he is remembered as the first American performer to have "had his clothes torn by fans." This reputation in the public eye made him the perfect conspirator. According to, he was hailed as a master of disguise who got away after setting up some poor sucker to take a bullet for him. He miraculously popped up in news reports all over the world, from Mexico to Brazil to Germany, China, and elsewhere. Some said he was spreading the good word as a minister in Georgia, others that he was working as a carpenter in Tennessee.

But according to Mental Floss, the mother of all John Wilkes Booth conspiracy theories began in 1907. In his book "The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth," author Finis L. Bates claimed that a man going by the name John St. Helen had confessed to him that he was actually Booth. St. Helen said that vice president Andrew Johnson had devised the plot in order to nab the presidency. Bates' theory may have been based on his own hearsay, but it was enough to convince people to pay admission to view the supposed corpse of the late John St. Helen, aka Lincoln's assassin. Booth's descendants have petitioned to have his body exhumed, just in case, but the courts have yet to grant their request.