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Destination: Granbury, Texas

John Wilkes Booth

Granbury Mystery by Gary Hancock

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For conspiracy theorists, the curtain may never be drawn on the legend of John St. Helen. The Granbury man who loved to quote Shakespeare is still felt by many to actually be John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

Many who believe John St. Helen and John Wilkes Booth are one in the same also conclude that members of Lincoln's cabinet conspired to kill the president and then paved the way for Booth to assume the alias of John St. Helen and escape to Texas.

There are historians who scoff at such conjecture, but the popular television series "20/20" and "Unsolved Mysteries" have provided enough corroborating evidence to at least arouse a collective curiosity.

According to the history books, federal troops killed Booth and a fellow conspirator 12 days after the former fatally shot Lincoln in Washington's Ford Theater. After Booth pulled the trigger, he reportedly leaped from the theater's presidential box to the stage below and broke his leg upon impact.

Conspiracy theorists wonder how a lame Booth could have escaped to the northern Virginia farm where he was allegedly found and killed 12 days later. They conclude that governmental conspirators helped Booth escape.

Their speculation is fueled by the government's initial claim that Booth's body was dumped in the Potomac River when in reality it was buried in a Washington cemetery and eventually turned over to Booth's family for re-interment in Greenmont Cemetery in Baltimore.

The John St. Helen that showed up in Granbury during the early 1970s walked with a limp and quoted Shakespeare as did the accomplished Shakespearean actor John Wilkes Booth. John St. Helen, a saloon keeper while in Granbury, was also known to drink himself into a stupor every April 14, which marks the anniversary of Lincoln's assassination.

Of course, St. Helen's limp and predilection for Shakespeare and liquor may have just been a coincidence, but it remains curious why St. Helen skedaddled when approached by a federal marshal in Glen Rose. As the story goes, St. Helen actually lived in a small cabin in Glen Rose for two or three years before moving to Granbury. Without bothering to pack, Helen left Glen Rose for Granbury as soon as he learned a local woman was about to marry a U.S. marshal and several marshals would attend the wedding.

Perhaps the most telling evidence, though, is John St. Helen's own confession made on what he thought was his deathbed. The then ill St. Helen, still living in Granbury, told a priest and several others that he was, in fact, Abraham Lincoln's lone assassin. He then revealed where they could find the gun he used to kill the president. The gun was later found wrapped in a newspaper clipping detailing Lincoln's untimely death.

As it turns out, St. Helen survived what he thought to be terminal illness. So in retrospect, he spilled his guts prematurely, and maybe that's why he left Granbury without looking back. It's commonly believed that John St. Helen taught school for three years (1879-81) in Bandera County and then taught one year (1885) in the first school built in Concho County's City of Eden.

Regardless of what happened to St. Helen after leaving Granbury, it's well-documented that in 1903, an Enid, Oklahoma man named David George claimed to be John Wilkes Booth. George also claimed to have changed his name the first time around to John St. Helen.

After this startling disclosure, George committed suicide. It proved to be the final act to a mystery that may never be resolved.

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