GRANBURY (CBSDFW.COM) – Could North Texas have been home to another presidential assassin?
Local historians say John Wilkes Booth may actually have fled to Glen Rose and then Granbury after assassinating President Lincoln.
“It’s a legend that’s part of our tradition,” said Mary Saltarelli, a historian with Preserve Granbury.
Kay Lee, whose husband Robert E. is a fifth cousin of the Confederate General, is another local historian. She said the legend of John Wilkes Booth having lived in Granbury was passed down to her from her mother.
“I think he very well could’ve come here, because this was a new territory; a new frontier. Most of the people who came to Texas were escaping their past. If you look into it, a lot of them were outlaws,” Lee said.
According to that legend, Booth really escaped federal lawmen after he assassinated President Lincoln in 1856 and then settled in Granbury in the 1870’s as John St. Helen.
Locals say John St. Helen tended bar in an old saloon which is now a gift shop bearing his name. Locals say John St. Helen bore a striking resemblance to the infamous actor, performed in the Opera house and walked with a limp. There was even a deathbed confession.
“Why would he call a priest and lie to the priest? There were no Roman Catholic priestsn Granbury at the time. They had to go to Dallas to get one. And then they found the gun in his house,” Saltarelli said. “So all of that is very compelling. And it’s the story that’s been handed down over the generations here.”
But the legend doesn’t stop there. Locals think St. Helen recovered, fled to Oklahoma, changed his name to David George and ended-up a carnival mummy when someone identified him as the dying Granbury man who allegedly confessed to being John Wilkes Booth.
How could all of this have happened? That’s another story. Some believe Booth had help from the government.
“Somewhat like the Kennedy conspiracy theory, this one’s never been proven that Booth had help from certain officials in the federal government in escaping,” Saltarelli said. “That he was part of a bigger plot that they helped him escape and he assumed this new life in Texas.”
Kay Lee takes the town’s notoriety in stride. “If it is true that John St. Helen was Booth, people are interested in it just like people are interested in Oswald. Somebody just paid over $8,000 for a coffin because Oswald laid in it,” Lee said.
Did John Wilkes Booth go to his grave or did he go to Granbury? Either way, North Texas knows conspiracy theories never die.
Booth’s family hopes to exhume the body of his brother Edwin from the family plot in Maryland. Edwin’s DNA will then be compared to DNA from a vertebrae believed to have been taken from John Wilkes Booth.