Vanished: John Wilkes Booth

Last year I was contacted by a couple of podcasters named Jen Taylor and Chris Williamson who asked me if I would like to appear on their show, Vanished. The podcast originated as a deep dive into the mystery behind Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in 1937 and the many different theories about what happened to her and Fred Noonan. The entire season on Earhart was widely praised and the pair were specifically complemented on their unique format. Not only do Jen and Chris present the evidence on the different theories proposed by their guests, but they then take it to court, with each host advocating for a specific side. Jen is an actual defense attorney and this allows the pair to put these theories to the test and try them in a court of their own making. While looking for different cases to pursue for their second season, Chris stumbled across the John Wilkes Booth escape theory which posits that another man was killed at the Garrett farm on April 26, 1865. The pair then went about looking for guests who would like to talk in favor of and against this theory in order to put it to the test.

At first, I was reluctant to agree to be on a podcast about the “Booth” mummy. Those of you who keep up with the different TV documentaries that have aired in recent years about the Lincoln assassination know that the escape theory has been played to death. Practically every show covers this topic, with many being based solely around it. As a person who studies this history, this is very frustrating for me because pretty much all of those TV shows portray the escape theory as credible when all the evidence I know says the complete opposite.

I mean…seriously…don’t get me started

Despite my hesitation to take part in this podcast however, in the end I found myself swayed by the format Jen and Chris use. Unlike a 45 minute docudrama on the “History” channel, Jen and Chris really wanted to get into the nitty gritty and explore the reliability of the evidence. I found this very refreshing and really the best way to present a theory such as this one. So, I signed on to discuss the true history (as close as we can ascertain it) with Jen, the talented lawyer, on my side.

I have to say that I had so much fun being on Vanished. I recorded multiple hours with Jen as we first explored the story of Booth’s escape and death and then addressed the problems with the escape theorists’ evidence. Vanished is a long form podcast and several of the Booth episodes are multiple hours long. I would definitely encourage you to start at the beginning and hear the evidence from all of the guests, but I also understand that it is a time commitment, especially if you are new to podcasts. However, if you are interested and willing to sit through at least one 4-hour episode (and remember you can absolutely start and stop it to digest it in parts), I wanted to really highlight the “trial episode” of the series which just dropped. In it you will hear Chris interview Nate Orlowek, who has been championing the Finis Bates / John St. Helen / David E. George theory for almost 50 years. Then you will hear Jen cross examine Nate and his evidence. Then I make my second appearance on the show where I discuss the problems with the escape theorists’ evidence. This episode also includes an interview with Mark Zaid, the attorney who represented Nate Orlowek during the Booth exhumation hearing that occurred in the 1990s. It’s a jam packed episode and includes both Chris and Jen’s closing arguments. In my mind, if you can only listen to one episode, this is the one to tune in for:

Click this image to listen to Vanished: John Wilkes Booth episode 4 “Trial by Jury”

That being said, the prior episodes are also very good with one of them featuring my original appearance where I discuss the escape of Booth and his death at the Garrett farm. Kate Clifford Larson, author of The Assassin’s Accomplice is featured on another of the episodes and, in my opinion, really steals the show with her knowledge on Mary Surratt. I really recommend you give the whole series a listen. I think, taken together, it really demonstrates the different ways people think about and conduct historical research. Even when I listened to the folks I vehemently disagreed with, it helped me understand why they believe what they believe.

If you like this series of Vanished, definitely check out the other cases they have done and subscribe so you can follow along with the next one. They are planning episodes in the near future on hijacker D. B. Cooper and dreaded pirate Henry Every. You can access the show online or through any normal podcast provider like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc.

Also if you want to hear more from Jen doing her defense attorney thing, I highly recommend her standalone podcast, In Defense of Liberty. Jen takes historic court cases and explains how they contributed to criminal law in America. She is really good at taking complex legal ideas and presenting them to everyday folks in a compelling way. I’ve learned a lot from Jen through our discussions and have been fascinated by each episode of In Defense of Liberty I have listened to. Definitely give her a follow.

I’d like to thank Jen and Chris for having me on their show. While I’ve done other podcasts before, I really appreciated how deep they were willing to go in this case. It really wasn’t something I’d ever seen done before.

So, now it’s your turn to go tune in and listen to the evidence being presented. Did John Wilkes Booth really escape justice in 1865 and live out his life in Texas and Oklahoma before ending it all and being turned into a mummy? What is the evidence that the escape theorists have for their beliefs? And how do people like myself evaluate and assess what they bring to the table? Check out Vanished it get the fullest accounting that has ever been told about one of the strangest tales in the Lincoln assassination story.

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Vanished: John Wilkes Booth

  1. Stephan A. Whitlock

    Steve Williams from the Lincoln Symposium might be a good person for that podcast.

    • Steve W.

      Do you really think the podcast would be interested in David E. George’s movements in Texas and Oklahoma from 1897-1903?

      • Chris Williamson

        We certainly would, yes!

      • Stephan A. Whitlock


        I haven’t listened to that podcast yet, to determine what they know, but I doubt there are many, if any, who have more information for JWB’s mythical escape than you, especially if it involves the JWB in TN, and the one died in 1919. Not to mention David E. George. Sadly, all my notes are gone, so I can’t help you at this time.

        The world should know the great research you do in the background, and the assistance you give to so many! We certainly know your abilities at the Lincoln Discussion Symposium!

        Stephan W. [To keep us Steve W.’s straight]

      • Stephan A. Whitlock


        I paid my dues and listened to the 4th section of “Vanished”. Dave Taylor did well. I’d rather not say anything further, beyond missed opportunities.

        Stephan W.

  2. Barry Cauchon

    Bravo Dave. As you noted, it’s so hard to find someone who will give this subject, or any subject, a thorough review and look at the evidence. Most of the documentaries just can’t or won’t dig deep enough to do them justice and the public is always left to consider these wild theories as truth. I’m glad you took the chance to do this podcast and I’m glad they treated the subject in a deep and thorough manner.
    Barry Cauchon
    A Little Touch of History

  3. Thanks again Dave for guesting on the show. I truly hope that all who hear it enjoy it as much as we enjoyed creating it.

  4. Gene Cook

    I don’t normally listen to pod casts, but since you were involved with this one and are pleased with the results I will tune in to listen.
    And….Are you planning on speaking in the Springfield, IL area this year?

  5. Jen Taylor

    Thank you so much for your participation and research help and for your kind words about the show here. I had a blast working with you and look forward to collaborating again in the future!

  6. Stephan A. Whitlock


    I just finished listening to the 3rd section, working my way backward. If I ever get calmed down I may contact you with some thoughts and missed opportunities. David E. George is NOT the John Wilkes Booth that assassinated Lincoln. Instead of facial recognition software someone might try foot and hand recognition eyes. The mummy had some gunboats, Booth did not. While all those scientists were gathering data why did nobody measure his length. Any doctor wants weight and height. I suspect David E. George was a six footer, and Booth was about 5′ 7 1/2″ or so. If one wants to establish a possibility for David E. George to be JWB one might want to compare heights, and had anyone measure that big foot they could have ascertained whether the boot Booth was wearing would fit. By the way has the inside of the boot Booth wore on his broken leg been studied for any blood remnants or dna?

    Why carry on about the dna when one hasn’t done any dna testing to prepare in advance. Has Lois Rathbun-Trebisacci done autosomal dna testing? If so, where are the results? I called her once to get that information, but she wouldn’t talk to me and shuffled me off to Mr Orlowek, so I dropped any thought of helping. There is another mystery with JWB. Did he really father 2 children, one of them being Ogarita? Autosomal testing could resolve that given a descendant of Ogarita. And should I be surprised by a match there would then be living descendants of JWB.

    I was involved with the Nancy Hanks Lincoln MTDNA Study, which included a short mtdna sudy for Rachel Shipley Berry and Naomi Shipley Mitchell, as well as the Henry Reed Rathbone MTDNA Study, which had no living descendants of Henry, the results of which were used to confirm a blood relic from Mary Lincoln’s chair was that of Maj. Rathbone. In none of those studies did we have to exhume any bodies. Have they really exhausted all avenues for dna testing without digging up JWB or getting the neck fragment?

    There are so many more questions raised, left unanswered when they could be answered, such as, why did Grant cancel going to the theater with the Lincoln’s? Mrs Grant didn’t care for Mary Lincoln is the answer. No conspiracy involved with that.

    As for David E. George trusting Finis Bates that was misplaced trust. If memory serves Finis tried to turn him in for the reward as the real JWB, but didn’t get any interest from those he contacted. I’m at a disadvantage without my notes, unless I get my old hard drive to work in another computer.

    If you want more thoughts perhaps I should give them privately, besides you wound up with JWB in the correct place, but those questions will keep living on if unanswered.

    You put a lot of effort into your project. I’m sorry if I’m being offensive here.

    Stephan W.

  7. Chris Williamson

    Thanks for your thoughts Stephan; certainly no offense taken! Most of these points you’re making were considered and looked into. However, unfortunately, we ran out of time. Even with multiple four-hour-long episodes in play, the decision had to be made to cut it somewhere. Perhaps we’ll revisit Booth someday. And I am working on a few things behind the scenes regarding Booth as well. If any of those pan out, we’ll definitely be continuing on.

  8. jett

    Booths body, when finally arriving in Washington, was on a ironclad in the Potomac waiting for autopsy. people who were intimately familiar with Booth were there to identify the body. multiple sources report that those people did NOT identify the body as Booth. yeah i know the body was in bad shape, he had shaved his face, blah blah blah. facts are the wrong leg was also identified by these people as broken. A tattoo was identified but on the wrong wrist. “There is no resemblance in that corpse to Booth.nor can I believe it to be him.” Surgeon Gen. Barnes. Stanton kept looking for someone to identify the body as Booth until he found the answer he wanted, a positive ID. SOMETHING was very wrong with this autopsy. Also missing to history is a picture of the body. ALSO why under direct orders to capture Booth alive: did a nutty corporal Conger fire into the burning barn and kill Booth? There was no chance of escape. Missing pages from Booths diary? Too many questions. NO ANSWERS.

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