On tonight’s Mummies Unwrapped, Ramy Romany is about to rewrite some American history.He employs a facial recognition forensics expert to help him determine if the famous John Wilkes Booth mummy was a total fast one pulled on the freak shows of the early 20th century and if this mummy is, in fact, another man.
In our exclusive clip, Ramy calls upon the skills of Roger Rodriguez, who has over twenty years with the NYPD. Post-9/11, this is where he perfected the facial recognition unit, as well as helped start up the Real Time Crime Center.
Looking very Indiana Jones with his hat and scarf, Ramy says, “I can’t tell you how obsessed and interested I am with the or line of work. How did you get into this?”
Rodriguez explains his function in this mystery to be solved. “I started my career with the New York City Police Department started doing patrol.”
I did over 20 years of service there but shortly after the events of 9/11, I wanted to pursue a career in police technology and utilizing technology to catch the bad guys. I was tasked to build the facial-recognition unit the technology has been instrumental in assisting to identify thousands of people.
Ramy is impressed and asks if he is up to cracking a case that is very old. He says, “Thousands? Do you think we can crack the 150-year-old case?”
Armed with flash drives and ephemera showing the pictures of Booth and the mummy, he tasks Rodriguez in helping him confirm or debunk the authenticity of the John Wilkes Booth mummy that toured the USA in the early part of the last century.
The crazy backstory of the John Wilkes Booth mummy
The John Wilkes Booth purported mummy became an American carnival attraction in the last century.
Oscar-winning actor Kathy Bates is a direct descendant of the man – Finis Bates – who allegedly got a death bed confession from a man in 1877 claiming to be John Wilkes Booth who killed Lincoln.
In 1877, Granbury, Texas lawyer Finis L. Bates was summoned to the death bed of John St. Helen. According to eyewitnesses, St. Helen confessed his true identity, “I am dying. My name is John Wilkes Booth, and I am the assassin of President Lincoln.”
St. Helen did not die so quickly and then shared that Vice President Andrew Johnson “had masterminded the assassination plot” and somehow gave Booth the wherewithal to elude the manhunt.
As he told it, another man was allegedly gunned down in Richard Garrett’s tobacco barn on April 26, 1865, and was passed off as Booth.
He told Bates that he melted into the American West using aliases to evade capture. This nearly dying man, Mr. St. Helen, then disappeared once again and it was not until 25 years later that Finis Bates could connect any more dots to this odd tale.
It was a news report in a 1903 Memphis newspaper that revealed the death of a homeless man, David E. George, a suicide by arsenic that piqued Bates.
The fine print of the article was the thing that caught Bates’ eye. A local Methodist minister said he knew George, who had tried to kill himself previously and who told him, “I am not David George. I am the one who killed the best man that ever lived. I am J. Wilkes Booth.”
The news gobbled this up and posted photos of George and Wilkes Booth, noting their likenesses.
George’s body was embalmed and the property of W.B. Penniman’s mortuary. How that mummy came to tour America and have it referred to as Booth’s mummified corpse is what Ramy Romany is now unraveling.
From the History.com recounting of the mummy:
Beginning in 1937 and continuing into the 1950s, the mummy was part of Jay Gould’s Million Dollar Circus traveling with trained elephants, acrobats and a high-diving dog act.
According to a PBS report, the mummy was last seen in public in the late 1970s and may be in the hands of a private collector. While some family members have voiced support for exhuming the body buried in Booth’s grave for DNA testing to determine if it’s truly his, courts have so far denied the requests.
Tune in to see what Ramy Romany discovers with forensics help on Mummies Unwrapped.
Mummies Unwrapped airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on the Discovery Channel.