The history books say that 22 days after John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., he was cornered by soldiers in a burning barn in Bowling Green, Va., and killed.
"That story is a lot of hooey, a bunch of baloney," said John Wilkes Booth III, who says he is the assassin's great-grandson. "If it were true, I wouldn't be here today."
The 64-year-old retired engineer does not attempt to justify his great-grandfather's deed. "As a matter of fact," he said, "it was the worst thing that could have occurred during that time in the United States."
But he scoffs at the "official" version of the events that followed the April 14, 1865, assassination.
Booth said he relies on a family history, written by his father, John Wilkes Booth Jr. "My father was born in Shelby County, Texas, Dec. 8, 1866, and named John Wilkes Booth," wrote the elder Booth in longhand in the account he passed on to his son.
The assassin's son was not tagged "junior" because John Wilkes Booth, still fleeing from the law, was using the alias "John St. Helen," according to the family history.
"My grandfather was born more than a year and a half after the Lincoln shooting," said John Wilkes Booth III, "so, obviously, his father couldn't have been shot in that burning barn. There were two people in there, and the soldiers just said that one was Booth."
He added: "They set the barn afire. There was no autopsy. They thought they would say he died there."
William Hanchett, a San Diego University professor, wrote in his 1983 book, "The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies," that "Booth's body was identified beyond any possibility of a mixup at a coroner's inquest on April 27, 1865, and exhumed for inspection and removal to Maryland in 1869."
The Booth who lives in Suffolk believes that is wrong.
"It would be difficult to take a body and identify it after it was burned beyond recognition," he said. "It's my premise that someone had to die, suffer the supreme penalty for the president's assassination, and for that reason the claim was made that Booth's body was found there."
Hanchett characterized the legend that Booth escaped the fire as one of the "lunacies" surrounding the assassination. Many other historians agree.
Ludwell Johnson, a College of William and Mary historian, said, "The landscape has been littered by descendants ever since the assassination."
"My guess would be that these are people who sympathized with Booth's cause," John Wilkes Booth III said. "Our family traced John Wilkes Booth south through Benoit, Miss., across the Mississippi River into Arkansas, to Shelby County, Tex., and into Enid in the Oklahoma Territory."
Johnson said there is no historical evidence that John Wilkes Booth was married or had a liaison with a woman before his death in 1865.
Not so, said the man who claims to be his great-grandson. "He was married when he was in Shelby County, Tex., to a half-Choctaw Indian, but I don't know her name," he said. "My grandfather told my father about the marriage."
The family, Booth said, is certain that John Wilkes Booth died in Enid of alcoholism.
The family insists it has been able to trace its ancestor's route from Washington to Oklahoma after the assassination.
After shooting Lincoln in the head, Booth hurtled to the stage, breaking his ankle in the leap. He escaped through a back door, mounted a horse and went to the Maryland home of Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd, who set his leg.
The doctor later was arrested, convicted of being an accessory and sentenced to life imprisonment. He served time in Fort Jefferson off the Florida coast but was freed after four years for saving many prisoners and guards during a yellow fever epidemic.
When Booth left the doctor, he went to the home of Mary Surratt, an innkeeper who lived near Baltimore. She harbored him until he was able to ride horseback.
The family said they do not know how long she sheltered Booth.
"She was the first woman ever to get capital punishment from the U.S. government. It was for harboring Booth," John Wilkes Booth III said.
After Lincoln's assassin left Surratt's home, "We traced him to the Burroughs Plantation near Benoit, Miss. He stayed there until he could ride again," Booth said. His family got that information from a grandson of the man who had harbored him, he said.
A native of Zwolle, La., the man who claims to be the assassin's great-grandson spent more than two years with the Navy in the Pacific during World War II, on reconnaissance patrol, "picking up guys who were shot down."
He received a degree in chemical engineering from Louisiana State University. He said he spent two years working for a Houston engineering firm helping to build a 1,873-mile-long natural gas pipeline from Brownsville, Tex., to Brooklyn, N.Y.
He served as a consultant for Ford, Bacon & Davis of New York City, working in the company's Monroe, La., office, and he later came to Suffolk as division superintendent of Commonwealth Natural Gas Corp. of Richmond, the company from which he retired.
Booth and his wife have two daughters. He has no brothers, and there is no one to carry on the John Wilkes Booth name.