Elmer McCurdy, Bankrobber Who Wouldn’t Die
Now, we are a corporate entertainments company. We specialise in catering, funfair rides and photography services. So why are we posting about a little known bank robber from the days of the Wild West?
Well, read on to hear about a macabre tale of how the star of our tale, ended up as an exhibit on a travelling carnival show.
A brief bio shows that McCurdy was born on 1st January 1980 to an unmarried mother, and an unknown father (allegedly his mothers cousin).
He joined the army in 1907 as a machine gun operator and received (minimal) training in the use of nitroglycerin. Which for those who don’t know is an explosive compound used in the early years for blowing things up.
The Robbery Years
McCurdy decided to incorporate his explosive training into his outlaw activities. Sadly like many an idiot, his skill with the stuff fell short of what any semi competent bank robber required. Indeed many of his robberies were marked by him blowing the safe and its contents to smithereens. A case of “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”, as a certain Mr Caine would later remark.
After his final robbery he was tracked down by a posse, and whilst being drunk was killed in the shootout.
Now this is the point where the tale would normally end. If he was a particularly famous outlaw, he might have ended up in the famous Boot Hill cemetery. More likely being a third rate clown, he would have been dumped into a paupers grave, unmarked and unloved.
For one of those reasons lost in time. The body was taken to Joseph L. Johnson, an undertaker in Pawhuska Oklahoma. Here it was embalmed with arsenic, shaven, dressed and stored in the back of the funeral home.
The body remained unclaimed, and the undertaker, unhappy at working for nothing decided to exhibit the body to earn a little money on it. Variously known as the Embalmed Bandit, the Oklahoma Outlaw and The Man Who Wouldn’t Die. Johnson charged a nickel a visit.
The Carnival Con
It would have remained an obscure and quickly forgotten piece of folklore. If it wasn’t for James and Charles Patterson, owners of the Great Patterson Carnival Show.
They turned up claiming to be McCurdy’s brothers. Having already gained permission from the local sheriff, they took possession of the body to give it a ‘proper’ burial in San Francisco.
Instead they redirected it to Arkansas City in Kansas. The erstwhile McCrudy was exhibited as ‘The Outlaw Who Would Never Be Captured Alive.’
Museum Of Crime
In 1922, Patterson sold his carnival to a Louis Sonney. He exhibited a travelling museum of crime, featuring wax replicas of famous bandits and outlaws.
The exhibited corpse accompanied the official sideshow that toured the country with the first Trans-American footrace, a multi day race across the USA.
Narcotic, The Movie
The corpse had a slight diversion when it was used by a director, Dwain Esper to promote his exploitation film titled Narcotic. It was actually placed in the entrances to theatres as The Dead Dope Fiend. A bandit who supposedly died robbing a chemist to support his drug habit.
Sonney died in 1949 and Elmer McCurdy was placed in storage in a warehouse in L.A. It made a brief appearance in another film in 1967 called She Freak. making him I suppose more successful than many an actor who only appeared in one film.
By 1968 he had moved on again. This time to Spoony Singh, owner of a wax work museum, and was exhibited at Mount Rushmore. He was a little worse for wear by this time, with the tips of his ears, fingers and toes being blown off.
He then moved to his last exhibition gig, being placed inside a funhouse at the Pike Amusement zone in California. Making him unusually well travelled for a corpse.
Our intrepid hero’s story came to an end in 1976. The Six Million Dollar Man, remember that one, Steve Austin, who ran really quickly in slow motion, was being filmed at the Pike. A prop man moved what he took to be a wax figure hanging from a gallows.
Unfortunately it happened to be Elmer McCurdy, and in being moved his arm promptly fell off. The worker saw that human bone and muscle was visible in what was left of the arm and realised it was a human corpse.
Police were duly called and the figure transported to a coroner’s office. A doctor conducted an autopsy and concluded, quite correctly, that it was of a male who had died from a gunshot wound.
Inside the corpses mouth was a ticket stub for Louis Sonneys Museum of crime. Dan Sonney was contacted and confirmed the identity of our hero. A forensic specialist was also called in, who using techniques to identify corpses confirmed the identity.
On 22nd April 1977, Elmer McCurdy was transported to the Boot Hill cemetery in Guthrie Oklahoma and laid to rest at a service attended by 300 people. He was buried to Bill Doolin, another Old West outlaw. To ensure he stayed put this time, he was entombed in two feet of concrete.
If you look at the map of his travels, you will see he travelled coast to coast.