Elmer McCurdy

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Elmer McCurdy
Elmer McCurdy.jpg
Born (1880-01-01)January 1, 1880
Washington, Maine
Died October 7, 1911(1911-10-07) (aged 31)
Osage Hills, Oklahoma
Cause of death
.32-20 Caliber Gunshot
Body discovered
  • December 1976
  • Queens Park aka The Pike
Resting place
Summit View Cemetery
35°53′45″N 97°24′12″W / 35.89583°N 97.40333°W / 35.89583; -97.40333 (Elmer McCurdy Burial Site)
Residence St. Joseph, Missouri
  • Plumber
  • Bank & Train Robbery
  • Post Mortem Carnival Sideshow
Home town Bangor, Maine
  • Father: Unknown
  • possibly Charles Davis
  • Sadie McCurdy

Elmer McCurdy (January, 1880 in Washington, Maine – October 7, 1911) was an Oklahoma outlaw whose mummified body was discovered in The Pike amusement zone in Long Beach, California, in December 1976.


Elmer McCurdy was born in Washington, Maine, on January 1, 1880, the son of an unwed teenaged mother. He was originally raised by his mother's brother George McCurdy and his wife. After his uncle's death, which occurred when Elmer was about ten years of age, he returned to live with his birth mother, who told him of his true parentage. He did not take the news well and was described as being unruly and rebellious. For a while he worked as a plumber, but after his mother's death in 1900, he left Maine and ended up serving in the U.S. Army for three years. After leaving the Army, he and two associates attempted to acquire money via robbery but were not successful. In their first try, they used too much nitroglycerin and destroyed the money they were attempting to steal. Their second attempt also netted them little. After their third attempt (a train-robbery), a posse tracked McCurdy to a barn, where he then died in a shoot-out.[1]

Gun fight[edit]

The posse found a Savage 30-30 rifle that was used in the robbery of the MK&T train. After the robbery, McCurdy headed to Dave Sears' farm, hiding away for two days. On October 6, after reading a note left by Sheriff Harve Freas, Sears loaded the drunken McCurdy into his buggy and drove him to the ranch of Charlie Revard. Sheriff Freas, along with deputies Robert and Stringer Fenton, went back to the Sears farm where they questioned Sears about his involvement. Sears, afraid of being implicated in the robbery and proclaiming his innocence, directed the posse to the Revard Ranch. According to witnesses, McCurdy had bragged that his whiskey was "from the train that was held up from below Okesa". Witnesses also corroborated that McCurdy had arrived at night. Dave Sears had provided McCurdy with a shotgun and more whiskey.

Instead of holing up in the barn, McCurdy assumed a defensive position in the hayshed. This gave him an unobstructed view of part of the barnyard. Just before dawn on October 7, Sheriff Freas and deputies Robert and Stringer Fenton and Robert "Dick" Wallace surrounded the hayshed where McCurdy was sleeping. At approximately 7 a.m., Sheriff Freas yelled for McCurdy to surrender. McCurdy responded with a barrage of curses. This led to an hour-long standoff, as the posse wanted to capture McCurdy alive and collect the $2,000 reward for his arrest and conviction. According to Robert Fenton, McCurdy fired the first shots. "He took a shot at me first. Then he took a shot at Stringer. After that he took three shots at Wallace before we opened up", he told reporters. The posse's return fire was so intense that the neighbors came out and stood at a safe distance to watch the gun battle. After about an hour, the firing stopped and no sound was heard from the hayshed. The deputies sent a young boy into the hayshed to investigate. Then Pawhuska Chief of Police William Floyd Davies slowly ascended the ladder into the hayloft, the posse's guns transfixed on the ladder's top rung. Davies put his hat on his rifle barrel and poked it into the hay loft. There was no response from McCurdy. McCurdy was found dead with a 7.65mm bullet in his chest. Stringer Fenton shot McCurdy with a Luger automatic pistol, not a Winchester 32-20 rifle. A buckboard was brought around and McCurdy's body was loaded and taken back to Pawhuska.

Post mortem commercialization[edit]

His body was subsequently taken to a funeral home in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. When no one claimed the corpse, the undertaker embalmed it with an arsenic-based preservative and allowed people to see "The Bandit Who Wouldn't Give Up" for a nickel. People would place nickels in McCurdy's mouth, which the undertaker would collect later. As increasingly large numbers of people came to view his remains, McCurdy was said to have made more money in death than in life. Many carnival operators asked to buy the mummified body from the undertaker, but he refused.

Almost five years after McCurdy died, a man showed up from a nearby traveling carnival known as the Great Patterson Shows claiming to be McCurdy's long-lost brother. He indicated that he wanted to remove the corpse to give it a proper burial. Within two weeks, however, McCurdy was a featured exhibit with the carnival. For the next 60 years, McCurdy's body was sold to successive wax museums, carnivals, and haunted houses. The body was part of the official sideshow that accompanied the Trans-American Footrace. The owner of a haunted house near Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, refused to purchase him because he thought that McCurdy's body was actually a mannequin and was not lifelike enough. McCurdy's corpse can be seen in the 1933 Dwain Esper exploitation film, Narcotic.[2]

Eventually, McCurdy's corpse wound up at The Pike, an amusement zone in Long Beach, California, which existed under various names until 1979.


In December 1976, during filming at Queens Park (A.K.A. The Pike), of the television show The Six Million Dollar Man episode "Carnival of Spies" (#4.17) (1977), a crew member was moving what was thought to be a wax mannequin that was hanging from a gallows. When the mannequin's arm (some accounts say finger) broke off, it was discovered that it was in fact embalmed and mummified human remains. Later, when medical examiner Thomas Noguchi opened the mummy's mouth for other clues, he was surprised to find a 1924 penny and a ticket from Sonney Amusement's Museum of Crime in Los Angeles [3] That ticket and archived newspaper accounts helped police and researchers identify the body as that of Elmer McCurdy.

His remains were examined in 1976 by forensic anthropologists. The examination revealed incisions from his original autopsy and embalming, as well as a gunshot wound in the right anterior chest and a round in his pelvis. The round was a copper bullet jacket or gas check of approximately .32 caliber; analysis showed that the jacket was manufactured between 1905 and the 1930s.[citation needed]

Video superimposition of the remains with photographs of McCurdy's corpse in the University of Oklahoma's Western History Collection confirmed McCurdy's identity.[citation needed]


He was finally buried in the Boot Hill section of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma,Oklahoma on April 22, 1977. The state medical examiner ordered that two cubic yards of concrete was to be poured over the casket, so that his remains would never be disturbed again.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

  • Jeremy Bentham, whose mummified remains were put on display, in accordance with his will.
  • Jonah Hex, a fictional, comic–book character whose post-demise exploits in The Last Jonah Hex Story echo McCurdy's posthumous fate.


  1. ^ http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1706
  2. ^ Maniac. teleport-city.com
  3. ^ Mark Svenvold. The Adventures in Life and Afterlife of an American Outlaw: Elmer McCurdy. Fourth Estate Paperbacks, March 15, 2004. ISBN-10: 1841153230
  • Basgall, Richard J.; Carlson, Ted (November 1989). "The Career of Elmer McCurdy, Deceased: An Historical Mystery". Trails End Publishing Co. p. 253. ISBN 978-0962222306. 
  • Snow, Clyde C (1979). "The life and afterlife of Elmer J. McCurdy: A melodrama in two acts". Marcel Dekker. ASIN B00073CII2. 
  • Rathbun, Ted A. (July 1984). Buikstra, Jane E., ed. "Human Identification: Case Studies in Forensic Anthropology". Charles C Thomas Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-0398063375. 
  • Svenvold, Mark (October 2003). "Elmer Mccurdy: The Life And Afterlife Of An American Outlaw". Basic Books. p. 336. ISBN 978-0465083497. 
  • Timewatch: The Oklahoma Outlaw documentary IMDB entry

External links[edit]