Cases related to Bandits, their crimes and encounters are fairly common, but what makes fill people with curiosity is the weird detail and unknowing actions that take place. The death of Elmer McCurdy is one such bizarre story, loaded with weird encounters and unthinkable happenings.
However, these weird details are not related to his living self; but rather, they are related to Elmer McCurdy’s body, as it lied cold and dead without a proper burial and traveled around in the world, mistaken for a wax statue.
Let us take a look at the details as to what happened, and what the after-effects caused by it.
1. Elmer McCurdy Case: What Happened?
The extremely bizarre journey of Elmer McCurdy, an ex Machine Gun Operator for the United States Army, started after he started getting involved in criminal activities such as robberies and thievery.
In October 1911, a group of bandits including McCurdy planned to rob a Katy Train, after hearing of the hefty amount of $40,000 it was carrying, which was meant for royalty payment purposes; however, the robbery incidentally happened to take place in the wrong train.
The robbers mistakenly got on a passenger train, barely able to rob $46 and some whiskey. This incident was titled as ‘one of the smallest’ train robbery in history.
Upset, McCurdy started drinking the stolen whiskey at Revard’s Ranch. He stayed awake all night, drinking with some ranch workers and fell asleep at daybreak. However, a $2,000 reward was issued for the capture of McCurdy that morning.
That morning, McCurdy was found by the police using bloodhounds on the ranch. They surrounded the shed he was in. The incident ended with McCurdy dead from a single gunshot wound.
However, this was not the end for McCurdy; it was only the beginning of his long-due journey.
2. The Embalmed Bandit: Details
The dead body of McCurdy was sent to an undertaker in Pawhuska, where it lay unclaimed for a long time. This began the long and tiring journey of the corpse of Elmer McCurdy.
2.1 Pawhuska, Oklahoma
The undertaker and owner of Johnson Funeral Home in Oklahoma, Joseph Johnson, embalmed the corpse with the preservatives (arsenic-based embalming fluid) used at that time, to preserve the body as it lay unclaimed. He dressed the body in a suit, shaved its face, and stored it in the back of his funeral home.
McCurdy’s corpse lay unclaimed for a long time, and Joseph refused to release the body, or even bury it, without getting the money he was owed for his services. When no one came to claim McCurdy’s body, he decided to make a profit nonetheless: by exhibiting Elmer’s body.
He dressed the corpse of McCurdy like a bandit, with street clothes and a rifle. He named the corpse The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up and charged a nickel for each visit from the visitors. During this time, Elmer was also titled as The Mystery Man of Many Aliases, The Oklahoma Outlaw, and The Embalmed Bandit.
This exhibit at the Johnson Funeral Home quickly gained the attention of the public and carnival promoters. The undertaker was approached many times for selling off the corpse; each offer was declined by him.
2.2 Arkansas City, Kansas
In October 1916, a man claimed McCurdy’s body, calling himself Almer, Elmer’s long-lost brother. He already took permission from the Oklahoma local sheriff and an attorney to gain custody of the corpse and wanted to move it to San Francisco for a proper funeral.
The next day, Almer, accompanied by Wayne, also claiming to be his brother, went to the funeral parlor to claim the corpse. However, as it turned out, the long-lost brother was James Patterson, owner of The Great Patterson Carnival Shows, falsely claiming to be his sibling for his personal gain. The corpse was shipped to Arkansas city.
At the carnival show, McCurdy joined the exhibits and came to be known as The Outlaw Who Would Never Be Captured Alive.
2.3 Louis Sonney
In the year 1922, the operations of the carnival were handed over to Louis Sonney, head of an entertainment company in California, when Patterson sold it off. Under his watch, the corpse of the train robber was exhibited among featured wax replicas for his Travelling Museum of Crime. It followed to be an object of exhibition for many years to come, becoming a part of The Trans-American Footrace.
2.4 Hollywood Journey
After all these exhibits, the corpse of the train robber was claimed by Dwain Esper, a director, for the promotion of his film Narcotic! and exhibited in theatre lobbies as Dead Dope Fiend. To boost his promotions, a story was made: that the Dead Dope Fiend killed himself after he had robbed a drug store, surrounded by the police.
Till this time, the corpse of Elmer McCurdy had become mummified, with a hard and shrivelled appearance. Dwain Esper claimed this appearance was a result of drug abuse by the dope fiend.
After the death of Louis Sonney and use by Esper, the body remained stored for years in a Los Angeles warehouse.
In the year 1964, Dan Sonney, Louis Sonney’s son, lent the body of Elmer McCurdy to David Friedman, which appeared in his film She Freak. This corpse was then sold to the owner of the Hollywood Wax Museum, Spoony Singh, along with many other wax figures.
2.5 Mount Rushmore and The Pike
Under the ownership of the Hollywood Wax Museum, the body was displayed as a wax mannequin on Mount Rushmore; where, it sustained some major damage due to a windstorm. The tips of the ears, nose and fingers blew away.
After being titled as ‘too gruesome to exhibit’, it was again sold off; this time, to a part owner of an amusement zone in California, called Nu-Pike Amusement Park, located in Long Beach. There, the body hung in the laff in the dark funhouse exhibition.
3. Rediscovery of McCurdy’s Body
During the shooting of The Six Million Dollar Man in the amusement park in Long Beach, as a crewman decided to move a wax figure hanging from gallows, the figure’s arm broke off. With visible human bone and muscle tissue of the arm hanging off, it was quickly recovered and taken to Los Angeles County Coroner’s office. After that, it was found that the mistaken to be one of the wax replicas, it was actually a mummified corpse of a human male, who died of a gunshot wound in the chest.
By then, the body of Elmer ended to be completely petrified, with layers of red phosphorous paint and wax. With missing toes and fingers, tuberculosis in the lungs, and the embalming fluid from the 1920s among other pieces of evidence, the body was finally identified.
4. The Aftermath: The Death of Elmer McCurdy
After a long chain of cross-questioning, the body featured in The Six Million Dollar Man was identified as Elmer McCurdy.
By the end of the year 1976, the whole journey was featured in mass media, including Magazines, Television Shows and Radio Shows, along with a headline in Los Angeles Times. While many Funeral homes offered to buy the body and bury it free of cost, the authorities decided to wait for any long-lost relatives to show up.
5. Funeral Procession
The dead body of Elmer McCurdy was finally laid to rest by Sheriff’s Posse, Fred Olds.
In the year 1977, on April 22, a funeral procession was held for McCurdy. His body was transported to Summit View Cemetery in Boot Hill, where he was buried among famous outlaws, next to an outlaw, Bill Doolin. About 300 people attended this burial held for Elmer McCurdy.
Owing to the popularity it gained, the fear of the body being stolen feared the city council. Thus, about 2 ft of concrete was poured over his casket, with the real corpse mistaken to be a wax museum figure finally laid to rest.
The long journey of the failed train robber, Elmer McCurdy’s dead body never fails to intrigue the public. He continued to be a sideshow attraction after his death and ended up at a Hollywood show in an episode shot at an amusement park in Long Beach California.
While this case seems to be absolutely bizarre, it does display the greed of mankind, which does not even refrain from making money off of a dead man.
Do you know any other bizarre stories? Let us know in the comments section!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Who is Elmer McCurdy?
Elmer McCurdy was an illegitimate child to a single mother, whose mother died when he was 20. He became a criminal but gained popularity after his dead body was mistaken for a wax figure, and travelled around the world for around 65 years.
2. What year was Elmer McCurdy sold to the Hollywood Wax Museum?
In the year 1968, Elmer McCurdy was sold off to the Wax Museum for $10,000.
3. Where was Elmer McCurdy rediscovered?
Elmer McCurdy, an American outlaw was rediscovered at the Nu-Pike Amusement Park being displayed as a sideshow attraction during a commercial shoot. It was identified in Long Beach California.