When it came to being a bandit, Elmer McCurdy just didn’t have the goods. For example, in the late 1800s, when trying to rob a train for thousands of dollars in government tribal payments, he ended up robbing a passenger train instead, taking away 46 dollars and some booze. A short time later, he took a bullet to the chest and died. But that’s when his career really took off!
McCurdy’s last words were reportedly “You’ll never take me alive!” His body was 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. It was said that Elmer made more money in death than in life. Many carnival operators asked to buy the mummified body from the undertaker, but he refused.
About 5 years later, a man showed up from a nearby traveling carnival (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.
Great Patterson Shows! We Got Corpses!
For the next 60 years, McCurdy’s body was sold to successive wax museums, carnivals, and haunted houses. 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 wasn’t lifelike enough.
Which brings us to December, 1976. The people behind the Lee Majors TV cheesathon entitled The Six Million Dollar Man were shooting an episode in the (nu)Pike Amusement park. (“Carnival of Spies” – We don’t know if it was a good episode. Probably not as good as the “Bigfoot” one.)
Anyway, there was this cool funhouse ride called “Laff in the Dark”.
A crew member (Chris Haynes) was moving around the wax mannequin props, because the scene has to be perfect, you know. All of a sudden, the mannequin’s arm breaks off. That’s when the guy discovered that it wasn’t a mannequin at all… but a mummified corpse!!
A medical examiner would find a 1924 penny and a ticket from the Museum of Crime in Los Angeles in the corpse’s mouth. Police and researchers used them to identify the body as that of Elmer McCurdy.
Screw The Dragon Emperor – This is the Real Deal
His remains were examined forensic anthropologists, and they found incisions from his original autopsy and embalming, as well as a gunshot wound in the right anterior chest. Additionally, a copper bullet jacket or gas check from a .32-20 caliber projectile was found embedded in his pelvis (analysis of the projectile showed that the jacket was manufactured between 1905 and the 1930s).
On April 22, 1977, McCurdy was finally buried in the Boot Hill section of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma. The state medical examiner ordered that two cubic yards of concrete was to be poured over McCurdy’s casket, so that his remains would never be disturbed again.
By the way, The NuPike Amusement Park, in Long Beach, California, was open from 1902 to 1979. It’s most famous attraction was the Cyclone, a large wooden roller coaster that extended out over the water. Besides the Six Million Dollar Man episode, the park was used extensively in The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. We may have to revisit this flick to see if there’s a shot of McCurdy in it.