What Happened to Butch and Sundance?

Hey, Readers. Today’s Mystery Monday was originally posted in 2019, but since I’m in the middle of the Menagerie tour and busy with my WIP, I didn’t have time to come up with a new post. I thought this was a topic worth repeating.

There have been many stories about old west outlaws who supposedly survived and lived to be old men. I discount the majority of those, but the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one that leaves me to believe it’s possible they didn’t die in South America.

‘Wait a minute. You didn’t see Lefores out there did you?”
“Lefores? No, Why?”
“Thank God for that. For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble

It’s one of the more ambiguous (and great) movie endings of all time. The 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford is a personal favorite.

The two outlaws are holed up in a building somewhere in Bolivia, surrounded by police and military. Wounded but not down, their only hope of getting out is to make a run for it. With guns loaded, they dash outside and are met with a barrage of gunfire. The film freezes. We never see them go down, but are led to believe they died. After all, who could survive a firing squad?

Like most films about notorious outlaws, this one isn’t entirely accurate. What’s the real story of Butch and Sundance? Did they die in Bolivia? Or did they survive and return to the United States? Let’s take a look at the lives of these men.

Butch Cassidy was born Robert Leroy Parker on April 13, 1866, in Beaver, Utah Territory. As a teenager, he worked on a cattle ranch. There he met Mike Cassidy, a cowboy and cattle rustler, who introduced him to the business of stealing livestock.

Robert Leroy Parker, AKA Butch Cassidy (Public domain)

Robert left home at age eighteen to begin a life of crime, first with cattle rustling and other small offenses. In 1889, he successfully robbed his first bank in Telluride, Colorado. He changed his name to Cassidy, after his friend Mike. The name Butch wasn’t by choice. He needed to lay low and took a job as a butcher in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Hence the name.

Harry Alonzo Longabaugh was born in 1867 in Mont Claire, Pennsylvania. At the age of fifteen, he traveled west. In 1887, he stole a gun, horse, and saddle from a ranch in Sundance, Wyoming. Authorities captured him, and he served eighteen months in jail. He then adopted the nickname, Sundance.

In the mid-1890s, Sundance met Etta Place. Shortly after that, he became involved with Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.

The Sundance Kid and Etta Place (Public Domain)

The Wild Bunch pulled off several successful robberies of banks and trains. Pinkerton agents began a search for the notorious outlaws. The gang committed its last robbery on September 19, 1900, in Winnemucca, Nevada.

Not long after, Sundance and Etta went to Argentina. It’s not known if Butch went with them immediately or followed shortly thereafter.

Butch and Sundance bought some property under assumed names. However, it wasn’t long before they were accused of a string of bank robberies. Etta returned to the US, while the men went to Bolivia.

On November 4, 1908, two men, thought to be Butch and Sundance, robbed a payroll near the town of Tupiza in southern Bolivia. Three days later the pair arrived in San Vicente, Bolivia. There are varying accounts of what happened next. Some sources say villagers became suspicious and notified authorities. Bolivian soldiers were called in, and a shootout ensued. Reportedly the soldiers killed the suspects.

Other accounts say one of the outlaws killed his partner before turning the gun on himself. Either way, the pair were buried in unmarked graves in a San Vicente cemetery.

However, there is no conclusive evidence linking Cassidy and Sundance to the robbery and shootout. In the late 20th century, researchers exhumed remains thought to be those of the payroll bandits. After a detailed forensic analysis and a comparison of DNA to the relatives of Cassidy and Longabaugh, experts found there was no match.

Adding to the mystery is the fact Butch’s family doesn’t believe he died in Bolivia. A nephew stated there were at least twenty well-documented sightings of Cassidy after 1908. He supposedly visited his family in Utah in 1925.

Butch’s sister, Lula Parker Betenson claimed he kept in touch with the family until his (alleged) real death in 1937. I’m unaware of any sightings of the Sundance Kid after Bolivia. While it’s possible the bodies of the two outlaws are buried elsewhere in the cemetery, without any conclusive proof, the fate of Butch and Sundance remains a mystery.

Here’s a bit of trivia about the movie.

  • With nine wins, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid currently holds the record for the British Academy Awards (BAFTAs). It won best picture, best actor (Robert Redford), best actress (Katharine Ross), best director (George Roy Hill), screenplay, cinematography, film editing, sound, and score. It won every award it could, as its tenth nomination was a dual nomination for Best Actor. However, it lost in the American Academy Awards to Midnight Cowboy for best picture.
  • Lula Parker Betenson, sister of the real Butch Cassidy, often visited the set, and her presence was welcome by the cast and crew. During lulls in shooting, she would tell stories about her famous brother’s escapades and was amazed at how accurately the script and Paul Newman portrayed him.
  • Although he only had one brief scene and no frontal shots, this was the film debut of actor Sam Elliott. He met (and later married) co-star, Katharine Ross.
  • Butch Cassidy’s gang was more commonly known as “The Wild Bunch.” When director Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch was released a few months earlier, the name of the gang was changed to the Hole in the Wall Gang to avoid confusion with Peckinpah’s film.

The Circleville Letters

Hey, Readers. Another Monday has rolled around, so that means it’s time for another mystery. This one is certainly baffling and is still unsolved. It’s been the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles as well as episodes of Unsolved Mysteries and 48 Hours.

There has been lots of speculation, but just who was this mysterious letter writer? Read on.

cars, street, buildings

Main Street, Circleville, Ohio. (Photo by Analogue Kid at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Circleville, Ohio is a quaint midwestern town located about twenty-five miles south of Columbus on the Scioto River. It’s best known for the Circleville Pumpkin Show, an annual event that dates back to 1903. It’s not the sort of place you would expect anything sinister to occur.

But that’s exactly what happened.

In 1977, residents of the small town began receiving anonymous letters that detailed personal information about their lives. No one was exempt—newspapers, elected officials, and private citizens were all recipients.

Mary Gillespie, a wife, mother, and school bus driver was the main target. The letters claimed she was having an affair with school superintendent Gordon Massie.

“I know where you live. I’ve been observing your house and know you have children. This is no joke. Please take it serious.”

The envelope was postmarked Columbus, Ohio.

Mary’s husband, Ron Gillespie, also received a letter “informing” him of the alleged affair and stating that if he didn’t do anything to stop it, he could end up dead.

“Mr. Gillespie, your wife is seeing Gordon Massie. … You should catch them together and kill them both. … He doesn’t deserve to live.”

“We know what kind of car you drive … We know where your kids go to school.”

Mary was on vacation in Florida with her sister-in-law on August 19, 1977, when Ron received a phone call, supposedly from the anonymous letter writer. He told his daughter he was going to confront the letter writer. He was traveling at a high rate of speed, lost control of his truck, went off the road, hit a tree, and was killed.

At the time of his death, Ron had almost twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system, but those closest to him stated he was not a heavy drinker. Beneath Ron’s body was a .22 caliber revolver. One shot had been fired. Some questioned if Ron had been shooting at the letter writer. The coroner ruled his death an accident, but his brother-in-law, Paul Freshour, believed Ron had been murdered and pressed the sheriff to continue the investigation.

The letters didn’t stop after Ron’s death. Both Mary Gillespie and Gordon Massie continued to receive threats. Letters arrived at various businesses, government offices, schools, and other Circleville residents.

Mary had always denied having an affair with Massie, but after Ron’s death, Mary and Gordon began seeing one another. The threats escalated.

“It’s your daughter’s turn to pay for what you’ve done.”

On February 7, 1983, Mary was driving her empty school bus when she saw a handmade sign on a fence about her daughter. She stopped, got off the bus, then attempted to remove the sign. But when she did, she discovered it was rigged to twine and a box. She took the box home. Inside was a handgun rigged to go off. Mary contacted the police.

Investigators from Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation found the serial number on the gun belonged to a coworker of Paul Freshour. According to 48 Hours, he admitted he’d sold the gun to Paul.

Paul’s estranged wife Karen—a sister to Ron Gillespie—told police that Paul was responsible for the letters and was furious with Mary over her involvement with Massie. Freshour was cooperative with the police. He admitted it the gun belonged to him but claimed it had been stolen. Paul did not ask for an attorney and he allowed police to search his house and car. He also provided handwriting samples. When he agreed to take a polygraph, he failed.

He was arrested for Mary’s attempted murder, but no charges were ever brought for the letters. Some interesting facts about the case:

  • Mary was allowed to testify about the letters and answer questions from the defense about them. Some experts say this was damaging to Paul’s case.
  • The judge allowed 39 letters to be brought up at trial, due to the fact the writing on the booby trap was similar to the block letters used in the handwritten letters.
  • Handwriting analyses indicated Paul Freshour could have written the letters. A second expert—originally a defense witness—agreed.
  • Paul’s fingerprints were never found on the booby trap or the box with the gun. However, he was off work the same day. The industrial size chalk box containing the gun was similar to those seen at Paul’s workplace, Anheuser Busch.
  • No one saw Paul near the booby trap and he had a fairly good alibi for most of the day.
  • Paul Freshour didn’t take the stand, but multiple defense witnesses testified to seeing him at home.

Paul was sentenced to 7 to 25 years for attempted murder, but some in the community doubted his guilt.

The letters continue to come after Paul was in prison, despite being banned from using paper and pens. The sheriff was convinced it was him but couldn’t answer how he was able to do it, but the prison warden said it was “impossible.”

Eventually, Paul himself received a letter boasting about how they had set him up. 

“When we set him up, we set him up good,” it read.

Paul Freshour served 10 years in prison for the attempted murder of Mary Gillespie. He died on June 20, 2012, at the age of 70. He continued to maintain his innocence. Today, the identity of the Circleville Letter Writer is still unknown.

The Case of Bobby Dunbar #MysteryMonday

Hey, everyone! I came across today’s Mystery Monday while searching for info on another story and found it intriguing. It’s one of those unsolved, yet unsolved mysteries. Some of you may have heard about Bobby Dunbar. Others haven’t. So, here goes.

Bobby Dunbar was born in 1908, the oldest son of Percy and Lessie Dunbar of Opelousas, Louisiana. By 1912, the Dunbars had another son.

Clipping from a 1913 newspaper article. The child on the left is Bobby Dunbar before his disappearance. The child on the right is the one raised as Bobby Dunbar (Public Domain)

Summers in the south, especially in humid swamp areas, can be unbearable. In August of 1912, the family decided to take a camping trip into the bayou and headed to a place called Swayze Lake. The site is a lake by name only, as it was a gator-infested swamp.

On the night of August 23, four-year-old Bobby snuck away from the family tent and wandered toward the lake. It was the last time the family saw or heard from him.

Devastated, the Dunbar family launched an eight-month search to find the boy. Percy Dunbar offered a $1000.00 reward, the equivalent of more than $25,000.00 today. Their hometown pitched in another $5,000.00.

On April 13, 1913, authorities arrested William Cantwell Walters near the town of Columbia, Mississippi. Walters was an itinerate handyman who specialized in turning pianos and organs. He claimed the boy traveling with him was the son of Julia Anderson of North Carolina, who worked as a field hand for his family. Walters claimed the boy’s name was Bruce Anderson and that Julia willingly gave him custody. Despite this, authorities arrested Anderson and sent for the Dunbars to identify the boy.

There are varying accounts of the first meeting between Bobby (or Bruce) and the Dunbars. One newspaper story, which is most likely fictional, states the little boy immediately shouted, “Mother,” upon seeing Lessie Dunbar. Another article stated the boy cried and quoted Lessie as saying she wasn’t sure he was her son.

The following day, after bathing him, Lessie Dunbar stated she positively identified the child as Bobby because of moles and scars. The family took the boy home to Opelousas.

Shortly afterward, Julia Anderson arrived in town in support of William Walters, stating that the child was her son, Bruce Anderson. At first, she was uncertain the boy was hers, but after closer inspection, positively identified him. However, newspapers had already printed a story about her initial encounter with him. They depicted her as a woman with loose moral character, having had two other children, both of whom had died.

A 1913 photo of Bobby Dunbar (Bruce Anderson) standing beside the automobile (Public Domain)

Julia had no money for a long court battle, so she went home in North Carolina. She returned for the kidnapping trial in support of Walters. While there, several residents of Poplarville, Mississippi, who had come to testify for Walters, befriended her. Julia moved to Poplarville to begin a new life. She eventually married and had seven children.

After William Walters served two years in prison, his attorney successfully appealed the conviction, and Walters was granted a new trial. Prosecutors in Opelousas declined to try the case again, citing high court costs. Walters returned to an iterate lifestyle. He died in 1945 in Pueblo, Colorado.

The child raised as Bobby Dunbar married and had four children. He died in 1966.

Several years after Dunbar’s death, one of his granddaughters, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, began to investigate the events. She formed an unlikely alliance with Linda Traver, a granddaughter of Julia Anderson to learn the truth

In 2004, Margaret’s father, Bob Dunbar, Jr., consented to a DNA test. When the results came back, they showed he was not a DNA match with his cousin. The child raised as Bobby Dunbar was Bruce Anderson.

One mystery solved yet another one remains. What happened to the real Bobby Dunbar? Many, including Margaret Dunbar Cutright, believe he fell into the swamp and was eaten by alligators.

Lizzie Borden #MysteryMonday

Hey everyone! Ready for another mystery? Today’s post is one of an unresolved murder.

Just about everyone has heard of Lizzie Borden, the New England woman accused of the 1892 ax murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Lizzie’s story has been the subject of movies, literary works, theater productions, even folk rhymes.

Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Although they occurred well over a hundred years ago, speculation about Lizzie Borden remains in the twenty-first century.

The publicity surrounding Lizzie’s trial has been compared to those of Bruno Hauptmann, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and in more recent years, O. J. Simpson. Who was Lizzie Borden, and what would cause her to become a prime suspect for murder?

Lizzie Borden (Public Domain Photo)

Lizzie was born on July 19, 1860, the second daughter of Andrew Borden and Sarah Morse. Andrew Borden was a wealthy businessman. At the time of his death, his estate was worth $300,000—the equivalent of 8.5 million in 2019.

Sarah Borden passed away in 1863. Three years later, Andrew married Abby Gray. Lizzie referred to her stepmother as “Mrs. Borden” and believed Abby had married Andrew for his money.

Despite his wealth, Andrew Borden was a frugal person. The Fall River home didn’t have indoor plumbing or electricity, even though it was commonplace in the homes of wealthy people at that time.

In the months before the murders, tension had been brewing within the family due to Andrew’s gifts of real estate to members of Abby’s family. The Borden sisters demanded they receive the home they lived in until their mother’s death. They purchased the property from their father for $1.00. Just weeks before the murders, they sold the property back to him for $5,000.00—a tidy profit.

The night before the murders, John Morse, uncle to Lizzie and Emma and brother to their deceased mother, visited. He was invited to stay for a few days to discuss business matters with Andrew. Some have speculated their conversation may have escalated an already tense situation.

The Borden home in Fall River, Massachusetts (Public Domain)

For several days prior, members of the Borden household had been violently ill. A friend suggested the illness was caused by mutton left on the stove. Abby Borden feared someone attempted to poison the family.

On the morning of August 4, John Morse, Andrew, Abby, Lizzie, and the maid, Bridget (Maggie) Sullivan were all present in the house. After breakfast, John and Andrew went into the sitting room to chat. Morse left around nine to take care of some business and planned to return for lunch at noon. Andrew left for his morning walk.

Abby went upstairs between 9:00 and 10:30 to make the bed in the guest room. According to the forensic investigation, Abby was facing her killer at the time of the attack. She was first struck on the side of the head with a hatchet that cut her just above the ear, causing her to turn and fall face down on the floor. Her killer then delivered seventeen more blows to the back of her head.

When Andrew returned around 10:30 am, his key failed to open the door, so he knocked. Sullivan tried to unlock the door and found it jammed. She later testified she heard Lizzie laughing at the time. She stated she didn’t see Lizzie, but the laughter came from the top of the stairs.

By this time, Abby was already dead, and her body would have been visible to anyone on the second floor. Lizzie later denied being upstairs. She testified her father had asked where Abby was, and she replied a messenger had delivered Abby a summons to visit a sick friend. Lizzie also stated she helped remove her father’s boots and helped him into his slippers before he lay down on the sofa for a nap. (Crime scene photos show Andrew wearing boots.)

Sullivan felt unwell and went to take a nap in her bedroom. She later testified she heard Lizzie call from downstairs, “Maggie, come quick! Father’s dead. Somebody came in and killed him.” This was shortly after 11:00 a.m. His wounds were still bleeding, suggesting the attack was very recent. Detectives estimated his death had occurred at approximately 11:00.

Lizzie’s initial answers to the police officers’ questions were at times strange and contradictory. Most of the officers who interviewed Borden said they disliked her attitude. Some claimed she was too calm and poised. Despite her “attitude” and changing alibis, nobody bothered to check her for bloodstains. Police did a cursory inspection of her room. At the trial, they admitted to not doing a proper search.

In the basement, police found two hatchets, two axes, and a hatchet-head with a broken handle. They suspected the hatchet-head was the murder weapon as the break in the handle appeared fresh. The ash and dust on the head, unlike that on the other bladed tools, seemed to have been deliberately applied to make it look as if it had been in the basement for some time. However, they didn’t remove any of the tools from the house.

On August 6, police conducted a more thorough search of the house, inspecting the sisters’ clothing and confiscating the broken-handled hatchet-head. That evening a police officer and the mayor visited and informed Lizzie she was a suspect in the murders.

The next morning, a family friend entered the kitchen and saw Borden tearing up a dress. Lizzie explained she was planning to burn it because it was covered with paint. It’s unclear if this was the dress she wore the day of the murders.

Borden appeared at an inquest hearing on August 8. On August 11, Lizzie arrested and jailed. A grand jury began hearing evidence on November 7, and she was indicted on December 2.

Her trial began on June 5, 1893, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The case went to the jury on June 20. After only 1.5 hours of deliberation, they acquitted her of all charges. Upon exiting the courthouse, Lizzie told reporters she was “the happiest woman in the world.” Although found not guilty, Borden remains the prime suspect. No one else was ever charged in the crimes.

Lizzie Borden remained in Fall River and moved into a larger house. She died of pneumonia on June 1, 1927. Nine days later, her sister Emma passed away. The sisters were buried side by side in the family plot in Oak Grove Cemetery.

The Mary Celeste #MysteryMonday

Hey everyone. Welcome to the first Mystery Monday of the new year. Today’s story dates back almost 150 years and is one of the greatest maritime mysteries of all time.

An 1861 painting of the Mary Celeste (then known as the Amazon) by an unknown artist. (Public Domain)

The Mary Celeste was a 282-ton brigantine ship that left Staten Island, New York on November 7, 1872, bound for Genoa, Italy with a cargo of around 1700 barrels of crude alcohol.

On board were Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs, his wife, Sarah, and their two-year-old daughter. Their seven-year-old son was left in the care of relatives. Also on board were seven crew members, all highly experienced and hand-picked by Captain Briggs.

On December 4, 1872, about 400 miles east of the Azores, the crew of the British ship Dei Gratia spotted a vessel adrift in choppy seas. The ship was seaworthy, her cargo intact, and had a six-month supply of food and staples. Not a single person was on board.

The Mary Celeste wasn’t leaking and had no structural damage. One lifeboat was missing, but the personal belongings and cargo remained on board. Of note, nine of the seventeen hundred barrels of alcohol were empty.

According to the ship’s log, the Mary Celeste battled howling winds and rough seas for approximately two weeks before reaching the Azores. The last entry was recorded at 0500 on November 25, but nothing out of the ordinary was reported.

Several theories abound about what happened. These range from pirates to mutiny, a natural disaster such as a waterspout, alcohol explosion, and alien abduction.

Piracy isn’t likely as the cargo, and personal belongings of the crew remained on board. The crew members had impeccable records, so mutiny seems unlikely.

Some theorize alcoholic fumes may have escaped, causing Captain Briggs to order everyone into the lifeboat until the danger had passed. The lifeboat could have drifted away from the main ship, and rough waters made it impossible for the crew to return.

A waterspout seems unlikely as the ship was intact and seaworthy. Alien abduction? I won’t even grace that theory with a response except to say, “Doesn’t someone always blame aliens for any unexplained event?”

The crew of the Dei Gratia sailed the Mary Celeste into Gibraltar. She eventually had a new owner and sailed another dozen years before her captain deliberately ran her aground off Haiti in what was believed to be part of an insurance fraud scheme.

Many believed the ship was cursed, so no one ever brought her back into the harbor. Over the years, she was allowed to drift in the sea, where she was finally swallowed up by the ocean, taking her secrets to a watery grave.