MYSTERY WIRE — True West magazine’s Bob Boze Bell believes the Old West’s most famous duo, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, most likely died in a shootout in South America in 1909. That’s the story told in the famous movie. Bell was the keynote speaker at a May 2017 gathering in Kingman Arizona, where descendants of many outlaws who rode with Cassidy’s Wild Bunch shared stories.
But one branch of the family tree did not spill it secrets at the reunion. The Parkers, as in Robert Leroy Parker, Cassidy’s name at birth.
“And there are dozens of different theories of what happened to Butch and Sundance,” said western writer Kerry Ross Boren. “But, primarily, no one can intelligently say that they died in South America anymore.”
Boren has spent more than 40 years investigating the story. He became a close friend to Lula Parker Betenson, Butch Cassidy’s sister. In the mid ’70s, she broke the family silence and wrote that her brother had returned to visit the family in Circleville, Utah, in 1925. Historians scoffed at the claim, but not Boren.
“There’s probably several hundred different accounts of seeing Butch and even Sundance many years after they supposedly died in South America,” he said.
Boren’s latest book about the bandits, “Butch Cassidy: The Untold Story,” weaves together hundreds of different accounts. In 1984, the I-Team visited the ranch where Butch lived as a boy. Lula Betenson had died in 1980. But other members of the family told us the story of Butch’s return is true. “Mother said he was ’round there in that house for about three weeks. Never did come back again.”
It’s confused on purpose. Some members of the Parker family weren’t told about Butch’s visit, so they don’t believe it. Others who were present deny it happened. In western lore, stories about outlaws cheating death are pretty common.
But Boren’s tale is well documented. Among the witnesses who claim to have seen the bandits in the ’20s and ’30s:
- Rancher and former Cassidy girlfriend Josie Bassett.
- Elzy Lay a Wild Bunch outlaw in his younger years.
- Joyce Warner, the daughter of Wild Bunch outlaw Matt Warner. She said Cassidy visited her and wrote her three letters under an alias mailed from Nevada mining towns.
The original story has plenty of holes. It was first reported in The Elks magazine in 1930, 21 years after the supposed shootout in Bolivia. That article inspired the movie version and was repeated in other books and articles.
Two bandits were killed in Bolivia, but no witnesses who knew Butch and Sundance identified the bodies as them. In the 1990s, a TV program funded an expedition to Bolivia to find the truth. The gravesite long identified as the resting place of the dead bandits was dug up. DNA tests were conducted, then compared to known relatives of Robert Parker and Harry Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid. Experts predicted the mystery would be solved. It wasn’t.
In fact, the DNA evidence proves the bodies in the graves were not Butch and Sundance.
“That’s exactly right,” Boren said. “They used the DNA from Harry Longabaugh’s brother. And the evidence showed that there was no similarities whatsoever to the two men buried in San Vicente, Bolivia.