The corpse of an outlaw shot dead in the last days of the Wild West ended up on the set of The Six Million Dollar Man and inspired a toy designer to create Skeletor
On October 7, 1911, small-time crook Elmer McCurdy was shot dead by police on an Oklahoma farm, and his showbusiness career began.
McCurdy had been tracked down by a posse after pulling off a hold-up that one newspaper mockingly called “one of the smallest in the history of train robbery”.
McCurdy and two accomplices had heard that a $400,000 cash payment from the US Government was being sent to the Osage tribe by rail. That’s something like $12,000,000 (about £8.7 million) in today’s money – enough for McCurdy and his pals to retire on.
Unfortunately, the hapless trio stuck up the wrong train and ended up with a paltry haul of $46 in cash, two bottles of whiskey, a pistol, a coat and the train conductor’s watch.
McCurdy was tracked to an old barn and was killed in a hour-long shootout. Most criminals’ stories would end there.
But when the local undertaker realised no-one was coming to claim McCurdy’s body, he decided to make a few extra bucks by charging the public a nickel to view the outlaw’s corpse.
The paying customers actually dropped their coins into McCurdy’s mouth, as if they were making a deposit in a macabre piggy-bank.
Because McCurdy had proved to be a profitable attraction, the undertaker decided not to bury him, and the body slowly dried out and became mummified in the funeral parlour’s back room.
But then a few years later two men came along to claim the body – explaining that they were long-lost relatives of the dead outlaw.
They were nothing of the kind. James and Charles Patterson owned a travelling carnival and, having heard of the brisk trade the undertaker was enjoying, decided to grab some of it for themselves.
Within weeks McCurdy was an attraction at The Great Patterson Carnival Show, billed as “The Outlaw Who Would Never Be Captured Alive”
Over time McCurdy’s origins became forgotten. At one point he was used to promote a 1933 exploitation movie called Narcotic, with director Dwain Esper claiming the body was of a dead heroin fiend that he himself had killed in a bloody shootout.
Over the years, McCurdy’s desiccated corpse was passed from one freak show to another. By 1976, was part of the the Laff in the. Brinkwire presents summary news.