Inside the Capitol

Friday, August 20, 2004

Billy's Smoke and Mirrors

SANTA FE - On New Year’s eve last year, Sheriff Tom Sullivan and Steve Sederwall calling himself a Deputy Sheriff, filed the Billy the Kid Case murder investigation Probable Cause Statement in the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department. It is the parent document used to try to dig up Billy and his mother to solve a supposed murder by Pat Garrett of an unknown cowboy, not Billy.
And I’m trying to solve what those sheriffs are doing with their law enforcement time and budget, so I decided to look at it myself.
A probable cause statement gives legal reasons for arrest. Well, Garrett, the suspect, has been dead for 96 years. So if we leave out that a case doesn’t exist, we are left with 13 questionable pages that have pieces of history, more footnotes than Perdue has chickens, and an affidavit. It left me with questions, so I went to the man recognized as the world’s pre-eminent Billy the Kid historian, Frederick Nolan of Chalfont St. Giles, England.
Nolan’s response was straightforward. The statement made no sense. He called it “a shameful and semi-literate criminal investigation that indeed is criminal but not an investigation,” and “a charade foisted on the American people.”
It begins by saying that “investigators” of the Lincoln County War learned that “nothing was as it seemed.” Sounds intriguing, except that Nolan would like to know the qualifications of these anonymous “investigators”, since no credible expert in the highly researched field ever said that. Next it claims “newly discovered evidence.” Sounds good again, but there’s none to be found.
What follows should be a “probable cause,” meaning evidence that Garrett killed another kid. But Nolan finds only a grab bag of facts which range from the murder of John Tunstall in 1878 to the shooting of Deputy Bell in 1881, which are “totally irrelevant to the question of whether Garrett shot Billy the Kid.” Rather pathetically, there isn’t even an attempt to answer the most obvious question of Garrett’s motive. He certainly had one to shoot the real Kid. He was sheriff and deputy U.S. marshal and Billy was arguably the most notorious outlaw/murderer in the country.
Nolan notes that the “investigators” present only one fact: “On March 23, Gov. Wallace met with William Bonney (Kid) in Lincoln.” But Nolan discloses that it was March 17th. That leaves “considerable doubt about their ability to handle facts.” To say nothing of the fact that Wallace’s meeting (in 1879) is irrelevant to the case at hand.
Nolan noted that the sheriffs “make much of the involvement of David S. Turk of the U.S. Marshal’s Service.” A search by Nolan produced only two books by Turk, both by an obscure press and neither having to do with Billy the Kid. Nolan calls Turk’s involvement “window dressing.”
And the footnoted quotes either don’t prove what they claim or are misleadingly out of context. Paco Anaya is quoted from his book to prove the body was not Billy’s. Only problem is that he knew Billy well and the name of his book is I Buried Billy. And the Affidavit that ends the document is by a man who swore that in 1940 when he was nine, Garrett’s widow told him Garrett didn’t shoot the Kid. Unfortunately she died in 1936. Nolan also was incensed by a quote from historian Robert Utley’s book which just says that Garrett’s book on the Kid had errors. Not only is that irrelevant to the case, but citing Utley out of context is nothing more than shameless name dropping, he says.
Nolan feels that saying Garrett did not shoot the Kid is so bizarre that it belongs in “the birthplace of the flying saucer legend.” He contends, “The entire document is either a hoax or a tissue of inventions and half-truths which cast serious doubt upon the motives and integrity of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department.” He concludes, “This is not history. It’s just smoke and mirrors.”


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