Unsolved mysteries of the Wild West and Butch Cassidy’s corpse conspiracy theory

Saddle up for the Wild West’s biggest mysteries!

New colourised images from the frontier days of the US have been released in a book including a snap of notorious female outlaw Belle Starr, taken in 1886 after she was arrested as a robbery suspect.

But the story behind the photo is even more fascinating…as the glamorous gunslinger was the subject of an intriguing unsolved murder.

And, as Daily Star reveals, there are many more gripping puzzles surrounding some of America’s most colourful criminals…

WHO KILLED ‘THE BANDIT QUEEN’?

She was once described as “the most desperate woman that ever figured on the borders.”

Born Myra Maybelle Shirley and from a wealthy background, Belle Starr would fall into bad company after the American Civil War when her family suffered hard times and moved to Texas.

She would go on to marry three outlaws – two of them were shot dead – and join them stealing cattle and horses or robbing stagecoaches.

A crack shot, Belle rode side saddle and dressed in velvet with a plumed hat while toting pearl-handled pistols.

She served time behind bars, but skilfully wangled her way out of other charges.

Then, on February 3, 1889, while travelling home on a lonely road from a neighbour’s house in Oklahoma she was ambushed and blasted twice in the back with a shotgun.

But just who killed her and why remains a mystery.

Suspects included Edgar Watson, a neighbour she and husband Jim July Starr had been feuding with or even her own son, furious that she had beaten him for mistreating her horse.

But no-one was ever brought to justice for the murder.

DID BUTCH & SUNDANCE SURVIVE?

In the classic ending to the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, the characters go down in a blaze of glory after a rollercoaster life of crime.

Butch, real name Robert LeRoy Parker and Sundance, born Harry Longabaugh, were both jailed early in their early lives for horse stealing.

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Then, in the 1890s, they teamed up to lead the Wild Bunch gang, pulling off a string of daring bank and train robberies across several frontier states, successfully escaping with thousands in gold and cash and lying low at hideouts like the Hole in the Wall, Wyoming.

But as the crack Pinkerton detective agency closed in on the gang and many of their associates ended up killed or captured, the pair fled to South America.

Sundance’s pretty squeeze Etta Place, played by Katherine Ross in the hit film, went too.

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After allegedly robbing a payroll courier from a mining company in Bolivia the pair were apparently cornered in a gunfight by the authorities and in San Vicente in November 1908.

The story goes that Butch, 42, shot a mortally-wounded Sundance, 41 and then killed himself and the bodies were buried locally.

But the corpses were never properly identified and no trace of them has been found.

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Family members claimed Butch secretly returned to the US and died there in 1937 while Sundance was said to have lived out his days under another name in Utah.

Etta’s fate is also unknown with tales that she married a boxing promoter, died in a shootout or become a prostitute or teacher.

JUST HOW DID ‘BILLY THE KID’ DIE?

On July 14, 1881, Billy the Kid was shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garrett as he entered a darkened room in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and failed to draw first. Or was he?

By the time of his supposed demise the outlaw, also known as William H. Bonney, was just 21, but had already become infamous for cattle rustling and killing at least eight men.

He was also on the run having escaped jail, while awaiting his hanging for murder, shooting two guards dead in the process.

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Garrett had apparently shot The Kid when he happened to visit a friend the lawman was interogating.

But there were questions over his suspiciously quick burial and rumours Garrett had actually killed someone else and covered it up.

Later a number of people came forward to claim they were the real Billy the Kid including Brushy Bill Roberts from Texas.

In 1950 he asked to be pardoned for Bonney’s crimes, but died soon after.

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Facial recognition analysis comparing photographs of Billy the Kid and Roberts suggested a close similarity.

Garrett himself was shot in the back in 1908 aged 57 by an unknown assailant.

DID JESSE JAMES LIVE ON?

A self-styled Robin Hood, he became a celebrity in his own lifetime and has been played by the likes of Brad Pitt on the big screen.

But outlaw Jesse James was actually a cold-blooded criminal.

Together with his brother Frank he and his gang spent years holding up banks, trains and stagecoaches stealing a fortune, but there’s no evidence they ever shared their loot with the poor.

Eventually the governor of Missouri issued a $10,000 reward for the brothers’ capture.

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On April 3, 1882, a new gang recruit, Robert Ford, shot James, 34, in the back of the head in a bid to claim it.

Ford was actually found guilty of James’ murder, but pardoned – only to be shot dead himself in 1892 aged 30.

Apparently identified by a missing finger and previous bullet wounds, rumours of James’ survival nevertheless abounded.

Texan man J. Frank Dalton, who died aged 103 in 1951, claimed to have been James saying that a lookalike had been killed in his place.

He showed off bullet wounds and a damaged finger that some said were consistent with James’ own known wounds.

WAS ‘BLOODY’ BILL REALLY HANGED?

Lightning fast on the trigger, gunfighter ‘Bloody’ Bill Longley is reckoned to have shot 32 men during a long career of theft and murder.

For years the Texan outlaw evaded justice, escaping prison twice – once by setting a jail on fire.

He even claimed to have been captured and lynched by other outlaws who shot at him as they rode away, with one of the bullets accidentally severing the rope he was hanging from, saving his life.

Officially he was captured by a sheriff and hanged for murder in Giddings, Texas, on October 11, 1878, aged 27.

But years later his father, Campbell, came forward to say his son had faked his own death.

There were reports he had bribed his executioner and lived out his days as a Louisiana cotton farmer under the name John Calhoun Brown.

Though it’s claimed recent DNA tests from his grave suggest he really did die at the end of the noose, others dispute the findings.

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