The Tale of a Failed Robber

This tale takes place in the olden times – specifically, the early 1900’s. We will be discussing the interesting story of a man called Elmer McCurdy. Elmer McCurdy was born in Washington, Maine to 17-year-old Sadie McCurdy. His father was unknown, although some believe it to have been Sadie’s cousin, Charles Smith, of whose name McCurdy used as his own for a short while.

McCurdy was born in 1880, and to save his young mother from scandal, Sadie’s brother and sister in-law took Elmer in and raised him as their own. When Sadie told Elmer this, Elmer grew bitter and resentful, quickly taking to alcohol to drown his problems, an issue that would follow him until his death in 1911.

McCurdy left home in 1895, discouraged with life. By 1911, he had been through several jobs, been in and out of the military, and was finally arrested. It was in prison that he met Walter Jarrett. Once released, the two hatched a plan to lead a life of crime – they would go on to become train robbers.

They ended up raiding The Iron Mountain Train which held about $4,000. They made away with about $450, less than ⅛ of what had been on the train. For his second attempted train robbery, he to steal nearly $400,000. He got on the wrong train and walked away with $46 and two bottles of whiskey.

By this point, the authorities were out for poor Elmer’s head, and so when he was found resting in a ranch hand’s hayloft, a shootout ensued, eventually killing Elmer McCurdy. He was taken to a funeral home in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The mortician proceeded to give Elmer an overdose of embalming arsenic, worried that no one would claim his corpse.

The fear proved to be founded when five years later, Elmer still sat propped up in the corner of the funeral home, now being a sideshow that people could pop in to see for a nickel. After having spent 5 years resting in a funeral home, two men came and claimed that Elmer was their long lost brother, and took him away with them. Instead of taking Elmer home to their dying mother as they claimed to be doing however, they put Elmer in their circus as one of the acts that people could come and see.

Elmer’s body was then passed around from circus to circus, including the famous Hollywood Wax Museum, before he ended up at Queens Park aka The Pike, an amusement park in California. The park’s horror ride “Laff in the Dark” was going to be the setting of the popular TV show “The Six Million Dollar Man” when it was discovered that the mannequin hanging from the ceiling was not in fact a mannequin, but a corpse.

The corpse was stiff from multiple embalmings, with a .32-20 caliber bullet in his chest, and a copper bullet jacket in the hip bone. By this point, the corpse was effectively a mummy and had been dead for about 65 years. The man who discovered that the body was in fact a corpse, Chris Haynes, identified the policeman on the set, who said in amusement, “Ha! Just what Long Beach needs, another dead sailor!” before proceeding to do nothing.

The fireman was also entertained when told, responding with, “I’m gonna call the paramedics and tell them I have a guy suffering from extreme dehydration.”

The body was autopsied for a second time, and with that, the fascinating story of Elmer McCurdy was told. A 1924 penny was found in his throat, along with some ticket stubs from Louis Sonney’s Museum of Crime. Elmer was found in 1976, and buried in 1977 at the Boot Hill Section of Summit View Cemetery, Oklahoma. In the plot next to Elmer lies the infamous Bill Doolin of the Doolin Gang. It looks like Elmer’s afterlife has finally come to an end.




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