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Posted: 6/15/2001 7:48:22 AM EDT
LA Times http://www.latimes.com/wires/20010613/tCB00V9022.html Wednesday, June 13, 2001 Mystery of Texas Outlaw Unraveled Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON-- When Lee County Sheriff James Madison Brown tripped the gallows on Oct. 11, 1878, multiple killer Wild Bill Longley met his maker. Or did he? Despite the many witnesses to the execution, folklore persisted that the Texas outlaw's hanging was a hoax and that he lived on for years in Louisiana. Now, after years of research, scientists at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History believe they have settled the question. The body in Wild Bill Longley's grave is -Wild Bill Longley. "These legends die hard," said Smithsonian anthropologist Douglas Owsley. But, he said, the evidence is unequivocal. Researchers established the identity by comparing DNA extracted from the buried body with that from a known descendant of Longley. That wasn't really the hard part. What was tough was finding the right grave. After the Civil War, Longley and other young toughs began a campaign of terrorizing newly freed slaves. Later he worked as a cowboy in Kansas and Texas and at one time claimed to have been involved in 32 killings. He had a $1,000 reward on his head. He was arrested in 1873, but when the reward wasn't paid he was set free. Three years later he was arrested again but escaped in the confusion after setting the jail on fire. The final arrest came in 1878. He was tried and sentenced to death for murder. Just before his hanging he reduced his claimed toll to just eight killings and decided to join the Roman Catholic Church. Owsley said he became involved in the question of Longley's ultimate fate in 1986, when he was a professor at Louisiana State University. Since then, he has donated his time and effort to the project. He said a local man came to him seeking help to understand his past. After the man's mother had died, he found records indicating his grandfather, whose name was Brown, was wanted on murder changes in Texas under the name William Preston Longley. The story was that when Longley was hanged he had bribed the sheriff to rig a harness under his clothing so he would not be killed. After the "execution," stones wrapped in a blanket were supposedly buried in his grave while he fled, eventually settling in Louisiana and living many years. "I thought it could be resolved very simply," said Owsley, looking back at 15 years of "nibbling" at the problem. It turns out that because Longley was a desperado he was buried in an unmarked grave outside the consecrated ground of the cemetery in Giddings, Texas, where he was hanged. Giddings is east of Austin, near where Longley was born. The cemetery later grew to include the area, but a road went through it, trees died and new ones were planted. The scene changed.
Link Posted: 6/15/2001 7:48:55 AM EDT
A petrified wood marker was placed on Longley's grave in the 1920s, but the caretaker's records indicated the marker was later moved three times for various reasons. As the marker was moved, the body lay where it had been buried. Elderly members of the Longley family were unsure of the location of the grave, so Owsley turned to LSU geologist Brooks Ellwood. An expert in remote sensing, Ellwood used a variety of methods including magnetometers, electrical resistance testing and earth samples in the search for the grave. Finally they found a photo taken of the marked grave in the 1930s. Using computer digital imaging, they were able to compare it with photos of the cemetery taken today, deleting headstones installed since the picture was taken. They located the spot, coordinating on three or four old trees and a half-dozen grave markers. And there they found an unmarked grave. "We are convinced we have the body of Wild Bill Longley," Owsley said. Besides the DNA evidence there was a Catholic medal, evidence of Longley's religious conversion shortly before his execution. And the grave contained a celluloid leaf, confirmation of the report that shortly before the hanging Longley's niece visited him and gave him a flower, which he wore to the scaffold. So who was Mr. Brown in Louisiana? That man "may still be a mystery, but it is not Bill Longley," Owsley concluded. Now, with Wild Bill settled, Owsley has a new case to work on: He is concentrating on identifying the remains of the nine-man crew of the Confederate submarine Hunley, which sank off South Carolina in 1864 and was raised last summer. - - - On the Net: National Museum of Natural History: http://www.mnh.si.edu Handbook of Texas biography: http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/LL/flo15.ht ml Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times
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