New Mexico is putting the legend of Billy the Kid under a microscope, using DNA tests to verify if the man who claimed to be the infamous gunslinger really was.
Gov. Bill Richardson scheduled a news conference Tuesday to detail how the state will aid an investigation launched by Lincoln County, where the Old West outlaw made a dramatic escape from custody 122 years ago.
The investigation calls for exhuming and testing the remains of Billy the Kid's mother and Ollie L. "Brushy Bill" Roberts. Roberts, who died in 1950, swore he was William H. Bonney, the name most often given by the Kid as his real one.
Roberts was buried in Hico, Texas, where he lived. Bonney's mother was buried in Silver City, N.M.
Others have also claimed to be the Kid, said Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan. One, named John Miller, was buried in Prescott, Ariz., and another, not identified, was buried in Mexico.
"We don't have a theory. We just want to know the truth," Sullivan said.
Historian Frederick Nolan, author of several books about Billy including "The West of Billy the Kid," doubts that Roberts was who he said he was.
Nolan, who lives in London, contends the Roberts' family Bible showed "Brushy Bill" was born in 1879, making him only 2 when the Lincoln County jail escape occurred April 28, 1881.
Besides the genetic testing, the investigation will examine whether an accomplice provided Kid with the pistol he used to kill two deputy sheriffs during the escape.
The sheriff credited with killing the Kid later in 1881 in Fort Sumner, N.M., never investigated the jailbreak killings because he already had a death warrant against the outlaw, said Steve Sederwall, a volunteer investigator helping Sullivan.
Sullivan said he hopes to recreate the crime scene. Some physical evidence, such as bullet fragments, might still be imbedded in the Lincoln courthouse, he said. Fragments could indicate whether Billy used one of the deputy's guns or an accomplice's.
By Richard Benke
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