Elmer McCurdy (January, 1880 in Washington, Maine – October 7, 1911) was an Oklahoma outlaw whose mummified body was discovered in The Pike amusement zone in Long Beach, California in December 1976.
After three years in the U.S. Army, McCurdy traveled to Oklahoma and joined a gang of bank and train robbers. It appears that McCurdy was confused about the train, and believed it contained a safe which held thousands of dollars in government tribal payments. The money train was delayed for a few hours, and McCurdy’s gang actually robbed a passenger train, getting away with $46 and a few bottles of liquor. Soon afterward he was killed in a gunfight in the Osage Hills in north-central Oklahoma, shot in the chest by a .32-20 caliber bullet. A contemporary newspaper account gave McCurdy’s last words as “You’ll never take me alive!”
Post mortem commercialization
His body was subsequently taken to a funeral home in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. When no one claimed the corpse, the undertaker embalmed it with an arsenic-based preservative and allowed people to see “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up” for a nickel. People would place nickels in McCurdy’s mouth, which the undertaker would collect later. As increasingly large numbers of people came to view his remains (with each leaving a nickel), McCurdy was said to have made more money in death than in life. Many carnival operators asked to buy the mummified body from the undertaker, but he refused.
Almost five years after McCurdy died, a man showed up from a nearby traveling carnival known as the Great Patterson Shows claiming to be McCurdy’s long-lost brother. He indicated that he wanted to remove the corpse to give it a proper burial. Within two weeks, however, McCurdy was a featured exhibit with the carnival. For the next 60 years, McCurdy’s body was sold to successive wax museums, carnivals, and haunted houses. The owner of a haunted house near Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, refused to purchase him because he thought that McCurdy’s body was actually a mannequin and was not lifelike enough.
Eventually, McCurdy’s corpse wound up at “The Pike” (1902–1967,NU-PIKE and demolished as Queens Park in 1979) seaside amusement zone in Long Beach, California, inside the dark-ride attraction “Laff in the Dark” where he hung with other props, many of them painted day-glo yellow.
In December 1976, during filming at Queens Park (A.K.A. The Pike), of the television show The Six Million Dollar Man episode “Carnival of Spies” (#4.17) (1977), a crew member was moving what was thought to be a wax mannequin that was hanging from a gallows. When the mannequin’s arm (some accounts say finger) broke off, it was discovered that it was in fact embalmed and mummified human remains. Later, when medical examiner Thomas Noguchi opened the mummy’s mouth for other clues, he was surprised to find a 1924 penny and a ticket from Sonney Amusement’s Museum of Crime in Los Angeles. That ticket and archived newspaper accounts helped police and researchers identify the body as that of Elmer McCurdy.
His remains were examined in 1976 by forensic anthropologists. McCurdy’s remains revealed incisions from his original autopsy and embalming, as well as a gunshot wound in the right anterior chest. Additionally, a copper bullet jacket or gas check from a .32-20 caliber projectile was found embedded in his pelvis (analysis of the projectile showed that the jacket was manufactured between 1905 and the 1930s). Also, video superimposition of the remains with photographs of McCurdy’s corpse in the University of Oklahoma’s Western History Collection confirmed McCurdy’s identity.
He was finally buried in the Boot Hill section of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma on April 22, 1977. The state medical examiner ordered that two cubic yards of concrete was to be poured over McCurdy’s casket, so that his remains would never be disturbed again.