The mummified body of Elmer McCurdy
was found in the darkened fun house at the Nu-Pike
Amusement Park in Long Beach, California, on December 7, 1976. Ready to film an
episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, the director wasn't happy with a
dummy hanging from a rope in one part of the fun house, so he asked a
crew member to move it. When the man grabbed the dummy, its arm came off
exposing the arm bone of a real mummy.
Medical examiners and forensic
investigators were called to determine who the mummy was and how it had died.
They learned that the mummy was a man, and that he had been shot - quite a while
ago, it seemed. He died of a .32-caliber gunshot wound; the bullet was old,
manufactured between 1830 and 1920. When one medical examiner opened the mummy's
mouth for other clues, he was surprised to find a 1924 penny and a ticket from
the Museum of Crime in Los Angeles. That ticket and newspaper accounts helped
police identify the mummy a robber known as Elmer McCurdy. Here is his story:
In 1911 McCurdy joined a gang of
outlaws. This band robbed a train near Coffeyville, Kansas, and then planned to
steal a safe carrying over one thousand dollars from another train. On October
4, they stopped a train near Okesa, Oklahoma. But when they opened the safe they
discovered that they had robbed the wrong train (the train with all the money
was running two hours behind the train McCurdy and crew stopped): only forty-six
dollars were inside. A shipment of whiskey improved their spirits. They took it
and headed across the Oklahoma wilderness.
Two nights later, McCurdy stopped
at a ranch. Drunk and tired, he fell asleep in a hayloft. Soon after, the
three-man posse that was tracking him arrived. The trapped McCurdy began firing
at the posse. They traded shots for an hour, then all was quiet. A young boy was
told to go to the barn to ask McCurdy to surrender. McCurdy refused, reportedly
telling the boy, "They can go to the devil." The fighting resumed, and
McCurdy was later found dead in the hayloft.
His body was taken to a funeral
home in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, but no one knew who McCurdy was. When nobody claimed
the corpse, the undertaker embalmed it with arsenic and allowed people to see
"The Bandit Who Wouldn't Give Up" for a nickel. Many carnival
operators asked to buy the body from the undertaker, but he refused.
Almost five years after McCurdy
died, a man from a nearby traveling carnival showed up and claimed to be
McCurdy's long-lost brother. He indicated that he wanted to take the corpse back
to California and give it a proper burial. Within two weeks, however, McCurdy
was a featured exhibit with a carnival known as the Great Patterson Shows.
Eventually, it wound up in the Long Beach fun house.
McCurdy is a
prime example of how a mummy can become big business.
McCurdy was finally buried in
April, 1977. You can visit his gravesite at the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie,
Oklahoma. Some photos of McCurdy can be found at this link.