The Associated Press
FORT SUMNER — Three southeastern New Mexico officials looking for answers about the death of Western legend Billy the Kid have dropped their request to exhume what are believed to be the outlaw’s remains.
Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan, joined by deputy and Capitan Mayor Steve Sederwall and DeBaca County Sheriff Gary Graves, launched a probe last year into the Kid’s escape from the county courthouse in early 1881 and then-Sheriff Pat Garrett’s slaying of the outlaw later that year.
The investigation aims to clear up questions about the Kid’s fate.
Over the last century, at least two men surfaced claiming to be Billy the Kid. Those stories presuppose that Garrett killed the wrong man in Fort Sumner and lied about it and that the outlaw isn’t buried in a cemetery here.
Sullivan and the others filed a petition in state district court earlier this year, seeking the exhumation.
But on Friday, their attorneys filed a stipulation for dismissal of the case with prejudice, meaning they will not have a chance to refile their request.
Sullivan and the attorneys did not immediately return phone calls by the Associated Press seeking comment.
Friday’s court filing doesn’t mean the hunt for answers is over, according to a spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson. The governor has supported the investigation, saying it’s time the truth is known now that DNA technology is available.
Richardson has had discussions with Sullivan and Sederwall about the investigation and whether the remains of Billy the Kid and his mother should be exhumed.
“The investigation is moving in a different direction, toward discovering documents and anecdotal evidence of what occurred around Billy the Kid’s death — and his life,” Richardson spokesman Billy Sparks said late Friday.
“Digging is not necessary so the governor is pleased that the case was dismissed,” he added.
Both Fort Sumner and Silver City have fought the exhumation efforts. Silver City officials even sent the governor a letter asking that he disassociate himself from the investigation.
Sullivan has said the impetus for uncovering the truth about the Kid began more than a decade ago when he visited a Hico, Texas, museum dedicated to Brushy Bill Roberts, who claimed to be the Kid.
Some have said the investigation’s intent seems to be to promote tourism by raising interest in the Kid.
Sparks acknowledged that there’s still a strong interest in the outlaw. He cited recent television specials on the Kid.
“It’s the tale of the West,” he said.
Forensics experts have been busy this summer performing tests on a bench that Sederwall believes to be the one the Kid’s body was laid on after Garrett gunned him down. They have also examined a washstand that was purportedly struck by a bullet when Garrett shot the Kid.