The small cramped city hall must have had more people than usual show up for the city council meeting. There weren’t enough metal folding chairs so people leaned on the counter that usually separates the customers from the workers.
All were anxiously awaiting item number three on the agenda.
Everyone knew the TV news camera wasn’t there for the reading of Hamilton’s financial report or for the proclamations.
But, the people remained respectful and listened and waited for item number three.
Finally, it was read.
3. Consideration and/or action on request to exhume remains of Bill Roberts for DNA match.
And from the mayor’s comments everyone knew “Brushy Bill” wasn’t going to be dug up anytime soon.
“Brushy Bill” (William Henry Roberts) is going to stay right where he is - in his grave — at least for the time being anyway.
That’s according to a unanimous decision made by the Hamilton City Council Thursday night to deny a request by Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Sederwall of New Mexico to exhume the body of Roberts who claimed he was Billy the Kid for DNA testing.
Sederwall was contacted for his comments as to what the next step would be for his side. In an email, he said, “We have had a plan all along and now we move to the next step…and they will not see this bus coming. You have to love the game.”
He was out of town when contacted for an explanation of his comments.
Hamilton Mayor Roy Rumsey apparently doesn’t appreciate the attention his city has been receiving due to the national coverage the story has received.
“Last month we asked for proof and I have seen no proof,” Rumsey said. “This whole thing has gotten somewhat out of control - I mean we’re getting calls from all over the U.S.”
Dr. Jannay Valdez from Canton and owner of the Billy the Kid museum there stepped up to the microphone to contradict Rumsey’s statement about “proof.” Valdez co-authored a book on Billy the Kid and is considered by many to be an authority on the subject.
Valdez said the council did not ask for proof and had received everything asked for at the last meeting from the deputies in New Mexico with one exception. In an email from the deputies, received by City Administrator Bill Funderburk, the name of the lab to perform the testing was not included as the council had requested last month. However, it did name the two scientists to perform the actual tests.
The Lincoln County Sheriff sent a letter as requested to endorse his deputies work giving an official case number and including the fact that the investigation was being conducted on the deputies own time and was being funded by them personally, reported Funderburk.
Valdez patiently explained to Rumsey that “proof” is what the deputies were trying to obtain and that he fully supported the exhumation.
He told Rumsey that if a history lesson was what he was after then he could provide that along with a friend, “Judge Hefner.”
Valdez said only a fingernail size piece of material would be taken from the body. He tried to get across to council members that it really wouldn’t be a big deal. He spoke of mummies being on display and nobody thinks twice about it. He talked of human bodies being on display and nobody thinks anything of that either. He mentioned archaeological digs where entire cultures are uncovered for the sake of learning and history.
Valdez said the children of the area were being denied their history.
“It seems something so simple,” Valdez said. “We have a unique opportunity to find some kind of truth.”
He told Rumsey and the council that he thought this is what Roberts would have wanted since he traveled to New Mexico himself, a month before he died, to see the governor and prove he was Billy The Kid.
Rumsey retorted that the trip to New Mexico was only “hearsay.” Valdez made it clear to Rumsey that the trip was not “hearsay” but a well-documented fact. And it is. (Roberts was seeking a pardon that he said was promised to him for his part in the Lincoln County War, but he failed to convince the governor of his claim that he was really Billy the Kid, returned to Hico and promptly died about a month later.)
The city attorney addressed the law on the issue of exhumation. She said permission from the heir to Roberts’s estate had to be obtained as well as the owner of the cemetery.
“We haven’t seen proof of who the heirs are,” Rumsey said.
At last month’s meeting Sederwall gave the council signed affidavits from three individuals who said they were his cousins. Later, some were saying they are cousins four times removed.
Lambert Little, Hico city manager, addressed the council on his city’s behalf. Roberts lived in Hico for many years and actually died on a downtown street there in 1950.
Little suggested to the council to lay the item on the table indefinitely without taking action.
“The kinship issue may be resolved on its own,” Little said. “There’s no reason to rush into this.”
Little continued by suggesting that both the Hamilton and Hico city councils should get together to talk about the effects the exhumation would have on both cities.
“Sometimes bureaucracy is a good thing,” Little said.
In an interview after the meeting Little said, “I really thought we could use this as an opportunity to bring both cities together and enjoy promoting the legend. “ The council in its wisdom has spoken. Let’s wait and see if the kinship issue is resolved.”
Funderburk read a letter from Merna Carpenter, of the Billy the Kid museum in Hamilton, to the council. In the document, she requested the council to postpone action until members of the McCarty family could be located for she believed they were closer kin to Roberts than anyone else. She also stated in the letter that it was her wish that Roberts not be exhumed for testing.
Marguerite Thomas, of the Billy the Kid, museum in Hico stepped up to the microphone stating it was also her wish that the body not be exhumed. She stated the only reason the deputies were trying to exhume the body was so Silver City, New Mexico would be forced to exhume Catherine Antrim’s body for DNA testing and according to her research, Antrim’s body had been moved so many times that nobody could be sure of it’s exact location. She said Silver City did not want to exhume Antrim’s body.
Antrim has already been proven by historians to be Billy the Kid’s mother. Roberts claimed she was not his mother but his aunt whom he said raised him after his mother died when he was a toddler.
Thomas said the original cemetery had been sold for development and each time they sold more land they moved the bodies without platting the locations. She told council members that she did not see how the Maxwell bench could serve any purpose in the investigation since forensic scientists say blood samples for DNA testing are only reliable for 50 years and the bench is 125 years old so any testing done would be unreliable.
She also said due to flooding that had occurred in the Fort Sumner cemetery that nobody could be sure where the body would be for that grave either. She said New Mexico had issued a statement in May of 2006 that he “Billy the Kid,” probably wasn’t in Fort Sumner anyway “Because of the flood that was there,” she said.
She said that Roberts’ grave should remain undisturbed due to the fact there is nothing to compare his DNA with.
In an earlier interview, Sederwall said he tracked down the bench (still in the Maxwell family) in Albuquerque, New Mexico that once belonged to Pete Maxwell and where the Sheriff Pat Garrett laid the bleeding body of William Bonney aka Billy the Kid after he shot and killed him on July 14, 1881. The body was then buried in the Fort Sumner cemetery and officials there have denied Sederwall’s and his partner Tom Sullivan’s request to exhume those remains. He claimed luminescence tests have already proven human blood is on the bench consistent with a chest wound.
“The pattern went all the way across the table and underneath where it soaked through,” he said. “The tests picked up blood on both sides of the table and showed to be human blood.”
Valdez contradicted Thomas’s statement about Antrim telling council that her body had only been moved one time. He said the body is where the marker says it is. “Our forefathers were very meticulous about their work.”
“New Mexico is fighting this,” Valdez said. “Why shouldn’t they? They don’t have a body.”
He also said to council members, “Skip the flood - the flood has nothing to do with it - the body wasn’t there to start with,” referring to Thomas’ earlier comment.
Valdez said he thought it was time for Texas to “step forward.”
Sederwall and his partner believe they have narrowed down who “The Kid” really was to three individuals; John Miller who died in a pioneer’s old folks home in Arizona in 1936 and from which DNA samples have already been obtained, Roberts, or William Bonney thought to be buried in the Fort Sumner cemetery.
When Roberts was alive he claimed the man killed by Garrett was someone named Billy Barlow and that is who is in the grave at Fort Sumner.
Sederwall said Miller’s story was amazingly similar to Robert’s.
Valdez told the council that he did not believe the bench would be useful either. But, that the DNA should be obtained now to save for future technology.
“Get that DNA and hold it,” he said. “Our technology is growing exponentially. No telling what could happen in five years or right now in a lab.”
Sederwall has said if the DNA from Roberts matches DNA from Antrim then the link will be formed for confirming Roberts as the real Billy the Kid since historians have already proven her to be a blood relation.
He said if her blood matches the blood on the workbench then it will prove that Billy the Kid was laid on the bench. He said if Antrim’s DNA matches Miller’s then he would be confirmed at the real Billy the Kid.
Valdez confirmed Thomas’ thoughts about the bench and said the bench was of no value. For the blood to match the bench was an “impossibility” he said.
City councilmen Mike Collett said he thought the sample could be obtained but the right parties (next of kin) have to come forward.
Council member Bradley Haile said he believed, “ Some folks are trying to rewrite history. If I felt this was really going to help history - we might be more willing to move forward.”
He explained his reasoning by referring to Paul Revere and the Midnight Ride and that the ride was actually made by someone else, he said and therefore a legend was printed as history instead of the truth.
Valdez said he became involved in the saga of Billy the Kid thirty-five years ago.
His comment to Haile was, “I don’t want to rewrite history unless it’s the truth. If I knew for a fact that he (Roberts) wasn’t Billy the Kid I would still say - do it. So we can find the truth.”
Funderburk recommended to council to deny the exhumation request due to the liability issue for the city as far as determining the rightful heirs and who can actually give permission for the exhumation.
He told Valdez, “I would love to see it, too, but from a liability standpoint for the city I have to deny.”
And, so the story goes…on and on and on.