STEPHENVILLE — The body of a man who claimed to be the outlaw Billy the Kid will not be exhumed because of local resistance and questions over the grave’s authenticity.
Steven Sederwall, former mayor of Capitan, N.M., and a retired federal officer, had petitioned Hamilton city officials in April for permission to exhume the body of Ollie “Brushy Bill” Roberts, who died in 1950.
Sederwall wanted to obtain DNA to compare blood samples taken from the workbench where the body of William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, lay after he was shot in 1881 in Fort Sumner, N.M.
Sederwall said a longtime Hamilton resident told him that Roberts’ grave had been moved from the back of the cemetery to the front. He said city officials, who had previously voted against exhuming Roberts, refused to certify the gravesite.
Hamilton City Manager Bill Funderburk could not be reached for comment.
Sederwall said he suspects Roberts’ actual grave is at the back of the cemetery and the one up front is “a tourist trap for them to sell their wares,” referring to the Billy the Kid Museum in Hamilton. The back of the headstone, which is visible from the highway, contains a clear plastic cylinder full of museum fliers.
“I find it hard to believe that a pauper would get a front and center next to the highway gravesite,” said Sederwall, who is investigating Bonney’s jailhouse escape and the murder of two deputies during a courthouse shootout in 1881.
Sederwall said he found evidence that Roberts’ date of birth had been changed on the memorial stone from the date listed on the death certificate to match Billy the Kid’s. His name had also been changed from what was written on the original stone.
Sederwall said the exhumation “is a waste of time and money. The evidence shows he is not (Billy) the Kid.”
At least one other man — John Miller, whose remains are buried in Prescott, Ariz. — claimed to be Billy the Kid. Miller’s body was exhumed in 2005, but Sederwall declined to discuss the results of DNA tests.
Sederwall resigned as a Lincoln County, N.M., sheriff’s deputy in June along with his partner in the probe, former Sheriff Tom Sullivan. They said they quit to put an end to ongoing requests for public records pertaining to the financing and findings of their investigation.
Sederwall said their work would continue although chambers of commerce, museums and book authors have all tried to stop it, fearing solving the mystery would affect tourism dollars.