Orson Welles and the Black Museum.



“This is Orson Welles speaking from London. The Black Museum, repository of death… Here, in this grim stone structure on the Thames which houses Scotland Yard, is a warehouse of homicide where everyday objects, a piece of wire, a chemist’s flask, a silver shilling, all are touched by murder…”


In today’s internet age there are a myriad of true crime podcasts. In the 1950’s there was screen legend Orson Welles (star of Citizen Kane and Waterloo among other film classics) presenting Tales from the Black Museum. First Welles, in his own inimitable style, describes the exhibit itself before narrating a dramatised version of the case its connected to.

For any true crime buff its a fascinating series of real cases with names changed to protect the innocent (and sometimes the guilty). For any podcaster it’s well worth sampling to hear a master at work. If you’re a fan of historic true crime then have fun testing your criminal knowledge by trying to identify the real cases behind the changed names.

The Black Museum, as any true crime buff knows, is a private collection of exhibits and evidence drawn from thousands of criminal cases investigated by the British police. Not open to the public, visits are by appointment and only to police officers or others its custodians consider appropriate. For anyone with a squeamish disposition its location is appropriate, sited in Room 101 at New Scotland Yard.

This was far from Welles’ first foray into radio, in fact it will always be overshadowed by his dramatisation of H G Wells’ War of the Worlds back in the late 1930’s. Originally broadcast in 1952 and syndicated for an American audience, European listeners first got to hear Tales from the Black Museum in 1953 on Radio Luxembourg. It’s since been repeated, usually a small selection of episodes instead of the full series, in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s. The BBC finally got round to airing a few episodes as late as 1994.

Courtesy of the Old Time Radio Researchers Group, all 53 episodes are available to hear online. They’re also downloadable as MP3 files. You can pop along and find the series, in full and free to hear and download, at the following address:



On This Day in 1953 – France’s last inmates return from Devil’s Island.


“The Bagne is a charnel house, a mass grave, running from syphilis to tuberculosis, with all the tropical diseases one can imagine (carrying malaria, ankylosis, amoebic dysentery, leprosy, etc.), all destined to work hand in hand with an Administration whose task it is to diminish the number of prisoners consigned to its care. The fiercest proponents of ‘elimination’ can rest satisfied. In Guyane, prisoners survive on the average five years – no more.” –

Doctor Louis Rouuseau, former chief prison doctor.


They called it ‘Le Bagne,’ simply ‘the jail.’ They called themselves ‘bagnards,’ simply ‘convicts.’ Inmates of probably the worst convict prison in history, some 70,000 made  their way to Guiana from France. Only around 5000 survived to finish their sentences. Only around 2000 ever made the return trip. Only one in four lasted five years before dying there. On August 22, 1953 the last survivors finally returned. Some of them, like Paul Roussenq, would come to wish they hadn’t.

As the steamer San Mateo docked in Bordeaux harbour it was a day of contrasts. On August 22, 1934 legendary gangster Al Capone had arrived at Alcatraz, fan island prison from which there was supposedly no escape. On the same day in 1953, 666 inmates were returning from Devil’s Island.

There wasn’t supposed to be any escape from the Penal Administration’s clutches, either. While France had adopted the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity there was little equality or fraternity for ‘Les Bagnards.’. As for liberty, former inmate Paul Roussenq summed up what liberty came to mean for many sent to Guiana. However uncertain the future for the returnees, one thing was at least certain.

The dreaded ‘Bagne,’ site of so much cruelty, horror and death, was no more.

Their return was a break with tradition in itself. Right up until the last transport left France in 1938 convicts were gathered at Saint Martin-de-re near La Rochelle before leaving for the Green Hell on the twice-yearly voyage. Searched, kitted out, their heads shaven, over 600 convicts at a time walked through the streets. Most of them were seeing their native land for the last time.

004.jpg charriere papillon
Henri Charriere, AKA ‘Papillon.’

Henri Charriere, also known as ‘Papillon,’ described his own departure back in 1933:

“Neither prisoners, guards or public broke in on this poignant moment. Everyone understood that these men were leaving normal life behind forever.”

In 1953 Saint Martin-de-re was (and remains) an active prison. Fully occupied, those inmates aboard the San Mateo with unexpired time would be dispersed among prisons within France itself. There would be no early release for them. Even after surviving at least 15 years in history’s worst penal system France still demanded its pound of flesh. They still had time to serve and their debt to society to repay. Repay it they would.

After a century of horrors unrivalled almost anywhere the ‘Penal Administration, French Guiana’ was finally shut down. Opened in 1852 under Emperor Napoleon III, the penal colony had long been a stain on the name of France both at home and abroad. Exposed by journalist Albert Londres, the scandal of the Dreyfus Affair and memoirs from former inmates like Rene Belbenoit, the shame had finally become too much to ignore.

Captain Alfred DreyfusDreyfus, falsely convicted of treason and the victim of rampant anti-semitism, spent five years on Devil’s Island itself. Only international publicity, the campaigning of his wife and the support of luminaries like writer Emile Zola saved him from permanent incarceration. Zola’s legendary polemic ‘J’Accuse!’ still ranks among literature’s finest.

The ‘Ile Diable,’ though often used to describe the entire penal system, was reserved solely for political prisoners like Dreyfus. Ordinary criminals like Papillon (despite his claims to the contrary) were never sent there. Only fifty or so occupied it during the colony’s 100-year history, never more than a dozen at one time.

Isolated from all the other prisoners, Dreyfus could only ponder his past in almost total isolation while day-dreaming of exoneration, freedom and his honour being one day restored. His suffering was inflicted through permanent solitude and endless boredom, not physical brutality:

“My days, my hours, slip by monotonously in this agonising, enervating waiting for the discovery of truth…”

Albert Londres had visited the colony in 1923, ironically welcomed by staff thinking he would be supportive. Instead his series of articles caused increased embarrassment after the Dreyfus Affair. As Londres described life in the colony;

“During this month I have seen hundreds of spectacles from Hell, and now it is the bagnards who stare back at me… Each and every day, I dream of them staring at me, imploring me…”

Rene BelbenoitThe appalling conditions of the colony were no secret even to those who hadn’t yet seen them. Rene Belbenoit arrived in 1933, recalling in classic memoir ‘Dry Guillotine’ his peers seeing  it for the first time. As Belbenoit walked through the main gate it finally sank in:

‘”It’s the Bagne,” said the man behind me in a voice that was devoid of all hope. “So this is where I’ll live. Until I die…”‘

Officially closed by decree on July 17, 1938 the Penal Administration remained operational for another 15 years. On November 22, 1938 despite the closure being announced the last transport of convicts left France, most of them forever. When war broke out and France fell under Nazi occupation in 1940 it wasn’t until 1946 that the closing-down actually began.

From 1946 the Penal Administration was slowly wound down. The prisons, jails and dreaded jungle camps were closed one by one. By 1953 Saint-Laurent, for a century the Penal Administration’s nerve centre, was almost a ghost town. The jungle camps like Charvein, Godebert, Crique Rouge, Cascade and others, sites of unimaginable cruelty, misery and death, were no more.

Make-work on the jungle roads nicknamed ‘Route Zero’ (it never went anywhere) and ‘Kilometre 42’ (its total length without ever reaching a destination) was over. Route Zero and Kilo 42 weren’t even meant to go anywhere, they were simply hard labour for its own sake. Guiana’s ghosts, some of them anyway, could now haunt the roadsides undisturbed. Decades later they probably know more peace in death than in life.

No more would whips crack across inmates slowly dying from forced labour, disease, malnutrition and barely any medical care. No longer would escapers die in the jungle or on the sea. No more would a bell toll as convicts were buried at sea, only to be torn apart by sharks before they reached the bottom, the sharks themselves being caught and fed to the convicts. Never again would a convict-executioner, surrounded by fellow inmates forced to kneel and watch, raise a dripping head from the guillotine’s basket and hold it high, proclaiming:

“Justice has been done in the name of the people of France!”

In 1933 Salvation Army Captain Charles Pean was sent out to organise relief efforts for the ‘liberes.’ Liberes were freed convicts still struggling to survive outside prison walls. Often too sick and weak to find work (employers preferring to rent fit, healthy  convicts from the Penal Administration) they existed as best they could.

Few could afford a passage to France at their own expense. Many more were bound by penal policy. Under the hated policy of ‘doublage’ any inmate serving less than eight years had to stay in Guiana for a time equal to their original sentence. Any prisoner serving eight years or more had to stay in Guiana forever, never again allowed to set foot  on their native soil. Doublage had long been abolished for new arrivals, but for those sentenced before its abolition it still applied.

As efforts to close the penal colony had gathered steam the Salvation Army had joined the fight. Even many French administrators and officials wanted to see the Penal Administration closed down. It was too expensive to run, the costs vastly exceeded the returns and the international embarrassment had become too great. Gaston Monnerville, Guiana’s deputy in the French Parliament, was at the forefront of efforts to close the colony down. As one former penal administrator described it:

“Transportation is economically an absurdity, from the colonial point of view it is a scandal, and morally it is a crime.”

Rene Belbenoit was equally damning:

‘If the bagne I knew no longer exists, it most certainly exists elsewhere. The injustices and atrocities I saw are being duplicated at this moment in prisons everywhere. It is important to understand this because a prison is a prison, whether it is located in Saint Laurent or in Paris, on Devil’s Island or in anyplace else in the world.’

Some 300 convicts nicknamed the ‘Old Whites’ chose to stay in Guiana. Their time served, they could have boarded a repatriation ship but declined. There since 1938 at the very least, they didn’t see returning to a France they no longer recognised as going home. They’d been in Guiana so long that it had become their home.

Besides, the France they’d watched disappear over the horizon so many years before had vanished forever. Time and the war had seen to that. Rather than be strangers in their own land they opted to stick with what had become their norm, where life was familiar and made sense.

Doctor Roger Pradinaut was assigned to Guiana in 1965, 12 years after the penal colony finally closed its gates.  He knew many of those who stayed on, finding them a curious mix of personalities:

“The spirit of the old prisoners varied. There were some who were jokesters, others who were raconteurs telling stories about their lives. But others were much more discreet about themselves and didn’t speak much. I remember one man who was always staring into space and from time to time he cried, tears running down his face. And you could see that this was someone who had been deeply traumatised, someone who had suffered a lot, but didn’t talk about it.”

They were probably right. Many of those who did drifted into insanity, alcoholism, drug abuse and crime. France was alien to them in 1953 as Guiana had been in 1938 or before then. One of the most notorious, Paul Roussenq, whose defiance of the Penal Administration had earned him 11 years in solitary confinement and countless extra years on his original sentence, was one of them.

Paul RoussenqRoussenq, among the earliest returnees in 1946, survived only briefly. The ‘Jailbird of St. Gilles’ drowned himself in the Adour River in 1949 leaving a note for a friend;

‘My dear Elisee, I am at the end. At Bayonne there is a great and beautiful river and this evening I will go in search of the great remedy for all suffering: Death’

‘Les Bagnards,’ mostly sent out to die, were coming home.

IDENTIFIED: ‘An unidentified man is strapped into Sing Sing’s electric chair.’

For my 100th post, I’m going to offer you something special, something a little different from the usual fare. The story of this ‘unidentified man’ at the moment of his death.


True crime buffs and historians will have seen this particular image many, many times. Taken by photographer William van der Weyde, it’s invariably captioned as ‘An unidentified man is strapped into Sing Sing Prison’s electric chair, circa 1900.’

It was taken at Sing Sing, but it wasn’t taken in 1900. That ‘unidentified man’ can now be given a name and a story. So here it is.

The photo was part of a series published the Royal Magazine in 1898. The article describes the original Sing Sing death house, not the one readers might be more familiar with today. That wasn’t opened until 1922 and the second death house didn’t open until 1915. This is the set-up as it was in the beginning.

Sing’s Sing’s first was a quadruple on July 7, 1891. That day Harris Smiler, James Slocum, Joseph Wood and Shibaya Jugiro paid for their crimes. The last was Eddie Lee Mays on August 15, 1963. Between them, the three death houses would claim 614 of New York’s 695 electrocutions.

The ‘unidentified man’ is actually murderer Arthur Mayhew, who walked his last mile on March 12, 1897. Mayhew, convicted of murder-robbery on the testimony of accomplice John Wayne, was the 20th inmate electrocuted at Sing Sing. His crime was unremarkable as murders go, clubbing 68-year old shopkeeper William Powell on Fulton Street. His execution would also have been unexceptional, saving that he hasn’t been properly identified in over a century. Wayne, who received a 15-year sentence and so avoided execution, later retracted his testimony before reverting to blaming Mayhew.

Convicted and condemned, Mayhew found himself awaiting execution for a year. In that time Carl Feigenbaum, Louis Hermann and Charles Pustalka were taken from their cells and executed. Given the original layout of Sing Sing’s pre-death house era, Mayhew would have heard every single detail of their deaths.


As you can see, the death cells were separated from the death chamber itself by only a single door. The condemned wouldn’t actually see anything, white sheets being draped in front of their cells just before an execution, but they could hear absolutely everything.

They could hear another prisoner being led away, hear the door open and close, hear their last words (if they had any), the clunk of the switch being thrown and the hum of flowing electricity. As a final torture, they could hear the autopsy being performed, New York State law mandating an autopsy immediately after an execution. The autopsy room at Sing Sing was next door to the death chamber for convenience.

The convenience of prison staff, of course, not prison inmates. They didn’t find the clunk of the switch, the dull hum of electricity and the shrill whine of a bone saw the slightest bit convenient. In fact, it had a nasty (though unsurprising) tendency to drive them insane. When Sing Sing set its record on August 7, 1912 by electrocuting seven inmates one after another, those awaiting death created havoc. So did those whose dates were still approaching.

They were spared quite as much suffering when it was Arthur Mayhew’s turn. Mayhew, originally one of two executions scheduled that day, would have heard the other prisoner being told his sentence had been commuted and he was to be reassigned into Sing’s Sing’s general population.

With this last, most uplifting thought in his mind, Arthur Mayhew would die alone and, until now, unidentified.

His executioner, the world’s very first ‘State Electrician’ remained as close to anonymous as possible, though by his own choice. Edwin Davis was man fearful of being identified. The public knew his name and only a rough idea of what he looked like. He would journey to Sing Sing discreetly, having arranged with a railroad company  for its train to pick him up and drop him off at a spot between stations before and after an execution. He permitted no photographs and once lambasted assistant Robert Elliott (later New York’s third State Electrician) for once using his name while ordering dinner.

The layout of Sing Sing’s first death chamber was designed so official witnesses and reporters wouldn’t even see him do his deadly work. As you can see from the image below, the man in the background on the left (sometimes incorrectly identified as Davis) was actually puling a cord, not the switch. The cord was connected to Davis’s hand as he stood in the closed-off booth directly behind the chair. One pull told him to throw the switch, a second pull told him to cut the power so doctors could make their checks. If the prisoner was still alive, the cord was pulled again to order as many shocks as were needed.


Mayhew needed only the standard two jolts before dying, one to kill him and another to make absolutely sure. He was certified dead little over a minute after the cord was pulled and Davis threw the switch. As he was led into the chamber he clutched a crucifix, a fact confirmed by press reports published on March 13, the day after he died.


As he was being strapped down he uttered his final words;

“Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!”

His end, at least, was mercifully brief. Though not so brief there wasn’t time for another picture:


As Mayhew is listed by most sources as ‘unidentified,’ the first photograph of an electrocution in progress is commonly held to be that of Ruth Snyder, executed at Sing Sing in 1928. The image is widely considered one of the most important and distinctive in the history of journalism and is still used in some journalism courses for teaching purposes. It made journalistic history at the time.


Snyder was illicitly photographed by reporter Tom Howard just after the current was turned on, using a hidden camera concealed in his trouser leg. Given that Mayhew is specifically named in the archived article in the Royal Magazine (published in 1898) and that Sing Sing records and contemporary news reports list Mayhew as having been executed on March 12, 1897, it reasonable to say that these images are of Mayhew and that the world’s first electrocution photographs were in fact taken some thirty years earlier than commonly thought.

The image also has its place in popular culture. It’s easily found online and provided the inspiration for the James Cagney film ‘Picture Snatcher.’ Curiously, while Cagney played a newspaper photographer who illicitly photographed a woman in the electric chair, probably the most famous scene of his entire career is at the end of classic ‘Angels with Dirty faces’ in which Cagney (playing gangster ‘Rocky Sullivan’) has to be dragged kicking and screaming into Sing Sing’s chair. Cagney himself never clarified whether his character was actually panicking or was feigning fear to benefit the ‘Dead End Kids,’ preferring the audience to decide for themselves.

I somehow doubt Arthur Mayhew, who always protested his innocence, would have appreciated his singular place in the chronicles of crime. Or his place as a small-time pop culture icon, either.







Happy Birthday, ‘Doc’ Holliday, Born Today In 1851.

 John 'Doc' Holliday, AKA 'The Deadly Dentist.'

John ‘Doc’ Holliday, AKA ‘The Deadly Dentist.’

Wyat Earp on ‘Doc’ Holliday:


“The nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun that I ever knew.”


‘Doc’ (when asked whether his conscience troubled him):


“I coughed that up with my lungs, years ago…”


John Henry ‘Doc’ Holliday, born in Griffin Georgia today in 1851, died in Glenwood, Colorado on November 8, 1887 is one of the legends of the Old West. His travels through the Wild West are often retold as a rollicking tale of hard drinking, gunfights and gambling, riding from town to town in search of his next drink and his next game of poker. He’s portrayed as a gentleman, gambler and gunslinger (not necessarily in that order) and his mythical skill and speed with a pistol was, as far as we can reliably verify, really was a myth. He was a ruthless gunman, granted, and he certainly killed more than once. But he wasn’t any deadlier than many others and killed far fewer than many others. The famed ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’ and the later shoot-out at Iron Springs were particularly notable events in, by Wild West standards, a relatively quiet career as a shootist when compared to the likes of John Wesley Hardin, Dallas Stoudenmire and Ben Thompson.

But people do love their myths (especially when the reality is less exciting) and, to a professional gambler and gunfighter, being feared was as important as their speed and accuracy with a gun. People who feared you were less likely to challenge you. The fewer people challenged you, the less likely you were to be killed. Not for nothing did an estimated 20,000 men die of gunshot wounds during the Wild West era. Nor is a lack of truth in the fact that any gunfighter who saw their 30th birthday was doing well when few celebrated their 25th. The Wild West was wild, it was violent, crime was rife and law enforcement barely existed. It a perfect environment for gamblers and gunmen to ply their trades and many did so. 

‘Doc’, however, wasn’t your stereotypical bourbon-swilling, semi-literate, cheroot-smoking, Neanderthal whose idea of a good night out consisted of a bottle of whiskey, a big win at poker, a bar-room brawl, a prostitute and then, just to cap off a thoroughly civilised night on the town, blasting some stranger between the eyes over some small slight. He was an educated man from a distinguished Georgia family, a professional man (he’d been a dentist until his tuberculosis lost him too many patients), generally not the type you might expect to ride from town to town, indulging in gambling, boozing, brawling and occasionally killing somebody when he felt a need.

But two things turned him to life’s darker side. His mother and step-brother both died of tuberculosis when he was a young man and ‘Doc’ soon developed it as well. At the time, what people called ‘consumption’ was a virtual death sentence. Its suffers, charmingly referred to by their fellow Americans as ‘lungers’, were already doomed to an early grave and they knew it. ‘Doc’ certainly did, commenting when asked about his violent life that he’d far rather die by the gun or the knife than from his disease. His increasing ill-health caused him to leave Georgia for the South West where he thought the hot, dry climate might add a few extra years to his life. His choice would cost a few people the rest of theirs.

His other problem was his own personality. Like many people addicted to drugs and/or alcohol (in his case the booze and laudanum he took daily to limit the pain of his illness) ‘Doc’ had a split personality. Even his closest friends described him as a lovely man when sober, but when drunk and stoned (which became increasingly often as his disease took hold) he was very definitely a man to be kept well away from. Then his dark said took over and he’d start trying to provoke totally unnecessary gunfights and knife fights, create trouble where there hadn’t been any and needn’t be if he’d kept his mouth shut and his temper under control. It was the kind of behaviour that made those around him think he actually wanted to die, preferably quickly. Many addicts have a split personality, it’s just that few happen to carry at least two pistols, a couple of knives and a shotgun on a daily basis. ‘Doc’ did, and wasn’t afraid to use them.

His first known gunfight was in 1873 along the Withlacoochee River in a disagreement with some black youths over a bathing spot. His family denied he killed anybody, but two accounts state clearly that he killed one or two men that day. In September, 1873 he moved to Dallas and began gambling when his tuberculosis scared away his remaining dental patients. If he couldn’t pull teeth any more then he could still play cards and gambling became his sole means of support. May, 1874 saw him indicted for illegal gambling and in January, 1875 he was indicted for a gunfight with saloon keeper Charles Austin. Neither was injured and, after being convicted and fined on the gambling indictment, left Texas for Colorado. In Denver he was said to have badly mutilated a local tough named Bud Ryan with a knife, although no records exist confirming either the fight or that Ryan actually existed. 

In February, 1876 ‘Doc’ turned up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, following stories of gold having been found there. He worked as a card dealer at the Bella Union Saloon. When the Bella Union’s owner moved his saloon to the notorious town of Deadwood, South Dakota ‘Doc’ moved with him before returning to Cheyenne in in 1877. After Cheyenne it was Denver, then Kansas, then Texas. More trouble beckoned in the Texan town of Breckenridge on July 4, where he severely beat gambler Henry Kahn in a dispute over a hand of poker. Kahn, not having taken kindly to being beaten severely with a walking cane, shot ‘Doc’ and seriously wounded him. He moved on to Fort Griffin, Texas where he met two people who were lasting figures in his rootless and violent life, they were his prostitute paramour ‘Big Nose Kate’ Horony and a certain Wyatt Earp.

In the summer of 1878 ‘Doc’ and Wyatt cemented their friendship after ‘Doc’ involved himself in one of Wyatt’s dust-ups. Wyatt was serving as an assistant town Marshal in the notorious Dodge City. Heavily outnumbered, Wyatt later credited ‘Doc’ with saving his life by freely standing with Wyatt and threatening to kill anybody who attacked him. Having moved on to Jacksonboro, ‘Doc’ found himself making another hasty departure after killing a soldier in a dispute over a woman. By now he was an established gunfighter, widely respected and often feared.

It was July 19, 1879 when he notched his gun again. killing Army scout Mike Gordon in Las Vegas, New Mexico. After yet another gunfight, during which he wounded bartender Charles White he departed again. Thinking White was dead and fearing a date with the hangman, ‘Doc’ took up an invitation from an old friend to a new town in Arizona. The town in question being Tombstone…

 Unlike the mythical gunslingers, Holliday's weapon of choice was usually a shotgun. He wasn't known to be a crack shot with a pistol.

Unlike the mythical gunslingers, Holliday’s weapon of choice was usually a shotgun. He wasn’t known to be a crack shot with a pistol.

Of course, we all know what happened in Tombstone. On October 26, 1881 there was the infamous ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral.’ The dispute between the Earp brother (Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan) and a loosely-formed bunch of semi-professional outlaws known as the ‘Cowboys’ had been brewing for months and the OK Corral was a result. Holliday was credited with killing two of the three men who died, brothers Tom and Frank McLaury and also with wounding Billy Clanton. But the feud between the Earps and the Cowboys wasn’t over. Morgan was murdered and Virgil permanently maimed. Wyatt, assisted by ‘Doc’ and several others, embarked in March, 1882 on his famous ‘Vendetta Ride.’ During that ride the group found three Cowboys implicated in Virgil Earp’s shooting and Morgan’s murder. Frank Stilwell was shot dead at Tucson Railroad Station on March 20, 1882. Florentino Cruz (AKA ‘Indian Charlie’) was suspected of being the look-out when Virgil Earp was crippled. Wyatt’s men found him at a logging camp and shot him dead. 

On March 23, 1882 came another career highlight for ‘Doc.’ It was the gunfight at Iron Springs. ‘Doc’ provided covering fire while Wyatt first killed notorious outlaw ‘Curly Bill’ Brocius with a shotgun, mortally wounded Johnny Barnes and seriously wounded Milt Hicks. But for ‘Doc’ time was running out. His tuberculosis, not helped by years of whiskey, laudanum, 36-hour poker marathons and a fair few gunfights, was failing fast. Under indictment in Arizona for the Stilwell shooting, he fled to Colorado.

With his health failing fast it was on May 15, 1882 that he was arrested in Denver on the Arixona warrant. One of Wyatt’s best-known allies, ‘Bat’ Masterson, happened to be police chief of Trinidad, Colorado at the time and used his influence to see ‘Doc’ safely out of the hands of the Arizona authorities. ‘Doc’ did briefly meet Wyatt one last time in Gunnison, Colorado before moving again, this time to Glenwood Springs. He would never leave. On July 14, 1882 he was under suspicion for murdering Cowboy member ‘Johnny Ringo’ whose body had been found in West Turkey Creek Canyon, Arizona. ‘Doc’ and Wyatt, both not members of the ‘Johnny Ringo’ fan club, were suspected, but both had solid alibis and the evidence suggest Ringo probably killed himself although outlaw ‘Buckskin’ Frank Leslie did claim to have killed him.


 Holliday's memorial in Linwood Cemetery, Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

Holliday’s memorial in Linwood Cemetery, Glenwood Springs, Colorado.


 Holliday's actual gravesite is unknown. He'd probably have preferred it like that.

Holliday’s actual gravesite is unknown. He’d probably have preferred it like that.

‘Doc’ spent the rest of his life in Colorado. His tuberculosis was steadily worsening, as were his addictions to alcohol and laudanum. It was only a matter of time. His last hoorah (if you can call it that) came in the rather appropriately-named town of Leadville in 1887. A local bully and novice gunslinger, one Billy Allen, possibly looking to make a name for himself, saw the fast-ailing Holliday as an easy target. It was Allen who proved easier. ‘Doc’ put bullets into his arm and elbw, but didn’t kill him.

In late-1887 he moved to the last of his many temporary homes. He checked into the Hotel Glenwood in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. At 10am on November 8, 1887 he finally died of tuberculosis. He was only 36 years old. According to one of the nurses attending him during his last days he’s said to have lain in his bed, looked down and seemed surprised to be dying with his boots off. Looking at his stockinged feet he was said to have uttered his final words:


“Damn, this is funny.”


His actual gravesite is unconfirmed. Many believe him to have been buried somewhere in Linwood Cemetery near Glenwood Springs. Some believe he was secretly exhumed and his body lies near his childhood home of Griffin, Georgia. ‘Doc’ himself, whose deadly reputation seems to have seriously blurred the line between fact and fiction, would probably have been greatly amused by that.


If you’re interested in a more general account of the myths and falsehoods about gunfighters that have rooted themselves so firmly in modern history and pop culture, then do take a look at the History Is Now website. They’ve got a little of everything and as a new magazine they’re fast building a name for themselves;