Butch Cassidy, beyond the grave?

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Apr 23, 2013

A few notes on the interesting work I finished, recently, Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave by W.C. Jameson.

Butch and his partner Sundance (who was probably not his closest friend or partner-in-crime, as Mr. Jameson observes in the process of brushing aside the many endearing myths about the pair) receive the briefest, one-line aside mention in Brilliant Deduction. But the Pinkertons’ interest in the pair was considerably more enduring (and indeed, as said aside notes, more enduring than that of their financier clients who were content to drop pursuit of the pair once they left the country). Thus they turn up repeatedly in the pages of Butch Cassidy, or at least their files do; William, Robert and a few agents appear in person now and then, but for the most part the Pinkertons are simply an agency, hovering in the background and compiling notes in preparation for a reckoning that never came.

Those files make, or contribute to, interesting reading a century later. Jameson writes that

During the time of the so-called shootout in San Vicente [the one dramatized in the much-loved film with Newman and Redford], the Pinkertons probably knew more about the location and activities of Cassidy and Harry Longabaugh [i.e. Sundance] than anyone. A thorough search of the files of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency yields no information to suggest that they ever believed Butch Cassidy had been killed in San Vicente.

As much as I love the 1969 movie, and its iconic ending, Jameson makes a compelling case that the Pinkertons’ skepticism about the banditos yanquis‘ alleged demise was warranted, too.

Read more…

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The Butcher of Wapping

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jan 5, 2013

File this one under “I get no respect,” perhaps. A little while ago I picked up a cute little volume at the Lakewood Library titled I Never Knew That About London. (The cover is delightfully restrained.)

Christopher Winn’s geographically organized tour of relatively little-noted features and historical associations of the London landscape includes, among tidbits like “where London’s first nude statue is” and “the house where Handel and Jimi Hendrix both lived,” a small connection to one of the city’s great real-life detectives—kind of.

In strolling through Wapping, Winn notes its connection to the Tichborne Claimant case., which held the British public spellbound for years in the 1870s and which detective Jonathan Whicher played a key role in resolving. (Skeptics of The Claimant to the Tichborne fortune accused him, in time, of being in fact an ordinary butcher originally from Wapping.) In a double-dissing, however, Winn not only makes no mention of Whicher, but also trivializes his achievement itself by suggesting that the Claimant’s alleged imposture was obviously ludicrous the entire time. This verdict is, I will note, considerably at variance with both the case’s proceedings themselves and with most of those who have looked back upon it, since, including recent works such as Kate Summerscale’s.

On the other hand, however, overlooking Whicher is (with occasional exceptions like Ms. Summerscale) much more in keeping with tradition. Neither the link I’ve posted above nor the Wikipedia article on the case include any mention of Mr. Whicher.

Ah well. There is a silver lining, at least: if everyone were already giving the great detectives their due, I would have much less of a story to tell…

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