Who was Elmer McCurdy, outlaw investigated on Ghost Adventures?

The bungling outlaw Elmer McCurdy, who features on Ghost Adventures, embalmed in his coffin

This week’s Ghost Adventures season premiere sees Zak Bagans and the team look at the strange and macabre case of Elmer McCurdy, an outlaw who was killed in a gunfight in Oklahoma in 1911.

After McCurdy’s death his embalmed body went unclaimed, and so began a strange chain of events which ended with McCurdy’s mummified corpse being discovered in 1976 by the production team for The Six Million Dollar Man TV show.

By all accounts, McCurdy led an eventful existence. Born in Washington, Maine on January 1, 1880, to 17-year-old Sadie McCurdy, he was adopted by his aunt and uncle — his father was unknown, so the adoption took place to save Sadie any embarrassment.

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His uncle, George, died of tuberculosis in 1890, and Sadie and her sister decided to move with Elmer to Bangor, Maine.

When McCurdy got older, Sadie told him he was adopted. Unfortunately, he seems to have reacted badly to this and embarked on a rebellious teenage life, developing an alcohol habit which was to haunt him for the rest of his life.

Reaching adulthood, the young McCurdy began to work as an apprentice plumber. Reports say he was good at his job, but sadly he found himself unemployed when the economic downturn of 1898 hit.

Tragedy struck in 1900 when Sadie died of a ruptured ulcer and McCurdy’s grandfather died shortly afterwards of Bright’s disease.

A confirmed alcoholic by this stage, McCurdy left Maine and drifted from place to place, picking up work as a lead miner and plumber but being unable to hold down a job for long.

1907 saw him join the U.S. Army, which trained him to use nitroglycerin for demolition, although the training was probably basic at best.

After his honourable discharge in 1910, McCurdy teamed up with an army buddy in St. Joseph, Kansas. The not-so-dynamic duo were soon arrested for possession of burglary paraphernalia, but told the judge the materials were for building their invention — a foot-operated machine gun!

McCurdy after his death and his 'mummy' after several years
McCurdy after his death and his ‘mummy’ after several years

Acquitted of the charge, McCurdy began his short and not particularly successful career as a bank and train robber.

His first robbery involved blowing up a safe on the Iron Mountain-Missouri Pacific train. The safe was alleged to contain $4,000.

Using his favoured nitroglycerin, McCurdy did indeed manage to blow the safe open, but unfortunately for him, used too much of the explosive.

Most of the coins in the safe ended up being melted and welded to the inside of the safe, the majority of which had been blown up anyway.

Total amount stolen? About $450!

With his ambition un-blunted following this fiasco, his next robbery was at The Citizens Bank in Chautauqua, Kansas.

Nitroglycerin was once more involved…

After blowing up the interior of the bank vault, McCurdy failed to blow open the safe, and he and his fellow robbers had to settle for $150 of coins that were outside the safe.

His last, and perhaps most inept attempt, was when he tried to rob a train that was meant to have $400,000 onboard.

Hilariously, McCurdy robbed the wrong train, winding up with a few dollars, some whiskey and the train conductor’s watch!

Having downed the whiskey, McCurdy went to his friend’s ranch and continued to drink into the small hours.

Unaware that he was wanted for the train robbery, he awoke in the morning to find himself surrounded by the police. In the ensuing gunfight, he was shot in the chest and died soon after.

And so began the voyage of McCurdy’s corpse — his body ended up being more well-travelled in death than it was in life.

When the body had remained unclaimed for some time, the owner of the funeral home used it as an attraction at the home, charging visitors a nickel to see McCurdy’s embalmed corpse.

Bought and sold by various promotors, museums and circus owners (the body was even used in a 1967 film, She Freak), McCurdy’s rather battered corpse wound up at The Pike, an amusement zone in Long Beach, California.

Shortly before this, the corpse had been caught in a severe windstorm, with the fingers, toes, and tips of the ears being blown off. This gave McCurdy an even more grisly appearance…

Having been forgotten for many years, one day a member of the production crew found McCurdy and mistook him for a mannequin.

When trying to move the “mannequin”, McCurdy’s arm snapped off and it’s safe to say that the crew member got the fright of their life!

Once the body was formally identified, McCurdy was given a proper burial at the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma. He lies next to another outlaw, Bill Doolin.

On Ghost Adventures, Zak attempts to uncover more about what exactly happened to him after his death.

Check out a video about Elmer McCurdy below.

Centennial Stories:  Elmer McCurdy

Ghost Adventures airs Saturdays at 9/8c on Travel.

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