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Interview With Frederick Nolan

Aired June 14, 2003 - 12:50   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Modern science is about to delve into an old Wild West mystery. Experts hope to clear up questions about what actually happened to the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid. Historian Frederick Nolan wrote the book, "The West of Billy the Kid," he joins us now from London to talk about what's going on with it now. Well, good to see you. Well, Pat Garrett has for so long enjoyed the celebrity of being the one who killed Billy the Kid. Why is this case and this mystery now being reopened up?
FREDERICK NOLAN, AUTHOR, "THE WEST OF BILLY THE KID": Well, as I understand it, the sheriff's office of Lincoln County, which was the place that Billy the Kid was killed, trying to establish for once and for all whether Pat Garrett actually did kill Billy the Kid, or some other man, and whether the man who came out in the 1950s claiming he was Billy the Kid had actually any justification for doing so.

WHITFIELD: And there is some confusion as to whether he actually killed Billy the Kid, or perhaps a close confidante or close friend of Billy the Kid. Now, there is some plan in both Texas and New Mexico to exhume and perhaps even delve into what they believe to be the remains of Billy the Kid's mother and perhaps even Billy the Kid. How will this potentially answer any questions?

NOLAN: Well, if they could prove by DNA sampling that the bones of, let's say, Billy the Kid's mother, and the bones in Fort Sumner, which is where Billy the Kid is buried, were the same pattern, then you would know that Billy the Kid is buried in Fort Sumner, and therefore Pat Garrett killed him. If, on the other hand, they do not, there is an argument that maybe there other guy was not pretending.

WHITFIELD: And there's an argument that the other guy -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

NOLAN: I was going to say, it's fraught with so many difficulties, and so many holes that can't be filled. I just don't see how it can ever be done. Let me tell you why.

WHITFIELD: OK, tell me why.

NOLAN: Billy the Kid's mother was buried in 1874. The entire cemetery was moved in 1882. And we don't know how careful the people who moved her were. Billy the Kid was buried right alongside two of his friends. We don't know which of those guys they will find if they go to digging. Third and most important of all, the guy pretended to be Billy the Kid, or said he was Billy the Kid, his family Bible said he was born in 1879, which would have made him 2 when Billy the Kid was killed.

So you've got a few problems there, right?

WHITFIELD: No kidding. Well, now, it's believed that the body of one man buried next to what's believed to be the mother of Billy the Kid was that of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Bill Roberts (ph), who apparently died at the age of 90, and that potentially, some believe that that indeed would declare the fact that that's Billy the Kid and that he didn't die at the hands of this Pat Garrett?

NOLAN: No, that's inaccurate. What happened was that the old man whose name was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Bill Roberts, came from Pico, Texas. He's not buried next to the Kid's mother. He's buried in Silver City, New Mexico. So what they are trying to do is establish once and for all is that Billy the Kid that's buried in Fort Sumner, and the only way they can do that is to dig them all up and make DNA comparisons, but how they are ever going to find them is another matter.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and have you heard anything about whether Garrett or even Billy the Kid's family members or ancestors in any way have spoken out about this?

NOLAN: Well, Pat Garrett's family always said Pat Garret killed Billy the Kid and Billy the Kid was buried in Fort Sumner. You have to also accept that there were 200 people living in Fort Sumner the night Billy the Kid was killed, so it would require some kind of a conspiracy for them all to have lied for the rest of their lives and for the rest of their families' lives that it wasn't Billy the Kid.

WHITFIELD: All right.

NOLAN: Because they all went to his funeral.

WHITFIELD: Well, Frederick Nolan, thanks very much. It's still a mystery, but you've helped us understand this mystery, sort of.

NOLAN: I think it will remain a mystery for a long time.

WHITFIELD: No kidding. All right, thanks very much. Appreciate it.


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