A photo that was bought at a flea market for $10 shows Billy the Kid standing with the lawman who would ultimately kill him, experts have concluded.
The black and white image, taken in August 1880, shows the notorious outlaw with a gang of men, one of whom is Sheriff Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid's former friend and the man who gunned him down.
It is only the fourth known photograph of Billy the Kid and is thought to be a trophy shot taken by Garrett and his posse after they arrested him for murdering a sheriff. It is believed to be now worth millions of dollars.
The image could be the last known picture of Billy the Kid, who was born Henry McCarty. The other known pictures of the outlaw were believed to have been taken in 1877, 1878 and 1879.
Frank Abrams, a North Carolina attorney, first spotted the tintype photo in Asheville in 2011. The self-described history buff said the group picture of five men was part of a set and sat on his wall for several years.
Historians say that this photo shows outlaw Billy the Kid, circled second from left, and Pat Garrett, circled far right, taken in 1880. Frank Abrams, who bought the photo at a flea market says experts in forensics and facial recognition have verified the picture after several months of examination
'Now, it's in a safe deposit box,' Abrams said on Tuesday. 'I don't travel with it.'
After seeing a TV program in 2015 about the discovery of a photo of the outlaw playing croquet, Abrams was inspired to research him further. That's when he recognized Garrett in the image.
According to popular legend, Garrett and McCarty were friends before he became an outlaw, but there is no historical evidence to support the theory.
What historians do know is that Garrett was elected sheriff of Lincoln County in November 1880, on a platform promising to end the violence between two groups of warring landowners feuding over dry goods and cattle interests in the county.
Each landowner was supported by their own gang. McCarty, was a member of the Regulators gang.
The violence kicked off February 1878 with the murder of John Tunstall by the members of the Jesse Evans Gang, led by the then-sheriff of Lincoln County, William Brady.
Shortly after his death, war broke out between the Jesse Evans Gang and the Regulators, who backed Tunstall. McCarty, a member of the Regulators, vowed to avenge Tunstall's death.
In April 1878, the Regulators ambushed Brady and four of his deputies on a main street in Lincoln. They fired at the men from behind a wall, and Brady died after being shot at least a dozen times.
It is only the fourth known photograph of Billy the Kid and is thought to be a trophy shot taken by Garrett and his posse after they arrested him. It is believed to be now worth millions of dollars
According to popular legend, Billy the Kid (left) and Garrett were friends before he became known an outlaw, but there is no historical evidence to support the theory. Garrett is the man who eventually killed Billy the Kid, born as Henry McCarty
The months-long war came to a climax with the July 19, 1878, Battle of Lincoln, also called 'The Five-Day Battle'. During this fight, the Army was forced to intervene and the Regulators lost many of their men.
After the cease fire, McCarty and most of the Regulators fled town, but they were followed by Garrett, who wanted to cash in on the bounty on McCarty's head. Garrett wouldn't find McCarty until two years later, a month after he was appointed sheriff.
Garrett and his lawman tracked down McCarty to modern day Taiban, New Mexico, where the group surrendered in December 1880.
McCarty was then brought to Las Vegas where he stood trial for Brady's murder and on April 13, was sentenced to die.
He was then sent back to Lincoln County, where he was scheduled to be executed on May 13.
But while under guard by two sheriff's deputies at a home, McCarty killed both men and then fled out of town on horseback.
The Kid's freedom was short lived however, when Garrett set down to find him on July 14, 1881.
There are two theories about what happened at the house where Garrett found and killed McCarty. The first is that Garrett sat down down to speak with the homeowner when McCarty unexpectedly came in with his gun drawn, asking 'Who is it? Who is it?' in Spanish.
Garrett then supposedly shot McCarty dead. McCarty was just 21 when he died.
The picture is the only known photo of the Regulators gang all together. It was taken at the ranch of John Tunstall, an Englishman rancher who organized the gang to protect his properties against rivals
The photo, zoomed in to see Billy the Kid more closely, was discovered in 2015 and has since been estimated to be worth $5 million
The other account is that it was McCarty who entered the home, holding his knife, when he noticed a dark figure in the house, and again asked 'Who Is it?' before being shot dead.
Garrett did not seek re-election as sheriff of Lincoln County the year after McCarty's death. Instead, he briefly moved to Texas to serve as a Lieutenant in the Texas Rangers before returning to his ranch in New Mexico.
Tim Sweet, owner of the Billy the Kid museum, previously said that he was 95 per cent sure that Garrett is in the photo.
He said that he had theories as to why McCarty would have taken a photo with the man who eventually killed him, pointing to the cigars as signs that Garrett and his lawmen were celebrating capturing McCarty.
While trying to verify the photo, Abrams approached Robert Stahl, a retired professor emeritus at Arizona State University who is no stranger to the history of Billy the Kid.
In 2015, Stahl filed a petition in New Mexico Supreme Court in pursuit of a death certificate for the Kid, also known as William Bonney, from the state's medical examiner.
Stahl said he thought it was a 'high probability' that it was Garrett in the photo, but he wasn't sure if another man was Billy the Kid.
'I told him "The biggest thing you could do right now is get the picture out and let people look at it and give you feedback",' Stahl said. 'To me, it's one of the most intriguing and historically significant of those tintypes of the Old West.'
This undated file photo (left) is thought to be an image of famed gunslinger Billy the Kid near the age of 18. Right, another photo of Billy the Kid, who was celebrated for his gun skills and, according to popular legend killed 21 men – one for each year of his short life
Abrams, who lives in Arden, told Albuquerque's KRQE-TV that he spent the next several months consulting various forensic experts.
Several said the tintype was likely taken between 1879 and 1880, which coincides with the August 2, 1880, date someone had written on the photo, Abrams said.
A Los Angeles forensic video expert said facial recognition software indicates that it is most likely Garrett and Billy the Kid in the picture, according to a signed declaration.
A handwriting expert in Texas compared a signature from Garrett on the photo with ten documents with his known handwriting. He declared them matching in a notarized letter in September.
The photo of the Kid discovered in 2015 has since been estimated to be worth $5 million.
Experts believe a picture that shows the New Mexico outlaw with Garrett would be worth much more. However, Abrams isn't interested in finding out anytime soon.
'One day it may end up at an auction house somewhere. We'll see what happens,' Abrams said. 'Right now, that is not the first thing on my mind. I've always been somebody who's interested in history and background.'
He added: 'People ask me all the time, what do you think it’s worth, what do you think it’s worth. I won’t put a price on it, quite frankly it’s priceless.
WHO WAS BILLY THE KID?
Billy the Kid was born Henry McCarty to Irish immigrants in New York City around 1859.
He headed west with his family as a youth and had his first brush with the law in 1875 when he was arrested for stealing clothes from a Chinese laundry in Silver City, New Mexico.
He then worked in Graham County as a farmhand, teamster, and cowboy. His age, appearance, and size won him his 'Kid' moniker.
As he descended into criminality and fled from town to town to evade the law, he regularly changed his name, eventually becoming known as Billy the Kid.
He was celebrated for his gun skills and, according to popular legend killed 21 men – one for each year of his short life. However, the true figure is believed to be somewhere between four and nine.
Billy the Kid was born Henry McCarty to Irish immigrants in New York City around 1859. The Kid was known to be friendly and personable and a smart dresser, often wearing a Mexican sombrero. These qualities contributed to his image as both a notorious outlaw and a folk hero
He is thought to have been 17 when he killed his first man in 1877 – although some historians say he could have been as young as 15 as the true year of his birth is not known.
The Kid was known to be friendly and personable and a smart dresser, often wearing a Mexican sombrero. These qualities contributed to his image as both a notorious outlaw and a folk hero.
In the aftermath of the Lincoln County War, Lew Wallace, the new territorial governor of New Mexico, published a wanted list which included the Kid, who was implicated in the murder of Sheriff Brady in 1878, shortly after Brady arrested the Kid.
The Kid was catapulted into legend due to the $500 bounty – then a staggering amount – on his head.
In November 1880, he and three of his gang were captured, and the Kid was tried and convicted for the murder of Brady. He was sentenced to hang and was then transferred to the courthouse and jail in Lincoln, but on April 28, 1881, he killed deputies James Bell and Robert Olinger and escaped.
Soon afterwards he was captured and shot by Lincoln County sheriff, Patrick Floyd Garrett in a sting operation.
He was buried in the old military cemetery at Fort Sumner next to two of his gang members.
*Source: Texas State Historical Association