- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

The century-old legend of western outlaw William "Wild Bill" Preston Longley became a little less mysterious Wednesday, when a team of DNA scientists led by a Smithsonian researcher reported that tests show the gunman, contrary to legend, did not cheat the hangman in Giddings, Texas, on Oct. 11, 1878.
Longley, the inspiration for "The Texan," a 1960s television western, claimed to have killed 32 men and a woman — making him more deadly than Jesse James or Wild Bill Hickock.
After 15 years of investigation, a crew of 10 scientists and researchers headed by Douglas Owsley, Smithsonian forensic anthropologist, found sufficient evidence to conclude that Longley was hanged and buried in Giddings, about 30 miles east of Austin. He had survived two earlier hanging attempts, including one that day.
On Oct. 11, 1878, Longley was hanged for the 1875 murder of a childhood friend. When the trap door opened, Longley dropped straight through the platform onto his knees on the ground. Onlookers thought this was a sign that the noose was rigged. He was strung up again and hanged until he was pronounced dead by three doctors.
Legend arose that he wore a harness under his black suit to prevent strangulation and escaped while being transported to the cemetery. Some people think Longley fled to live in Louisiana under the alias Captain John Calhoun Brown for 43 more years.
Ted Wax, thought to be a Longley descendant if Longley in fact survived the third hanging and moved to Louisiana, wanted closure on the issue. He contacted Mr. Owsley in the 1980s and asked him to solve the mystery. Yesterday, Mr. Owsleys team revealed that Mr. Wax was not a relative of Longley.
Brooks Ellwood, chairman of the department of geology at Louisiana State University, and his volunteers exhumed the body and said it was Longley. He said the mayor of Giddings pitched in to help dig for the body.
"He was more than 6 feet tall. No one was like him [that tall] back then. I though there was no need for DNA testing," Mr. Ellwood said. His team also found boot heels from the time period, a Catholic medallion Longley supposedly wore at time of death and a leaf of a blue rosette from his niece pinned to his lapel before his death.
Still, mitochondrial DNA testing was done by Terry Melton, president of Mitotyping Technologies in State College, Pa. Mitochondrial DNA testing is not as conclusive as nuclear DNA testing, but Ms. Melton is very confident the body is Longleys.
"With his type of DNA and this type of testing, it rules out about 99.75 percent of the American population. … Theres not much likelihood of finding that DNA in a random sample," Ms. Melton said.
At a Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History press conference on Wednesday, Mr. Owsley and other researchers said the genetic evidence overwhelmingly indicates that the Texas outlaws luck ran out in Giddings that day. He added that when he told Mr. Wax he was not a Longley descendant over the phone, Mr. Wax replied: "Youve found my Longley, but you havent found my Bill."
The testing involved taking DNA from Longleys tooth and a blood sample from a maternal relative. Helen Chapman, Longelys great-grandniece, provided the blood match. Mrs. Chapman, 76, said this closes the book on the Longley myth.
"He was a conversation piece, but its thrilling to finally have an answer. Im totally convinced," she said. "I say to Mr. Wax: 'This is proof to me."

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