- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid died not in a gunbattle with soldiers but in a suicide pact, according to a new play based on police archives from the Bolivian mining town where the legendary American outlaws met their end.

The suicide story is already known among serious researchers into the lives of the notorious bank robbers, but comes as a shock to those who know the story only through the award-winning 1969 Western starring Paul Newman as Cassidy and Robert Redford as Sundance.

Author Larry Pointer argued in a 1977 book that it was someone else who died in the small Bolivian mining colony of San Vincente, and that Cassidy and Sundance died of old age years later in the United States. DNA tests on bodies exhumed from the San Vincente cemetery in 1991 were inconclusive.

In the glamorized movie adaptation, the trapped outlaws — whose real names were LeRoy Parker and Harry Longabaugh — defiantly emerge from their hide-out and die in a hail of gunfire from hundreds of Bolivian troops.

But academics and writers have reconstructed their final moments from a police report filed in San Vicente by Inspector Timoteo Rios, who participated in the 1908 manhunt that ended the lives of the two fugitives.

According to the police documents, Parker shot Longabaugh in the forehead and then turned the gun on himself after they were cornered by an army platoon.

“Two shots and three cries of desperation” were heard during the night as army Capt. Justo Concha besieged the gunmen, says the police account. At dawn, Inspector Rios found Longabaugh “lying on the floor with a wound on the forehead and another in his arm and Parker sitting on a stool behind the door hugging a big ceramic jug, shot once through the head and several times through his arm.”

Both men had been disabled by injuries suffered during a gunbattle that erupted the previous evening, when soldiers tried to storm their room. According to the police account, gunfire was initially exchanged between Parker and a soldier, Victor Torres, who tried to break through the door. Torres was carried away with a bullet through his neck and died.

Shooting persisted between the holed-up fugitives and two other soldiers who fired rifles into their mud brick bungalow from an outside patio. But Capt. Concha pulled his men back as night fell.

Reinforced by police and armed townspeople, they mounted a watch on the building to prevent any escape. A long silence descended before the death cries were heard.

“They knew there was no way out” said Rene Hohenstein, a Bolivian playwright who has dramatized their final days in his play, “Gringos Bandoleros,” which has been staged in Santa Cruz.

“They had come to Bolivia to start a new life. Cassidy wanted to live in Santa Cruz,” said Mr. Hohenstein, who claims to have read copies of correspondence, diaries and testimonies from friends of the men, including a British engineer at whose home the Americans stayed before heading to San Vicente.

In the movie, Cassidy talks about going to Australia as the two men agonize in the final scenes. In Mr. Hohenstein’s script, he fantasizes about heading for Bolivia’s eastern savannas.

“If I get out of this one, I’ll go to Santa Cruz. I will be a respectable rancher. I’ll finally find the place which I’ve been looking for during 20 years. The land there is good with enough water and grass. If I wasn’t about to die, I would go there very soon.”

“God is witness that we did what was possible to find a new life,” says Sundance. “Butch. I’m hurting. It’s bad. Butch. Help me please,” he says.

“I will help you,” says Cassidy, picking up his gun and holding it to Sundance’s forehead. “God bless you, kid.”

He shoots his partner and anxiously cries, “It’s too late.” Cassidy then shoots himself through the forehead.

“I’m not the first to tell the true story of Cassidy and Sundance,” said Mr. Hohenstein. According to the playwright, a treatment for the screenplay was original submitted to Hollywood by Bolivia’s ex-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who discovered the official records of the Bolivian hunt for the American bandits.

Mr. Sanchez de Lozada was forced from office by popular revolts against his pro-American policies in 2003 and currently lives in exile in the United States.

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