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Butch and his buddy

Family says outlaw paid them a visit

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"Is this the home of Matt Warner?" the elderly man at the door asked.

It was November 1939, and Joyce Warner, the daughter of former Utah outlaw Matt Warner, had just responded to a knock on her front door in Price.

"Yes," Joyce replied. "However, my father passed away about a year ago. Won't you come in? I'll call Mother," she told the stranger.

"Did Matt ever mention a man named Frank Ervin?" the stranger asked the family. Joyce's mother, Elma, replied that the name sounded familiar.

"Did he say whatever became of old Butch Cassidy?" the stranger asked.

Joyce replied that Cassidy reportedly had been killed in a gunbattle in South America. "However, Papa stated that he didn't believe it for one minute," Joyce said.

Joyce then took a picture of Cassidy off a table and passed it to "Frank." He looked at it, handed it back, then removed his dark glasses and wiped his eyes.

"His eyes seemed to pierce my very soul, and goose pimples came on my arms," Joyce said years later in recounting this story to a friend, Steve Lacy of Salt Lake City.

"You are Butch Cassidy, aren't you?" Joyce asked.

The man sighed and sank into a leather rocking chair. "Yes," he said. "How long have you known?"

"You still look like that picture we have. I was convinced that was you when you looked at me without your glasses. Papa told me a lot about your eyes," Joyce replied. She said her father had often commented that Cassidy had the most piercing eyes he'd ever seen.

The stranger, who said he was Cassidy, turned down an invitation to spend the night, but he stayed long enough to reminisce about his robbery of the First National Bank of Denver with Matt Warner in March 1889 and some of their other outlaw exploits. He also told Joyce and Elma a little about his later life.

The man who said he was Cassidy told the Warners he assumed a new identity after returning to the United States and spent several years living in the East. He said he had married and had two daughters, adding that they didn't know his real name or about his outlaw past.

And the man famous for robbing trains said he had retired after spending more than 20 years working for a railroad. He told the Warners he was living in Goldfield, Nev., where he was doing some prospecting.

Before leaving, the stranger swore Joyce and her mother to secrecy. "Don't tell anyone the name I am using now," he said. "Not for 30 years, anyway."

Shortly before her father died in 1938, Joyce told Lacy, Matt Warner told his family he had received a letter from "a very special friend" — somebody he hadn't heard from in years. Later, Joyce said she learned the five-page handwritten letter from "Walter D. Morgan," postmarked from Fresno, Calif., came from Cassidy.

Joyce told Lacy, who now has the original letter, that it recounted outlaw exploits that only Cassidy would have known. Lacy has reprinted that and other Cassidy letters, along with lots of photographs, in "Last of the Bandit Riders Revisited," Warner's original book that was updated by Lacy and Joyce Warner.

After the visit in 1939, Joyce and Elma Warner received three more letters from him. In the last one, sent in spring 1941, the man who said he was Cassidy reported he was going East for a while. They never heard from him again.

There are several other accounts that say Cassidy wasn't really killed in Bolivia. Cassidy's sister, Lula Parker Betenson, tells in her book, "Butch Cassidy, My Brother," published by Brigham Young University Press in 1975, about a visit to her family in Circleville in 1925.

"Lula, we've got company. Dad wants you to come down and fix supper," her brother Mark told her when a stranger came to the house.

"Lula, this is LeRoy!" her father announced.

Cassidy's real name was Robert LeRoy Parker, and he was called LeRoy by his father and Bob by the rest of the family.

"My jaw dropped," Betenson says in her book. "Even though I was sure he was alive and somewhere in the country, I had never anticipated this meeting. Bob grinned. My knees felt like rubber, and my insides turned upside down. Any resentment I had harbored toward my outlaw brother melted. The Prodigal had returned!"

What really happened in San Vicente, Bolivia, in 1909? "I don't really know myself," Betenson quoted her brother as saying. "I heard they got Percy Seibert from the Concordia Tin Mines to identify a couple of bodies as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. . . . I'd been close to Seibert — we'd talked a lot, and he knew how sick of the life I was. He knew I'd be hounded as long as I lived. Well, I'm sure he saw this as a way for me to bury my past along with somebody else's body so I could start over."

Betenson describes that visit as very amicable. But that's not what Cassidy told Joyce Warner and her mother. He said he was blamed, mostly by Lula, with causing his mother's death from a broken heart. And he told the Warners that he never returned home again.

In her book, Betenson said Cassidy "died in the Northwest in the fall of 1937, a year before Dad died."

But Tish Thompson, a Parker relative, told Lacy that Cassidy returned for his father's funeral in 1938. And she also told Lacy that Betenson spent six weeks in Goldfield, presumably visiting with Cassidy, shortly after Thompson's marriage in 1939.

Lacy, who interviewed Betenson a couple of times before her death in 1980, said Betenson was "a very nice person." But he said she was also very secretive and had still been trying to protect her brother by not disclosing where he died or the correct date.

Cassidy was known to use many aliases during his life, both before and after South America. "On March 16, 1943, Butch Cassidy, alias Frank McMullin, died after a lengthy stay in the Nye County Hospital in Tonopah (Nev.) from silicosis and tuberculosis," Lacy said. "He was buried March 19, 1943, in the Tonopah City Cemetery."

E-MAIL: bcazier@desnews.com