Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid

Heading South

Many researchers believe that regardless of his perceived rejection by the Union Pacific Railroad of his offer to retire, Butch had decided to leave the area where he had reigned as a supreme outlaw. The lawmen were getting closer with each heist, and Butch decided to pull a couple of jobs to collect enough money to live on comfortably for the rest of his life — and then to get out of the robbery business.

With this in mind, Butch and Sundance and one other man traveled to Winnemucca, Nevada, on September 19, 1900, and relieved the First National Bank of $32,640. Around noon, three unmasked and armed men entered the bank and ordered a cashier to open the safe. The cashier attempted to stall by saying that the time lock on the safe wouldn't allow it to be opened, but changed his mind after one of the thieves threatened to cut his throat if he didn't hurry.

This successful heist was followed up in July of 1901 with a $65,000 train robbery near Wagner, Montana. Five bandits stopped the train and told the engineer to separate the car containing the safes from the rest of the train and ordered everybody to remain onboard. Two of the train employees, however, left the train to put out cautionary signals, believing that other trains not knowing that their train had stopped might crash into them. The bandits weren't expecting anyone to come off of the train, and fired at the men — wounding one and killing another. The outlaws quickly dynamited the safe open, gathered the money, and then made for their horses.

Harry Longbaugh, 'Sundance Kid' & Etta Place
Harry Longbaugh, 'Sundance
Kid' & Etta Place

Following the Wagner heist, Butch, Sundance, and Sundance's common-law wife Ethel "Etta" Place (a young lady whose early life is an undocumented blank before she joined Sundance) went east, possibly visited some of Etta and Sundance's family, and spent some time (and a bit of money) in New York City. The trio departed New York on a ship bound for Buenos Aires on February 20, 1902.

In South America, the threesome assumed aliases and bought a ranch, living in peace for several years before they gave up ranching and went back into crime. The reason for the return to their outlaw lives is a matter of conjecture: they may have feared being taken back to America and needed an influx of money for an escape, or they may have just become bored with their life on the ranch. For whatever reason, they went back into robbery and were joined by an enthusiastic Etta, who often took to dressing as a man and helping during heists. A Buenos Aires newspaper would describe this new addition to Butch's gang as "an interesting woman...who wears male clothing with total correctness (and) a fine rider (and) handles...all classes of firearms...."

In February of 1905, a group of men rode into Rio Gallegos, Argentina, and told residents that they were interested in buying land for raising livestock. After spending some time in the town setting up this façade, the men entered the bank on February 13th and robbed it of $100,000. A posse chased after them but only found the abandoned horses and an empty box the bank had used to store its silver. Most scholars agree that Butch and Sundance did the actual robbing — while Etta, a third "man," waited outside and kept the escape horses ready to go.

In a similar heist in December of that year, four men robbed a bank at Villa Mercedes of about 13,000 pesos. This time the outlaws encountered more difficulties than they had previously. One of the bank employees managed to get to a gun and fired at the bandits, but missed them entirely. A man across the street from the bank ran over when he heard the shots, was held captive by the thieves, managed to escape and return to his office, and later fired at the escaping outlaws — but also missed hitting any of them.

After the Villa Mercedes robbery, Butch's trail goes quiet, and it is unclear how the trio occupied their time or exactly where they went. Etta apparently left at some point after the Villa Mercedes robbery — some claim she became ill and returned to America for treatment — but it is clear that she was not present for the puzzling "final chapter" of Butch Cassidy's life.

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