Billy the kids pretenders
Billy the kids pretenders

Sold Out

New Edition

Comes in Paperback

Ordering Information:, Bookstores


"After my years of research on Pat Garrett, I am thoroughly convinced that he killed William Bonney aka Billy the Kid on July 14, 1881.

"And Gale Cooper's Billy the Kid's Pretenders puts to rest, by detailed and authoritative analysis, the unsupportable claims of Billy the Kid imposters, men who claimed to survive that shooting."

LEON METZ, Author of Pat Garrett: The Story of a Western Lawman


Old West icon, Billy Bonney, known as Billy the Kid, and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881, spawned almost two dozen 20th century old-timers feigning his identity, and denying his death.

Best known are "Brushy Bill" Roberts and John Miller, the subjects of this book.

To debunk them, Billy the Kid’s Pretenders uses the author’s world-class knowledge of Billy Bonney's history and the Lincoln County War period.

Though definitely not Billy the Kid, these two men are interesting characters. And their lives bridged the transition from frontier days to Hollywood's mythologized Old West.

Exposing the pretenders is also timely because of a 21st century hoax, named the "Billy the Kid Case" by its perpetrators, which recycled "Brushy's" and John Miller's survival claims by adding fake DNA forensics.

This book spoofs the old pretenders and modern hoaxers as clowns in quest of media circuses. And it reclaims the true history of the real Billy Bonney's love and war, far more magnificent than their simplistic tall-tales.



IN THE REAL WORLD, SHERIFF PAT GARRETT fatally shot William Bonney aka Billy the Kid on July 14, 1881.

In the imaginary world of Billy the Kid pretenders, and modern Billy the Kid hoaxers, Garrett did not; and the Kid survived to old age.

Those the old-timer pretenders claimed (obviously) not to have been shot; and that Sheriff Garrett had killed an innocent victim for Billy's grave.

Modern hoaxers added poison icing to that pretender cake: that Pat Garrett was even more despicable; having been the Kid's accomplice in his jailbreak killing of his two deputy guards before nefariously murdering that innocent victim!

That means, from the git-go, buying into pretender and hoaxer tales makes the world-famous lawman a world-class criminal - and unlikable.

Other pretender and hoaxer prerequisites followed. The historically established killing of Billy the Kid - as certain as President Abraham Lincoln's assassination - had to be ignored. New non-historical stories had to be made up for the new non-historical versions. And the imposters and hoaxers needed motivation for their effort. Madness, money, and media circuses sufficed.


CERTAINTY ABOUT YOUR BEING VERY famous sometimes comes only after your death. If you are in the highest echelon of celebrity - a person garnering universal fascination - you may not "really" die. Unfortunately, this does not benefit your corpse.

But it will benefit your fans, who disliked reality's chosen end for you. So becoming one of the living dead is a good measure of fame.

You join, for example, King Author, still elusively roaming England's hills; and post death-day appearances by Elvis Presley, Princess Diana, and Adolph Hitler (infamy having its own potency).

A drawback to this immortality is that you may not like it, since it means that your dying - a big step taken by you - was not taken seriously. But having attained that glorious stage, you are irrelevant. You have transcended into pure fame.

You also - whether you like it or not - become the founder of a secondary industry: pretenders - people who step forward to be you; and to bask in your glory. You - as them - can also bask in the adulation of a strange, starry-eyed, and squishy-minded audience of conspiracy theorists.

Not only will they utterly believe you have survived death; but they will have reality-defying explanations of how you did it. And this opportunity provides pretenders - who might otherwise be insultingly considered insane - a measure of self-esteem, and a way of spending their otherwise inane lives.

One example arose from Russia's last Tsar, Nicholas II, assassinated with his wife, daughters, and son, by Bolsheviks, in Ekaterinburg, on July 17, 1918. Nevertheless, the Tsar's lovely bullet-riddled youngest daughter, Grand Duchess Anastasia, got the chance to wander about for a borrowed lifetime as Anna Anderson. And, despite eventual DNA evidence to the contrary, and being identified as a mentally disturbed, Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska, "Anna" - having joined actual Anastasia in the great beyond in 1984 - still has loyal believers.

So, with the dark and bizarre humor of past "Saturday Night Live" writer and member, Jack Handy, one can capture the creepy irony of these crazy clowning pretenders by his quote: "To me clowns aren't funny. In fact, they're kind of scary. I've wondered where this started and I think it does back to the circus, and a clown killed my dad."


WILLIAM HENRY BONNEY OR Billy Bonney, with an aka of Billy the Kid - and with earlier last names of McCarty and Antrim - takes the cake with profiteering pretenders seeking to "kill" his history. Billy Bonney died on July 14, 1881, compliments of a bullet in his heart provided by New Mexico Territory's Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett.

Only 21 at the time, and, by the next day, six feet under in Fort Sumner, Billy nevertheless had the opportunity to "live on" for about 70 more years, as several old codgers who said they were him; and were unperturbed by joining a crowd of like claimants.

The two luckiest of these imposters got authors to spread their word beyond their bemused families and bamboozled neighbors. They are Oliver "Brushy Bill" Roberts and John Miller. The former got the most mileage; even being featured in the 1990 film, "Young Guns II," as the "real" Billy the Kid.

But John Miller, one could say, beat him by actually getting exhumed as "Billy the Kid," on May 19, 2005, as part of a Billy the Kid hoax so big, that both old pretenders were just one segment.

Starting in 2003, and continuing to this day, it was named, by its promulgators, the Billy the Kid Case, and was conducted as a real, New Mexico, sheriff's department, murder investigation against dead Pat Garrett. So it got the special distinction of having taxpayers pay for being tricked.


GIVEN THE LONGEVITY AND PREPOSTEROUSNESS of the scams of "Brushy Bill" Roberts, John Miller, and the Billy the Kid Case hoaxers, the true Billy the Kid deserves their debunking.

Billy also deserves their disconnect from his actual grand history: a history of his role in the freedom fight of the Lincoln County War, and history of his star-crossed romance with young heiress, Paulita Maxwell - all unknown to the imposters.

And, for Old West lawman fanciers, that debunking removes the unnecessary cloud of doubt which the pretenders, and the Billy the Kid Case hoaxers, placed over Pat Garrett.

So, at stake in the debunking is famous and iconic Old West history; and a good laugh at its coat-tail riders, who have been taken too seriously for too long.

As Stephen Sondheim, the creator of 1973's musical "A Little Night Music," said in a 2008 interview about its song, "Send in the Clowns": "The song could have been called ‘Send in the Fools" ... Well, a synonym for fools is clowns."

So here come the clowns.


Billy the Kid's Pretenders is, in part, excerpted from my book: MegaHoax: The Strange Plot to Exhume Billy the Kid and Become President. The latter is an exposé of a Billy the Kid hoax, starting, in 2003, as the Lincoln County "Billy the Kid Case," and still ongoing.

Arguably the most elaborate historic-forensic hoax ever perpetrated, its fabricated, publicity-grabbing contention was that Sheriff Pat Garrett had not killed Billy the Kid; but was a conniving murderer of an innocent victim to permit Billy's escape.

That Billy the Kid Case hoax drew on pretender hoaxes of the mid-1900's. A given for those old-timers, alleging to be Billy, was that they (as him) had survived Billy's historically famous shooting death on July 14, 1881. The best known pretenders, because they acquired authors, were Oliver "Brushy Bill" Roberts and John Miller.

Invading the graves of these two pretenders became an intrinsic part of the modern Billy the Kid Case hoax; with the purported purpose of forensically determining whether they were truly Billy. (The fact that the modern hoaxers lacked true DNA of Billy the Kid, for identity determination of anyone, was blissfully ignored by them.)

Part of my hoaxbusting for MegaHoax necessitated debunking the old time pretenders, "Brushy Bill" Roberts and John Miller, since their tall-tales alone removed need for their modern-day exhumations - as well as reason to take them seriously.

Worse for the modern hoaxers, the death scene/survival concoctions of "Brushy Bill" Roberts and John Miller are completely different than their own death scene/survival concoctions - also removing the need to exhume those pretenders.

Nevertheless, the pretenders are interesting characters in their own right. Though not the real Billy Bonney aka Billy the Kid, their lives bridged the period from actual frontier days to mythologized Old West legends.

In a sense, by identifying with Billy, the most iconic figure of that period, the imposters paid eccentric homage to his fame.

But since that reflected glory is underserved, and since "Brushy Bill," at least, still has followers, they also deserve a disconnect from Billy's coattails. That is the purpose of this book.

This book, as well as MegaHoax, resulted from my earlier docufiction novel on Billy Bonney titled Joy of the Birds. Ten years in the writing, utilizing 40,000 pages of archival documents and books, it represented my telling of the unsung, lost, multi-cultural, freedom fight of the Lincoln County War, in which Billy was both a participant and a precipitant in the fight against the corrupt political machine known as the Santa Fe Ring.

Against that backdrop is Billy's historical and star-crossed romance with young Paulita Maxwell, one of the richest heiresses in New Mexico Territory.

The magnificence of that history, really lived, and my admiration for Billy Bonney himself, inspired my zeal in opposing the modern Billy the Kid Case hoaxers and the past pretenders - all so lackluster in comparison to the truth. My goal is reclaiming and protecting that real history.