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Rudabaugh Loses His Head
by David G. Thomas

In 1961, Father Stanley Francis Louis Crocchiola (1908-1996), using the pen name F. Stanley (F for Francis, not Father), published Dave Rudabaugh, Border Ruffian. Included in the book were two photographs showing Dave Rudabaugh’s decapitated head. He said nothing about the photos in the text of his book, but in the caption under the photos he attributed them to “Jo and Fred Mazzula.”

In August, 1962, The Southwesterner newspaper reprinted the Rudabaugh decapitation photos in a front-page article entitled “Loses Head in Parral.” The author of the article was Bill McGaw, the editor of the paper. McGaw thanked “Fred and Jo Mazzula” for permission to use the photographs. He named “A. W. Long” as the man who took the photographs.

The photographer’s real name was Albert W. Lohn. The person who provided Stanley and McGaw with copies of the photos was Fred M. Mazzulla.

Nineteen-year-old Lohn was in Parral, Mexico, on February 18, 1886, when Rudabaugh was killed and beheaded. He was making his living as a professional photographer.

In the years since the photos were published, many writers have insisted that the photos were NOT Rudabaugh. These critics usually said the photos were taken during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) and so could not be Rudabaugh.

When writing my book, “Dirty Dave” Rudabaugh, Billy the Kid’s Most Feared Companion, I was able to track down Mazzulla’s papers in the Colorado State Archives. Mazzulla gives the following account of obtaining the photos: In 1943, he met Lohn in Nogales, Arizona, where Lohn owned a photography studio. During a conversation, Lohn told Mazzulla that he was present when Rudabaugh was killed and he took four photographs of Rudabaugh’s decapitated head. He printed the two best negatives and offered copies for sale.

When the governor of Durango (Mexico) learned that Lohn was selling prints of an American citizen’s severed head, he ordered Lohn to surrender all of the existing prints and their negatives. Lohn complied, but he did not tell the governor that he had two unprinted negatives.

Lohn told Mazzulla that Rudabaugh was in a cantina in Parral, Mexico, when he got into a fight with other patrons. After shooting two men, Rudabaugh left the bar for the town plaza and began drunkenly taunting the residents. Infuriated by the prior killings and Rudabaugh’s grossly insulting behavior, a grocery man named José shot Rudabaugh through an open window of his grocery store, striking him in the chest. José then beheaded Rudabaugh with one of his boning knives.

This account was confirmed by a March 23, 1886, Las Vegas Optic obituary: “He fatally shot two persons before the buzzing ball caught him in a fatal spot and ended his life. The natives of Parral got up a procession in honor of the event, and Dave’s head, which had been severed from his body, was carried on a pole and exhibited about the streets. [His] body was dumped in a hole at the edge of town.”

After relating the details of Rudabaugh’s death, Lohn told Mazzulla that he still had the two never-printed negatives. He agreed to give the 57-year old negatives to Mazzulla.

Of the two negatives, the one of the mob carrying Rudabaugh’s head on a pole is dark (because it was taken at night) and poorly focused (but artfully composed). The one of a man, an unknown Mexican Rurales (Federal policeman), holding Rudabaugh’s head is good.

Rudabaugh was in Mexico because he was on the run from New Mexico law enforcement. He was a convicted murderer. On April 2, 1880, he and John J. Allen were in the Las Vegas jail visiting an incarcerated friend, John J. Webb. As the never-before-discovered trial transcript shows, Allen drew his pistol abruptly and shot jailer Valdez. The only eye-witness to the killing was a prisoner in the same cell as Webb, William Mullen. Mullen confirmed under oath in his trial testimony that Allen shot Valdez without warning, and that Rudabaugh was as surprised by Allen’s action as he (Mullen) was. Rudabaugh testified that he had no advance knowledge that Allen – who was very drunk – was going to shoot Valdez. In spite of this testimony, and with no testimony contradicting this assertion, Rudabaugh was convicted of the first degree murder of Valdez and was sentenced to death by hanging.

It is eye-opening to compare Billy the Kid’s trial for killing Sheriff William Brady with Rudabaugh’s trial for killing Valdez. Both men were captured at the infamous “Rock House” at Stinking Springs on December 23, 1880. Billy’s defense attorneys in his Brady trial were Colonel Albert J. Fountain and John D. Bail. As I argue in my book, The Trial of Billy the Kid, Fountain and Bail did a poor job of defending Billy, and the judge manipulated the jury to get Billy convicted. After Billy was sentenced to death, Fountain refused to appeal Billy’s case because Billy had no money to pay him. (The Territory paid for a lawyer for a destitute defendant in a trial, but they did not pay for a lawyer for an appeal.)

Rudabaugh’s lawyers were M. Whitelaw and Edgar Caypless. They did a reasonable job of representing Rudabaugh by the standards of the time. Rudabaugh was also destitute, but, nevertheless, immediately after Rudabaugh was convicted, his attorneys filed papers to appeal the case, on seven grounds:

  • The court admitted illegal and improper evidence
  • The court refused to include in the instructions to the jury wording requested by the defendant
  • The court gave improper and illegal instructions to the jury
  • The court improperly commented upon the evidence in its instructions to the jury (instructing that there was no evidence of any degree of murder less than first)
  • The verdict was against the evidence
  • The verdict was against the law
  • The was no evidence introduced whatever to sustain the verdict

Every one of these grounds would have applied to Billy’s trial too. The New Mexico Territorial Supreme Court accepted Rudabaugh’s appeal. It would have accepted Billy’s appeal also. The granting of the appeal delayed Rudabaugh’s execution, just as it would have delayed Billy’s execution.

Rudabaugh and six other men escaped from the Las Vegas jail on December 3, 1881, and because Rudabaugh was never recaptured, his upcoming appeal of his murder conviction was never heard. In my opinion, it is likely that Rudabaugh’s conviction would have been reversed or his sentence reduced by the Supreme Court.

After his escape, Rudabaugh immediately made for Mexico. He did not go to Arizona and participate in the attempted assassination of Wyatt Earp, as many sources say. In Mexico he met his merciless fate, death and decapitation – and that fate was recorded forever thanks to Lohn’s remarkable photos.

Published in the Billy the Kid Outlaw Gang “Outlaw Gazette,” Vol. XXXIII, 2023