Plot thickens in proposed sale of gun used to kill Jesse James

April 02, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

The American selling the pistol used to kill outlaw Jesse James claims the son of the man from whom the gun was stolen in 1968 expressed no interest in the weapon when contacted by a friend of the seller several years ago, an English auctioneer said yesterday.

Henry A. Lingenfelder, the son in question, has a different recollection.

"If he told them that, he's a lying SOB," said Mr. Lingenfelder of Carroll County. He said the claim makes him even more determined to recover the .44-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, which is scheduled for sale April 28 and could fetch more than $150,000.

Firemen's Fund, the insurance company that paid Mr. Lingenfelder's father $9,000 for the stolen gun, is searching its records for the policy for a possible challenge to the sale.

The late Henry G. Lingenfelder of Towson lent the pistol to a Jesse James museum display in Sullivan, Mo. The gun, with several other historic weapons and a watch belonging to Wild Bill Hickok, was stolen in a burglary during a summer storm in 1968.

Though Roy Butler, senior partner of the auctioneers in England, Wallis & Wallis, is protecting the seller's anonymity, he has told the seller of Mr. Lingenfelder's challenge. The man has said he would call Mr. Lingenfelder, said Mr. Butler. By late yesterday, Mr. Lingenfelder said he had not received a call.

PTC The auctioneer said that the seller told him that he had a friend call Mr. Lingenfelder several years ago about the gun and that Mr. Lingenfelder had called it a closed issue.

Mr. Lingenfelder said that the only information he has had since the theft was a phone call about three years ago from a man with a British accent. Mr. Lingenfelder said the caller told him the gun was in England and asked if he would contest ownership.

"I said, 'You're darn right I would.' He hung up," Mr. Lingenfelder said, adding that he knew nothing more until an article about the auction appeared in The Sun Monday.

Mr. Lingenfelder said he faxed 17 pages of documents about the weapon and its theft to Scotland Yard's Major Fraud Unit yesterday. He asked the police to confiscate the pistol until the matter can be resolved.

"I doubt if they'll do that, but at least it puts everyone on notice that it's hot, that it's stolen property," he said.

Mr. Lingenfelder said he belongs to the National Rifle Association and has asked for its help. He has also asked the FBI to intervene. There are questions of whether the expiration of state and federal statutes of limitation would preclude an investigation.

Richard Hahn, the St. Louis businessman who operated the museum from which the gun was stolen, said that the total insurance payment for the stolen items was $15,000.

"As I see it," Mr. Butler said, "Mr. Lingenfelder was paid, and if he was, that's the end of it unless we hear something from the insurance company." He said that only instructions from the seller could stop the sale.

Bob Hope, commercial claims manager for Firemen's Fund in Kansas City, held out little hope of finding the insurance records. Most records are discarded after about 10 years, he said.

A color photograph of the gun, which was engraved in 1904 with the words "Bob Ford killed Jesse James with this revolver at St. Joseph, Mo., in 1882," is the centerfold of the sale catalog, which cost about $13,000 to produce, Mr. Butler said.

Mr. Butler, who has been interviewed several times for television and newspapers, said that the sale has generated great interest in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. The Times of London has run a color photograph of the gun.

Mr. Butler said that the seller told him, "Every time you get something of top quality from the West, it comes back to the United States because people think more of it if it comes from England."

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