Gun that shot Jesse James sold for nearly $170,000 Buyer is reported to be an American

April 29, 1993|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- Bob Ford's old gun, the one he shot Jesse James with, fetched more money yesterday than the famed outlaw probably ever made in a lifetime of robbing banks and trains, enough to make the old thief weep. Wallis & Wallis, of Lewes, Sussex, sold the .44 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver at auction for about $170,000.

"It's wonderful money!" said Roy Butler, senior partner at the auctioneers. "It beat the Annie Oakley gun. That went for 86,000 pounds [$124,000]" at auction at Christie's in London in late March.

Mr. Butler had anticipated getting, at the most, $150,000 for Ford's pistol, one of the most famous murder weapons in the world. Before it was let go yesterday to -- "a Mr. McGee, an American, that's all we have on him," Mr. Butler said -- there was some controversy over who really owned it.

It had been offered for sale through the auction house by an anonymous American collector and antiques dealer, later revealed as Richard Thompson. He said he bought it about 10 years ago along with various other antique objects.

Henry A. Lingenfelder of Carroll County, responding to a March 29 article in The Sun about the impending sale, said that he owned the gun, that it had been stolen from the Jesse James Museum in Sullivan, Mo., in 1968, while on loan.

He said his father bought it in 1952 from E. Stanley Gary of Baltimore, who in turn purchased it from Corydon F. Craig. Mr. Craig was the son of the jailer in St. Joseph, Mo., who received it as a gift from Ford for his kind treatment while he and his brother Charley were being held for trial for killing James.

Mr. Lingenfelder got a lawyer. He got the insurance company that had paid off a claim following the theft of the weapon involved. He called the National Rifle Association, the FBI.

Eventually he even managed to move Scotland Yard to action.

Mr. Lingenfelder said yesterday he was very glad for Mr. Thompson. "It's been a very exciting month. As for the gun," he said, "I would like to see it displayed at a museum in this country, but first I'd like to hold it one more time."

Mr. Butler seemed pleased yesterday after a draining but profitable day at his auction house. The worries and concerns of the past few weeks, generated by the case of the stolen pistol, were over. Things had turned out well. "Once we knew it was stolen, that was like putting the cat among the pigeons," he said.

Mr. Butler also had been advised not to do so by Scotland Yard. In the end, he got what he needed. The revolver's true and tortuous history was finally clarified.

"The family [the Lingenfelders] were holding documents -- I have them all now here -- that truly gives the provenance of this gun," he said. "E. Stanley Gary truly kept the gun from 1904 to 1952. I've got a picture from a Baltimore newspaper clipping showing Mr. Gary with it. It was Mr. Gary who had the gun engraved by Smith and Wesson in 1904."

A confidential agreement was reached between the Lingenfelder family, Mr. Thompson and the insurance company to share in the gun sale's returns. And Mr. Butler, of course, got his commission.

And how much was that?

"Oh, I wouldn't say. But you can figure that the average auctioneer works on about 10 percent -- but, I'm not saying that."

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