The photograph he held in his hand was a moment frozen in time. And it had the power to redefine history. Was that really the infamous icon-turned-outlaw? If he was wrong, he was a fool. If he was right, this was a momentous discovery—and he would be a millionaire. The stakes were high. But he never anticipated the chain of events that would take five years to unfold.
Randy Guijarro didn’t believe in luck. He knew that if you wanted something in life, you had to work hard for it. He learned that from his mother and father. As the youngest in the family of six, he took pride in all of his belongings. Ever since he was a child, Randy would pick up pennies from the street, scrap from the yard, and shiny buttons from corners. He was a magpie for even dull items. His mother nicknamed him "the hoarder” when he was seven.
As the years passed, Randy's mother thought his fascination with junk would pass. To her horror, his obsession only grew. Understandably, she was worried. And she was right to be. Randy’s house became a labyrinth of coins, books, comics, statues, paintings, clocks, trading cards, toys, stamps, and jewelry. To his family, his possessions were junk. But he was about to prove everyone wrong.
Randy managed to make a living by selling the treasures he scavenged. Everything he owned had a story to it. But then, he met Linda. When they decided to move in together, he made a promise to cut back on the collecting. But old habits were hard to shake. He never thought that one decision would make such an impact on his life—and rock the western world in the process.
Facebook/Fulton's Folly Antique Collective
On a fateful day in 2010, Randy found himself in the Fresno Tower District after meeting a friend for coffee. As he walked down the street, he passed the red brick building of Fulton’s Folly Antique Collective. He had promised Linda he wouldn’t bring home anything else before selling the contents of their “spare bedroom.” But he told himself that he would be in and out in ten minutes, and walked inside.
Facebook/Fulton's Folly Antique Collective
Randy strolled through isles of treasures. The store was like Mary Poppin’s magic bag—pianos, armchairs, cabinets, sculptures, china, pottery, jewels, paintings, radios, crystal, records, dolls, prams, figures, board games, baskets. Randy had never seen such a collection. And Randy just happened to be in the right place, at exactly the right time.
The Printing House West Village
He picked up multiple items to inspect, but once he remembered the promise he had made to Linda, he placed them back. He wandered through the treasure trove and resolved to keep his composure. Then, he saw something out their back door that made his eyes widen, and he just couldn't resist.
Outside, two men were shaking hands. Had they closed a deal? As Randy walked towards them, he noticed that they were surrounded by stacks of cardboard boxes. From the looks of the different sizes, it was a blind buy. Randy knew that there may be a gem hidden inside, and a wave of excitement washed over him.
The store was clearly overstocked and the owner probably needed to get rid of some items fast. The buyers only had a limited amount of time to inspect the contents before bidding, and Randy simply couldn’t let them walk away. Randy was a friendly guy. Although they had placed the highest bid, he was feeling brave.
Facebook/Fulton's Folly Antique Collective
"Would you mind if I had a quick look?” Randy asked. To his surprise, the men had heard of Randy from the online antique community. So, they let him rummage through the boxes before loading them into their truck. Nothing really stood out to Randy, but he kept looking—hoping that his keen eyes would catch a glimpse of something that others had missed. And his intuition proved to be right.
He didn't know exactly what he was looking for, but he reasoned that he would recognize it when he saw it. Then, he found a small cardboard box. His hands shook as he gently lifted the lid. He never could have imagined that this ordinary-looking box was hiding one of the most important discoveries in American history.
Although Linda asked for Randy to ease off on his antiques, she was a sucker for a good photograph. The box contained three old black and white photographs. One man looked vaguely familiar, but Randy couldn’t immediately put his finger on it. And he didn't have time to dwell on it—he just knew that he had to have them.
He reached for his wallet just as the men loaded the last few boxes. To his horror, he only had $2. Thankfully the men, thinking nothing of the old photographs, accepted the small payment and wished him a good day. Randy and his wife Linda were about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.
Linda was horrified when Randy presented her with the three pictures. “How much did this cost you?” Her brow furrowed. When Randy told her what had happened, she gawked and looked closer. “You do realize who this is?” She asked. If she was right, this photograph would be worth millions! And then, Randy saw it. That unmistakable face staring back at him.
Linda and Randy arranged a meeting with a local historian to inspect the faces. The historian said that the pictures were from the 19th-Century. Randy wasn’t surprised—the images were obviously dated. Then Linda voiced what they had only dared to dream. She pointed to the man standing in the middle of the group of people playing croquet in the photograph and whispered: "Billy the Kid".
Billy the Kid is one of the most well-known figures of the American Wild West. He was one of the most wanted men in Arizona after being involved in multiple homicides. The outlaw managed to outrun the sheriffs and escape multiple prisons over four years until he was eventually shot at the age of 21. Unsurprisingly, he was famous among cowboy enthusiasts. But there was only one authentic photo of him ever found. Until now.
Randy made sure to do his research. He discovered that the last original photograph of Billy—the famous Upham tintype—was bought by collector Bill Koch at an auction in 2011 for a staggering 2.3 million dollars. But with no proof of who the photographer had been and the circumstances around the photo, Linda and Randy had no proof that it was genuine. But, they were determined.
Many collectors refused to believe that the photograph was genuine. Linda was disheartened. She had already planned on redoing their home. Now, that seemed impossible. She was sure it was him from the moment she laid eyes on the photos, and other faces in the photographs were familiar, too. Randy and Linda were convinced that the photograph depicted Billy and his gang, The Regulators, playing croquet. But could it really be possible?
Randy and Linda had to do some more digging into the history of the photograph before they released their findings to the public. Over the course of a year, they had gotten many different opinions from experts, but some were skeptical. Then, they took the photo to Witherell’s Old West Show in Northern California’s Grass Valley and were told what they had feared all along.
The Fresno Bee
While searching for Brian Libel, the man who originally brokered the deal on the only other photograph of Billy the Kid ever found, another expert stepped in and wrote Randy and Linda's photo off as a fake, stating that there was no proof pointing to its authenticity. Randy and Linda were heartbroken, but they were still convinced that they possessed a piece of history. But then, something changed everything.
Linda and Randy's photograph had captured the attention of Jeff Aiello, local film and TV producer, and he was intrigued. What if this photo was, in fact, genuine, and had passed under the radar of the experts? He knew that the two experts in the field who had examined it had only given it a passing glance before hastily labeling it as a fraud. Still, there was a glimmer of hope: What if they were all wrong?
“I told Randy to let me have the picture. My wife, Jill, is a fantastic researcher,’ Aiello said. “We did photo overlays and all kinds of fancy computer stuff and dove into the history. After a month, we were both confident that was a photo of Billy and four of the ‘Regulators.’” Now, they had to prove it to the world.
ABC7 San Francisco
National Geographic took on the million-dollar project, with Aiello at the helm. The funds enabled him to conduct further research to prove that the photograph was genuine, and land Kevin Costner as the narrator of the 2-hour special. Aiello placed Randy's fight against the corrupt process of authenticating historic material at the fore. Randy and Linda had almost given up hope, but by the end of shooting, even Costner believed.
The 2-hour National Geographic documentary, “Billy The Kid: New Evidence”, used facial recognition on Randy's photograph against the existing images of Billy the Kid and The Regulators. All were at least a 70% match. The producer of the croquet set seen in the photograph was also traced to give experts a reference that enabled them to establish the heights of the people in the photo. But they still needed more evidence.
Randy and Linda set out to visit all the known landmarks associated with Billy the Kid. One of the figures in the photograph had been identified as Sallie Chisum, with an 80% match on facial recognition software. Then, they found the breakthrough they had all been waiting for—written in Sally Chisum's diary.
Randy and Linda had now traveled 10,000 miles over four states to prove that their find was genuine. With money running out quickly, they prayed that their last stop would be in New Mexico. All clues pointed to Tunstall's ranch—There was evidence in Sally Chisum's diary that she, The Regulators, and Billy the Kid himself had gathered there. But would this be the end of Randy and Linda's journey?
Randy stared in disbelief at the familiar landscape. All his hopes and dreams lay here, on this tract of land. He believed with all his heart that Billy the Kid had been here. And now, he was vindicated. He could almost see the ghostly figures standing there, framed by the rolling hills. With the help of Geographic mapping, the exact location where the photo was shot was finally found. Randy and Linda, feeling like they had finally won the battle, returned to California. But they were wrong.
Linda and Randy went to see Don Kagen, authenticator and seller of Kagan's Inc, but even after all the evidence was presented, Kagan still had doubts. The biggest cause for suspicion was that Billy the Kid and his cohorts were playing croquet. Randy explained how the croquet set belonged to Henry Tunstall, who was English. It all made sense. But why could nobody else see it?
"This is a journey I never expected to take. But the truth doesn't always matter. And I can't figure out why," Randy said, defeated. They had spent almost all of their life's savings and five years of their lives pursuing the ghost of Billy the Kid, but he remained elusive—a mysterious, fleeting figure. Then, just when they had lost all hope, Randy got an unexpected call. Kagan's Inc had found something that left Randy and Linda floored.
Don Kagen's partner flew toTunstall's Ranch and traveled to the spot where the photo was taken. He noticed that there were signs of another structure underneath the new building, exactly where the house in the photograph would have been. He was then able to recreate the house on advanced software. They didn't need more convincing. They set the base price at $5 million for the photo. Linda couldn’t believe their hard work had finally paid off! But this wasn’t the first case of a hidden treasure.
Shows like American Pickers and The Antique Roadshow have managed to turn dusty junk into thousands in cash. The viewers for these shows range from young to old, enticing the widest age demographic imaginable. Everyone loves a good bargain. But a large fortune hidden in the form of your grandmother’s vase is everyone’s dream. So, the internet couldn’t get enough of Randy’s story.
Understandably, Randy’s discovery went viral before he caught the attention of National Geographic. The entire world is now keeping an eye out for any hidden gems that could later gain them a small fortune. But Randy has spent years researching to get to his level of expertise. And not everyone would be so lucky as to buy pictures for $2 that were worth $5 million. But there is one question left to this story.
“I hope this prompts others out there to look into trucks and attics,” Randy shared, “because there are so many lost treasures out there!” If this had taught Randy anything, it’s to listen to his gut, and more importantly, to trust his wife! But the story doesn't end there. Another photograph of Billy The Kid has been found since the National Geographic documentary aired.
A lawyer named Frank Abrams watched “Billy The Kid: New Evidence”, and a wild hope coursed through him. He too had an old photograph in his possession. Maybe there was more to it than met the eye? Did he dare even dream? He rushed to retrieve it and began an incredible journey of his own, changing history as we know it.
Frank had come across the amazing photograph in much the same way Randy had—he had bought it at a flea market in 2011 for $10. He was instantly drawn to the old photograph and assumed it was an ordinary photo of a group of cowboys from the American South. Nevertheless, he loved the vintage photo and hung it up in a guest bedroom that he rented out on AirBNB.
After seeing the National Geographic documentary, Frank, interested in the history, started to research Billy The Kid extensively. That's when the face of Pat Garrett started to look familiar to him. But where had he seen that face before? And then it hit him. He had a photograph of a man who looked strikingly similar!
But that wasn't the only familiar face in the old tintype photograph. There was another man sitting to the right who looked eerily similar to Billy The Kid. Frank was dumbfounded. Could it really be? If the photo was genuine, it would be the only surviving photograph of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett together. But if that were true, it would only deepen the mystery around the infamous outlaw.
Frank called in the experts to identify the photo, and after months of analysis, they confirmed what Frank had hoped—the photo was authentic. They had run it through facial recognition technology and had managed to identify the men in the photograph and had established a date—Aug. 2, 1880—as well as a signature on Pat Garrett's lapel. But what did this new information mean for the known history of Billy the Kid?
The photo's date of Aug. 2, 1880, would mean that it was taken before Billy's arrest and escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse, and his notorious murder of a deputy. So, this raises an important question: why was Pat Garrett posing with the infamous outlaw just months before he hunted and eventually gunned Billy down?
As an avid history enthusiast, Frank is determined to find out the strange circumstances behind the photo. Meanwhile, the old photo has been estimated to be of at least double the value of Randy's photo as it is the only one ever found to contain both Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid... but will Frank ever part with his precious piece of history?
True West Magazine
"It's incredible... Five trips across the country, forensic experts, professors have looked at it, others have looked at it... It's... I'm ecstatic. I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world. To find this is a privilege," Frank said in an interview. But there is only one question on everyone's mind.
"People ask me all the time, what do you think it's worth, what do you think it's worth. I won't put a price on it, quite frankly it's priceless," Frank said. And that is indisputable. If the photo has been dated correctly, it could change what we know about American history!