Everyone questioned Randy’s passion. To many, what he had carefully collected was junk. To him, it was treasure. But none of them ever expected him to discover something so monumental in an antique dealership. And Randy’s unbelievable discovery was about to shake the world.
The photograph he holds in his hand is a moment that is frozen in time. And it has the power to redefine history. Is this really the infamous icon-turned-outlaw? If he is wrong, he is a fool. If he is right, this is a momentous discovery—and he will be a millionaire.
The stakes are high. But he never anticipates the chain of events that will take five long years to unfold.
Randy Guijarro doesn’t believe in luck. He knows that if you want something in life, you have to work hard for it. He learned this from his parents. As the youngest in the family of six, Randy always took pride in all of his belongings. Ever since he was a child, he would pick up pennies from the street, scrap from the yard, and shiny buttons from corners.
He is a magpie for even dull items, so when he was just seven years old, his mother nicknamed him “the hoarder”.
As the years pass by, Randy’s mother thinks his fascination with junk will pass. To her horror, his obsession only grows. Understandably, she is worried. And she was right to be. Randy’s house quickly becomes a labyrinth of coins, books, comics, statues, paintings, clocks, trading cards, toys, stamps, and jewelry.
To his family, his possessions are junk. But he is about to prove them all wrong.
Twist of Fate
Randy manages to make a living by selling the treasures he has scavenged. Everything he owns has a story to it. But then, he met Linda. When they decide to move in together, he makes a promise to cut back on the collecting. But old habits are hard to shake.
He never imagines that one decision would make such an impact on his life — and rock the western world in the process.
On one fateful day in 2010, Randy finds himself in the Fresno Tower District after meeting with a friend for coffee. As he walks down the street, he passes the red brick building of Fulton’s Folly Antique Collective. He had promised Linda that he won’t bring home anything else before selling the contents of their “spare bedroom.”
But he tells himself that he would be in and out in ten minutes, and walks inside.
Randy strolls through aisles of treasures. The store is like Mary Poppin’s magic bag—pianos, armchairs, cabinets, sculptures, china, pottery, jewels, paintings, radios, crystal, records, dolls, prams, figures, board games, baskets. Randy has never seen such a collection before.
And Randy just happens to be in the right place, at exactly the right time.
He picks up multiple items to inspect, but as soon as he remembers the promise he made to Linda, he places them back. He wanders through the treasure trove and resolves to keep his composure.
Then, he sees something out of the back door that makes his eyes widen, and he just can’t resist.
Crates and Boxes
Outside, two men are shaking hands. Have they closed a deal? As Randy walks toward them, he notices that they are surrounded by stacks of cardboard boxes. From the looks of the different sizes, it is a blind buy.
Randy knows that there may be a gem hidden inside, and a wave of excitement washes over him.
The store is clearly overstocked and the owner probably needs to get rid of some items fast. The buyers only have a limited amount of time to inspect the contents before the bidding begins, and Randy simply can’t let them walk away.
Randy is a friendly guy, and although they place the highest bid, he is feeling brave.
“Would you mind if I had a quick look?” Randy asks. To his surprise, the men have heard of Randy from the online antique community. So, they let him rummage through the boxes before they load them into their truck.
Nothing really stands out to Randy, but he keeps looking — hoping that his keen eyes will catch a glimpse of something that others have missed. And his intuition proves to be right.
He doesn’t know exactly what he is looking for, but he reasons that he will recognize it when he sees it. Then, he finds a small cardboard box. His hands shake as he gently lifts the lid.
He never could have imagined that this ordinary-looking box is hiding one of the most important discoveries in American history.
Although Linda asks Randy to ease off on his antiques, she is a sucker for a good photograph. The box contains three old black and white photographs. One man looks vaguely familiar, but Randy can’t immediately put his finger on it.
And he doesn’t have time to dwell on it — he just knows that he has to have them.
He reaches for his wallet just as the men load the last few boxes. To his horror, he only has $2 on him. Thankfully the men, thinking nothing of the old photographs, accept the small payment and wish him a good day.
Randy and his wife Linda are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.
Linda is horrified when Randy presents her with the three pictures. “How much did this cost you?” Her brow furrows. When Randy tells her what had happened, she gawks and looks closer. “You do realize who this is?” She asks.
If she is right, this photograph is worth millions! And then, Randy sees it. That unmistakable face stares back at him.
Linda and Randy arrange to meet with a local historian to inspect the faces. The historian says that the pictures are from the 19th-Century. Randy isn’t surprised — the images are obviously dated. Then Linda voices what they had only dared to dream.
She points to the man standing in the middle of the group of people playing croquet in the photograph and whispers: “Billy the Kid”.
Billy the Kid is one of the most well-known figures of the American Wild West and was one of the most wanted men in Arizona after he had been involved in multiple homicides. The outlaw then managed to outrun the sheriffs and escape from multiple prisons over four years until he was eventually shot at the age of 21. Unsurprisingly, he was notorious among cowboy enthusiasts.
But there has been only one authentic photo of him ever found. Until now.
Checking the Facts
Randy is sure to do his research. He discovers that the last original photograph of Billy — the famous Upham tintype — has been 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 was and the circumstances around the photo, Linda and Randy have no proof that it is genuine. But, they are determined.
Many collectors refuse to believe that the photograph is genuine. Linda is disheartened. She has already planned on redoing their home. Now, that seemed impossible. She is sure it is him from the moment she lays eyes on the photos, and other faces in the photographs are familiar, too.
Randy and Linda are convinced that the photograph depicts Billy and his gang, The Regulators, playing croquet. But can it really be possible?
Doing the Research
Randy and Linda have to do some more digging into the history of the photograph before they can release their findings to the public. Over the course of a year, they have gotten many different opinions from experts, but some are skeptical.
Then, they take the photo to Witherell’s Old West Show in Northern California’s Grass Valley and are told what they had feared all along.
While they searched for Brian Libel, the man who originally brokered the deal on the only other photograph of Billy the Kid ever found, another expert steps in and writes Randy and Linda’s photo off as a fake, stating that there is no proof pointing to its authenticity. Randy and Linda are heartbroken, but they are still convinced that they possess a piece of history.
But then, something changes everything.
Linda and Randy’s photograph has captured the attention of Jeff Aiello, local film and TV producer, and he is intrigued. What if this photo is, in fact, genuine, and has passed under the radar of the experts? He knows that the two experts in the field who have examined it have only given it a passing glance before hastily labeling it as a fraud.
Still, there is a glimmer of hope: What if they are all wrong?
Going on a Hunch
“I told Randy to let me have the picture. My wife, Jill, is a fantastic researcher,’ Aiello says. “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 have to prove it to the world.
National Geographic takes on the million-dollar project, with Aiello at the helm. The funds enable him to conduct further research to prove that the photograph is genuine and land Kevin Costner as the narrator of the 2-hour special. Aiello places Randy’s fight against the corrupt process of authenticating historic material at the fore.
Randy and Linda have almost given up hope, but by the end of shooting, even Kevin Costner believes.
Facial Recognition Technology
The 2-hour National Geographic documentary, “Billy The Kid: New Evidence”, uses facial recognition on Randy’s photograph against the existing images of Billy the Kid and The Regulators. All are at least a 70% match.
The producer of the croquet set seen in the photograph is also traced to give experts a reference that enables them to establish the heights of the people in the photo. But they still need more evidence.
The Woman in the Photograph
Randy and Linda set out to visit all the known landmarks associated with Billy the Kid. One of the figures in the photograph has been identified as Sallie Chisum, with an 80% match on facial recognition software.
Then, they find the breakthrough they have all been waiting for — written in Sally Chisum’s diary.
Randy and Linda have now traveled 10,000 miles over four states to prove that their find is genuine. With money running out quickly, they pray that their last stop will be in New Mexico. All clues point to Tunstall’s ranch — There is evidence in Sally Chisum’s diary that she, The Regulators, and Billy the Kid himself had gathered there.
But will this be the end of Randy and Linda’s journey?
Randy stares in disbelief at the familiar landscape. All his hopes and dreams lie here, on this tract of land. He believes with all his heart that Billy the Kid has been here. And now, he is vindicated. He can 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 taken is finally found.
Randy and Linda, feeling like they had finally won the battle, return to California. But they are wrong.
Linda and Randy go to see Don Kagen, authenticator and seller of Kagan’s Inc., but even after all the evidence is presented, Kagan still has doubts. The biggest cause for suspicion is that Billy the Kid and his cohorts are playing croquet. Randy explains how the croquet set belonged to Henry Tunstall, who was English. It all makes sense.
But why can nobody else see it?
The Last Battle
“This is a journey I never expected to take. But the truth doesn’t always matter. And I can’t figure out why,” Randy says, defeated. They have spent almost all of their life’s savings and five years of their lives pursuing the ghost of Billy the Kid, but he remains elusive — a mysterious, fleeting figure. Then, just when they have lost all hope, Randy gets an unexpected call.
Kagan’s Inc. has found something that would leave Randy and Linda floored.
Don Kagen’s partner flies toTunstall’s Ranch and travels to the spot where the photo was believed to have been taken. He notices that there are signs of another structure underneath the new building, exactly where the house in the photograph would have been. He then recreates the house on advanced software. They didn’t need more convincing. They set the base price at $5 million for the photo.
Linda can’t believe their hard work has finally paid off! But this isn’t the first case of a hidden treasure.
Shows like American Pickers and The Antique Roadshow had managed to turn dusty junk into thousands of dollars in cash. The viewers for these shows range from young to old and entice 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, naturally, netizens can’t get enough of Randy and Linda’s story.
Understandably, Randy’s discovery has gone viral before he even caught the attention of National Geographic. The entire world now keeps an eye out for any hidden gems that could later gain them a small fortune.
But Randy had spent years researching to get to his level of expertise. And not everyone would be so lucky as to buy pictures for $2 that are worth $5 million. But there is one question left.
“I hope this prompts others out there to look into trucks and attics,” Randy shares, “because there are so many lost treasures out there!” If this has 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 airing of the National Geographic documentary.