The $2 Flea Market Find That Unlocked a Time Capsule

Randy Guijarro, the man who chanced upon a remarkable image of Billy the Kid engaged in a game of croquet, encourages others to explore forgotten corners in search of hidden treasures. Speaking to the Guardian on Monday, Guijarro expressed his hope that his discovery would inspire people to sift through trunks and attics.

The photograph, measuring 45 inches in length and capturing Billy the Kid in a croquet match from 1878, was initially valued at a mere $2 when Guijarro acquired three four-by-five-inch tintypes from a Fresno, California, antique shop in 2010. Today, its worth has soared into the millions.

Guijarro, a telecommunications expert, and his wife Linda have announced their intention to allocate some of the proceeds from this unexpected windfall towards funding further exploratory endeavors. They contemplate using the money for various purposes, such as acquiring a new car.

We share a passion for investigating forgotten historical events, both domestically and abroad, reveling in the exhilarating pursuit of uncovering hidden stories from the past. One such captivating discovery was the image of Billy the Kid, a legendary figure from the Wild West, leaning on a mallet while playing croquet with members of his gang, the Regulators, in New Mexico in 1878. This revelation came to light when Randy Guijarro examined the photo under a microscope at home.

This photograph, only the second authenticated image of the notorious outlaw, holds a staggering value of $5 million. A National Geographic special, hosted by Kevin Costner, recently aired, chronicling five years of dedicated research and investigation into its authenticity.

Guijarro, at 54 years old, described the experience as incredible yet challenging. The journey involved navigating through false leads and mistrust, creating an uneasy and uncertain atmosphere. Both joyous and somber moments marked this protracted and solitary exploration, resembling something out of The Twilight Zone—almost too good to be true.

The mere mention of “Billy the Kid” evokes images of the Wild West, a brief but impactful outlaw career, and the fatal encounter with Pat Garrett, the sheriff of Lincoln County, at the age of 21. Despite the hurdles faced during the investigation, Guijarro and his team remained transparent and honest throughout, hoping that the voyage of discovery resonated with those who followed their remarkable journey.

Despite being attributed to only nine homicides by some historians, the sole remaining portrait of Billy the Kid, depicting him with a gun around 1880, fetched a substantial $2.3 million (£1.5 million) in a 2011 sale.

Randy Guijarro, a dedicated collector of various artifacts like coins, sports cards, comic books, and antique photographs, shares this passion with his wife. Their journey into the world of historical finds began when Guijarro stumbled upon Fulton’s Folly Antique Collective in Fresno’s Tower district one summer night in 2010 on his way home from work.

Spotting two individuals trying to empty a storage unit filled with what they considered “junk crates,” Guijarro made a $2 offer and selected three pictures, including ones featuring croquet players and other historical scenes. It took a week of careful examination for him to realize the significance of one photograph, where the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid was identified by his attire, demeanor, and the fact that he was standing on a croquet stick.

Describing his wife Linda as a “wonderful, smart woman,” Guijarro credited her for investigating other members of the Regulators, including Charlie Bowdre and Tom O’Folliard, through online communication.

Scholars, collectors, facial recognition experts, and others collaborated to identify the 18 individuals in the photograph and locate the ruins of the schoolhouse in Chavez County, New Mexico. It was revealed that the photo was taken shortly after a wedding in 1878, just over a month after the gang’s involvement in the deadly Lincoln County quarrel.

The numismatics company Kagin’s Inc., based in California, has insured the photograph for $5 million and is actively seeking a private buyer. Despite the anticipation, Guijarro remains cautious, stating, “We’re not counting our chickens before they hatch.”

Looking ahead, the couple plans to use the proceeds to purchase a new car, settle debts, assist friends and family, and embark on more treasure hunts. Guijarro emphasizes that they are not hoarders, as they typically sell the items they acquire. The ongoing pursuit of new discoveries, according to Guijarro, is essential to prevent accumulating excessive belongings.

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