Rick Bentley

Clovis man’s rare Billy the Kid photo the subject of National Geographic TV special

A cropped version of the rare tintype of Billy the Kid.
A cropped version of the rare tintype of Billy the Kid. Courtesy of Randy Guijarro

A $2 purchase by Randy Guijarro in 2010 at an antique shop in the Tower District has turned into a two-hour National Geographic special narrated by Kevin Costner and a payday that could reach $5 million.

Billy the Kid: New Evidence,” airing at 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, on the National Geographic Channel, looks at the year-long quest to prove his purchase of a 4-by-5 inch tintype features Billy the Kid and members of his gang playing croquet.

Guijarro, of Clovis, also thought he recognized Billy the Kid’s best friends Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre in the photo.

“When I picked it up I thought it was unusual. But, I couldn’t tell who the cast of characters were. I just thought it was neat,” Guijarro says.

The reason for all the fuss about the photo is that there is only one certified picture of Billy the Kid and it sold at auction for $2.3 million. Any memorabilia connected to Billy the Kid is considered a hot item among collectors.

The photo came to the attention of local film and TV producer Jeff Aiello. A month after he was laid off by Disney and was no longer producing the TV shows “Motion” and “My Family Recipe Rocks” for the company’s Live Well network, Aiello was shown the picture. He was intrigued by the possibility that it was a real photo of Billy the Kid and by the limited number of experts who authenticate such finds. The two men considered the final authorities on such items both dismissed the photo as a fraud with only a quick examination.

“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 (expletive deleted) and dove into the history. After a month, we were both confident that was a photo of Billy and four of the ‘Regulators.’”

Aiello suggested that they put together $100,000 to make a low-budget documentary through his 18THIRTY Entertainment production company that would go around the experts by using forensic science to prove this a real photo.

Soon after work started a year ago, Aiello was contacted by Leftfield Pictures, the company that produces “Pawn Stars.” They wanted to be part of the project. Once on board, they took Aiello’s idea for the documentary and shopped it to cable channels.

National Geographic landed the project and put up several million dollars, according to Aiello. This money allowed him to not only expand his research, but to shoot a reenactment of Billy the Kid’s involvement in the Lincoln County War.

Aiello was put in charge of field production of the special. His plan was to make the documentary a parallel story of Billy the Kid’s efforts to avenge the wrongs done in Lincoln County and Guijarro’s effort to beat what he feels is corruption in authenticating historical material.

Costner’s name was dropped early in the process as narrator and executive producer of the production. The Oscar-winning actor loved the idea, but he wouldn’t commit until he was certain that the photo wasn’t a hoax.

“When we were filming, I would come back to my hotel room and write up a one sheet of bullet points of what happened that day and send them to Costner,” Aiello says.

By the summer, Costner was convinced that the photo wasn’t a hoax.

The world was fascinated with him then, and the fact that this recently discovered image has created such excitement proves that the world continues to be fascinated with him today.

Kevin Costner

“Billy the Kid was once the most hunted man in America and, if you think about it, was one of the media’s first notorious bad boys,” Costner says. “The world was fascinated with him then, and the fact that this recently discovered image has created such excitement proves that the world continues to be fascinated with him today. Billy the Kid is the epitome of an American legend.”

What convinced him was the evidence gathered.

Facial recognition was done to see if the people in the images matched known photos. Geographic mapping helped the production team find the exact spot where the photo was taken. They were able to figure out the maker of the croquet set, which gave them a reference to measure the heights of all the people in the photo.

The most telling evidence came from the hand-written diary of Sallie Chisum, the daughter of Jim Chisum, that was in the archives of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. She and Billy the Kid became close and the gang would visit the family ranch.

“We had to decipher her handwriting and spent a lot of time decoding the diary. When we did, it revealed clues. It placed herself and Billy the Kid together for two weeks in 1878,” Aiello says.

Aiello, who is working on the final footage in the days before the special is to air, has continually offered the experts the chance to take a look at the evidence, but they have declined.

“It’s an an amazing story and that’s why Nat Geo wanted to tell it,” Aiello says.

Tim Pastore, president of original programming and production for National Geographic Channels, says photographic history is the foundation of the National Geographic Society.

“Now we are fortunate enough once again to be a part of a historical moment driven by the lens of a camera. As part of an esteemed organization dedicated to preserving our history, we have now found ourselves in the enviable position to preserve a piece of American history while rewriting it, through a single photograph,” Pastore says.

Guijarro could make his big profit off the treasure he found in a Fresno antique shop.

“My wife and I know this is not a dream, but the reality of it all still hasn’t fully hit yet either,” Guijarro says.

Big winner

In case you missed it when the CBS game show “The Price Is Right” did its Oct. 1 special for Breast Cancer Awareness, two Fresno women walked away with prizes on the episode. Nicole Butler won $100,000, while Katie Kinosian took home more than $48,000 in prizes.

Both women – who are good friends and breast cancer survivors – went head-to-head in the Showcase Showdown. Kinosian was closer to her total. The prize package includes two cars and an 11-day trip to the Bahamas. Butler won her huge cash prize playing the game “Pay the Rent.”

“We are still both really happy. Six people from Fresno went down that day and three got on stage. Two of us made it to the Showdown and won big,” Kinosian says.

Butler is the executive director of the Fresno-Madera Medical Society. Kinosian is an elementary school teacher who has been away from work for 18 months while going through her treatment, which included a double mastectomy.

Both women had treatment through the Marjorie Radin Breast Care Center at Clovis Community Hospital.

Back to the Big Easy

Shelby Latino, who has been handling weather forecasting duties at ABC30 since May 2014, has left KFSN. She moved back home to the New Orleans area where she will marry her fiancé, Kyle.

The Mississippi State graduate was the weekday morning and midday meteorologist for Channel 30.1. The search for her replacement has started.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1