Wild Bill Longley (b1851, d1878) William Preston Longley, AKA “Wild Bill Longley” must be the most widely documented and studied Longley on the planet bar none. Born in Texas in 1851, he rapidly developed a well-deserved reputation as an un-forgiving, racist, hot-headed, unpredictable, highly accurate and ruthless killer.
Early life William Longley was born on the 6thOctober 1851 at Mill Creek, Texas to Campbell and Sarah Longley (nee Henry). In 1853 when Longley was 2 years old, the family moved to a farm one mile west of the small town of Evergreen, Texas. It was here that he went to school and worked on the family farm. At the close of the Civil War, in 1865, Bill Longley was fourteen years old and was attending the school at Old Evergreen. He was well liked by all of the boys, and one of the largest pupils in the school, and by his teens was skilled in the use of guns. Bill hated the changes in the US after the Civil War, and Reconstruction, particularly disliking the increased power and freedom that it offered previously oppressed black slaves.
Life as a killer When he was 16 he killed for the first time. A black policeman on a horse was riding along a street in Evergreen, cursing the locals, including Bills father – Campbell. Bill challenged the officer, and when the officer raised his gun, Bill shot him, killing him. His killing increased, frequently the targets being black former slaves. The accounts of his killing and associations are many, and are documented in great detail elsewhere. While in the company of an outlaw gang in Arkansas, Bill was captured by a group of vigilantes and lynched for being a cattle thief. As his executioners rode off, they fired shots at Bill and his compatriots. As well as injuring Bill, one of the shots severed the rope hanging Bill, and he dropped to the ground, alive. Such was his notoriety that by 1870 there was a bounty of $1,000 for his capture – dead or alive. After killing a solider for insulting the virtues of Texas women he was captured, sentenced to 30 years prison, and incarcerated. It didn’t take him long to escape. In 1870 he enlisted in the United States cavalry and almost immediately deserted. He was captured, court-martialled, and sentenced to two years’ confinement at Camp Stambaugh, Wyoming Territory. After about six months he was released back to his unit, until he again deserted on June 8, 1872. In July 1873 Longley was arrested in Kerr County by Sheriff J. J. Finney and was taken to Austin so that Finney could collect the reward. After several days, when the reward money had not been paid to Finney, he released Longley. According to legend, Finney was paid off by a Longley relative. By February 1876 Wild Bill was working for Reverend William R. Lay in Delta County, Texas. A dispute with a local man over a girl led to Longley’s arrest, however the ever resourceful Bill escaped by starting a fire in the jail. For reasons unknown he was angry with the Reverend Lay and on June 13, 1876, he shot and killed the religious man while he was milking a cow. He now headed to Louisiana while the heat on him cooled a little, however he was captured in DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, by Nacogdoches County Sheriff Milton Mast. He was returned to Lee County to stand trial for an earlier murder. In wide ranging letters to newspapers and the Governor he railed against a potential death sentence, and boasted about having killed 32 people – a figure he later revised to 8. On September 5, 1877, the jurors of Lee County deliberated for only 90 minutes before they sentenced William Preston Longley to death by hanging – a decision upheld by the Court of Appeal in March 1878. He was returned to Giddings, Texas to be hanged. It was in front of a crowd of thousands of locals and dignitaries waiting his execution that Bill claimed that he had only killed 8 people. Immediately before his hanging commenced, Wild Bill held up his hand, saying: “I deserved this fate. It is a debt I have owed for a wild and reckless life. So long, everybody!” Then he nodded to the executioner and was sent downward through the trap to his death. The hanging could best be described as a shambles, and reports differ as to exactly what happened. Either the rope slipped, or it was too long. The result was that he dropped through the trap onto the ground, breaking a leg. He was hastily hanged, and re-hanged, before eventually dangling for over 11 minutes before being pronounced dead. The fact that nobody from his (substantial) family was present for the hanging comes as little surprise. What seems a little more despondent is that only one relative – a 10 year old niece – even visited him shortly before.
Buried twice Being hanged thrice was not enough for our Bill – he was even buried twice. After he was finally pronounced dead, he was buried outside the boundary of Giddings Cemetery west of Giddings, Texas. For most people, this would be the end of the story, save the exploits of their descendants. Oh no. Not for Wild Bill Longley. He’s not nearly done!
Exhumation Nine years after Bill has finally been put to rest, his father made an assertation that his son is alive and well, living and prospering in Central America. This viewpoint is picked up by a newspaper, and such is the notoriety of Bill that it gains some traction. Campbell maintains that the hanging was staged, and that key presiding officials were paid off by a relative of Bill. The story was picked up in 1988 in a book “Dead Man on the Bayou?”, in which the author believes that there is merit in the theory/ story. I guess it makes a more interesting read that way! The book piqued the interest of 2 geoarcheologists who started searching for his grave, finally locating it 3 years later. In 2001 his body was exhumed, and based on an analysis of his body remains, plus items that he was wearing at the time of his execution, it is concluded that the remains are those of William Preston Longley, and he is re-interred. So far as it’s possible to tell, this IS the end of his story.
Conclusion This is the story of a serial killer, although of course this is a label that only came into existence in the 1970’s. He was a resourceful and cunning man, evading capture for many years, adopting new identities, escaping from various jails, and even becoming appointed as a Deputy in order to provide an opportunity to kill an adversary. As part of this cunning, he was clearly a persuasive and believable individual, and he learnt his craft in lying and deceiving. Was he was a gun-slinger, or simply a callous and cold-blooded murderer. Killing a religious man in cold-blood hints at someone with no morals, or no control. He brought shame upon an otherwise respectable family, and not content with his own exploits, he even dragged in other family members. He ended the lives of numerous people, ruined the lives of many others, and finally paid for his crimes in somewhat fitting circumstances.