Frank Abrams bought the tintype — a popular late-19th-century method of creating photographic images using thin sheets of metal — for just $10 dollars, and historians and photographic experts have revealed that included in the group of five men posed for the picture are Billy the Kid and the soon-to-be-sheriff, Pat Garrett, who would go on to gun him down in cold blood.
The tintype image, about the size of a large human palm, looks, at first glance, like five cowboys lounging, When Abram's first purchased it, he hung it up in an extra bedroom used for Airbnb clients, and jokingly told visitors it was of Jesse James, another famous 19th century US outlaw, and his gang.
In 2015, Abrams heard about a similar tintype that was discovered depicting Billy the Kid playing croquet, which was quickly valued at $5 million. The lawyer soon contacted the professionals, including William Dunniway, a tintype expert, who asserted that the image was arguably taken between 1875-1880.
"Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm," Dunniway told Nytimes.com. The tintype authority brought in a forensics expert named Kent Gibson, who agreed that Billy the Kid and Garrett were included in the photo.
The story goes that Garrett and Billy the Kid had once been friends, and the two often gambled together at cards. After Garrett became a sheriff, he told his buddy Billy that it had become his legal obligation to shoot the notorious outlaw on sight, and advised him to leave town.
"Garrett was saying, ‘If you leave New Mexico, I'm not going to pursue you. But if you stay in the territory, then no matter where you are, I have to come after you,'" according to retired Arizona State University history professor Robert Stahl, cited by Nytimes.com.
After becoming sheriff, Garrett captured Billy the Kid, but the outlaw — just 21 at the time — escaped, killing two deputies in the process.
Garrett finally tracked him down in 1881, in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and, in a darkened room, the sheriff recognized Billy the Kid's voice. Garrett is said to have immediately drawn his weapon and fired, killing the young outlaw instantly.
After learning of the tintype's true provenance, Abrams quietly removed it from the wall of his rental room, and cached it in a safe deposit box in a bank.
The lucky owner claims to not be interested in it's current market value, only relishing the privilege of being able to hold it in his hands.
"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come," Abrams declared.
"I don't know what it's worth," he added, asserting that, "I love history. It's a privilege to have something like this."