Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The McGlincy Family Massacre

Too Many Dunhams

One of the largest obstacles hindering Lyndon's pursuit was the number of men sighted (and often held) as being Dunham -- but who were, in fact, cases of mistaken identity.

As early as May 30, the Mercury reported, "Dunham apparently has a double.  A telephone message was received from Concord, Contra Costa County, yesterday afternoon, stating that a man answering the description of the fugitive murderer passed through that place at noon, stopping long enough to take dinner.  The stranger must bear a remarkable resemblance to Dunham, as the report says the description tallied in almost every respect."

Lyndon had used that tin-type photograph Dunham accidentally left behind on numerous wanted posters, but the sheriff quickly dismissed the Concord sighting because that city was too far northeast of the Smiths Creek area where Dunham had last been seen.

As Lyndon's wanted posters and news of the crime were distributed beyond California, sightings and apprehensions of men who unluckily looked like Dunham were reported to Lyndon, reviving interest in the case and raising false hopes that the fugitive would be brought to justice.

In July, a detective in North Dakota telegraphed Lyndon to say that they had Dunham in custody and requested that the sheriff send law officers to bring him back to California.  Upon arrival in Fargo, according to the Mercury, "it only took one glance to decide that Dunham had not been captured."

That same month came reports from Louisiana that Dunham was in custody, and the suspect languished in jail for more than a week before it was determined that he was not the McGlincy murderer.

Almost a year later, the Mercury reported that an officer aboard a cargo ship who had previously worked in the Santa Clara County (but did not know of the crime) had recognized Dunham among the workers.  Dunham, the man stated, "appealed to me not to reveal his identity, to call him 'Brown' and treat him well, and gave me $80 in gold."  Once in port in New York, the officer went on, "we met an officer of the ship Bermuda. The idea of volunteering greatly pleased Dunham, and he at once made arrangements to go to Cuba.  The vessel left port the next day and Dunham went with it."  Only later did the ship's officer come across newspaper stories and Lyndon's wanted poster -- and he promptly reported his encounter to Sheriff Lyndon.

Campbell Hall and C.W. Willet's general store

The most unsettling case of mistaken identity took place early in the manhunt, as reports suddenly flooded Lyndon's office that Dunham had been spotted near the town of San Miguel, 150 miles south of Campbell.  The Mercury reported on the description given to Lyndon by a San Miguel woman who was stopped by a strange man and asked for food: "He wore dark clothesand had a scar on the back of his left hand, which had evidently been badly scratched.  His feet were wrapped in sacks.  Before leaving her he begged that she say nothing about meeting him."  Others had also seen the man in the area, and Lyndon and some of his men went rushing to the scene.  Upon arrival, they learned from the local sheriff that the wandering man was in fact a certain Philip Crowley who, coincidentally, was another fugitive on the run from the law.

It generally became accepted that Dunham had successfully escaped, most likely to Mexico.  The story of the grisly murders would occasionally come to light as other men were held under suspicion -- and in 1953, a skeleton found in the area near Smiths Creek caused some to speculate that Dunham had killed himself, but a definitive identification of the remains was never made.

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