The Death Gun: American Bulldog
American Bulldog .44 Caliber Found With The Body. According to a firearms expert I consulted, and my own Web browsing, the American Bulldog revolver of the 1890s was not so much a brand as a generic type of handgun. The standard British Army revolver of the 1870s was the .45 Webley. A civilian knockoff called the British Bulldog was popular. Foreign copies included the Belgian Bulldog and the American Bulldog.
The American Bulldog type consisted of a variety of calibers and models, which today would be classified as a 'suicide special' or a 'Saturday night special' or even a 'throwaway' on the low end. No wonder that testimony in the Beautiful Stranger's inquest indicated her gun had rust on it. Its baseline model was a .32 caliber six shot revolver, which was actually a smaller handgun for the times. It had a standard grip, and a short barrel. The range of calibers and dimensions varied all the way up to the .44 that LAB used to shoot herself. TOP
Gun dealer Chick says he sold LAB a .44 American Bulldog. Physician/surgeon B.F. Mertzmann says he estimates the round to have been in the range of .38 to .40. This putative discrepancy was later (1980s) cited as possible grounds for a framed murder by Alan May, in that the bullet allegedly did not match the gun. But the round taken from her skull had been damaged during the shooting, obviously, and a 1980s review of the case by San Diego authorities did not find sufficient grounds to review or overturn the 1892 jury finding of suicide. TOP
While one can't 100% rule out the possibility of murder, the fact that she went into town to purchase a gun that most likely killed her considerably weakens any supposition of murder. That's because she herself introduced a gun into the equation, and suicide is the simplest way to explain the causative arc from that purchase, across her obvious debility and depression, to her ultimate demise. TOP
The electrician Cone, who first found the body, describes the gun as 'large.' A point of detail is in order here. The gun itself would have been considered relatively light for the time period. However, the .44 caliber introduces a new variable. Because of the size of the round, the highly unusual cylinder was able to contain only five shots. The cylinder still looked enlarged compared to the .32 for which the generic gun was designed. So most likely what Cone saw was not a really 'large' handgun, but a somewhat grotesque .44 handgun whose swollen-looking cylinder midsection looked out of place between the standard grip and short barrel designed for the .32 models. My thanks to 1SG Richard Agler, USMC Ret. for his time and expertise in researching most of his information for me. TOP
Fine Details. When electrician Cone found the body, he thought at first it as doll or a sleeping woman. Then he saw the gun under her hand. He did not go close, saw blood, but no wound. According to Dick Agler, who also showed me pictures of suicides on line, in those days people did not widely know of smokeless powder. Accordingly, we must assume that the entire right side of her face was covered with black, greasy soot, as well as her right (trigger) hand. None of this is mentioned. A lack of copious blood caused Alan May to surmise she had been murdered elsewhere, and her body planted there. However, the horrific night storm and rain would wash away most blood and powder residue. She had gone to town, depressed and at the end of her rope physically. She bought a gun, came back, and killed herself. The murder question may not be entirely off the table, but there is no reason to suspect it. Mr. Agler also mentioned that, given the rust on the gun, both it and the ammunition were probably substandard. The bullet may actually have misfired, killing her, but the bullet remained lodged in her skull as if the grain charge had been weak, defective, or just plain damp. Who knows how long she stood in the pouring rain, with the gun to her temple, while wind howled and sheets of water whipped all around herbefore she finally squeezed the trigger. TOP