Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sole bid wins Guevara memorabilia

Sole bid wins Guevara memorabilia
Posted on Fri, Oct. 26, 2007

A lock of Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara's hair -- secretly preserved for years
by a Miami exile who buried the rebel leader 40 years ago this month --
garnered a winning bid of $100,000 at an auction Thursday night.

And the winner was . . . not Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who had
shown interest.

No, the winning -- and only -- bid was placed by Bill Butler, 61, a book
dealer from Houston who called Che ``one of the greatest revolutionaries
of the 20th century.''

The strands of hair and a large album full of memorabilia had belonged
to Gustavo Villoldo, a Bay of Pigs veteran who had worked with the CIA
on several missions. He kept them since his involvement in the 1967
mission to capture and bury Che in Bolivia.

Reached after the auction, Villoldo told The Miami Herald he was amused
by the sale.

''I did not place such value on the album only because I know the
history of Che,'' said Villoldo. ``To me, Che is a criminal. It's a
surprise to see somebody pay that amount of money for the hair and a few
photos of a dead Che.''

Earlier this year, Villoldo, 71, a South Miami-Dade grandfather,
revealed to The Miami Herald the existence of the snippet of hair. He'd
cut it from the rebel leader himself just minutes before helping to
secretly bury him and two of his men in a Bolivian airstrip on Oct. 11,

The sale closes Villoldo's long chapter with Che, a poster boy of the
Cuban Revolution. In the wake of Fidel Castro's rise to power, Che was
named head of Cuba's national bank and ordered the Villoldo family's
auto business confiscated.

Ruined, Villoldo's father committed suicide.

Since revealing his secret possession of the memorabilia, Villoldo has
been inundated by offers. A New York filmmaker is planning a documentary
of Villoldo's days with the CIA.

The hair was the showpiece of the collection, which also included maps
of the mission, photographs of a dead Che and fingerprints taken from
his dead body.

The sale of the collection was handled by Heritage Auction Galleries of

Memorabilia experts had placed the value of the Che collection in the
six-figure range. In the last days, the minimum bid required had climbed
to $100,000.

Hours before the auction, Heritage Auction confirmed a high-ranking
official from Venezuela had requested a catalog of the Che items.

In the end, no one famous -- or infamous -- placed a bid.

In some circles the sale was viewed as offensive. Due to threats, the
auction house had hired extra security as a precaution.

Tom Slater, a director at Heritage, was disappointed more buyers hadn't
jumped into the fray. ''There was so much controversy surrounding the
lot I think it may have given some people pause,'' Slater said.

In the end it was Butler, a self-described collector of 1960s items, who
made the sole bid over the telephone. Butler will end up writing a check
for $119,500 -- to cover the cost of the items plus the auction house's

Butler said he plans to display the lock of hair at his Butler & Sons
Books in Rosenberg, just southwest of Houston.

Said Kelley Norwine, spokeswoman for the auction house, Butler was proud
of winning this lot. He's ''never been to Cuba,'' Norwine said, ``but
would love to go.''

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