WRIGHT CITY, Mo. – If Elvis were here today, he might say, "Thank you, thank you very much" for the 17 years that an odd Missouri outpost has been making the case that the King never died.
But the burden of proof soon will fall on someone else's shoulders.
Bill Beeny, the 81-year-old proprietor of The Elvis is Alive Museum, said he has placed his Elvis Presley memorabilia on eBay in hopes that someone else will take up the cause. His collection includes photographs, books, FBI files, replicas of the Cadillac the King drove and of the casket and gravestone from his 1977 funeral, even a painted Elvis head.
Beeny, a self-described "western Kentucky hillbilly" Baptist minister who wound up in Missouri 50 years ago, is selling the contents of his roadside attraction, a transformed coin-operated laundry 55 miles west of St. Louis that he opened in 1990, to satisfy something else that drives him.
"I have a burden to help people," said Beeny, wearing the penciled dark mustache, long sideburns and slick black hair of an Elvis aficionado. "Someone else can run, will run, the museum. No one in the whole county is doing the job I intend to do."
Beeny wants to put his energy into serving the needy in rapidly growing Warren County by providing child care, senior services, a food pantry and counseling for the addicted.
Beeney said he'll miss Elvis, "but life has its changes. You have to let go."
He hopes someone will buy the collection and open a new museum dedicated to the theory that Elvis lives — although the look and feel of Beeny's place could be hard to duplicate.
Outside, a 16-foot sign of a rhinestone-belted Elvis holding a microphone dominates an otherwise humdrum small-town landscape. A replica of Elvis' old Cadillac that hasn't been started for years is parked out front.
Inside the small museum, signs in large, bold letters and exclamation points scream out, "FREE MUSEUM," "SEE FUNERAL ROOM," "10 REASONS WHY I BELIEVE ELVIS IS ALIVE!" and "DNA PROVES ELVIS IS ALIVE."
Visitors wind their way around a casket, complete with a mannequin that doesn't look anything like Elvis, hundreds of photographs and yellowed news clippings, and a poster of the famous photo of President Nixon and Presley from 1970.
Visitors can hear what is said to be a tape recording of Presley's voice, supposedly copied off a telephone answering machine six years after the funeral, as well as see piles of documents that Beeny said are FBI files proving Presley's involvement with federal authorities.
Beeny, who had been only a nominal fan of Elvis Presley, started to doubt his death when customers at Beeny's former 1950s Cafe in Wright City asked questions that couldn't be answered.
Beeny said he eventually showed that the tissue samples of Elvis he says he obtained from a Memphis doctor did not match samples he says were taken from the cadaver "purported to be Elvis." Beeny later wrote a book, "Elvis' DNA Proves He's Alive!"
He also claims Presley had good reason to disappear: He's in the federal Witness Protection Program for assistance he provided federal law enforcement authorities.
David Beckwith, a spokesman for Elvis Presley Enterprises, which manages Graceland, the King's estate and mansion in Memphis, Tenn., said the company has no comment.