Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Can This 50-Year-Old Mystery Still Be Solved?

Double Murder in Oak Grove Cemetery

Written by Robert A. Waters

In 1972, Sumter County remained a bulwark against the wave of uncontrolled growth beginning to smother Florida. The mega-city called The Villages still had not invaded Sumter and surrounding counties. Instead, a few small country towns squatted among the farms, ranches, and patches of forest.

Two miles southeast of Wildwood lay the Oak Grove Cemetery. Mostly scrub oak, pines, and sand, it was known for having the remains of 31 Confederate veterans interred there among the locals. But at 8:00 A.M. on February 22, a caller to the sheriff’s office breathlessly stated that two more bodies, uninterred and painted crimson, had joined the others.

Deputies from the Sumter Sheriff’s Department arrived with sirens and blazing lights. They found a dark blue Chevrolet Bel Air next to the victims. All four tires had been slashed. A man lay face down, bloody from numerous stab wounds. A female rested on his legs, wearing only a Union 76 smock. The two were quickly identified: Shirley Elizabeth Whitten, 19, from nearby Coleman, and Roger Dale Higgins, 26, a Fort Lauderdale resident. Cops learned that Whitten was a clerk at the Union 76 Truck Stop in Wildwood, and Higgins a lumper for a south Florida trucking firm.

Having had little experience investigating such horrific crimes, Sumter County Sheriff Fred Roesel called in the Florida Criminal Investigation Department for help. Investigators followed a trail of blood from the crime scene to the cemetery’s entrance road about 100 feet away. The blood-trail then circled back to the bodies. The Tampa Tribune reported that “the keys [to the Bel Air] were not found. There was blood on the outside of the car and...some unidentified fingerprints were found on the car.” Nearby, tracks indicated that another car had left the cemetery at a high rate of speed.

Investigators concluded that the killer was local, and likely obsessed with Whitten. They reasoned that he may have even been stalking her and saw her leave the truck stop hand-in-hand with Higgins. Enraged, he followed them.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that Whitten and Higgins “met over a cup of coffee…Sometime in the night they got into Miss Whitten’s car and drove out about two miles west toward gloomy Oak Grove Cemetery, a strange trysting place.”

An autopsy revealed that Whitten had been stabbed 33 times, six times in the chest. She was still wearing her Wildwood High School class ring when found. Higgins suffered 34 stab wounds, seven to the chest. He had deep cuts on his fingers, indicating he grabbed the knife sometime during the attack.

In 1972, DNA profiling was two decades away. Fingerprint databases did not exist. There were few surveillance cameras in and around businesses. The phrase “serial killer” still had not been coined. And there seemed to be no witnesses to the crime. In small towns, the gossip machine is usually active, but here there was silence.

The investigation quickly stalled. If the theory held by most investigators was accurate, no one came forward to confirm it.

Twenty years later, the Orlando Sentinel wrote that “the murderer hacked the young couple to death, slashing at them repeatedly. Then, with his madman’s fury still unfulfilled, he slashed all four tires of Miss Whitten’s car…The motive was not clear then, and it still is not clear now. Miss Whitten had not been raped. Neither did robbery seem the cause. Police could only speculate that a Jack the Ripper was roaming the tranquil byways of Florida. No solid suspect in the killings has ever been found.” Documents indicate that the killer used a small pocket knife.

While little was known about Higgins, Whitten had a large family. Her father, Herb Whitten, became embittered when police could not solve the case. He conducted his own investigation, and offered a $1,000 reward, which was all he could afford. A former barber, Herb told reporters that Shirley was his first-born, and he acknowledged being partial to her. "I had her out frog-gigging when she was about two-years-old," he said. They hunted together and Shirley loved the outdoors. 

And there it stands. The case has not gone cold. In 1992, the FBI reviewed the case.  Their profile states “that there may have been not one, but two killers. One had a dominant personality and initiated the killings, but managed to persuade the second person to take part in order to bind him to the crime. The dominant killer probably finished school only through the tenth grade [and] may have worked as a mechanic or a service station attendant, maybe even at the nearby interchange at Interstate 75 and State Road 44.”

Even with all the blood and fingerprints, cops in 2020 seem no closer to solving the crime. For nearly fifty years, an unknown killer may have walked the streets of the normally quiet, peaceful town. Or maybe the murderer left the area and made other kills. Perhaps the crimes committed here were random acts by a stranger passing through the rural county. A rumor passed along by many residents was that the cemetery was used by drug dealers late at night and Whitten and Higgins saw something that got them killed.

Nearly fifty years later, can this case still be solved?

If you have information about this case, please contact Detective Darren Norris of the Sumter County Sheriff's Office at 352-569-1600.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Pizza Delivery Driver Assaulted, Fights Back

Ambush on Avery Place Lane

Written by Robert A. Waters

At 10:25 P. M., on March 7, 2009, dispatchers received a 9-1-1 call from pizza delivery driver Christopher Steven Miller:

Dispatcher: Lexington County 9-1-1.

Miller: Yeah, I’ve just been robbed. Shots fired.

Miller (after a brief pause): Are you there?

Dispatcher: Yeah, I’m putting it in now. What’s the address?

Miller: On Avery Place. 332 Avery Place. Four of them tried to rob me. I shot one. He’s going to need an ambulance.

Dispatcher: Is he down there now?

Miller: He’s down. He’s hurt bad, too. They came running out of the woods. Dressed up. They had bandannas on their faces. I took off running. One came running after me. He jumped on top of me. By then I had my gun out and I shot him. I didn’t know if he was armed or not. He wouldn’t stop chasing me so…




Avery Place Lane, a quiet residential street, lay a quarter mile from Irmo High School in Columbia, South Carolina. A few minutes earlier, someone had placed a call to the Pizza Hut on Irmo Drive requesting two large, thin-crust pizzas with extra cheese. The price was $24.95. Two men, Paul Andrew Sturgill, 17, and Jason Todd Beckham, 18, waited on the sidewalk outside the dark, currently-unoccupied home. Carlos Renard Dates, 20, and Justin Towan Roundtree, 18, stood in a patch of woods on the other side of the road.

Christopher Steven Miller, 43, had a wife and five-year-old daughter. He’d worked for ten years as a pizza delivery driver, four years for Pizza Hut. While the restaurant had a policy that forbade employees from being armed, many drivers ignored the rule. Being out on the dark streets at night with even a small amount of cash is dangerous—Miller had concealed a Taurus .45-caliber pistol in a fanny pack.

Deputies arrived to find Sturgill lying on the ground. Miller stood nearby, bleeding from the nose. A small crowd had gathered, watching. Witnesses informed detectives that, after the shooting, three other suspects had run back through the woods toward a condominium complex a few hundred yards away. Cops soon had the names of the three and began tracking them down.

Sturgill, still alive, was transported to Palmetto Richland Hospital for treatment where he was pronounced deceased shortly after arriving. Doctors later said he had sustained bullet wounds to the chest and abdomen.

Miller was taken to the emergency room. He had bruises on his face and a broken nose. After treatment, Miller penned a statement to police in which he described the shooting and events leading up to it. “I had a delivery to 332 Avery Place, Columbia,” he wrote. “When I pulled up to the house, two white males were standing outside the house. I stepped out of my truck and asked one if he ordered that pizza and he said yes. He asked me if I had change for a hundred. I told him no, that I only carry twenty dollars…he pulled out his wallet but did not have any money in it…”

The bizarre interaction made Miller suspicious. He’d been robbed twice before and was on-guard. When he spied two men running toward him from a nearby wooded area across the street, he knew he was in trouble. Not only that, they had masks pulled up over their faces. “I realized I was going to be robbed,” he wrote, “[so I] started running. The one closest to me (Sturgill) started chasing me. I threw the pizza bag containing the pizzas at him hoping they would take the pizzas and leave. He continued to chase me. At that time, I started to retrieve my gun from my pack around my waist because I realized all four of them were chasing me.

“The one closest to me jumped on top of me and threw a punch from behind me hitting me in my right eye and [breaking] my glasses. I pushed him off of me and he threw another punch hitting me in the side of my head. I could not see because of him hitting me in the eye so I could not see if the other three were upon me yet. At that time, I had my gun out and fired two rounds striking the male on top of me…”




Police soon rounded up Beckham, Dates, and Roundtree. At first, the three claimed to be elsewhere when the shooting occurred. However, before long, each suspect cracked and the story emerged. Roundtree, who belonged to a local gang, had befriended the other three. None of the three had much of police record. In fact, Sturgill was an honor student with caring parents who gave him a curfew. He played in the high school jazz band and had already signed up to enlist in the U. S. Army. Dates and Beckham had had minor run-ins with the law, but nothing violent.

They decided to rob a pizza delivery driver and designated Sturgill and Beckham to meet him because “they were white” and they figured he wouldn’t be suspicious. (Without the influence of Roundtree, detectives alleged that the other three would never have become involved in the deadly heist.)

Beckham, Dates, and Roundtree were each charged with robbery and criminal conspiracy. Miller was cleared as his was a case of self-defense.

Miller released a statement, part of which read: “I would like to tell the family of Paul Sturgill how sorry I am about the death of their son. I cannot begin to imagine the pain you are going through and for that I am deeply sorry.

“When I arrived at the house, I was confronted by four individuals [and] believing I was about to be robbed, I ran. All four individuals chased after me. After running about a hundred feet, Mr. Sturgill caught up to me. He jumped on top of me, punching me several times in the face and head, I pushed him away but he continued to attack me. Knowing that the other three would soon arrive to help him and believing I would be gravely injured or killed, I pulled my weapon and fired two shots in self-defense. The other three ran off. I immediately called 911 from my cell phone and told the operator what happened and to send the police and an ambulance…”

Dates served four years in prison for armed robbery. The terms served by Roundtree and Beckham, if any, are not available.

Miller, fearing he would be terminated from Pizza Hut, resigned.

Special thanks to the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department for sending me an incident report on this case.

Robert A. Waters is the author of Guns and Self-Defense with co-author Sim Waters. For 25 years, Waters has researched defensive shootings and written about hundreds of such cases. He has penned four books describing in detail many legitimate self-defense exploits. In addition, he has chronicled numerous self-defense cases on his blog, Kidnapping, Murder and Mayhem.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Old Newspapers

Written by Robert A. Waters

Thinking about the sacrifices made during World War II as America’s youth bled and died far from home, I wondered what ordinary citizens felt. I looked for a single newspaper in middle America to find out what was happening away from the national headlines. Kentucky is about as middle America as you can get.

February 11, 1945 was just another day in the long war.

The Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer in Kentucky reported that there seemed to be talk of “peace terms” with the Nazis. The lead headline screamed: “Yanks Seize Wrecked Dam on Roer.” A map portrayed the locations of German troops on one side of the river and Americans on the other side.  Meanwhile, the “Reds” were said to be approaching Berlin.

But beyond battles that would later be analyzed by future historians, personal stories dotted the local sections of the paper.

McLean (KY) Flier is Killed in Action

“Sgt. Oliver Robertson has been killed in action in the Mediterranean area, according to word received by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bert H. Robertson, of Livermore.” He died on January 20. Before the war, he’d been a student at the University of Kentucky. There was little additional information except that he had a brother fighting “somewhere in Belgium” and another in the South Pacific.

Former Local Boy Killed in Action

“Word has been received in Owensboro that Staff Sgt. Roy E. (Bud) Staton, Jr. was killed in action in the Mediterranean area… [Before the war], Mr. Staton was an engineer for Ellis and Smeathers Construction company. The boy attended Owensboro schools.

“Staff Sgt. Staton was first reported missing in action on October 17. The notice that he was killed in action was received only recently by the family. He was a nose gunner on a B-24 Liberator and had taken part in bombing missions over Ploesti, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Germany Czechoslovakia and northern Italy and participated in the invasion of Southern France.” Two brothers and a sister were in the armed services. The Find-a-Grave website reveals that Staton "was killed in action Oct. 17, 1944, on a bombing mission from Italy to Austria. The bombers left Sam Panscrazio, Italy, en route to Vienns, Austria. His bomber was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire near an island off the coast of Yugoslvavia."

Missing in Action

“Pfc John C. Lakin has been missing in action in France since January 17, according to word received Tuesday from the War Department by his mother…Pfc Lakin has been in the Army one year and overseas six months. He is with the 314th Infantry.”

Seriously Wounded

“Pfc Joseph W. Bartlett, of Owensboro, was seriously wounded in action in Belgium on January 16, according to word received from the War Department by his wife, Mrs. Juanita Bartlett, Star Route, Owensboro. He entered the Army in November, 1942 and has been overseas since October, or last year.”

Butler Sailor is Commended

“Gilmond Rhodes McDougall, motor machinist’s mate, first class U. S. Navy, Morgantown, has been commended by Admiral Harold S. Starke, for his performance of duty on June 9, 1944. The commendation read: ‘Your performance of duty while serving as a member of the crew of the U. S. S. LST 314 on June 9, 1944, when that ship was torpedoed three times, has been brought to my attention. Realizing that your ship was sinking you dove into the sea and retrieved a raft that had blown some distance from the ship, thus saving the lives of several of your shipmates who were exhausted.”

Wounded in Action

“Pfc Manuel Newcom was seriously wounded in action in Belgium on January 18, according to word received from the War Department Wednesday by his wife, Mrs. Anna Catherine Newcom. He has been in the Army since December, 1943, and overseas since June, 1944. Mrs. Newcom and their son reside with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Puckett, Utica, Route 1.”

Mother Seeks To Have Ninth Son Deferred

From the Associated Press comes the following out of Leighton, Pennsylvania: “Mrs. Russell MacFarland, whose eight sons are now in the armed services, sought Friday to have her ninth son deferred from induction.

“Mrs. MacFarland, whose second husband—ten years her junior—also is eligible for selective service, has seven sons overseas and one in the country. The ninth, Markus K. Smith, is scheduled to register Saturday on his 18th birthday. There are three younger children.

“President Harold B. Saeger, of the Leighton draft board, said men are needed so badly to fill the board’s next quota that the ninth son is scheduled to go to Wilkes-Barre for induction the first week in March.

“Meanwhile, friends of Mrs. MacFarland urged her to appeal to President Roosevelt to keep her ninth son at home.

“While she was considering this move, Mrs. MacFarland was advised by the War Department that one of the sons already in service, Clinton, 20, had been missing in action since Jan. 9.

“I wish that I could die instead of all this trouble,” Mrs. MacFarland said.


The newspaper also listed nearly one hundred “Kentuckians on the Casualty List” as well as Kentuckians interred in Japanese Prisoner of War camps. 

Several advertisements encouraged citizens to buy war bonds. 

The U. S. Postal Service, responding to complaints about missing packages overseas, released a statement: “Pilfering…does not include the heavy loss of army mail last December when German troops broke out in the Ardennes salient and captured tons of packages and letters at forward army postal field offices.” 

The U. S. Navy announced the loss of seven ships “as a result of enemy action in the Pacific area.”

Thus, one day in the life of the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, a middle America newspaper filled with stories of war, and those awaiting the return of loved ones.

Friday, October 23, 2020

"Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home?"

The Short Life and Tragic Death of Songwriter Hughie Cannon

Written by Robert A. Waters

Hughie Cannon was born in Detroit, Michigan on April 9, 1877. His father, John Cannon, was a writer and actor while May, his mother, was an actress and dancer. The marriage didn't last, and soon Hughie's father drifted away into the dark mists of ragtime bars and whores. May began traveling the Midwest acting in burlesque shows. According to the Daily Courier, "Hughie was 'raised in an actor's trunk' in the literal sense of the word. His home was a dressing room or a rolling train with one focal point--the 'show' illuminated by gas lights."

May used the stage name, "Little Trixie." She was about five feet tall and beautiful, and by all accounts, an extraordinary dancer. (She eventually remarried, settled in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, and opened a chain of successful theaters.) Life on the road was tough, but Hughie was a precocious child. He learned to play piano early on and began writing songs in his teens. Unfortunately, by that time the demon rum had already gripped his soul.

Several days before his death, the broken, homeless musician told his life's story to a reporter. "I quit the coke easy," Hughie said. "Fifteen days in jail cured me of that. I hit the pipe in New York for a year and stopped that. I went up against the morphine hard and quit, but booze--red, oily booze--that's got me for keeps. I started when I was sixteen. I'm thirty-six now and except for seven months on the wagon, I've been pickled most of the time. It was twenty years--twenty black, nasty, sick years--with only a little brightness now and then when I made good with some song."

Hughie wrote several songs that became popular, but sold the rights to each of them for a pittance.

His most famous tune, "Bill Bailey," netted him only $350. (By contrast, some successful songwriters of the day grossed more than $30,000 per year.) Strung out, desperately needing to get high, he sold the rights  of "Bill Bailey" to a New York vaudeville producer. Within days, the frolicking tune was the most popular song on Broadway. When phonograph records came along a few years later, "Bill Bailey" quickly sold more than a million copies. Everybody got rich on it except Hughie.

During this time, the singer-songwriter was playing speakeasies, taverns and roadhouses across the Midwest. He often played in Jackson, Michigan, a tough railroad town called "Little Chicago," known for its corrupt politicians and freewheeling morals. James Treloar described a saloon where Hughie sometimes played. Treloar wrote: "Men could get beer for 5 cents a pint, bar whiskey right out of the barrel for 10 cents, listen to a drifter named Hugh Cannon pound the piano keys, and later on begin eyeing the bawdy house upstairs over the grocery across the street."

In the early 1900s, ragtime, burlesque, jazz and blues had burst onto the scene, surprising big band musicians and tin pan alley crooners with its popularity. Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Al Jolson, Bennie Goodman and even Ira Gershwin helped make jazz fashionable. One song that almost all the big stars of the era recorded was "Bill Bailey." Arthur Collins recorded it first in 1902.

There are two versions of how Hughie wrote the song. In one version, he wrote it when he was sixteen and just beginning to compose tunes. In the second version, Hughie had a friend named Bill Bailey. While drinking in a bar one night, Bailey began to complain about how his wife threw him out of the house the previous day. Bailey informed Hughie that he was afraid to go home. Hughie told him not to worry and penned the lyrics to his now-famous song. Bailey wrote down the lyrics, took the song home, and showed it to his wife. She wasn't impressed, but did allow Bailey to stay home that night. Truth of fiction? Who knows?  

The song has been recorded by hundreds of musicians. It has become a staple of jazz, blues, swing, and country artists. Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald, Brenda Lee, Teresa Brewer, Bobby Darin, Sarah Vaughn and Mitch Miller all recorded "Bill Bailey."

Hughie Cannon died penniless on June 17, 1912. He took his last breath in a Toledo, Ohio "poorhouse" infirmary. An article in the Toledo Blade newspaper described his last days: "He was penniless and friendless with the exception of several hospital attaches and the infirmary doctor. Truly a pathetic scene when contrasted to the days when his songs were sung far and wide and their familiar tunes whistled on the street." In his last years, Hughie often wrote his mother begging for money. Ever the loving mother, May always obliged her wayward son.

"Hughie drifted," Richard Robbins wrote, "playing piano in cafes and entertaining acquaintances with his drawings. Frequently, his day ended in a drunken stupor. His death, in Toledo, came 32 days after being admitted to the Lucas County Infirmary. He was 35." The cause of death was determined to be cirrhosis of the liver.

His mother paid for his body to be shipped back to Connellsville where he was buried. His gravestone reads: "Hughie Cannon" and "Bill Bailey."

I love this jazzy version of "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home" by the Westside Syncopators.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

A Lady and Her Ruger

“Don’t come in my house. I have a gun.”

Written by Robert A. Waters

On February 16, 2017, the weather in St. Petersburg, Florida was 66 degrees and cloudy. Mary Shirley opened a window in her bedroom, thankful for the cool air.

The sixty-seven-year-old widow sat at her computer watching the local news. The digital clock in her two-bedroom bungalow on 24th Avenue South displayed exactly 6:13 a.m. when Shirley heard a slight rustling outside. She thought little of it, however, since homeless people often scavenged through her trash cans. Neighbors in surrounding homes had often complained to police about the trespassers, but no arrests were made.

Years earlier, Shirley’s husband had purchased a 6-shot Ruger .357 Magnum revolver. He taught her to fire the gun and emphasized that it was for protection. Shirley kept the loaded pistol in a drawer near her computer.

In a police report, detectives wrote that “[Shirley] continued to hear the noises and then it sounded like her window was opening in the living room. Shirley stated she moved into the living room and observed a subject’s right foot entering through the window as if stepping inside the house.”

She yelled at the intruder, later identified as Timothy Scott Tugman (pictured above). “You’d better go,” she said. “I’m gonna get my gun and shoot you.”

Shirley hurried into her bedroom. She fought the panic gripping her, reached into the dresser drawer, and retrieved her pistol. The detective wrote: “[Shirley] came back into the living room and saw the subject still attempting to enter the house through the back window. She stated his right foot was almost on the floor.”

The widow again yelled at Tugman: “Don’t come in my house. I have a gun.”

When he continued trying to enter her home, Shirley fired. The first bullet struck the wall beneath the window. Tugman ignored the gunshot and yelled, “Open the door!” Shirley fired again, this time hitting him in the side. The intruder fell from the window and sprinted away.

Shirley called 911. When officers arrived, she told them she had been in fear for her life because she did not recognize the intruder. A detective wrote that “Ms. Shirley, a 67-year-old petite female, was very pleasant and inviting. She was visibly shaken and had a blanket wrapped around both her legs, with a black bonnet covering her hair.”

Realizing that the suspect was likely nearby, officers began searching the neighborhood. They found him a block away, lying on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. Tugman was transported by ambulance to Bayfront Hospital in St. Petersburg. There, physicians reported that the bullet had exited through his lower back. After treatment, Tugman would recover. 

St. Petersburg Police Department spokesman Rick Shaw told reporters that the intruder was attempting to raise the window in order to enter the residence. “She does not know the man,” Shaw said. “She’s never seen him before.”

Detectives determined that he was a heavy user of “spice,” a synthetic marijuana derivative that has been responsible for mental health problems. Tugman, never quite able to comply with societal norms, had a long rap sheet. He’d been arrested numerous times for crimes such as obtaining property by stolen check; worthless checks; and obtaining property fraudulently. In 2014, Tugman pled guilty to drug charges in Pinellas County, and had numerous charges in surrounding counties. While he had no violent crimes on his record, the fact that he would knowingly enter an occupied home without permission proved his dangerousness.

Tugman was tried for Occupied Residential Burglary, convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.

Mary Shirley was not charged with any crime. She summarized her feelings when speaking to Jennifer Titus, 10 News in Tampa: “I was watching [the] news trying to end the stress out, you know. Then I heard my window coming up…I saw this foot hanging in my window and I’m telling this young man, ‘I’m gonna get my gun now, I’m going to get my gun’ and he proceeded to come in so what do you do when you get your gun. You shoot. The first shot missed him, I guess, but the second shot hit him in the stomach.”

Without a gun, Mary Shirley would have been at the mercy of Tugman. With his addiction and mental health issues, mercy is likely to have been the last thing on Tugman’s mind.

Robert A. Waters is the author of Guns and Self-Defense with co-author Sim Waters. For 25 years, Waters has researched defensive shootings and written about hundreds of such cases. He has penned four books describing in detail many legitimate self-defense exploits. In addition, he has chronicled numerous self-defense cases on his blog, Kidnapping, Murder and Mayhem.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Savage Murder of Ruby Ann Payne

Babysitter Attacked by "Sex Fiend"

Written by Robert A. Waters

At fifteen-years of age, Ruby Ann Payne still had that welcome glow of innocence about her. When school reopened that fall, she would be a sophomore. Now, on the afternoon of August 8, 1952, in Yorba Linda, California, she was babysitting the three children of William Perry Dyer. A beekeeper and farmer, Dyer had hired the neighbor girl to babysit Kenny, 8, Johnny, 5, and Ruby, 2, while he and his wife went shopping.

A farming community 38 miles north of Los Angeles, many landowners hired braceros from Mexico to harvest their crops. Dyer had no braceros, so he employed a distant relative, eighteen-year-old Billy Rupp, as a helper. The kid was trouble and Dyer knew it, but thought he'd give the boy a chance.

A few moments after Dyer drove away, Rupp knocked on the back door of the farmhouse. As Ruby Ann sat on the sofa in the play room watching television, Kenny answered the door.

"Are your parents home?" Rupp asked.

"No. They've gone shopping."

Rupp left for a few minutes, then returned holding a .22-caliber rifle. He entered the home and asked the eight-year-old to fetch him a hammer. Kenny quickly returned with a claw-hammer and handed it to Rupp. The farmhand then sent the boy on another errand outside the home.

Rupp made straight for the play room. For a moment he watched the children playing on the floor while Ruby Ann's eyes were glued to the television set. Then he moved behind the babysitter and slugged her with the hammer. Blood spurted from the top of her head and she screamed before jumping off the couch and racing down the hall. Rupp fired, his first bullet hitting Ruby Ann squarely in the back. She kept running and the farmhand fired again. This time she went down.

Outside, Kenny heard the gunshots and ran back into the house. He stood shell-shocked, watching as Rupp attempted to remove Ruby Ann's jeans. The boy asked Rupp what had happened, but the farmhand remained silent. Then, as if realizing that the child had discovered his sinister plan, Rupp hurried outside, climbed into his car, and disappeared.

Kenny ran next door and alerted Mrs. Belba Quinn. She quickly called a doctor and implored him to hurry, then followed the boy back home. The neighbor attempted to aid Ruby Ann, but soon realized there was no hope for the girl.

That evening, the coroner performed an autopsy. It read: "One bullet entered [Ruby Ann's] back, passed through the lungs and emerged from the chest. A second bullet penetrated the right side of the face and lodged in the neck. In addition, a wound which could have been caused by a blow from a hammer was found on the top of the head. Death resulted from asphyxiation, caused by blood entering the trachea and bronchea (sic), combined with shock and loss of blood. An examination of the genital system revealed a bruise or abrasion on the hymen, resulting from the insertion of some object into the vagina. No traces of semen fluid were found about the body, although stains of that substance appeared upon Rupp's underclothing."

By now, Rupp was long gone.

Journalist Ruth Reynolds later wrote that "an all-points bulletin [for] the teenager flashed across the state--5 feet 10, 179 pounds, light brown hair cut short, brown eyes; probably wearing sun tans and an aluminum oilfield type helmet. His car was a black 1937 Ford coupe."

When Billy's father and step-mother heard the news, they collapsed. Reporters printed photos of the grieving couple sobbing in disbelief. The Dyers were also stunned. "I meant to fire Billy a week ago because he was lazy and shiftless," William Dyer said. "I knew he was dumb, but I never expected anything like this about him."

Laurence and Helen Payne, meanwhile, told reporters the family was holding up "fairly well." Their daughter, a religious girl, had voiced an interest in becoming a missionary in India. She loved her dog and her home, which was located on a hill above dozens of cypress groves. While Laurence said he wished for justice in the case, he held no animosity toward Rupp's parents.

In the meantime, Rupp drove into the mountains and slept in his car that night. For the next four days, the teenager kept to himself in a rugged canyon area near Newport. His only food was a half-bag of pretzels. Finally, on the verge of starving, the killer abandoned his car and walked to a restaurant in the small town of Brea. The cafeteria owner, who had been closely following the case, recognized the teenager and alerted police. Rupp had taken one bite of his hamburger before being overpowered and arrested.

Rupp made three confessions. He stated that he had seen Ruby Ann several times and was sexually attracted to her. That day, when the Dyers left, he decided to "force" himself on her.

This wasn't his first violent sex attempt. When he was 14, Rupp entered the bedroom of a Cypress, California housewife and attempted to rape her. The victim fought back, however, and he beat her unconscious with the butt of a rifle.

Rupp served no time. Instead, he was committed to Camarillo State Hospital for three months. A psychiatric evaluation found him to be a psychopath, with little if any empathy for others. Doctors recommended close monitoring of the offender. Then he was released to the custody of his father.

At trial, Rupp's attorney argued that he was brain-damaged. Public Defender N. D. Meyer said he'd been injured during birth when doctors pulled him from the birth canal with forceps. "The boy is not able to control his emotions as a normal individual does," Meyer said, "because of the brain damage reported by the psychiatrists. I'm not asking you to turn this boy loose. But I want you to remember this brain damage and do what you think is right."

The jury did just that. Using the "better safe than sorry" theory, they sentenced Rupp to death.

Six years later, after many appeals, Billy Rupp gasped his last breath in San Quentin's gas chamber. Women all over California breathed a sigh of relief. A budding serial killer had been removed from society for good.

Ruby Ann Payne, who had never even been on a date, was soon forgotten, except by family and friends. Nearly 70 years later, there is little mention of her on the internet.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

“She Rose from the Dead”

Wrongful murder conviction

Written by Robert A. Waters

Mary Vickery (pictured above) disappeared from Coxton, Kentucky on August 17, 1925. The “plump” blonde-haired fourteen-year-old lived with her father Charles, and stepmother, Nellie. Coxton was a small town in the heart of coal country, four miles west of Bloody Harlan, so-called because decades of deadly battles between coal company owners and union organizers made national headlines. The relationship between Mary and her parents, particularly Nellie, was strained. At the time the girl vanished, no one, including Charles and Nellie, seemed much alarmed.

On October 15, United States Marshal Adrian Metcalf was searching for a moonshine still in one of the hundreds of abandoned mine shafts in the mountains above Coxton. In Bugger Hollow mine, he literally stumbled on a cache of bones. County officials, called to the scene, discovered a complete human skeleton. The coroner estimated the age of the remains to be 12-14 years. Even though the victim was brunette, the coroner called Charles Vickery in to see if he could determine whether the remains were that of his daughter. Based only on a shirt and a ring found at the scene, Charles identified Mary. For someone who had learned his missing daughter had been discovered deceased, Charles’ behavior seemed odd—he didn’t even attend Mary’s funeral. The coroner could not determine how the girl had died.

A few months before Mary’s disappearance, Conley Dabney, 30, moved from Coal Creek, Tennessee to Coxton. Married, with two young children, Dabney was looking for work in the coal mines. He quickly found a job and established a reputation as a hard worker. He had no criminal record and few, if any vices. He had promised his wife he would remain faithful to her while he was away.

An enterprising young man, Dabney saved enough money to buy an old Ford sedan. Recognizing that most people in the area walked to where they needed to go, Dondy, as he was called, set up the car as a taxi. He soon had plenty of business. One of his frequent customers was an attractive single woman, twenty-seven-year-old Marie Jackson. Described in the newspapers as “having been with many men,” Marie quickly set her sights on Dabney. True to his word, he rejected her advances.

Dabney soon left the area and moved back to his hometown in Tennessee. He later testified in court that he left because his daughter had become ill and he wanted to find work closer to home.

For months, Marie Jackson brooded over Dabney’s rebuff. Finally, she decided to get revenge on the straight-arrow cabbie. At the sheriff’s office, she informed investigators that she had witnessed Dabney murder Mary Vickery.

An investigation began into Dondy Dabney (pictured above). There was no evidence against him except the accusations of Marie. After several false starts (grand juries twice refused to indict Dabney), the suspect was arrested and brought to trial.

Yale Law School Professor Edwin M. Borchard summarized Jackson’s testimony to the court: “About seven o’clock the morning Mary Vickery disappeared, [Jackson] and Mary stopped Dabney’s taxi as it came up to them on a road just outside of Coxton.” After taking the girls into town and buying them lunch, Marie claimed the three went to Ivy Hill, an isolated place in the mountains. Mary sat in the front seat with Dabney as he drove.

“At the hill,” Borchard wrote, “they got out of the car and sat down on a log in a clearing. After they had talked a little while, according to Marie, Dabney told her to go around behind the hill as he wanted to talk to Mary alone. She said she went away and sat down at a place from which Dabney and Mary were visible to her. She told the court that she saw Dabney hug the girl, who protested, and then strike her with a stick. Mary fell to the ground and the witness said she saw Dabney attack her. [Marie] then told how Dabney walked around the hill, came back, and finally found her. He told her, she said, that if she ever mentioned what had happened, he would burn her at the stake and that if he was prevented, he would have someone else do it. She said Dabney then took the body to the mine while she fled the scene.”

In addition to Marie’s testimony, a jailhouse informant told the court that, while awaiting trial, Dabney had confessed to killing Mary.

The defense called three witnesses who testified that they’d seen Dabney’s taxi in town at the time he was allegedly murdering Mary. Dabney testified that he did not remember taking Mary to the train station, but he had lots of clients and couldn’t remember them all. He vehemently denied that he’d murdered Mary.

Conley Dabney was convicted and sentenced to life in prison at hard labor. He served eleven months before learning that his “victim” had returned home.

When Mary appeared at her father’s doorway, he was shocked. He welcomed his daughter home and soon word spread around town. Mary told detectives that she ran away from home because of conflicts with her stepmother.

After being interviewed by detectives, Mary explained her absence to reporters. “Conley Dabney was driving a taxicab,” she said, “and I had him take me to the [train] station. He left me there and I went to Cincinnati where I got a job in a woolen mill. Several months ago, I heard that I was supposed to have been killed and that some man had been sent to prison for killing me. I dreaded to go back home, so I did not do anything about it for a while. Then someone I told about it said I ought to go back and get him out.”

Harlan County Sheriff George S. Ward hauled Marie Jackson into the station. His detectives created a lineup to determine whether Jackson knew Vickery, as she had claimed. The accuser could not pick Mary out of the six women she was shown. Ward immediately arrested Jackson.

Within 24 hours, she had confessed to making up the story. Kentucky Governor William J. Fields pardoned Dabney and demanded an investigation into the affair. Dondy was released from prison and the state debated whether to give him $5,000 for his wrongful conviction. 

The case caused much consternation among legal scholars and local officials. How could an innocent man be convicted on almost no evidence? How could a jilted wannabe lover be cold-hearted enough to send a man to prison just because he rejected her? Jailhouse informants in America have an atrocious record of lying to get their sentences reduced—how could the courts continue to use such liars in trials across the country? 

Mary Vickery married an old boyfriend shortly after returning to Coxton. Many people speculated the marriage was to get away from a desperate home situation.

Marie Jackson was tried and convicted of false testimony. She was sentenced to five years in prison, though the presiding judge told her he wished he give her more. 

The remains found in Bugger Hollow mine were never identified. 


Monday, August 31, 2020

Review of Charlie Robertson’s “Suspicious Ministry” CD Album

The Song

Written by Robert A. Waters

Music at its core is this: somebody writes a song. It can be for personal reasons, for regret or joy, love or hate. Or it can be solely for filthy lucre. Whatever the reason, music that touches a listener’s heart will last.

For instance, John Newton’s song, “Amazing Grace,” was written with almost debilitating shame for his past sins. For years, Newton had been captain of a slave ship. He bought and sold humans like they were loaves of bread. Then he converted to Christianity. Newton repented and was amazed that God could save a “wretch” like him. In only a few short verses, the former seller of souls revealed to millions of sinners that there’s hope of redemption.

Some songs sell millions. Others, regardless of merit, make little impact on the commercial market. That doesn’t make them any less compelling.

My friend Charlie Robertson is one of the finest song-writers in America. He’s well-known in his hometown of St. Augustine, Florida, and loved by music aficionados elsewhere, but unknown on the hit parade. You see, Charlie did it “his way.” He wrote the kind of music he wanted to write, not pop songs, not commercial songs. With a degree from the University of Florida in journalism, he worked most of his life in a factory making car parts for Nissan. He played various venues, such as bars or music festivals and recorded four CDs, each containing 12 original songs. He developed enough of a following that he has avid fans scattered across the country.

Charlie has opened shows and shared billings with Townes Van Zandt, Jimmy Buffett, Michael Smith, Steve Martin, Tom Paxton, Odetta, Taj Mahal, Steve Goodman, Guy Clark, Waylon Jennings, Doc and Merle Watson, The Newgrass Revival, and Roy Bookbinder. He was part of the Gamble Rogers Florida Folk Revue, which included Will McLean, Paul Champion, Jim Ballew, Teri DiSario, Elizabeth Corrigan and Bob Patterson.

Several songs on his most recent CD album, “Suspicious Ministry,” are autobiographical. In “Guard Duty 1969,” Charlie writes about his experiences in the army after being drafted. Most of his two years were spent as a clerk at Fort Riley, Kansas. Vietnam and Florida were far away from the Midwest icebox where he performed nightly guard duty. Like many veterans, he questions whether his service to his country really made a difference. In “White Nurse,” he writes about his childhood when his mother worked as head night nurse at Mary Lawson’s Hospital in Palatka, Florida. Most of the patients were black and looked on the kindly white nurse who ministered to them as an “angel.” The detailed descriptions of 1950s Florida struck true to a native like me.

The song I like best from Charlie’s new CD is called “That Old Fool.” Nashville is where country singers go to sink or swim. For everyone who finds a safe and prosperous harbor, there are thousands, perhaps millions, who capsize. The protagonist in this song plays at a dive bar for tips. He’s been in prison, his wife left him for a “greasy loan shark,” and he knows that the hearts of country music execs are “bar codes.”

If you long for something other than the putrid pop country or pop rock that’s fashionable today, check out Charlie Robertson.

That Old Fool

Written by Charlie Robertson

He was leaning up against a brick wall

Drinking beer straight from the keg.

He played an old Gibson J-50,

He had an orange prosthetic leg.

Two feet above his head

There was a “come to Jesus” scene,

It was the Raiders against the Chargers

On a 52-inch screen.


He played songs that he still remembers

For beer and tips, not Cadillacs,

Like “I Left My Baby Crying

In the Smoke Along the Tracks.”

“Silver Wings,” “Sing Me Back Home,”

“Ring of Fire,” “Faded Love.”

Oh, I know, ‘cause I was watching

From “The Window Up Above.”

All these young studs down on Broadway,

He could take them all to school,

But they’re too busy posing as outlaws,

They ain’t listenin’, listenin’ to that old fool.



Man, one of them teams scored a touchdown

And the whole place went insane.

He looked down and checked his tip jar,

Well, the total was about the same.

He did time in Moundsville Prison

In West Virginia, for running shine,

Kiting checks and forging passports

And other bold, creative crimes.


Lost his leg on an icy backroad,

Prayed for guidance from above.

Lost his woman to a greasy loan shark,

A dog-eared page in the book of love.

If they’d just shut up and listen

They’d find an undiscovered jewel.

But in this place where hearts have bar codes,

They ain’t listenin’, listenin’ to that old fool.


He was leaning up against a brick wall

Drinking beer straight from the keg.

He played an old Gibson J-50,

He had an orange prosthetic leg…

Charlie recently held a coronavirus concert. "That Old Fool" is the last song in the set.

You can order this CD from Charlie Robertson.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Violent Thugs Taken Down

“They weren’t there trick-or-treating.” Cleveland Councilman Mike Polensek.

Timothy Peak (pictured above) did Cleveland, Ohio residents a favor when he shot and killed Waymone Williams and, through his court testimony, sent Herman Jennings to prison for life.

Shortly after midnight on July 28, 2013, Peak, 26, pulled into the driveway of his home on East 128th Street. A detective later wrote that “Peak stated he went to the BP Gas Station with his friend **Joanie Jameson, 21, to get some chips, then they returned to his home. Peak stated he and Jameson talked with Peak’s brother—Jeremy Peak—for a short time and then they began to leave. Peak stated that they both got into his car but before he could put the key in the ignition, he saw movement at the window.”

Suddenly, the front door of the 2008 Chevrolet Impala was jerked open. Before Peak could react, two men reached in and grabbed his legs. The unknown men wore black clothing, black masks, and transparent latex gloves. They began trying to pull Peak out of the car. Waymone Williams was armed with a Smith & Wesson six-shot .38-caliber revolver while Herman Jennings held a crowbar. As Peak resisted, Jennings slugged him with the bar, opening a large gash above his right eye. Blood streamed down Peak’s face, momentarily blinding him.

Jameson described what happened from her perspective. “I look to my left,” she said, “and see two men attacking Timothy…No one was on my side of Timothy’s vehicle. I say, ‘Oh, my God’ and I realize that we are getting robbed and I know this is a life or death moment. I proceed to run to the door of Timothy’s house and attempted to enter the pass code into the door lock at least two or three times unsuccessfully. While I am trying to enter back into Timothy’s house, I heard one or two gunshots go off. At this point, the other suspect came and grabbed me and threw me onto the ground. The suspect took my purse…”

Three months before, Peak had obtained his concealed carry permit. Now his training kicked in and he reached for his gun, a .45-caliber Springfield Armory XDM semi-automatic pistol, in the pocket of the driver’s side door. Because of the blow to his face, he was light-headed, but knew he had to act quickly to survive. In his interview with investigators, Peak stated that Williams “pointed” the gun at him. Still inside the car, Peak turned and snapped off a shot at his tormentor. Williams fell to the ground, on his back, with his pistol still in his hand. From that position, he fired at Peak, then attempted to sit up. (Williams’ bullet was later found lodged in the gutter at the front of the house.)

By now, Peak had crawled out of the car and stood up. He attempted to shoot Williams again, but realized his gun had jammed. He cleared it, then fired twice more at his assailant who was sitting on the ground holding his revolver. Finally, Williams slumped over and lay motionless.

By this time, Peak’s brother, Jeremy, a Marine home on leave, had heard the commotion and opened the door for Jameson. Peak, in shock, walked around his car in a circle, still holding his handgun. Jeremy and Jameson yelled for him to come inside.

As Timothy entered, Jeremy took the gun and placed it on the kitchen table. Jameson then pressed a towel against Timothy’s wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

Within minutes, police arrived. An officer wrote that “Williams, dressed as a ninja and wearing latex gloves, lies on the driveway, left side of the vehicle…Near the garage door is a tire tool; on the ground near the driver’s door [are] 2 fired casings and a ring with keys. On the driver’s door frame is a wallet. On the roof of this auto above the right doors…is another fired casing.”

A black “doo-rag” and a pair of latex gloves lay on the ground near Williams. Detectives found his gun underneath his right leg. Jameson’s purse and many of its contents lay scattered across Peak’s yard near 128th Street. It seemed likely that the second attacker had fled in that direction.

Cops quickly sealed off the crime scene. Checking Waymone Williams, they found him deceased.  A post-mortem examination showed that he’d been hit by each of the three rounds Peak had fired.  The report revealed the robber had a “gunshot wound to the left anterior chest that traveled through the heart.” In addition, a second round had hit Williams in the right side, while the third shot went all the way through the right side of his chest.

Peak was transported to St. Vincent Charity Hospital where he received stitches for his head wound. He later returned home shaken and bruised, but lucky to be alive.

After identifying Williams through fingerprints, detectives visited his home. There they obtained his cell phone from relatives. Reading the text messages, cops found that he’d recently contacted Herman Jennings. Well-known to CPD officers as a violent career offender, Jennings had recently been released from prison after serving five years of an eight year sentence for a brutal assault. In that case, his victim “sustained a broken metacarpal, an orbital fracture, a detached retina, along with multiple head and eye lacerations.” In yet another assault, Jennings sucker-punched a passer-by and knocked out several teeth. The victim was hospitalized for a concussion.

It didn’t take investigators long to track Jennings down. He was arrested and charged with aggravated murder. (In Ohio, as well as many other states, an accomplice can be charged with murder if a death occurs because of a felony he or she commits.)

A court document explained the reason Timothy Peak was chosen as a robbery victim: “Jennings’ brother Terrell was a former co-worker of Timothy Peak, who knew that Peak had just inherited a substantial amount of money after the death of his father.” Terrell likely told Herman about Peak’s windfall.

On reviewing evidence at the scene, as well as DNA and gunshot residue, CPD officials determined that Peak had killed Williams in self-defense and would not be charged.

The story was slow to catch the attention of local media. But Cleveland Councilman Mike Polensek, outraged at the violence in his city, wouldn’t let it lie. He contacted reporters, stating “as far as I’m concerned, [the criminal] got exactly what he deserved—lead poisoning. If [Peak] hadn’t had that gun, we’d be reading about him in a two-paragraph story in the paper as another innocent victim of violent criminals looking to prey on him like jackals. [But the criminals] picked the wrong man this time.”

As happens so many times in these cases, citizens in Peak’s community rose up in outrage after learning that Herman Jennings had recently been released early from prison for another violent assault. They demanded changes in sentencing laws, sentiments which were roundly ignored by the professional politicians in Cleveland.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Blaise Thomas told reporters that “Herman Jennings displayed a level of violence that belies an utter disregard for human life. He belongs in prison for the rest of his life.”

On October 28, 2015, Jennings was convicted of one count of murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, and found to be a repeat violent offender. The ex-con was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 35 years.

**Not her real name

Thanks to the Cleveland Police Department for their detailed report on this case. While researching this incident, I found several newspaper articles about it, but not as many as you would think.

Robert A. Waters is the author of Guns and Self-Defense with co-author Sim Waters. For 25 years, Waters has researched defensive shootings and written about hundreds of such cases. He has penned four books describing in detail many legitimate self-defense exploits. In addition, he has chronicled hundreds of such cases on his blog, Kidnapping, Murder and Mayhem.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise

Book review written by Robert A. Waters

My son served in the U. S. Coast Guard. On patrol one day in the Florida straits, his ship came across a sad testament to humanity’s longing for freedom. Bobbing along in the waves, a wooden raft floated silently, its crew forever missing. The raft had been reinforced underneath with chunks of styrofoam and had been powered by a miniscule 1950s boat motor. Much of the styrofoam had broken free, perhaps by a storm or high waves and the vessel tilted half in the water and half out. The crew of the Coast Guard vessel stared in silence, knowing that the Cubans who had attempted to flee the oppression of communism were likely dead.

Cuba in Revolution has lots of intrigue going for it: an escape from communist Cuba that reads like a thriller; a history of Fidel Castro’s rise to power and dictatorial rule; a narrative of the way many in the American media covered up the fact that Castro was a communist; how the Soviet Union gained traction in Cuba; how the Kennedy administration betrayed the Cuban (and American) freedom fighters at the Bay of Pigs; and much, much more.

For many Cubans, Florida shines like a beacon in a dark night.

The Faria family had supported the overthrow of corrupt President Fulgencio Batista, but distrusted the communist schemes of Fidel Castro. That made them targets. Like the Roman emperors of old, the new ruler murdered anyone who could conceivably be considered a threat to his power. That included Batista backers and even his own supporters. Had they not escaped, it was only a matter of time before the Faria family would be imprisoned or worse, executed.

In 1966, thirteen-year-old Miguel and his father, a physician, made a desperate and harrowing escape from Cuba. Twenty-eight souls boarded a small, dilapidated wooden fishing boat called Venezuela Libre. After two long days and nights at sea, starving, sick, and battered by hurricane-like storms at times, or burning in the sun at other times, the little ship finally reached the Cayman Islands—and freedom. Eventually, the Faria family settled in Miami, then moved to South Carolina.

The escape was important to Miguel because, had he not fled the country, he would likely have been conscripted into the Cuban military and indoctrinated in the “virtuousness” of communism. That did not happen because Miguel’s father understood the evils of totalitarian governments.

Miguel attained the dream. He became a naturalized American citizen, graduated from medical school and became a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Today, he is an anti-communist, pro-freedom crusader.

Cuba in Revolution tells a compelling tale of how totalitarian rule can turn a prosperous, thriving nation into a backward hellhole. No wonder so many of its citizens wish to flee to the beacon up north.

This book should be required reading in our schools and colleges.

Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise

By Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

Hacienda Publishing, 2002

Monday, July 27, 2020

Johnny Horton 'Son' Busted

Don't Mess With Billie Jean
Written by Robert A. Waters

On that night in 1981, The Old Hangin’ Tree Tavern was packed like never before. Virginia Iler, owner of the joint, had placed ads on KZUN, the local country music station in Spokane, Washington, promoting the appearance of country-western singer Johnny Horton’s son. While the wavy-haired stranger sang with the stage band, Mrs. Johnny Horton sat in the back of the smoky bar. The singer, sometimes off-key, wailed out the “The Battle of New Orleans,” “Springtime in Alaska,” and an original song about his memories of the country music icon who’d died in a car crash twenty years earlier.

At 48, Billie Jean Horton was not there to revel in her son’s success. She had flown up from Louisiana to confront the imposter.

Still as beautiful as she was when she met her first husband, Hank Williams, she sobbed silently as the impersonator sang. Her bodyguard, Jim Howard, later told reporters that “you can imagine how Mrs. Horton felt. It’s like resurrecting the dead to sit there and have to listen to this composition he gave from the stage of his life as he remembered it with the late, great Johnny Horton.”  Particularly so since none of it was true.

To make the surreal episode even more unreal, the imposter stopped his songfest long enough to get married. He’d met a 29-year-old woman from Coer d’Alene, Idaho, and brought in a cake and a preacher to tie the knot. To the cheers of the crowd, he solemnly kissed his bride. After the ceremony was over, the groom continued his concert while the bride sat beaming.

It had all started two weeks earlier when a stranger called Iler and said his tour bus had broken down in Spokane and he wanted to arrange a booking at her tavern. Iler invited the man, who called himself Johnny Horton, Jr., to meet with her. He quickly convinced her of his identity and she hired him. But Iler and members of the band soon became suspicious.

When Billie Jean got a phone call from Mrs. Iler, the bar-owner explained the situation and asked if Johnny Horton, Jr. was her son. Billie Jean heatedly let Iler know she’d had no male offspring with the dead singer. Having successfully sued record companies for years to receive royalties from the estates of Hank Williams and Johnny Horton, Billie Jean was in no mood to let an interloper make money off her husband’s name. While she was younger, she’d known hard times, but now she was wealthy, and she decided to fly to Spokane to confront the fraudster.

As the final song mercifully faded into the suffocating smoke-filled darkness, a group of official-looking men, including the bodyguard and two Spokane County deputies, asked Horton to accompany them to a nearby office. Inside were icy-faced Billie Jean and Mrs. Iler.

Horton quickly confessed that he wasn’t Billie Jean’s son.

He had no identification, except a union card for a man with a different name. He had no tour bus, no home except for a one-night room at a cheap hotel. In fact, he was a drifter and grifter from Texas. He claimed his name was David Jonathan Horton, Jr., but even that was questionable. “I’ve been singing professionally for about nine years,” he said. “When times got bad, I drove heavy equipment.” At that, Billie Jean lit into the fraudulent wannabe singer with a volley of foul language, advising him that he may have a civil suit coming his way.

After the confrontation, investigators advised Billie Jean that no crime had been committed and the drifter was free to go.

On learning that the man she’d married was not the son of the famous singer, Horton’s bride stormed out of the tavern and disappeared, never to be seen again. The rueful groom, out of a gig and a night of wedding bliss, said, “I think she married me for the name rather than for myself.”

Billie Jean flew back to Shreveport, satisfied the imposter had been exposed. Mrs. Iler told patrons she’d learned a lesson about not taking people at face value. And Horton (or whoever he was) continued his misdeeds. “It turned out he had a prison record, and was on parole at the time,” Billie Jean told a reporter. The fraudulent singer later ended up serving time in a California prison for committing real crimes.

Click here for more about Johnny Horton.