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.