Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Roaring Times on E.Grand

Along East Sheridan, in about the area of the current "Wormy Dog Saloon"(shown here in a 2015 photo) was the new 'resort' built by "Big Anne" Bailey in 1907. It was after she had been permanently barred from having an establishment on 'Harlot's Lane' (West Second now called Kerr).  

MAH -2015
There, at 312 E. Grand, she built a wooden, two story 'house'. The carpets had not been laid and saw dust decorated many of the rooms destined to be dance rooms and parlors.  At 2 a.m. August 27, 1907, while Big Anne was dining at the Southern Club on W. Grand Blvd., a fire broke out in the southwest corner where carpenter's had left shavings piled up. 

Witnesses included two railroad workers not 150 yards away in the Rhode Island yards who reported hearing shots before the flames roared and the alarms sounded.  Parts of the unfinished resort had burned to near ash but other sections were intact.

Victims were Lillian Raye, Vergie Wallace, Sadie Ward and Walter Ward. Two escaped by jumping out a 2nd floor window and sustaining serious injuries. These were C.R. Clark and Rose Jones. Several local men were initially jailed for investigation but the eyes of the local law soon looked elsewhere. 

The owner of the business was a woman who had been in operation, to a great success, since the original land run April 22, 1889. Oklahoma City had a love-hate relationship with its vice and seemed to reflect the words of Augustine who prayed "Give me chastity and continence, but not yet." Oklahoma City was in conflict with its better self and it was so easy to point the finger at the people providing certain services rather than the people keeping them in business! SO the saloons, the gambling dens and the sporting houses (houses of prostitution, ill repute, disorderly houses, etc.)stayed open with minor fines until, as one early citizen described it, the city suffered a periodic 'spasm of virtue.' This usually occurred whenever one political party was trying to oust the other! The general belief expressed by one Democrat was that the city could tolerate vices if they acted with some decorum and respected the law in serious matters. It was, simply a matter of business. It was good for business to have some places open and operating for the citizens and the visitors who brought business to town. So, despite serious problems in the theory, in January 1, 1908,Anne Bailey, the owner of the establishment was arrested, along with the African American porter there, Judge Peters. They were charged with murder, poison and arson in particular with specific charges in the murder of Lillian Raye. 

The mass murderer Belle Gunness was in the news and the local D.A. even dug in basements of Anne's earlier resorts to see if she too had buried victims. An unidentified body had been found with a bottle of carbolic acid half buried in a sand bank in September of the previous year and blood stains had been found at the burned out wreckage. Poison, murder, and arson...the local candidates and political parties had a field day. 'We have trouble, right her in...' In March of 1908 Harry McCuen and Fannie Richey were brought, in heavy shackles, to Oklahoma City from Denison, Texas where they had run away ... the very night of the fire. 

 Apparently, McCuen had jilted Fannie and hightailed it back to Texas. Fannie did not like this and so gave the whole affair away. The two erstwhile criminals claimed that Anne Bailey, aka 'Big Anne', had been at the bottom of the trouble. She had advised them to commit the crime of murdering the stranger who had come to collect money owed him and to have the porter set fire to the building to hide the crime. The logical inconsistencies aside, early on in the story, police suspected the couple of the crime, as well as locals in the African American community, until, the story was fashioned by the local political machine to become a crusade case to illustrate the need for a city government 'tough on crime' and the criminally immoral segments of the society. The jury that heard the case apparently saw through the attempt to deflect attention from the actions of McCuen and Ritchie (who was also known as Richards). The die was cast, however, and the attention stayed on Annie. They were determined to get her for something....anything. In the story aspects that were ignored included the fact that the blood stains apparently came from a wound acquired earlier by one of the victims (perhaps in a fight with a customer?). Anne Bailey had an injunction against her and had had to move her business off Harlot's Lane (400 block of W. 2nd, now Kerr). The construction was not totally finished and parts of the downstairs were still a little rough. 

Why would Anne had suggested poisoning her staff and customers? Why would she knock them out during prime business hours at the house of ill repute? Why would she suggest the porter set a fire to hide blood stains and possibly burn down the building she had just sunk funds into? She was far too smart and clever, how else had see survived nearly 20 years running several successful houses, acquiring real estate and leverage in Oklahoma City politics?

If this Fannie Ritchey is the Fannie Richards who once worked for Anne she learned 'How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is. To have a thankless child." Said the Bard. "—Away, away! Let it be a wicked child who mocks the mother who cares for it."

 Or maybe, what goes around...comes around.

 ---(c) Marilyn A. Hudson, 2015. Part of an ongoing project on the life of 'Big Anne' of Oklahoma City.

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