Ray Bourbon’s Last Months at the Brownwood County Jail

Ray Bourbon was convicted on February 21, 1970 of Accomplice to Murder with Malice in the case of the Crain and Chrisco killing of kennel owner A.D. Blount.  He was 77 years old.

Ray was sentenced to 99 years in jail due to his advanced age and health, bringing to a close a saga that began in November, 1967 when Ray’s car broke down outside Big Spring, Texas and he agreed to broad his numerous dogs at Blount’s Pet-A-Zoo.

The Brownwood County Jail is where Ray would live out the remaining months of his life, working on his memoirs and becoming something of a local curiosity in the press.

Photo from Google Maps street view of Brownwood County Jail; the structure was built to resemble a European castle.

Image source:  Google Maps, 180 North Broadway Street, Brownwood, Texas, retrieved January 20, 2020.

The Brownwood County Jail was built in 1902, when Ray was about ten years old.  The four story building was designed to resemble a European castle.  Even the inside looks like something from another far-off place and time.

Interior of the Brownwood County Jail.
Image Source:  “Local Family Invites You to ‘Break Out’ of Old Brown County Jail,” Brownwood News, April 13, 2017. (link)

From 1903 to 1981, the building was the Brown County Jail, but became the Brownwood Historical Museum in 1982.  The first floor contains the Firearms Museum of Texas, a “CSI Room” where visitors can try to solve a historical crime, and the Sheriff’s apartment.  There’s also a Haunted Jail event stage every Halloween season.  The building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and is a State of Texas Historic Landmark.

The county has a website that goes into detail about the history of the Jail.

The sheriff and his family lived in the Sheriff’s apartment on the first floor.  The back yard at the jail was the children’s playground.  There was another apartment downstairs for the jailer and his wife to live.  They were the ones who prepared the meals for the prisoners and took care of the prisoners.

On the second floor there was a large room with steel posts and where the wives could visit the inmates and for them to be able to spend time out of their cells.  It looked like a cage and was known as the “bull pen.”  The cage was out in the middle with a walkway around the walls.  On Sunday families could visit by standing along the walls and they could bring tobacco and a small amount of snacks to the inmate.

The site also includes stories about different inmates that served time in the facility, including Ray.

The most famous prisoner was Rae Bourbon, 76, a female impressionist that had worked with Mae West.  He had left 70 dogs, 5 cats, and 2 skunks with an animal shelter in Big Spring, run by a man named Blount.  He did not like the way the animals were being treated.  So Bourbon to two of his “friends” from Kansas City named Crane and Crisco to go to Big Springs and one of them shot Blount.  Bourbon was brought to Brownwood for trial.  Bourbon was tried and convicted by a Brown County jury of conspiracy to commit murder and Bourbon died while the case was on appeal.  Bourbon was a person who claimed to have known and helped Pancho Villa smuggle guns from Texas and was a personal friend of many of the movie stars in Hollywood.  Bob Hope even called William B. Bell, his attorney, one day, about him while Bell was in a pre-trial hearing. Bell’s daughter, Susan, has written a screen play about the case.

An escape he made from the jail in December 1970, made the headlines.  One day he asked to make a phone call, and when finished he looked for the jailer but did not find him.  The outside door had been left standing open, so he walked out.  After he got down the street, he reasoned that maybe they had let him escape so that they could shoot him and it would all be over.  After he was discovered by law enforcement officers just a short distance away from the jail in a pickup, he was merely escorted back to his cell.

Ray’s escape was featured on the front page of the November 30, 1970 edition of the local newspaper, the Brownwood Bulletin.

Article from Brownwood Bulletin, "Bourbon's Escape Followed Phone Chat With Film Star"

The newspaper had followed the trials and appeals of Ray, Chrisco, and Crain over the previous two years.  In the December 27, 1970 issue of the Brownwood Bulletin, a profile of Ray was published, where Ray talked about writing his autobiography, his life in the jail, and his long and storied career, riding with Pancho Villa, working in silent movies and, appearing on-stage with celebrities such as Mae West.

Brownwood Bulletin article, "Bourbon Memories Bright"

Photo of Ray, shown in profile and wearing glasses, in his jail cell from Brownwood Bulletin article.

Source:  “Bourbon Memories Bright,” Brownwood Bulletin, December 27, 1970, p. 21.

The front page of the July 20, 1971 edition of the Brownwood Bulletin carried a short article about Ray’s death, alongside articles on new pumps purchased by the Brown County Water Improvement District, renewal of the Vietnam War draft law, and the countdown to the Apollo 15 mission to the moon.

Brownwood Bulletin article, "Heart ailment is fatal to Bourbon"

You can visit the Brown County Museum on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays or inquire about a special tour.  Admission is $3; free for children five years and under.  You can read reviews of the Museum at Trip Advisor.

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