An End in Prison

Perhaps the most enigmatic series of events in Ray’s life took place in 1960 and 1961. At that time, two alleged homosexuals from the National Security Agency defected to the Soviet Union, making headlines around the country. Ray, working in Chicago, contacted the FBI after recognizing photographs of the defectors, William H. Martin and Bernon F. Mitchell, in the newspapers. He told the Chicago agents that he had attended a Washington party where the individuals were present in early 1960.

A few months later, agents tried to contact Ray once again — they had obtained photographs from the party and were hoping to determine the identities of individuals in the photographs and if plans for the defection or trips to the Soviet Union had been discussed at the party. Ray told the agents that he had been “shot at” in Detroit shortly after his initial call and he was reluctant to talk with them further, fearing for his life.

Eventually, in February 1961, FBI agents interviewed Ray at length about the affair. The host of the party worked as a civilian employee for the Secretary of the Army and the information provided by Ray conflicted with this man’s account. However, based on other information gathered in the investigation, the agents believed Ray’s version of the events. Curiously, follow-up records indicate that Ray’s passport was stolen in late 1961 while he was performing in Baltimore.

Although Ray’s career was on the skids, he managed to convince backers to invest in a show, Daddy Was a Lady, written especially for Ray by Mae West. Described as a musical-comedy mystery, the show had a trial run at the Grubstake Theatre in Cripple Creek, Colorado in 1965 and Ray even negotiated a deal to bring the show to New York. One contemporary who saw the show said that the entire second act consisted of an extended drag routine by Ray and included a group of trained dogs — some of which were dyed different colors — that would, on cue, urinate on a window box during the performance. The show broke up, however, when Ray clashed with the producer who tried to tone down the show’s bawdy humor, shortly before it was due to open on Broadway.

While Ray could still engage an audience with routines that dated back to the Depression, his act was beginning to show its age; his take on “Pansy” life was starting to seem almost quaint to a new generation on the brink of Gay liberation. In the mid to late 1960’s, Ray toured with a group of nightclub performers, the Jewel Box Revue, based in Kansas City. At the Jewel Box, Ray produced one of only three known live recordings of his stage act, A Trick Ain’t Always a Treat.

On September 6, 1967, Ray was traveling from Kansas City to a job at the Follies in Juarez. He was driving a 1955 Cadillac Sedan with a trailer full of pets. The engine caught fire and passerby tried to help Ray put out the flames. Although they managed to save the animals, all of his possessions in the trailer were destroyed and he was unable to complete the gig in Juarez. By November, Ray had found another car and trailer and that car broke down seventeen miles south of Big Spring, Texas. Once again, Ray found himself stranded and out of money. The following morning, he arranged to keep the animals at the Pet-A-Zoo, a kennel owned by a Mr. and Mrs. A.D. Blount.

Ray was unable to pay for the upkeep of the animals and Blount disposed of them in February 1968. Upset that the animals were sold for medical research, Ray began an obsessive campaign to get his pets returned, writing to Texas Governor John Connally and even getting newspaper columnists Herb Cain and Earl Wilson interested in the story. As time went on, Ray became more desperate about the animals and made calls and threats about Blount.

Ray had first become associated with a young drifter, Bobby Randal Crain, in 1966, when Crain was cast in Daddy Was a Lady and Crain remained a sidekick of Ray’s for the next couple of years. In December, Crain and another young man, Bobby Eugene Chrisco, drove Bourbon’s car to Texas. Ray gave them $30 for the trip and later wired the pair another $50. They planned to stop in Big Spring and find out where Bourbon’s dogs were and perhaps rough up Blount. However, Chrisco wound up killing Blount and Chrisco, along with Crain and Bourbon, were arrested a few days later. Crain and Chrisco were tried and found guilty of Murder with Malice.

The State accused Ray of being the “mastermind” behind the plot and produced evidence indicating that Ray’s gun was used in the crime. Ray’s attorney believed that Ray was a victim of circumstance, focusing on the State’s evidence on the gun, which had been sold to Ray by a vice squad officer and, as Ray claimed, was later stolen. Ray, in his own testimony and in interviews of the time, questioned why he would have a motive for murdering the kennel owner, since the man was his “only chance of finding his beloved pets”.

On February 21, 1970, after jury deliberations of about an hour, Ray was convicted on the charge of Accomplice to Murder with Malice, the prosecution contending that Ray had paid the pair to murder Blount as revenge for killing his pets. Due to Ray’s advanced age of around 75 and ill health, he was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life in prison. The Advocate carried an article in 1971, prophetically titled “Death in Prison for the Queen of Them All”, about Ray’s predicament. He even wrote a desperate letter to Variety from his prison cell in Brownwood, appealing to his old friends in show business to help him out, but help never came.

Ray became something of a local eccentric celebrity while in prison and was interviewed about his colorful life and career by one of the local newspapers. To pass the time, and perhaps sensing that his luck had run out, Ray obtained a small manual typewriter from his lawyer and began writing his memiors.

Ray died of a heart attack in July 1971. According to his wishes, he was cremated. The remains were sent to his old friends Bob and Chet and the ashes were interred in Woodlawn. Ray’s death certificate noted that his father’s name was “Franz Joseph of the throne of Austria” and the mother’s maiden name was “Louisa Bourbon”.