Lucy Bess Cooper : Just on the verge of change, a little too late

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Lucy Bess Cooper (1980-2015).

Parents: Ellen Grant Walker (1957- ) & Frank Wes Cooper (1951-1997).  Grandparents: Lucy Calhoun Keith (1921) & Joseph Cowan Cooper (1913-1995) on her father’s side;  Bessie Grant (1932- ) & Walter Calahan Walker (1931-2001) on her mother’s side.

Lucy Cooper comes from an old Mississippi family.  Roy Cooper entered the state in 1794 and gradually purchased enough land to have a small sustenance farm but no slaves.  His son, Frank Roy Cooper was 38 when the War Between the Sates broke out and enlisted and was made a colonel of a local regiment, and served until the very end at which time he was one of last men to fall in May of 1865. One of her great-great-grandfathers, Charles “Charley” Wooley Cooper, was ten years old at the end of the Civil War, fatherless, devoted his activities to causing as much mischief for the Reconstruction politicians in and around Jackson, Mississippi, as was possible for a small boy.  So, you could say that Lucy comes from a long line of hell-raisers and people with a strong disregard for authority, however, possessing a lot of respect for their Mississippi heritage.

Jackson MSLucy was in her 30s, living in Jackson, Mississippi, supporting herself with a small marijuana dealing business.  Across the street from her was a bachelor, Levi Hooper, who fell in love with her, which was not entirely unrequited.  She had been a small time drug dealer for the last decade primarily using marijuana but she also had done harder drugs, Dilaudid and cocaine.  Levi had been coming around and she felt a desire to change her life due to his overall wholesomeness and positive influence on her.  See could herself getting clean and starting a new life with Levi.  However, one of her old friends got picked up for his own drug issues, and in order to lessen his own sentence gave Lucy up as his dealer.

B9316412054Z.1_20150228201914_000_GUGA3CU39.1-0She was arrested and convicted for possession and distribution of marijuana and sentenced to 18 months at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (her friends incorrectly referring to  it  as Parchman Farm). While there she became depressed (since she was on the verge of changing her life) and began using Dilaudid, not orally as designed but crushing the pills and dissolving them in water for injection (“shake and bake”).  She died as a result of an overdose less than a year into her sentence, and only weeks before possibly being paroled.

Vernon Raney : Bootlegger

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Vernon Raney (1911-1993).  Bootlegger; married to Maggie Motts Raney; father of Lonnie Raney, Ronnie Raney and Ginny Raney Tate.

259cd809e28017a335f6b57645dc4e4a--scotch-ancestryVernon was the first Raney to grow to adulthood in Mississippi, the rest of the Raney family settled in Georgia as early as 1748 when Thomas Rainey, Lonsom’s grandfather was born (Lonsom would later change the spelling, dropping the “i” from the name).

The first Rainey, Lonegan, a Scots-Irish immigrant, entered colonial America in 1743 at Virginia as an indentured servant. As soon as he was released from his labor, five years later, he traveled, with his pregnant wife, through the Appalachian mountains eventually settling in the north Georgia mountains.  His first son, Thomas, was born in a small log cabin in December 1748.  The Raney family always made whiskey and in fact the copper bowl still they used was brought to America by Lonegan.

The-Chemistry-Of-Using-Wooden-Oak-Barrels-To-Age-SpiritsVernon made one major change in the moonshine, he began to age it in oak barrels, producing a more refined product which he sold to Memphis big shots at a premium price.  Vernon remained a bachelor until the age of 49 when he finally married Maggie Motts, just 23 years old, and pregnant with their first son, Lonsom, or Lonnie as he was known.

gettyimages-109913282Maggie Raney was an ambitious young woman, seeing that the bootlegging business was doomed as liquor laws were repealed making it easy to purchase whiskey.  She also realized that the younger generation was interested in marijuana and other recreational drugs.  Her oldest, Lonnie, became the county sheriff, the other son, Ronnie became Maggie’s right hand man in their drug distribution business.  Maggie oversaw the entire distribution network as Ronnie handled the day-to-day operations.  They moved large amounts of pot and pills all through Mississippi and Memphis, with Lonnie responsible for insulating the enterprise from law and order.

66bb2d10c829fbc7518127775e7bf2ec--potbelly-stove-vintage-stovesOver the decades from 1957 through the ‘70s Vernon became more and more detached from day-to-day reality, turning a blind eye to Maggie’s drug business while he continued to make small batches of his whiskey and selling a little but mainly giving it away to a group of his old friends who would gather at his old mountain cabin drinking, playing cards or dominoes; smoking cigars or spitting tobacco juice on pot-bellied stove and telling tall tales.

In the spring of 1993, at the age of 82 Vernon Raney died in his sleep after producing the last of his tobacco gold whiskey.

Lonsom Raney (1828-1923) : Scots-Irish Moonshiner

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Lonsom Raney is the son of Scots-Irish immigrants to this country in the early 18th century.  Originally the family spelled their name “Rainey” but Lonsom chose to drop the “i” and spell his name “Raney”.

The Scots-Irish were transplanted (literally the “Plantation” by King James I in 1608-1609) Scots in Ulster, then Ulster Scots in colonial America, they became known as the Scots-Irish, settling in and often moving on through Pennsylvania, and later Virginia and all through the Appalachian mountains.  The Raineys moved into the North Georgia mountains.

Scots-Irish tended to be impetuous and hotheaded, having been marginalized back in Ulster, they defied any easy definition. In fact, they bristled at others’ labels for them—”Irish,” “Irish Presbyterians,” “Northern Irish,” or even “Wild Irish.”  Already twice transplanted, they had acquired a migratory habit. Once acquired, such habits are liable to persist; when the constraints of government caught up with them, these wayfarers often chose to move on.

8th-para-immigrants-to-wNC-credit-Harpers-Magazine-1024x791In Colonial America, a whiskey-making tradition came ready-made with the arrival of Scots-Irish settlers from Northern Ireland’s Ulster region, beginning in the 1700s. They brought with them their taste for the drink and an understanding of how to make it.  Lonsom Raney’s grandfather had always made his own whisky back in Scotland, and brought his still with him wherever he moved: first to Ireland then across the ocean to Virginia.

When Lonsom was a child, moonshine doubled as a cough suppressant and sore-throat treatment. To get little ones to tolerate whiskey, adults added something special to the cup: “It was pretty common with everybody in the mountains to put the old-fashioned peppermint-stick candy in it,” says Vernon Raney, Lonsom’s great-great-grandson.

fd731ab6d4787471cf94226605d77046Lonsom claimed to drink corn whiskey nearly every day of his life, often telling anyone in his vicinity, that moonshine was the only thing that kept him alive. He started making it while still a child. “I went to helpin’ my daddy make likker when I wuddn’t but nine years old,” he told Vernon. “My daddy just let me go to the still with him and I watched him and learnt it myself.”

Over the years, the law mostly left the Raneys alone.  But Lonsom wasn’t always lucky.  On at least four occasions, he served time in jail and in prison for violating liquor laws and evading taxes.  But as it turned out, being locked up wasn’t bad for business. “That’s a good place to get customers,” Vernon said of his great-great-granddad’s time behind bars. “He would just take orders and fill them when he got out.”

Lonsom Raney died in 1923 at the age of 95.   He had four descendants who carried on the Raney whisky tradition: Ransom (son), Royal (grandson), Virgil (great-grandson) and Vernon (great-great-grandson).  Vernon would marry Maggie Motts, who would later transition their bootlegging business into a drug enterprise.

Introducing Louanne Murphy Borden : A good girl who lost her way

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Louanne Murphy Borden (1967- ) comes from an old Texas family, descendants of Thomas Borden (1802-1836), one of The Old Three Hundred and the first Borden to live in Texas.  The Bordens became quite wealthy during the first decade of the 20th century when Louanne’s great-great-grandfather, Jonus Caldwell Borden (1860-1914), struck oil on his ranch, before dying of a stroke.  The ranch and oil wells went to his son, James Neal Borden (1889-1961), who proved himself more than a competent steward of the family’s burgeoning wealth.

Bonnet_Bonnet Home in Highland Park

By the time Louanne was born the family had been living for decades in Dallas, the “old-money” part of town, Highland Park.  As was true for many kids who grew up during the Seventies, of privilege, Louanne’s idea of rebellion centered upon hanging out with kids from “the wrong side of the tracks”, and in general, frustrating her parents ideas about whom she ought to date, i.e. a nice boy from the club.  When it came time for Louanne to go off to college, she chose the University of Mississippi in Oxford because she had heard from some friends in Baton Rouge that it was an even bigger party school than LSU.

Bonnet_Ole MissIn her first semester at Ol’ Miss, Louanne met a good-looking fellow, Ronnie Raney, who definitely was not a boy from the club, and not even enrolled at the university.  His main preoccupation appeared to be selling quality weed to fraternity boys.  One thing led to another and soon Louanne and Ronnie began dating, ending up with Louanne unofficially dropping out of school and moving to Vicksburg with him.

Louanne did not fully appreciate what she was getting into, since unbeknownst to her, Ronnie’s little pot business was only the tip of the criminal iceberg run by Ronnie’s mother, Maggie Raney.  The Raney family, i.e. Maggie, had a strong hold on the political and judicial levers of power in Warren County, and in fact, exerted influence and received protection from prosecution from Natchez to Memphis.

shotgun houseFor a while Louanne partnered with Ronnie in the marijuana distribution enterprise, even turning out a few girls using a trailer behind the topless bar owned by the Raney family.  However, after living a few years, even getting married to Ronnie, she got tired of Ronnie’s habit of hitting her when angered.  She found the nerve to shoot him while he ate the fried chicken and gravy she made for him.

She did not even attempt to flee the jurisdiction nor avoid prosecution for this crime.  She was well aware that Ronnie’s older brother, Lonnie, sheriff of the county, would make sure that her justifiable homicide defense at trial was not convince the jury.  In short order Louanne was found guilty and sentenced to twenty years to be served at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

While at CMCF, Louanne developed an exemplary record of good behavior including mentoring several other young female prisoners.  For example, about half way through her sentence, a young woman, Lucy Cooper, was sent to CMCF on a drug charge, given eighteen months.  Lucy was a funny, bright, and street smart but fragile woman who simply could not do the time for her crime.  Despite being taken under Louanne’s wing, Lucy became increasingly more and more despondent, eventually suiciding from an overdose – within six weeks of her release.

Not long after this tragedy Louanne’s case was reviewed by a judge who ruled that hers was a case of justified homicide and her sentence was commuted to time served. These events coincided with the death of her grandmother in 2015, when she was released after serving almost 70% of her original sentence.  She returned to Texas for her grandmother’s funeral and remained there with her mother, to live once again in Highland Park, however, now in somewhat reduced grandeur.