The Ballad of Morganna the Kissing Bandit

Jul 20, 2015 - by Nolan Moore

Morganna Kissing Bandit

Some call her “The Wild One,” others call her “The Grand Dame of Baseball,” but most know her as Morganna the Kissing Bandit. This buxom burglar was renowned across the wide world of sports for leaping over stadium walls, rushing onto the field, and planting a kiss on unsuspecting players. Between 1969 and 1999, she successfully kissed over 50 athletes and morphed into a media sensation.

by Nolan Moore

Richard “Racehorse” Haynes is a living legend down in Texas.  This quick-witted attorney has participated in some of the state’s most infamous trials, and no matter how guilty his clients might appear, the man almost always wins.

For example, in 1981, he successfully defended Vickie Daniel, an ex-Dairy Queen waitress accused of murdering her husband and ex-Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Price Daniel Jr.  In 1983, Haynes convinced a federal jury that British businessman Ian Smalley wasn’t purposefully selling arms to Iraq and Iran.  In fact, he’d been set up by the U.S. government. And while he didn’t technically win, back in 1971, Haynes defended Dr. John Hill, a big-time Houston surgeon accused of murdering his socialite wife, Joan Hill.  Thanks to Haynes, the trial ended with a hung jury (Hill was murdered before round two), and the case was so scandalous that it was turned into a TV movie starring Farrah Fawcett and Andy Griffith.  Haynes was played by M*A*S*H* and Police Academy actor G.W. Bailey.

Perhaps Haynes’s most famous case was the trial of T. Cullen Davis.  A wealthy Fort Worth oilman, Davis was accused of murdering both his stepdaughter and his wife’s lover.  The 1971 case drew an enormous amount of attention, probably because Davis was the richest man ever tried in the U.S. at the time.  Of course, as you’ve probably guessed, Davis never saw the inside of a prison.  After Racehorse worked his magic, the millionaire was set free…and then later arrested for plotting to kill his wife and the judge overseeing his divorce.

Fortunately for Davis, Haynes once again rode to the rescue and convinced the jury to free the oilman—even though the prosecution had video and audio proof.

Basically, Richard “Racehorse” Haynes is one of the greatest trial lawyers to ever charm a jury or cross-examine a witness.  Not only was he inducted into “The Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame” in 2010, he was also declared one of the best six criminal lawyers in the country, according to Time magazine.  After all, as of 2009, Davis had defended 40 clients facing the death penalty, none of whom ever walked the green mile. No matter your opinion on capital punishment, you’ve got to admit that’s a pretty impressive track record.

Of course, not all of Haynes’s cases involved wealthy offenders or soap opera plots.  In fact, one involved a simple charge of trespassing…and two quick kisses.

The date was April 9, 1985, and the Houston Astros were defending their Astroturf against the L.A. Dodgers. Nolan Ryan, Houston’s star pitcher, was on the mound, and there were 40,000 fans cheering for the home team.  Only while the crowd sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and munched on peanuts and crackerjacks, the stadium security guards were on high alert.  Mike Coakley, director of operations at the Astrodome, had informed his crew that a notorious fan was planning on making an appearance at that night’s game. 

This particular baseball aficionado was something of a thief, a criminal who relished the spotlight and often made off with her prize in plain sight of every spectator, umpire, and coach.  She traveled from stadium to stadium, occasionally evading the guards, often ending up behind bars, but always thoroughly enjoying herself.  She quickly became an athletic Robin Hood, winning the support of the masses while angering the top baseball brass. And tonight, the bigwigs had had enough. The Astrodome security team was ready, and when this crook hopped the fence, when she made a beeline for her victim, they’d be ready.

They’d stop Morganna the Kissing Bandit before she smooched Nolan Ryan on the cheek.

How Nancy Lee Rose Became Morganna the Kissing Bandit

She’s a woman of many names. Some call her “The Wild One,” others call her “The Grand Dame of Baseball,” but most know her as Morganna the Kissing Bandit. This buxom burglar was renowned across the wide world of sports for leaping over stadium walls, rushing onto the field, and planting a kiss on unsuspecting players. Between 1969 and 1999, she successfully kissed over 50 athletes and morphed into a media sensation.

However, before Morganna embarked on a life of banditry, she was a young girl named Nancy Lee Rose. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Morganna’s early days weren’t exactly full of sweet memories. Her mother could never stay married for very long and didn’t seem all that interested in raising a daughter. Just a few years after she was born, Nancy was sent to live with her grandmother. Six years later, her grandmother was forced to find a job, and Nancy was shipped off to a nearby Catholic boarding school.

Only the boarding school life didn’t sit well with young Nancy, and she decided it was time to cut class…forever.  Ready for a new life, she wrangled a ride to Baltimore, but once she arrived in the big city, she realized that maybe leaving school wasn’t such a great idea. Since she was only 13, she couldn’t find any work.  Without any money, Nancy was forced to forage through trash cans for food and sleep in doorways.  She continued her hobo existence for almost two months…until she spotted an advertisement that read, “Cigarette Girl or Camera Girl.  Must be 18.”

Tired of living off garbage, Nancy showed up at the Flamingo Club, looking for work and ready to lie about her age. Only when the Flamingo Club managers took a look at Nancy, they decided she was far too voluptuous to be passing out cigarettes or snapping photos.  After all, her measurements were 45-20-36.  That’s probably why they believed Nancy was 18 without ever seeing any form of I.D., and that’s how Nancy Lee Rose started stripping at age 13.

Eventually, Nancy’s measurements would grow to an impressive 60-23-39.  As she put it, she made Dolly Parton look “flat-chested.”  But after three years of working in the Flamingo Club, Morganna was ready for bigger things. Hoping to become the world’s most famous stripper, she teamed up with publicist Sparky Blaine. The agent redubbed Nancy as “Morganna, the Wild One,” and the two went on the road, promoting Morganna across the nation with a series of crazy stunts. Blaine often staged “Bikini Walks” so Morganna could don her bathing suit and parade through major cities like Charlotte, North Carolina and Birmingham, Alabama. On one occasion, he actually flew a helicopter over Chicago and dumped thousands of Morganna flyers on top of the Windy City.

Moranna's First Victim -- Pete Rose

The moment that really launched Morganna into the spotlight came in 1969, when the dancer attended a ball game at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. As ballplayer Pete Rose jogged out to left field, Morganna jumped out of her seat, ran up to the outfielder, and kissed him on the cheek.  (Rose wasn’t pleased at the time and had a few choice words for the stripper, but in his defense, he later called Morganna and apologized.)  Of course, there’s some debate on why she decided to kiss Pete Rose. According to Morganna, a friend had dared her to plant a wet one on the ballplayer’s cheek, but according to Michelle Bank Quintanar—Sparky Blaine’s daughter—it was all a pre-arranged publicity stunt cooked up by Sparky. Regardless of who came up with the idea, Morganna had claimed her first victim and sports fans ate it up.

After successfully kissing Pete Rose, Morganna traveled to sports stadiums across the United States, chasing down Major League players like Don Mattingly, Fred Lynn, and Steve Garvey. Her serial smooching eventually inspired a Cincinnati sportswriter to crown her “the Kissing Bandit,” and a baseball legend was born.

Each time, her M.O. was the same. Rush onto the field, and kiss a player on the cheek, never the lips.  Why?  Well, according to Morganna, she stayed away from the mouth “because of the chewing tobacco.” Of course, Morganna knew how to shake things up from time to time. The Kissing Bandit was incredibly crafty.  For example, in 1986, she claimed she was going to New York to kiss Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly.  The Yankees security team was on full alert, ready to grab her as soon as she ran onto the field. Only Morganna had faked everyone out. As all eyes were on the Big Apple, the Kissing Bandit actually arrived in Seattle and quickly kissed Mariners catcher Steve Yeager.

Kansas City Royal George Brett was actually a two-time victim, but the third baseman got revenge in 1977 when he crashed one of Morganna’s shows by rushing on stage and giving the dancer a kiss of his own. Of course, baseball players weren’t her only targets.  Occasionally, she’d pop up in basketball arenas to surprise legends like Charles Barkley and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  She kissed a jockey (Jorge Velasquez), a race car driver (Darrell Waltrip), and New Orleans Saints tight end Hobby Brener, her first and only NFL victim. She was invited onto the first episode of “The Pat Sajak Show” to give the titular host a little good luck, and she even gave a quick peck to The San Diego Chicken.

As you might expect, Morganna became a media darling and was interviewed by Johnny Carson and David Letterman.  She showed up in People, Sports Illustrated, and of course, Playboy.  However, despite her popularity, she wasn’t exactly beloved by the people in charge of ballpark security.  Every time she made a mad dash across the field, she was technically trespassing (and interrupting the game to boot).  Several times, Morganna was nabbed before she successfully kissed her intended target, and on at least twenty occasions, she was hauled off the field, escorted to jail, and spent quite a few hours behind bars, contemplating her crimes.  On one occasion, she was even banned from Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium for an entire year after kissing Cal Ripken Jr. in 1988, and once, things actually took a violent turn.

It was 1970 when Morganna invaded an All-Star Game in Cincinnati, only this time there was a bounty on her head.  The Cincinnati Reds knew she was planning to kiss catcher Johnny Bench, and they offered a $100 bonus to whoever could catch her.  Sadly, when Morganna dropped onto the grass, she was mobbed by security guards who proceeded to rough her up.  According to the Kissing Bandit, they kicked her in the ribs and eventually knocked her unconscious, all for a few lousy bucks.

Obviously, Morganna was quite distraught, and when she was finally led into court, she claimed perhaps the guards had treated her so harshly because they mistook her for a man.  The Honorable Thomas Nurre comically responded with, “Lady, there is no one that could possibly make that judgment.”  True, it was hard to mistake Morganna for anyone other than Morganna, with her unique physique and big hair.  So when she arrived in Houston on April 9, 1985, Astrodome employees were on the lookout, hoping to I.D. the busty bandit before she could break the law again.

Morganna arrived at the Astrodome sporting a green-striped blouse and a short white skirt…underneath a great big coat.  Her disguise was actually something of a tip-off as Houston Aprils aren’t exactly chilly.  The Bandit was marked at the turnstiles, and as the game unfolded, authorities kept an eye on Morganna’s movements.  Really, they couldn’t stop her from leaping onto the Astroturf, but they wanted to catch her as quickly as possible.

The guards got their chance at 7:45 when Morganna charged the pitcher’s mound, aiming straight for Nolan Ryan.  Knowing there was no escape, Ryan actually dropped down to one knee, waiting for the inevitable kiss, and after Morganna finished with the pitcher, she headed for shortstop Dickie Thon.  After kissing Dickie, she bounded for the L.A. Dodgers dugout but was apprehended before she could make her great escape.  A frustrated Mike Coakley had Morganna arrested, and the stripper was led out of the Astrodome in handcuffs, causing Morganna to later remark, “You can get away with murders in Houston but not kissing on the cheek.”

Morganna Under Arrest -- The "Gravity" Defense

The plan was to charge Morganna for trespassing which seemed simple enough until she retained the services of Richard “Racehorse” Haynes.  In addition to defending some of Texas’s wealthiest accused killers, Haynes was well known for his colorful courthouse antics.  On one occasion, he viciously cross-examined an empty chair when the prosecutor refused to call a key witness.  Another time, he tried to discredit a witness by stepping on her foot, prompting her to unleash a volley of curse words in front of the jury.  Crazier still, on one occasion, he actually zapped himself with a cattle prod to show these electric devices weren’t deadly and shouldn’t be considered a murder weapon.

His plan to clear Morganna’s name was almost just as loony.  Having a firm grasp of physics, Haynes was prepared to use the foolproof “Gravity Defense.”  Basically, he would argue that Morganna had simply leaned over the Astrodome railing, and then the forces of gravity went to work.  After all, Morganna’s chest was rather, well, heavy, and all that weight would no doubt fling her onto the field.  “Anybody who understands the law of gravity will understand it,” Haynes told the Houston Chronicle.  “I’d like to do a test.  Seven out of ten times you lean her over the rail, she’s going to go over.”

Unfortunately for sports fans and legal historians, Haynes never got a chance to use his argument in court.  The Houston Sports Association evidently thought this was all much ado about nothing and convinced city officials to drop the charges.  Of course, even though there wasn’t a trial, the incident earned the Bandit and her lawyer quite a bit of publicity.  Perhaps even more important, Morganna had had a blast.  In fact, every time she stepped onto the field, it was like she was having the time of her life.  “The main reason I’m doing it is because it’s fun,” she explained in a TV interview.  “If it’s not fun, don’t do it.”

Postscript

Nevertheless, all good things must come to an end.  You can only climb over so many stadium walls and kiss so many ball players.  After 30 years of chasing celebrities, Morganna gave up her criminal ways on January 1, 2000, and aside from one ESPN interview in 2014, the Kissing Bandit has kept incredibly quiet since her retirement.

These days, Morganna lives with her accountant-turned-husband, Bill Cottrell, near the city of Columbus, Ohio.  Actually, the two have been married for over twenty-five years, and according to Morganna, Bill always supported her outlaw hobby.  But despite all his support, Bill might not be the number one object of Morganna’s affections.  However, his rival isn’t any pitcher or catcher or coach.  Instead, it’s America’s Pastime.  As “baseball’s unofficial mascot” explained to the Sun Sentinel in 1986, “Baseball is my No. 1 love,” and aside from a few grumpy officials, the game loved her right back. 

SOURCES

Morganna

www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQ_iusL8vkc

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-12-27/news/bs-md-morganna-backstory-20121228_1_morganna-roberts-kiss-cal-ripken

http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/An-All-Star-memory-sealed-with-a-kiss-1058973.php

http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Morganna-kisses-act-goodbye-1059338.php

http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1986-10-08/sports/8603010548_1_morganna-roberts-kiss-houston-police

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1989-02-19/sports/8903070211_1_troubled-childhood-positive-attitude-events

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/bayou-city-history/article/30-years-later-Morganna-the-Kissing-Bandit-the-6197108.php

http://www.apnewsarchive.com/1989/Pat-Sajak-Starts-Talk-Show-With-Rivals-Well-Wishes/id-2550cb847333e0ff47d8cbdfb10c6e53

Racehorse Haynes

http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/richard_racehorse_haynes

http://knowledgenuts.com/2014/02/01/the-modern-day-texas-slave-ranch/

http://www.triallawyerhalloffame.org/inductee/richard-haynes/

http://www.nytimes.com/1983/02/18/us/us-jury-clears-briton-in-an-arms-smuggling-case.html

 

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