Ricky Harpole column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cold monkey case solved 20 years after West Helena fiasco

The stories you may hear in bars or courtrooms or hunting camps should always be taken with a “grain of salt,” but if you hear the same general story from all three sources it was unfortunately the truth (probably). But a dead chimpanzee, a retired Riverboat captain, a Sunday alcohol violation resulting in three arrests plus a citation for a noise ordinance disturbance on Sunday in Arkansas sounds too outrageous to be true. It took about 10 years after I first heard the tale to hear the rest of the story as Paul Harvey always said.

Layman was a career Riverman and made a little better a world traveler in the merchant marine service before he retired to go crazy in peace as a river pilot. He had, by the time I met him, acquired a developed taste for cold juke joint beer and high proof libations from the swamps and bayous of Phillips County, Arkansas whiskey stills.

He’d also in his rich and colorful past, acquired a monkey. A large and usually  docile primate of chimpanzee decent, named Jake.

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Now ol’ Jake was a legendary character for a number of reasons. He could be depended on to entertain small children, he could do the most amazing things with Democratic campaign literature, he smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey and slept in a hammock in his cage in Layman’s front yard. Old Jake had seen the elephant in his years as a mascot in the South Pacific and been to a high school in Helena, Ark. twice, which matched Layman’s record exactly. Layman was a large man with an attitude to match and the first week or so after he was off the boat he’d eventually cooled down and it would only take two or three bouncers to throw his big butt out of the bar instead of the usual five or six. His favorite runnin’ buddy was  a mate on the Jane Elder named Frog Dawster and they were in combination, more traffic than a six-bouncer Juke Joint could stand.

They would however consume and pay for the prodigious amounts of booze they consumed while they tore up the bar and paid for the damages and went home to drink whiskey with the monkey.

Then one Sunday tragedy struck. As the details trickled out the facts were confirmed. We discovered Layman had been assaulted but was expected to recover.

Frog had injudiciously run through the patio doors near the monkey cage and required 100-plus stitches and the monkey was dead.

It was a nasty Sunday in Arkansas.

It was rumored that the monkey became afflicted in his cage with a fit of some sort and when Layman went into the cage Ol’ Jake went crazy and beat him up. Frog Dawster ran through the glass doors to retrieve the pistol to quieten the monkey and earned his stitches while the chimp continued to bite Layman and otherwise adjust to his attitude and finally after West Helena’s finest showed up, peace reigned again. After a few arrests and citations every body made bail except the monkey.

Jake. God rest his soul. It took 20 years to come up with the rest of that lie. It was provided with a first hand account from a neighbor. California Mary told it all.

“Well, you see, the monkey was addicted to alcohol. Thanks to Layman and Frog Dawster. They would gladly share their hooch with ol’ Jake every time they got off their respective boats, but this was Sunday in Arkansas and there was no spare whiskey to be had.”

California Mary added, “They were drinking Sunday Whiskey in the presence of the monkey and not only refusing to share, but taunting the poor caged animal with statements like, “You can’t have none. You ugly ape” and “Don’t you wish you could run a batch of whiskey for your own hairy…uh,  self?”

Well, as anyone acquainted with Greater Apes will tell you, you can expect hand flung excrement in response to a statement like that. Especially in Arkansas on any given Sunday. Which is how it indeed happened.

California Mary questioned, “What would you do on a Sunday of sobriety after being forced into being the only sober monkey in Phillips County?”

“I’d have chunked something too!”

“When shortly thereafter Layman decided to start teaching lessons to a primate that had the same education that he (Layman) had (and was rumored to have gotten better grades in school) and hit him with a “borrowed pistol,” it broke our hearts. And just over a little bit of Phillips County moonshine and a hand full of whatever. Can you imagine that?”

Well it took me 20 years to piece the story together but I done it. This concluded the cold monkey case files.

Here’s to California Mary.


What Layman said to Frog was, “I’m gonna have to teach this monkey a lesson.”
A sober mule lipped monkey in a cage is a force to be reckoned with on an Arkansas Sunday Mornin,
Coming Down,


(Contact Harpole at www.facebook.com/harpolive or www.colespointrecords.com)