One of the strangest stories to develop over the last week was the report that Stan Lane had died and the discovery that he didn't, but someone pretending to be him did. Well, not by itself. Stuff like this has happened before, and we'll get to it later, but this case has a bunch of odd details that makes it more compelling that the ones that have come before it.
Last week, 65 year-old Samuel Ticer of Memphis, Tennessee passed away. His family purchased a obituary in local newspaper the Memphis Commercial Appeal that mentioned he was professional wrestler Stan Lane, best known in Memphis as one half of The Fabulous Ones with Steve Keirn, where they were stop draws. Lane also teamed with Bobby Eaton in the second version of Jim Cornette's Midnight Express and with Dr. Tom Prichard in the first version of Cornette's Heavenly Bodies. Ticer was, of course, not actually Stan Lane, who worked for his whole career under his real name.
So, what happened? For starters, the newspaper is understaffed and didn't bother to do any checking on the obituary. Last Friday, they posted an article about the situation where the real Stan Lane was interviewed. According to the article:
- The rumors had spread pretty quickly, with Cornette calling Lane to check in, and unfortunately, Lane's 90-year-old mother even heard about it.
- According to Lane's "adviser" Sal Corrente, who spoke to the widow, Ann Marie Ticer, "She insisted that her husband was Stan Lane of The Fabulous Ones and that she has pictures to prove it. I told her: 'I don't know what you have, but I have the real Stan Lane.'"
- In paid obituaries, the family provides the information to funeral home, who then turn it over to the Commercial Appeal. The funeral director said that it's "very rare" for obituaries to be challenged and that he had no reason to distrust Ticer's family.
The next day, the Commercial Appeal finally got in touch with Mrs. Ticer and published another article.
- She conceded that her husband was not Stan Lane, saying that she had been living a lie for the last 20+ years.
- The story gets stranger from there. She says that she met her husband in 1983 and he told her about his previous career as Stan Lane (which he said had ended right before they met) after they had been married for about five years. Lane and Keirn were still big stars as the Fabs in the territory when the Ticers met and stayed through early 1984. They returned for additional runs in 1985, 1987, and 1991, as well as legends' shows later. Wrestling on TV was in huge in Memphis, and she met her husband at the peak of both the territory itself and the Fabulous Ones as draws. If she watched the local wrestling show with any kind of regularity, she would've known that Stan Lane was around after she met her husband.
That was the last word until yesterday, when Dave Meltzer wrote about the story in the newest issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, adding even more details.
- Lane and Corrente called the widow the day before the first article came out, which was also the day before the funeral. She stood her ground even while talking to Lane, and Corrente noted that "She insisted her husband was Stan Lane of the Fabulous Ones and that she has pictures to prove it." She eventually told them that the man she was talking to might be "the second Stan Lane." Seems innocuous enough on her part, right? Maybe not.
- The family had a bunch of Fabulous Ones merchandise available at the funeral, which they sold to wrestling fans who showed up. Samuel Ticer's multiple siblings would know that he wasn't Stan Lane.
- There are two possible scenarios, and Meltzer isn't sure which was what actually happened: Either Ticer worked his entire family, even though his siblings should have known better, or his family somehow came up with the idea on their own, presumably as a con to sell the merchandise. If I had to guess, I'd go with the latter. The siblings had to know the truth, and the idea of selling merchandise at a funeral would be the last thing on my mind if my somewhat famous spouse or sibling died. We can't be sure either way, but someone lied for sure.
While I don't know if anyone ever sold merchandise at an impostor wrestler's funeral before, there have been a bunch of weird stories over the years of people pretending to be better known wrestlers, obscure indy wrestlers and people who never wrestled claiming to be much bigger stars while telling wildly fictional stories to local newspapers, etc. After the jump is a detailed look at some of the most memorable ones.
- The be all and end all of this type of hoax came in 1992 when the Associated Press reported that the original Gorgeous George, the first huge wrestling star made by television, had passed away. It was picked up by news outlets all across the country, and pretty hard to miss if you kept up with the news. The problem was that the original Gorgeous George, George Wagner, died in 1963 of complications stemming from his alcoholism. Arena did wrestle as Baron Arena and maybe a fake Gorgeous George at one point, but was never a big name. Reporter Alex Marvez contacted the AP to inform them of the error, "but they basically blew him off" according to Meltzer and never ran a retraction.
- George Grant claimed to be the original Gorgeous George while alive and working as an evangelist. Grant worked as a fake Gorgeous George for promoter Jack Pfefer, who hated Wagner and was notorious for using fakes and wrestlers with soundalike names like Hobo Brazil, Bruno Sanmartino, Lou Khesz, and Ted Blassie. When he died last year, I think you can guess what some newspapers reported.
- "Hangman" Bruce Pobanz is a favorite of many. At best, he was an obscure indy wrestler trained by "Boogie Woogie Man" Jimmy Valiant, who, for whatever reason, put him in the Boogie Wrestling Camp Hall of Fame (which Pobanz always refers to as the "BWC Hall of Fame" without explaining what it stands for). He also may have been an extra in a couple movies.I must stress, that's the best case scenario, but he's made numerous claims about being a huge star who held the NWA World Heavyweight Title on many occasions and slammed Andre The Giant. He's been a regular at the Cauliflower Alley Club convention for years, where he's tolerated for whatever reason. His excuse when called out on his claims was that hey, if YOU wrestled for so many years and so many wonderful things happened but that if "[your] skull was broken 20 or 30 times" and suffered strokes, would YOU be able to provide any proof? (Yes, really). The best surviving piece of Pobanz history with his website gone and not on The Wayback Machine is this piece that he wrote, which was on his old site and lives on as part of various Christian-themed websites. To save space, I'm not pasting any of it here, but I will beg you to read it, because it's simultanously hilarious and infuriating at times, especially when he talks about the time he visited a young, dying fan who he gave a souveneir Hangman's noose too (was he trying to push the kid towards euthanasia?). Those who have encountered him are split on whether or not he's trying to pull a con or believes what he's saying.
- Some old Wrestling Observer Newsletter subscriber convinced himself that he was Apache Bull Ramos, best known for being the top heel in the Northwest before Buddy Rose. According to Meltzer, the guy, who looked nothing like Ramos, once went to the Cauliflower Alley Club convention and talk to Ramos's annoyed peers as if he was the genuine article. When he passed away, his wife wrote Meltzer to let him know that Ramos died, so some Oregon-area wrestlers tracked down the real Ramos, who died a fews years later.
- In October 2006, WWE.com reported that Thomas "Corporal Kirchner" Spear (who also wrestled as R.T. Reynolds and Leatherface) had passed away in Maryland. It was believed his real name was Mike Kirchner, but hey, it's wrestling and stuff like that had happened before, so nobody gave it a second thought. It made a lot more sense when Mike Kirchner contacted Greg Oliver at Slam Wrestling to notify the world that he was still alive. Kirchner's mother Jean figured that Spear might have been the replacement Leatherface, but Slam couldn't find a trace of a Thomas Spear who was involved with the wrestling business. Jean Kirchner called WWE to let them know what actually happened, and they took the story down. They never issued a retraction, though. The story obviously never should've been published since WWE has the real names of everyone who ever worked for them and it should have been checked. For what it's worth, Spear's obituary in the Baltimore Sun made no mention of Corporal Kirchner or pro wrestling in general. Making the story even weirder, prior to all this, there was an obscure magazine article about Kirchner's (and it's clearly him in the photo) careers as a wrestler and truck driver that was scanned by the guys at Online World of Wrestling. He's referred to as Michael Penzel throughout the story. Huh?!?!
- The same week as the Kirchner mess, WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee did a story about a man who claimed to be one of the Fabulous Freebirds and was opening an Italian ice shop. The story has deleted from WBIR.com, but it was full of lies that were easy to prove as being not true.
- My personal favorite is Terry Petrill of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2003, Tim Hartman of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote a story about him where he fed them every ridiculous lie he could think of. He was one of the Russian Assassins (at least they wore masks, but they were Jack Victory and Dave "Angel of Death" Sheldon) in the NWA! After that, he unmasked, painted his face, changed his name to The Wild Thing! As The Wild Thing, he teamed with Sting to win the United States Tag Team Titles! Twice! Ric Flair saw so much potential in him that he hook him under his wing! Then Flair got him a tryout in the WWF, where he was hired and renamed Big Daddy Bruno Beefcake, Brutus "The Barber" Beedcake's brother and tag team partner! The he injured his neck in a car accident and was fired by Vince McMahon, but he wasn't bitter because "You can't really blame him. I was high risk."(!) Then he went to the New Japan Wrestling Federation in 1996, wrestling against their top stars! Then he retired! THE END! As far as I know, tons of emails were sent to Hartman, but he never responded, and the story was obvious never corrected, retracted, or followed up on.
- I'll end on the story that best illustrates the mentality about pro wrestling displayed by reporters in many of these cases. A Montana newspaper did a story on Jami "Psycho Cybil" Papakalodoukas-Milliron that is no longer on their website, but is archived here. She was an independent wrestler at some point, even having had a match with a pre-Chyna Joanie Laurer (as Joanie Lee) which may have been for one of those plausible deniability empty arena wrestling fetish videos. She was never close to a blip on the radar, though. The article about her, of course, says otherwise. She trained "on raw meat and cigarettes"! She was worth $18.5 million at the peak of her career! An opponent once nailed her tongue ring to the turnbuckle, but she pulled it out! During a ladder match, when she grabbed onto the belt, the cable holding it up snapped, causing her to fall through the ring and break her back (yes, a legitimate journalist believed that)! She left wrestling when her abusive much older husband died and lost all of her money to drugs! Anyway, the comment section was invaded by wrestling fans who explained the truth of the situation and even dug up information about legal issues that made her look like she had no credibility. What happened next was pretty surprising. The writer didn't retract or correct the article, but the comments weren't ignored, either. A follow-up article (again, lost in an internet black hole) was written with the former Psycho Cybil standing her ground and the tone can be summed up by a line from the reporter that was pasted in a contemporary message board post: "Lastly, some people take their professional wrestling very seriously." Basically: LOL ITS FAKE SO WHO CARES IF WE GOT CONNED?!?!