Victory Journal is a sports and sports lifestyle magazine, and in Issue 8, Heroes & Villians,, they delve into the incredible story of Ann Casey, better known as Panther Girl. The piece is pretty incredible, with amazing illustrations, so I’m not going to delve into the whole thing, you should read it on your own (And also buy the dang thing), but here are some highlights:
Born in 1938, in Saraland, Alabama, Ann Casey grew up in poverty and physical abuse from her parents.
“One brutally cold winter as a child, she was left outside all night long; another time she was struck with a blunt knife so hard that for the rest of her life, a six-inch scar would appear whenever her face blushed.”
At sixteen, she ran off with a guy, got married (It was later annulled by her dad) and gave birth to a son. Ann worked several jobs to make ends meet, one of which was at the box office of the Fields Brothers wrestling company in Mobile. In 1960, Casey took the Fabulous Moolah her cut and Moolah saw Ann’s potential as a female wrestler. Reluctantly, Casey went to Moolah’s school in South Carolina and was reborn as Panther Girl. A lifetime of farm labor had made Ann strong and fit, and able to leap the top rope, something Moolah had never seen from any other woman. Ann won her debut against Rita Cortez with an Airplane Spin and was eager to get her cut, but quickly found out the reason why Mary Lillian Ellison was called Fabulous Moolah.
“She longed for her first check from Moolah to send toys home, but instead of wages she was shocked to be presented with an invoice.
Wrestling training, Bunkhouse rent, Moolah’s meals… The list went on, and totaled nearly $8,000. Moolah explained that all her girls had to pay their way, and that Casey must hit the road with her merry band to earn the money back.”
Moolah sent Panther Girl touring the south, all while taking a third of Ann’s money to cover “expenses”. Seeing as this was the 1960s and 70s, wrestling fans tended to get heated:
“Occasionally, overzealous fans would get carried away and jump in. Casey would send them packing with sore heads and red faces. Once, a woman in Texas battered her with a handbag full of metal horseshoes. Another time in Montgomery, three drunks jumped her in the parking lot—when the cops arrived, Casey had two of them pinned.”
In addition to thrashing local yokels, Casey got to meet big stars during her time as a professional wrestler:
“ONE NIGHT, before a match card taking place far from the South, there was a knock at Ann Casey’s dressing room door. When she opened it, there stood Elvis Presley.
When Elvis left, he swapped addresses and a polite kiss with Panther Girl.”
At the end of the 60s, Ann managed to break free of Moolah’s control and started taking her own bookings, hooking up with Vince McMahon. During the 1970s, Ann started making real money, earning $5,000 for wrestling in Madison Square Garden. Her tours down south were still fraught with peril, though:
“During a summer of 1972 brawl in Mississippi against the Hatchet Lady, Casey’s knee snapped while standing high on the corner posts. She fell 10 feet to the concrete floor, with her knee joint poking out of the flesh. A doctor in the crowd gave Casey a pain pill, and she passed out in the dressing room. When she came around, it was 2am—no one had waited to make sure she was okay. Instead, she crawled, bleeding, out into the street where she was rescued by police officers.”
Additionally, a trip home revealed that her son was tied up in a drug trafficking ring. Ann took the information to the police and ended up using her wrestling tours as cover work for the DEA. She discovered much of the activity was being conducted among truck drivers, but she was found out and gunned down by the ringleader in 1973.
“A man walked up to her passenger window, pointed a German Luger pistol at her head. As he pulled the trigger, Casey screamed, and stamped on the accelerator. The shooter was knocked off balance, and missed his shot from point blank range. But as the car fishtailed away he took aim again. Her rear window exploded.
Deadly hollow-point bullets rained into the car as it raced away. Designed to mushroom on impact, they cut through Casey’s body, and burst through her chest. The fourth bullet destroyed her liver, and the fifth blew a hole through her left lung, which began to fill with warm blood. The gunman emptied his entire magazine into the Chevy.”
Despite flatlining twice and having her liver held together with 32 metal clamps, Casey survived the shooting, but was told she’d never walk again, let alone wrestle. She, of course, recovered and with no other options for money, ended up training girls at Moolah’s school. Moolah, seeing dollar signs, offered Ann a match for Moolah’s USA Women’s Wrestling Championship, provided Casey sign a contract to wrestle for Moolah. Ann refused and the match ended up turning into a shoot. Things started rough and kept ramping up:
“Moolah brought out all the dirty tricks: she kept one extra long thumbnail to cut and slice skin, and she hid shoelaces in her bra and salt to blind a girl’s eyes as she lay helpless on the mat.”
In the third fall, Panther Girl finished an exhausted Moolah with her signature Airplane Spin and never lost that title.