In October 1944, a decorated World War II veteran died on a hunting trip near Nevada City, shot in the back. Suspicion soon focused on Bill Ebaugh, a local character whose appearance did not jibe with the clean-shaven norm of the era. Actor Gary Wright.
“He had long hair and a beard. And he was quite an eccentric. He was rumored to run naked through the woods, and to do things like sneak up on lovers who were making out in the woods and burst into song.”
Some regarded Ebaugh as a harmless whacko. But he also had a rapsheet. Writer Conrad Bishop.
“He was convicted of an illegal weapons possession. He was charged with rape, and was acquitted. He was charged with buying a man’s wife, for $20, and keeping her against her will, and was acquitted. He was also rumored to have lots and lots of ladies interested in him.”
Some people were convinced that ‘Wild Bill’ Ebaugh had beaten several indictments because the jurors feared him.
“And other people felt that he was just the sweetest, gentlest human being alive. A lot of people knew him. He had grown up in this area, and so on. And he was weird, but you know, let him be out in the hills and be weird.
The evidence against Ebaugh in the shooting case was skimpy, and there were no witnesses. But a reward was put on his head. Ebaugh was killed by a bounty hunter before he told his side of the story. Flash forward to the 1990s, when actor Gary Wright moved to Nevada County. Wright heard about Ebaugh’s case, and discovered that he wasn’t the first artist who’d gotten interested in the story.
“There was a filmmaker who was here in the 70s – he came home to his hotel and found an axe imbedded in his door, and a note saying ‘Leave it alone.’ ”
But two years ago, Foothill Theatre decided to take on the project. Working with writers Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller, they’ve developed the play “Long Shadow.” The play doesn’t try to settle the question of who shot the deer hunter – 60 years later, we’ll never know.
nstead, the play explores how people in the town felt in an uncertain time, buying their food with ration coupons, worrying that there was a killer on the loose, while the young men were away on the battlefront, and the newspapers carried stories about war, communism, and spies. Conrad Bishop sums it up with five words.
“It’s a climate of fear."
That climate, and lingering questions that can’t be answered, are at the core of “Long Shadow,” which is on stage through June 5th at the Foothill Theater Company in Nevada City.