Jim Cannon's death is the kind of tragedy that invites speculation. The buzz words surrounding the case—tony neighborhood, former prom queen, wealthy attorney—are catnip to both public and press. Paired with a switchback's worth of police reports and court filings that depict a volatile marriage, it's no wonder that a month-and-a-half after a housekeeper's frantic 911 call, the case remains a staple of late-night newscasts.
In the aftermath of that June morning when Jim was found stuffed naked in a closet in his West End-area home, it seems everyone around him has had a chance to tell their side of the story. His friends. His co-workers. His mother-in-law. Even the woman charged with his murder has had her say.
Last month, Kelley Cannon spoke to the Scene of a husband who was a controlling, verbally abusive drug addict. She couldn't really support her story or explain why a judge decided to give her husband custody of their children. She really didn't have an answer for a lot of things. But still, in Kelley's telling, she was the dedicated mother struck immobile by the power of an undying love.
It's a version that doesn't sit well with Lauren Wilson. As a nanny in the Cannon home, Wilson was witness to how Jim, Kelley and their three children lived and worked together. From early March when she was hired until her firing in May, Wilson was there from morning till night. And from the way she tells it, Kelley's account is anything but reality.
A year after graduating from Franklin Christian Academy, Wilson was working for a nanny placement service in Green Hills when she first heard about the Cannons. She'd grown up babysitting and was eager to find a full-time family.
Her roommate had just done a short stint with the Cannons but had another job lined up. She suggested Wilson take her place. The dad and kids were great, the roommate told Wilson, but the mom was in rehab. It had something to do with drugs. She wasn't quite sure.
"She told me, 'Lauren, I would just be very careful,' " says Wilson.
It didn't take long to grasp the rationale behind the warning. Before her first night with Jim and the kids in their Bowling Avenue home, Wilson was given the run down. Kelley was in rehab for pills. She was hooked on OxyContin, a notoriously addictive painkiller. She'd lost 30 pounds. Jim told Wilson that Kelley was so whacked-out at times she could hardly stand up.
The speech left Wilson freaked. But she liked that Jim was honest with her. And seeing the way he interacted with his kids—two elementary school-aged boys and a toddler daughter—left her convinced he was a good father.
She agreed to work on an interim basis. Wilson would arrive at the home early in the morning. She'd leave in the afternoon when Jim got back from the bill collection firm he helped found.
As one of her first tasks, Jim asked Wilson to help find all of Kelley's stash spots. Kelley had taken to folding up sandwich bags filled with crushed Oxycontin and sawed-off straws for snorting. Jim and Wilson's recovery mission revealed baggies in almost every nook and cranny. In the boys' closets. In the kitchen cupboards. Even balled up in the baby's sock drawer. The white stuff was everywhere.
For the first two weeks, life for Wilson was structured. A normal routine of brown bags and laundry loads, shuttling the kids to and from home and school. Then, one Sunday, Jim asked Wilson to accompany him to family day at Cumberland Heights, the rehab clinic where Kelley was almost finished with a monthlong stint. The kids were uncommonly rowdy that morning, says Wilson, shouting at their dad that they didn't want to go.
Wilson led the kids into a room to meet with their mother, holding the baby girl in her arms. Kelley was a tiny, hyper woman—gaunt, if not pretty, with sharp features and thick Chanel frames. Wilson introduced herself, but Kelley didn't bother to shake hands. She simply chided Wilson for dressing her daughter in a jacket she thought was dirty. After a few minutes of Kelley's admonitions, the boys asked Wilson if she'd take them to the center's playground.
"She was huggin' on them, trying to get them to talk to her," says Wilson. "I just kind of got a bad feeling. I was nervous and I told Jim that. It was kind of like I was taking (Kelley's) place. The kids wanted to be with me more than they wanted to be with her."
Kelley returned home a week later for what was supposed to be a short stay. Jim had made plans to fly her to a center in Arizona for 90 days of treatment. But the flight came and went without Kelley aboard. Wilson was told that plans had changed. Kelley wasn't going anywhere. And it was then, Wilson says, that life in the Cannon home turned upside down.
Suddenly, every day was a struggle. Kelley's only real responsibility was to pick up the boys from school. Every day at 3:30, like clockwork, there'd be a call from Jim asking if she'd done it yet. In this way, Wilson says, Kelley was right: Jim was a control freak. But only because he knew his two boys were being cared for by a woman who could barely keep herself upright.
"There was one day," says Wilson, "where she picked up the boys and didn't come home for an hour. She knew the boys needed to be home because they had a tutor that day. I called 30-40 times. I pulled Jim out of a meeting at work. I don't know if she passed out while driving. She just said she didn't hear her phone."
Kelley's homecoming also meant a change in the baby's behavior. Wilson noticed that since her mother had come home, the girl was impossible to wake. When she did get up she was like a zombie. Wilson broached the matter with Kelley. The response was startling. To "calm her down," Kelley had been feeding the toddler half-tablets of Valium. "Baby valium," she called it.
It was one of an arsenal of sedatives Kelley kept around. Part of Wilson's changing job description included keeping the house stocked with grape cough syrup. Kelley kept a bottle and a pack of cigarettes stuffed in the pocket of her house coat at all times, and went through roughly 30 per week. The tab at Walgreen's, where security cameras caught Kelley stealing a box of latex gloves the night of the murder, regularly ran into the hundreds.
One day, Wilson arrived to what she thought was an empty house. The TV was blasting and the kitchen sink was overflowing with dishes, but no one was around. In the master bedroom, Wilson found the baby perched on the edge of the bed with a marker. Her mom was lying face up and passed out, right next to a giant red circle the child had drawn on the sheets.
"We washed it four or five times," says Wilson, "but we never got that stain out."
Through it all, Wilson says Jim remained faithful, if not a little naive. His wife needed help; that he knew. But he still loved her, Wilson says. And he was going to stick by her.
Five weeks before he was killed, Jim asked Wilson to help out on a Saturday night. He and the kids were home, hanging out and watching TV. Everything seemed normal. The next day Wilson got a call from Kelley.
"She said she needed to get control of her life. She said my services would no longer be needed."
Wilson was shocked. Her contract wasn't set to end for another year. Jim had asked her to free up weeks next summer for a family vacation. But when she tried to call him, Kelley wouldn't pass along the phone.
Through a housekeeper, Wilson kept up with the Cannons' last turbulent weeks. But she didn't hear about Jim's death until she saw a news report.
Wilson sat in her living room, hands to her face, crying. The family she'd gotten to know just months before was gone. The man she'd come to trust was dead. And one thought kept popping up into her head.
She did it. She did it.
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