The tragic tale of Diamond Bessie is a story that is forever a part of Jefferson's colorful past. On Friday, January 19, 1877, a well-dressed couple arrived in town, signing in at a local boarding house as "A. Monroe and Wife".
They were seen all around town for the next two days, flashing their expensive clothing and jewelry and acting like a happily married couple that didn't have a care in the world. The woman was introduced only as "Bessie". Because of her plentiful jewelry, it didn't take long for locals to pin the moniker "Diamond Bessie" on her.
That Sunday morning, "A. Monroe" purchased two picnic lunches from Henrique's Restaurant and the couple were seen walking together across the bridge over Big Cypress Bayou. It was the last time that anyone would see the woman alive.
A. Monroe was spotted walking back into town alone using another path, and he was seen around town by himself for the next couple of days. When asked about his wife, the gentleman replied that she was visiting friends out in the surrounding countryside, and would return to town on Tuesday for their departure.
On Tuesday, the staff of their boarding house, The Brooks House, found Room 4 empty - A. Monroe had already fled the city of Jefferson. Some witnesses later reported that he left by himself on an earlier east-bound train with both sets of luggage.
It was a cold, stormy January in East Texas, and a snowstorm slowed the city down for the next week. When the snow began to melt, a local woman named Sarah King was out gathering firewood south of town and ran across the body of a well-dressed woman sitting up against the trunk of an oak tree. The remains of a picnic lunch were nearby.
The coroner ruled that the lady, who was the woman known in town as Diamond Bessie, had died by a gunshot wound to the head. All of her jewelry had been removed, presumably by her assailant. A warrant was immediately issued for the arrest of A. Monroe. Bessie had no family, no real identity, and no money left behind, so the citizens of Jefferson took up a collection to bury the poor woman.
When the local authorities began piecing the puzzle together, they learned that A. Monroe was actually Abraham Rothschild, the son of a wealthy Cincinnati jeweler named Meyer Rothschild, and a relative of the prominent European Rothschild banking family. As a traveling salesman, he was pitching his father's wares through the south when we met up with Bessie Moore at a brothel in Hot Springs, and she began to accompany him on his travels, before winding up in Jefferson on that fateful January day.
A new warrant was issued for Abraham Rothschild, who surfaced in Cincinnati. After an intense night of drinking there, he walked out into the street in front of the saloon and tried to take his own life because he thought that someone was after him. He only succeeded in blinding himself in the right eye, however. While in the hospital, he caught the attention of the local law enforcement officials who alerted the authorities in Jefferson.
Marion county officials traveled to Ohio, and although Rothschild's family put up a healthy fight, he was extradited back to Texas on March 19, 1877.
The trial became a media circus. Almost every prominent attorney in East Texas was somehow involved with the case, and those that weren't tried desperately to inject themselves into it. Those on the side of the state did so for the prestige, while the ones on the defense were hoping to get part of the Rothschild fortune that was put up for Abe's trial. Some of the talent that was involved with the case included Texas State Attorney Generals, a future Governor of Texas and a United States Senator.
A trial ensued that took two and a half years to finish. When it was all said and done, Abe Rothschild had been found guilty of murder and was sentenced to be hung by the neck until dead. One legend from the jury room says that the foreman, C.R. Weathersby drew a noose on the wall, signed it, and stated that it was the verdict as far as he was concerned.
The decision was appealed, of course, on the grounds that one juror had been selected even after he had stated that he had a preconceived opinion in the case, and that the court had been in error by ignoring one of the motions made by the defense. A mistrial was declared, and a new indictment was issued.
In the new trial, a witness was introduced to claimed to have seen Bessie in the company of a man other than Abe Rothschild. Although the testimony was shaky, enough doubt was placed in the mind of the jurors that they returned a verdict of not guilty on December 30, 1880.
The trial was over, but the legend of Diamond Bessie had just begun. Rumors and innuendos began to swirl around town: that the jury had been bought by the Rothschild fortune; that the jurors had death threats issued against them, and some were carried out after the trial; that the verdict was not read until after the train whistle blew outside, so that no one could immediately leave town afterwards; and the most scandalous of all, that Bessie was pregnant when she was murdered.
One story is told for true, however, and is chronicled on the pages of The University of Texas' Handbook of Texas online: "In the 1890s a handsome, elderly man wearing a patch over his right eye asked to be shown the grave of Bessie Moore. Upon seeing it, he laid roses on it, knelt in prayer, commented on the goodness of the citizens to provide a decent burial, and gave the caretaker money for the care of the grave. Folklore asserts that this was a repentant Rothschild visiting the grave. In the 1930s a headstone mysteriously appeared on the grave where none had been before, and in the 1960s the Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club built an iron fence around the grave."
Bessie's history was later traced. She was born Annie Stone to the owner of a Shoe Store in New York in 1854. When she was fifteen years old, she was already a wayward girl and became the mistress of a man whose last name was Moore. She adopted his name, then began a life of prostitution that lead from Cincinnati, to New Orleans, and finally to Hot Springs where she met Abe Rothschild.
She remains a kind of "adopted daughter" to the town of Jefferson. Her grave is well-manicured in Oakwood Cemetery, and on her birthday and the anniversary of her death an unseen person places flowers on the grave.
To further remember the lady, the infamous "Diamond Bessie Trial" is re-enacted each May during Jefferson's Historic Pilgrimage - a tradition since 1955. The jury is filled each year by the members of the Jefferson's Lions Club.
The jury is brought in by the judge...
...and seated for the trial.
Go back to the Jefferson Lions Club website