The East Texas town of Jefferson is a quant community located not far from Caddo Lake, Big Cypress Bayou, and the Louisiana border. With a population of under 2000, it has become a popular tourist stop. Two historic hotels, The Jefferson Hotel and the Excelsior are said to be haunted. (I’ve stayed in both and never saw a ghost.)
Jefferson was founded around 1841. Between 1845 and 1872 the town reached a population reported to exceed 30,000 people. At that time, it was the sixth largest city in the state. In 1877, Jefferson became the site of the first big-name murder trial in Texas.
On January 19, 1877, a well-dressed man and woman calling themselves “A. Monroe and wife,” got off the train. They registered at the Brooks House in Jefferson. A. Monroe was an alias for Abraham Rothschild, son of a Cincinnati jeweler. Abraham was a traveling salesman for his father’s business. He met Bessie Moore at a brothel in Hot Springs, Arkansas a few years prior.
On the morning of Sunday, January 21, “Monroe” purchased two lunches from Henrique’s Restaurant for a picnic lunch. One of the last persons to see the couple together took note of Bessie’s large diamond rings. The two of them disappeared into the fog while crossing the footbridge over Big Cypress Creek.
Monroe returned to town that afternoon alone. When asked about his wife he stated she was visiting some friends in the country and would meet him on Tuesday morning for their planned departure. That morning the staff of Brooks House found the room empty. “A. Monroe” departed alone by train with the couple’s luggage.
A week of snow and cold followed. After the weather warmed up, a local resident, Sarah King, was in search of firewood when she found the body of a well-dressed woman near an oak tree. The remnants of a picnic lunch were nearby. The coroner ruled the woman died from a gunshot wound to the head. Jefferson residents took up a collection to bury the unidentified body in Oakwood Cemetery.
A week of snow and bad weather followed this, and after it began to warm up, Sarah King, while out looking for firewood, found the body of a well-dressed woman, without jewelry, near a twisted oak. The remnants of a picnic lunch were also found near the tree. The coroner ruled that the woman died due to a gunshot wound in the head. The citizens of Jefferson took up a collection and buried the unidentified body at Oakwood Cemetery.
Authorities issued a warrant for the arrest of A. Monroe on suspicion of murder. After learning “Monroe” left on an eastbound train and that he had previously registered in a Marshall, Texas hotel as A. Rothschild and wife from Cincinnati, Ohio, a new warrant was issued for Abraham Rothschild of Cincinnati. The victim was identified as Bessie Moore.
Back in Cincinnati, Rothschild drank heavily. Convinced someone was following him, he walked into the street and attempted to kill himself. He only succeeded in blinding his right eye. He was arrested while in the hospital. Texas and Marion County officials went to Cincinnati to identify and extradite him. His family put up a fight, but on March 19, extradition was approved.
Because of the Rothchild family’s social status, the case drew interest. Public fascination with the murder was comparable to the more recent trials of O. J. Simpson or the Menendez brothers. Texas governor Richard B. Hubbard stated the murder was “A crime unparalleled in the record of blood.”
The Rothschild family secured a change of venue and in December 1878, the case went to trial in Marshall, Texas. After three weeks, the jury found him guilty of murder, but the case was overturned by appeal.
A second trial began on December 22, 1880, this time in Jefferson. Rothschild didn’t testify in his defense, but his lawyers managed to plant doubts in the minds of jury members. He was acquitted and returned to Cincinnati with his family.
Rumors began to circulate, such as the jury being bribed, and that Bessie was pregnant at the time of her death. These rumors haven’t been proven. In the 1890s a handsome, elderly man wearing a patch over his right eye asked to see the grave of Bessie Moore. Upon visiting, 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.
Since 1955, during its annual Pilgrimage Festival, produces a play titled The Diamond Bessie Murder Trial, derived from court transcripts, is performed. The case is still officially unsolved.
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