Who Killed Diamond Bessie?

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.

Diamond Bessie’s Grave

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.

It’s No Mystery!

Hey, Readers. The Menagerie book tour is over. Thirteen stops for thirteen stories, plus last Wednesday’s Voice of Indie podcast. If you missed the live event, you can click the link to listen on YouTube.

Book tours are exhausting, so I’m taking a break from Mystery Monday today. Instead, I’d like to take the time to express my gratitude.

I’d like to thank each host for their generosity in sharing their corner of cyberspace to help me promote the book. If you missed any of the stops, here’s the list:

I also want to thank those who followed along and left comments. I appreciate your support. To those who have read and left reviews, they warm my heart and encourage me to write more.

One more thing. I know newsletters aren’t for some of you, and that’s okay, but I’m trying to build my subscribers. To show my appreciation, I’m giving a copy of the deleted scene from “Friends,” one of the thirteen stories in Menagerie, to those who subscribe. This content isn’t available anywhere else. If you’d like to sign up, just click this link. My goal is to send a monthly newsletter, I’ll never flood your inbox. I also plan to offer more free fiction in the future.

You can find me today at Story Empire. I’ll return March 13, (yes the 13th) with a new mystery or legend.

Lincoln’s Ghost

Hey everyone! This is another Mystery Monday post from the archives, but it being President’s Day, I thought it was an appropriate time to share it again. I promise to provide new topics after my blog tour ends.

Abraham Lincoln was our sixteenth president and served from 1861-1865 during one of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history. The country was divided, the north fought against the south, and in some cases, brother against brother.

The balcony of Ford’s Theater where Lincoln sat the night he was assassinated.

Lincoln was probably best known for abolishing slavery, the Gettysburg Address, and his untimely death at the hands of the assassin, John Wilkes Booth. But did you know Lincoln’s ghost is said to inhabit the White House? Or that he had premonitions of his death?

In early 1865, Lincoln told his close friend, Ward Hill Lamon, about a dream he had.

“About ten days ago I retired very late … I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a deathlike stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs… I arrived at the East Room. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards, and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face covered, others weeping pitifully. “‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers. ‘The President’ was his answer. ‘He was killed by an assassin.’”

Eerie, isn’t it? But this wasn’t the first time he saw a foreshadowing of his death. After the 1860 election, he saw a double image of himself in a mirror while still in his Springfield, Illinois home. One was a ghostly shadow of his actual reflection.

His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was known to have a strong belief in the supernatural and spiritualism. She didn’t see the double image but supposedly prophesied the reflection meant he would not live long enough to complete his first term in office.

After Lincoln’s death in April 1865, several claimed to have seen his ghost or felt his presence. The press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson believes the first lady felt Lincoln’s presence one evening while watching a program about his death.

First Lady Grace Coolidge reported having seen the ghost of Lincoln in the Oval Office. He stood at a window, hands clasped behind his back, and gazing over the Potomac. Did he see the bloody battlefields beyond? It makes one wonder.

During Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, the ghost was seen frequently. Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands reported being awakened by a knock on her bedroom door when she was a guest. Thinking someone might have an important message, she got out of bed and opened the door to see Lincoln standing in the hallway.

Eleanor Roosevelt used Lincoln’s bedroom as a study. She denied ever seeing his ghost but often said she felt his presence, especially late at night.

Others who claim to have seen the late president were Maureen Reagan, Margaret Truman, Theodore Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

President Lyndon Johnson supposedly encountered Lincoln’s apparition during a time of “great distress.” It’s said Johnson “conversed” with the former president and asked him how he handled an unpopular war. Johnson, of course, was president during the Vietnam conflict.

The last sighting of Lincoln’s ghost was in the early 1980s when White House operations foreman Tony Savoy saw Lincoln sitting in a chair at the top of some stairs. I don’t know if any or all these claims are valid, but it sure leaves one to wonder.

What Happened to Butch and Sundance?

Hey, Readers. Today’s Mystery Monday was originally posted in 2019, but since I’m in the middle of the Menagerie tour and busy with my WIP, I didn’t have time to come up with a new post. I thought this was a topic worth repeating.

There have been many stories about old west outlaws who supposedly survived and lived to be old men. I discount the majority of those, but the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one that leaves me to believe it’s possible they didn’t die in South America.

‘Wait a minute. You didn’t see Lefores out there did you?”
“Lefores? No, Why?”
“Thank God for that. For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble

It’s one of the more ambiguous (and great) movie endings of all time. The 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford is a personal favorite.

The two outlaws are holed up in a building somewhere in Bolivia, surrounded by police and military. Wounded but not down, their only hope of getting out is to make a run for it. With guns loaded, they dash outside and are met with a barrage of gunfire. The film freezes. We never see them go down, but are led to believe they died. After all, who could survive a firing squad?

Like most films about notorious outlaws, this one isn’t entirely accurate. What’s the real story of Butch and Sundance? Did they die in Bolivia? Or did they survive and return to the United States? Let’s take a look at the lives of these men.

Butch Cassidy was born Robert Leroy Parker on April 13, 1866, in Beaver, Utah Territory. As a teenager, he worked on a cattle ranch. There he met Mike Cassidy, a cowboy and cattle rustler, who introduced him to the business of stealing livestock.

Robert Leroy Parker, AKA Butch Cassidy (Public domain)

Robert left home at age eighteen to begin a life of crime, first with cattle rustling and other small offenses. In 1889, he successfully robbed his first bank in Telluride, Colorado. He changed his name to Cassidy, after his friend Mike. The name Butch wasn’t by choice. He needed to lay low and took a job as a butcher in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Hence the name.

Harry Alonzo Longabaugh was born in 1867 in Mont Claire, Pennsylvania. At the age of fifteen, he traveled west. In 1887, he stole a gun, horse, and saddle from a ranch in Sundance, Wyoming. Authorities captured him, and he served eighteen months in jail. He then adopted the nickname, Sundance.

In the mid-1890s, Sundance met Etta Place. Shortly after that, he became involved with Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.

The Sundance Kid and Etta Place (Public Domain)

The Wild Bunch pulled off several successful robberies of banks and trains. Pinkerton agents began a search for the notorious outlaws. The gang committed its last robbery on September 19, 1900, in Winnemucca, Nevada.

Not long after, Sundance and Etta went to Argentina. It’s not known if Butch went with them immediately or followed shortly thereafter.

Butch and Sundance bought some property under assumed names. However, it wasn’t long before they were accused of a string of bank robberies. Etta returned to the US, while the men went to Bolivia.

On November 4, 1908, two men, thought to be Butch and Sundance, robbed a payroll near the town of Tupiza in southern Bolivia. Three days later the pair arrived in San Vicente, Bolivia. There are varying accounts of what happened next. Some sources say villagers became suspicious and notified authorities. Bolivian soldiers were called in, and a shootout ensued. Reportedly the soldiers killed the suspects.

Other accounts say one of the outlaws killed his partner before turning the gun on himself. Either way, the pair were buried in unmarked graves in a San Vicente cemetery.

However, there is no conclusive evidence linking Cassidy and Sundance to the robbery and shootout. In the late 20th century, researchers exhumed remains thought to be those of the payroll bandits. After a detailed forensic analysis and a comparison of DNA to the relatives of Cassidy and Longabaugh, experts found there was no match.

Adding to the mystery is the fact Butch’s family doesn’t believe he died in Bolivia. A nephew stated there were at least twenty well-documented sightings of Cassidy after 1908. He supposedly visited his family in Utah in 1925.

Butch’s sister, Lula Parker Betenson claimed he kept in touch with the family until his (alleged) real death in 1937. I’m unaware of any sightings of the Sundance Kid after Bolivia. While it’s possible the bodies of the two outlaws are buried elsewhere in the cemetery, without any conclusive proof, the fate of Butch and Sundance remains a mystery.

Here’s a bit of trivia about the movie.

  • With nine wins, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid currently holds the record for the British Academy Awards (BAFTAs). It won best picture, best actor (Robert Redford), best actress (Katharine Ross), best director (George Roy Hill), screenplay, cinematography, film editing, sound, and score. It won every award it could, as its tenth nomination was a dual nomination for Best Actor. However, it lost in the American Academy Awards to Midnight Cowboy for best picture.
  • Lula Parker Betenson, sister of the real Butch Cassidy, often visited the set, and her presence was welcome by the cast and crew. During lulls in shooting, she would tell stories about her famous brother’s escapades and was amazed at how accurately the script and Paul Newman portrayed him.
  • Although he only had one brief scene and no frontal shots, this was the film debut of actor Sam Elliott. He met (and later married) co-star, Katharine Ross.
  • Butch Cassidy’s gang was more commonly known as “The Wild Bunch.” When director Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch was released a few months earlier, the name of the gang was changed to the Hole in the Wall Gang to avoid confusion with Peckinpah’s film.

The Circleville Letters

Hey, Readers. Another Monday has rolled around, so that means it’s time for another mystery. This one is certainly baffling and is still unsolved. It’s been the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles as well as episodes of Unsolved Mysteries and 48 Hours.

There has been lots of speculation, but just who was this mysterious letter writer? Read on.

cars, street, buildings

Main Street, Circleville, Ohio. (Photo by Analogue Kid at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Circleville, Ohio is a quaint midwestern town located about twenty-five miles south of Columbus on the Scioto River. It’s best known for the Circleville Pumpkin Show, an annual event that dates back to 1903. It’s not the sort of place you would expect anything sinister to occur.

But that’s exactly what happened.

In 1977, residents of the small town began receiving anonymous letters that detailed personal information about their lives. No one was exempt—newspapers, elected officials, and private citizens were all recipients.

Mary Gillespie, a wife, mother, and school bus driver was the main target. The letters claimed she was having an affair with school superintendent Gordon Massie.

“I know where you live. I’ve been observing your house and know you have children. This is no joke. Please take it serious.”

The envelope was postmarked Columbus, Ohio.

Mary’s husband, Ron Gillespie, also received a letter “informing” him of the alleged affair and stating that if he didn’t do anything to stop it, he could end up dead.

“Mr. Gillespie, your wife is seeing Gordon Massie. … You should catch them together and kill them both. … He doesn’t deserve to live.”

“We know what kind of car you drive … We know where your kids go to school.”

Mary was on vacation in Florida with her sister-in-law on August 19, 1977, when Ron received a phone call, supposedly from the anonymous letter writer. He told his daughter he was going to confront the letter writer. He was traveling at a high rate of speed, lost control of his truck, went off the road, hit a tree, and was killed.

At the time of his death, Ron had almost twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system, but those closest to him stated he was not a heavy drinker. Beneath Ron’s body was a .22 caliber revolver. One shot had been fired. Some questioned if Ron had been shooting at the letter writer. The coroner ruled his death an accident, but his brother-in-law, Paul Freshour, believed Ron had been murdered and pressed the sheriff to continue the investigation.

The letters didn’t stop after Ron’s death. Both Mary Gillespie and Gordon Massie continued to receive threats. Letters arrived at various businesses, government offices, schools, and other Circleville residents.

Mary had always denied having an affair with Massie, but after Ron’s death, Mary and Gordon began seeing one another. The threats escalated.

“It’s your daughter’s turn to pay for what you’ve done.”

On February 7, 1983, Mary was driving her empty school bus when she saw a handmade sign on a fence about her daughter. She stopped, got off the bus, then attempted to remove the sign. But when she did, she discovered it was rigged to twine and a box. She took the box home. Inside was a handgun rigged to go off. Mary contacted the police.

Investigators from Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation found the serial number on the gun belonged to a coworker of Paul Freshour. According to 48 Hours, he admitted he’d sold the gun to Paul.

Paul’s estranged wife Karen—a sister to Ron Gillespie—told police that Paul was responsible for the letters and was furious with Mary over her involvement with Massie. Freshour was cooperative with the police. He admitted it the gun belonged to him but claimed it had been stolen. Paul did not ask for an attorney and he allowed police to search his house and car. He also provided handwriting samples. When he agreed to take a polygraph, he failed.

He was arrested for Mary’s attempted murder, but no charges were ever brought for the letters. Some interesting facts about the case:

  • Mary was allowed to testify about the letters and answer questions from the defense about them. Some experts say this was damaging to Paul’s case.
  • The judge allowed 39 letters to be brought up at trial, due to the fact the writing on the booby trap was similar to the block letters used in the handwritten letters.
  • Handwriting analyses indicated Paul Freshour could have written the letters. A second expert—originally a defense witness—agreed.
  • Paul’s fingerprints were never found on the booby trap or the box with the gun. However, he was off work the same day. The industrial size chalk box containing the gun was similar to those seen at Paul’s workplace, Anheuser Busch.
  • No one saw Paul near the booby trap and he had a fairly good alibi for most of the day.
  • Paul Freshour didn’t take the stand, but multiple defense witnesses testified to seeing him at home.

Paul was sentenced to 7 to 25 years for attempted murder, but some in the community doubted his guilt.

The letters continue to come after Paul was in prison, despite being banned from using paper and pens. The sheriff was convinced it was him but couldn’t answer how he was able to do it, but the prison warden said it was “impossible.”

Eventually, Paul himself received a letter boasting about how they had set him up. 

“When we set him up, we set him up good,” it read.

Paul Freshour served 10 years in prison for the attempted murder of Mary Gillespie. He died on June 20, 2012, at the age of 70. He continued to maintain his innocence. Today, the identity of the Circleville Letter Writer is still unknown.