Do you love a good mystery? I sure do. And, when it’s an Old West mystery, I love it all the more. Today, we’re going to talk about a murder case that has been classified as “unsolved” for 138 years. Though, in all honesty, it seems like an open and shut case to me. Today, I’d like to tell you about the Diamond Bessie Murder Trial—a story that has it all—a prostitute, a man from the wealthiest family in America, diamonds, and a dead body!
Diamond in the Rough
Before she was Diamond Bessie, she was plain ol’ Annie Stone of Syracuse, New York. Her name, however, was the only plain thing about her. Folks, she was a looker! She had luxurious, black hair, alabaster skin and piercing, blue eyes. She was the kind of girl who turned heads.
Annie was just fifteen when she turned the head of an older man, whose last name was Moore. I won’t bore you with details about Moore. Heck, I couldn’t if I wanted to, since the only details I have about him are his last name and the fact that he was older than Annie.
Their love affair ended, but Annie kept his last name, even though it isn’t known if they ever married. She also started going by Bessie. Annie Stone, the well-educated girl from New York became Bessie Moore the prostitute with many admirers. Bessie’s admirers showered her with gifts, including enough diamond jewelry to satisfy Elizabeth Taylor.
Bessie worked in brothels in Cincinnati and New Orleans before ending up in Hot Springs, Arkansas. She would have been better off to focus on the mineral baths offered in Hot Springs than on a particular male suitor with a famous last name. The suitor’s name was Rothschild, Abraham Rothschild, to be precise.
The Diamond Salesman Was Not a Girl’s Best Friend
Abe Rothschild was the son of Meyer Rothschild. Meyer’s status as wealthy jeweler from Cincinnati meant a couple of things: 1) He was able to provide employment to Abe, and 2) In the larger scheme of the Rothschild banking family tree, he was still a poor relation.
Abe was doing a bang-up job as a salesman in his father’s jewelry store until he decided to try living like he had a trust fund worthy of his wealthier cousins. He lived it up! Abe had a taste for liquor and an eye for the ladies. His father had no patience for Abe’s shenanigans and disowned his son.
That is how Abe Rothschild, the former diamond salesman, met up with Bessie Moore, the diamond wearing prostitute. The two became a couple in 1875. As you might imagine, it was not a blissful union. For two years, the pair traveled between Cincinnati, New Orleans and Hot Springs. Both were drinking heavily and, for all intents and purposes, Abe became Bessie’s pimp. They frequently had knock down, drag out fights and it didn’t matter who was watching. Abe insisted that she remain a prostitute and that she give him a cut of $50 a day, which seems like a lot to give an out of work, disowned man with a fancy pants last name, but Bessie obliged. However, when the former diamond salesman insisted that she sell her jewelry, he had gone too far! She should have kicked his sorry rear end to the curb, but she didn’t. Instead, she tried to force him to marry her. Oh, Bessie, Bessie, Bessie! Honey, this is like a Lifetime Original Movie gone very wrong!
Bessie said she would go to his father and say she was pregnant. She wasn’t. Abe said the words every girl longs to hear: “Okay. Fine. I’ll marry you, but keep your crazy yap shut. We have to keep it hush-hush because if word ever gets out that I share my fancy pants last name with a prostitute, I’ll be a laughing stock.” Well, I don’t know if that’s exactly what he said, but I’m pretty sure it was something like that. I don’t even know if they ever legally married, although some people say that’s why they traveled to Texas.
A Rothschild By Any Other Name
When the train rolled into the East Texas town of Jefferson on January 17,1877, Bessie and Abe were on it. People remembered them because they made quite an impression. She was dripping with diamonds. He was dripping with condescension. And they fought. Lawdy, they fought!
They checked into the Brooks House, as Mr. and Mrs. A. Monroe. They weren’t very good at staying under the radar though. Jefferson wasn’t exactly a booming metropolis where a jewelry wearing woman and her angry husband could blend in with the crowd. Folks heard Abe speaking to the little misses and they took calling her “Diamond Bessie.” Diamond Bessie would have been a pretty cool nickname if not for the fact that it was soon to be synonymous with her murder trial.
The Sunday following their arrival, Abe purchased a couple of picnic lunches and Diamond Bessie and the loudmouth were seen traipsing across a footbridge. Later that day, Abe was seen coming back to town via another route. Diamond Bessie was nowhere to be seen, but some of her diamonds were seen on Abe’s pinkie fingers. Hmm… Something smells fishy to me, people! Abe said that Bessie was visiting friends and would meet him for the Tuesday train. When Tuesday rolled around, “Mr. A. Monroe” was seen boarding an eastbound train with their luggage. Alone.
On February 5, a very dead Diamond Bessie was discovered in the woods. It twarn’t a pretty sight! She had been shot in the temple and her body was decomposing. Near her body, the remains of a picnic lunch were scattered. Her diamonds, however, were nowhere to be found.
Trial and Error
Mr. A. Monroe’s true identity was discovered and lawmen went to Cincinnati to fetch him. Rothschild learned they were coming and made one of the worst suicide attempts in history. He shot an eye out, people! But he lived. The Jefferson, TX lawmen caught up with Rothschild in the hospital.
Sketchy, one-eyed Rothschild, or not, his family wasn’t about to let Abe go down without a fight. His lawyers did everything short of pulling out a glove and saying, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!” Still, in December 1878, a jury in Marshall, TX came back with a guilty verdict. The sentence was death by hanging. But, of course, that isn’t the end of the story. The case went to Appeals Court and a new trial was set. On December 22, 1880, after four hours of deliberation, the second jury issued a not guilty verdict.
Diamond Bessie’s Body Lies A-Mouldering in the Grave
The town of Jefferson adopted Diamond Bessie as their own, providing her with a grave and a plaque with an incorrect date of death. Years later, a mysterious one-eyed stranger was seen placing flowers at her grave.
Since 1955, the Jefferson Lion’s Club has sponsored an annual re-enactment of The Diamond Bessie Murder Trial during the Jefferson Historic Pilgrimage. Lion’s Club members take turn playing jurors. This is one Old West cold case mystery that is still a hot commodity even if the answer seems obvious.