67th Annual Diamond Bessie Murder Trial
by Bobbie Hardy, Director
Jefferson’s 74th Annual Pilgrimage presented by the Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club is scheduled for April 29-30, May 1-2, 2021. In 1955, the Diamond Bessie Murder Trial became an eagerly-anticipated addition to the Pilgrimage celebration, and 67 years later, this unique adaptation of the last stages of the nationally-famous trial of Abraham Rothschild for the 1877 murder of the beautiful Diamond Bessie, traditionally plays to sold-out audiences.
Bessie Moore, alias Diamond Bessie, was the daughter of a Watertown, New York, shoemaker. Abraham Rothschild was the handsome son of a diamond-wealthy family. Both made tragic decisions that adversely affected their lives.
Abe and Bessie were married in Danville, Illinois, in early January 1877. Shortly thereafter, they headed south by rail, eventually traveling on Jay Gould’s new Texas & Pacific Railroad. After arriving in Marshall, Texas, the couple spent several days in the old Capitol Hotel before traveling north to Jefferson.
From the moment Bessie Moore stepped off the railcar in Jefferson, the townspeople were captivated by her beauty and apparent wealth, accentuated by the numerous diamonds appointing her delicate hands and the dashing young gentleman on her arm. Checking into the Brooks Hotel, her companion used the alias, A. Monroe and wife, St. Louis, Missouri; then, he accompanied her around town, catching the eyes of the locals.
A few days later, the couple was seen crossing Big Cypress Bayou carrying a basket for what appeared to be a romantic picnic. But as evening neared, her companion returned alone. He was acting peculiar, drinking heavily, and wearing two of Bessie’s rings on his fingers. Two days later, he had taken her belongings and departed Jefferson. What followed would become one of the most scandalous and sensational stories to unfold in East Texas.
After Bessie’s body was discovered a few weeks later, the townspeople rallied around the unidentified, ill-fated beauty and named her Diamond Bessie, a nickname fashioned after the jewels she had worn and the moniker her escort had called her. A monetary collection to have her properly buried in Historic Oakwood Cemetery was gathered, and descriptions of the girl were issued throughout the country. Jefferson’s sheriff, John Vines, began his investigation, and within weeks, the identity of the couple was revealed.
A Watertown, New York, police chief identified the woman as Annie Stone, later known as Anna Moore and Bessie Moore. She had become a well-known prostitute in town, and according to sources, she had left Watertown to ply her trade in Cincinnati, Chicago, and New Orleans.
In addition, Sheriff Vines had traced the couple’s prior destination to the Marshall hotel where they registered as A. Rothschild and wife, Cincinnati, Ohio. Further inquiry led the lawman to a Cincinnati hospital where Abraham Rothschild, a disreputable traveling salesman for his family’s wealthy jewelry business, was recovering from a failed suicide attempt. Paranoid someone was following him, Abe had gotten drunk and shot himself in the head, managing to only put out an eye. Arrested, the renowned swindler, womanizer, and thief was whisked back to Texas to stand trial for the murder of Diamond Bessie.
This is where our play begins. Mrs. Lawton Riley, the playwright, mixed tragedy and humor with fact and conjecture to create this exciting and captivating drama, first performed April 22-23, 1955, in Jefferson’s Historic Playhouse, built in 1875 as a Jewish synagogue by the Hebrew Sinai Congregation. Located on the corner of Henderson and Market streets, the setting has a distinct resemblance to the courtroom where the real drama played out over 140 years ago.
Jefferson, the historic little town on Big Cypress Bayou, has its share of ghost stories. You will witness the best one of all when Diamond Bessie rises from her grave to spy on the re-enactment of her own sensational murder trial.
Our dedicated and distinguished returning cast of characters includes Kimberly Parsons who will be playing the role of Diamond Bessie for the sixth year. Ms. Parsons holds a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance from Baylor University. The role of Abraham Rothschild will be played for the 20th year by David Ham. Joining Mr. Ham for the fourth year will be Zachary Venable who holds a degree in Music Education from LSU, Baton Rouge. Accompanying the stars of our show for the 33rd year will be organist Glennda Abraham.
Join us for the 67th annual performance of the
Diamond Bessie Murder Trial
Thursday-Sunday, April 29-30, May 1-2, 2021
at the Jefferson Playhouse
Show times: Thurs, April 29 and Fri, April 30 at 7:30 p.m.;
Tickets for the 67th annual performances are available by calling Sandra Hall on the Diamond Bessie ticket-line, 903-665-0737.
The cost per ticket is $20.