In its summary of the nineteenth-century media spectacle, the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) explains that the case was one of the first high-profile criminal trials in Texas. At the center of the case was Abraham Rothschild, the son of successful Ohio businessman Meyer Rothschild.
When he turned up in East Texas, Abraham claimed to be the husband of Annie Moore — also known as “Diamond Bessie” — though there was no proof that the two were wed.
Diamond Bessie’s name at birth was Annie Stone; while the TSHA says she was reportedly a prostitute as a teenage girl, that would clearly constitute child sex trafficking under laws today. She ultimately kept the last name Moore, which belonged to a man she met working at a brothel at the age of 15.
Years later, with Diamond Bessie in tow, Rothschild arrived in Marshall in January 1877 and checked into a local hotel. After staying there for a couple days, they went to Jefferson and began their stay at a place called Brooks House.
After ostensibly going on a picnic in the park with Rothschild, Diamond Bessie disappeared and Rothschild claimed she had gone to see friends in the countryside. The last time the pair was seen alone was on a walk on the Big Cypress Bayou bridge.
According to Texas Highways, a woman found Bessie’s remains while gathering firewood — with a bullet in her head. By the time authorities charged Rothschild with Bessie’s murder, he had returned to Ohio. Though he and his family contested extradition, he lost his legal battle and was forced back to Texas to face a jury of his peers.
Attorneys throughout East Texas chomped at the bit to be involved in the case either to raise their own profiles or benefit from the exorbitant wealth of the Rothschild family’s jewelry business, per the TSHA.
At his second trial, Rothschild’s lawyers said that he had left Jefferson too early to be the killer. They argued if he had murdered Bessie, her body would have been more decomposed when it was discovered. Additionally, a witness testified that she had seen Bessie with someone other than Rothschild, giving credence to his proclaimed innocence.
Rothschild’s second jury even included two African American men. The trial was only 15 years after the end of the Civil War and the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition on slavery.
The jury found Rothschild not guilty on December 30, 1880. The TSHA notes that the case became fodder for fantastic rumors about the people involved and the trial itself. Townspeople gossiped that the jurors had been bribed and even killed after reaching a verdict.
As part of the Jefferson Historical Pilgrimage, area residents organize a reenactment of the trial to commemorate the mystery of Bessie’s death and Rothschild’s controversial acquittal.
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Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."