68th Annual ‘Diamond Bessie Murder Trial’ Set April 28-May 1, 2022

by Bobbie Hardy, Director

Historic Jefferson’s 75th Annual Pilgrimage presented by the Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club, is scheduled April 28-May 1, 2022. One of the highlights of the event is the annual staging of the Diamond Bessie Murder Trial, a unique adaptation of the last days of the 1877 trial in Jefferson of Abraham Rothschild for the murder of the beautiful Diamond Bessie. The trial captured national attention in its day, and its re-creation usually attracts a standing-room-only audience.

A special feature of the performance will be an encore appearance by actor Mickey Kuhn, the last surviving credited cast member of the motion picture, Gone With the Wind.

Kuhn first appeared in the production in 2018, and he is excited to make a return visit to Jefferson.

The play, which will mark its 68th year, tells the story of Bessie Moore, the wayward daughter of a Watertown, N.Y., shoemaker, and Abraham “Abe” Rothschild, the handsome son of a wealthy family of jewelry dealers. Both of them made tragic decisions that forever changed their lives.

Abe and Bessie were married in Danville, Ill., in early January 1877. Shortly afterward, they headed south by rail, eventually traveling on Jay Gould’s new Texas & Pacific Railroad. After arriving in Marshall, Texas, where they spent several days in the old Capitol Hotel, they moved on 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 decorating her delicate hands and the dashing young gentleman on her arm. Checking into the Brooks House Hotel, her companion used the alias, A. Monroe and wife of St. Louis.

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 peculiarly, drinking heavily, and wearing two of Bessie’s rings on his fingers. Two days later, he gathered her belongings and departed Jefferson. What followed would become one of the most scandalous and sensational stories to unfold in East Texas.

Bessie’s body was discovered a few weeks later, and the townspeople rallied around the 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 police chief in Bessie’s hometown identified the woman as Annie Stone, later known as Anna Moore and Bessie Moore. She had become a well-known prostitute there, and according to sources, had left Watertown to ply her trade in Cincinnati, Chicago, and New Orleans.

In addition, the sheriff had traced the couple’s prior destination to the hotel in Marshall, where they had registered as A. Rothschild and wife, of Cincinnati. Further inquiry led the lawman to a Cincinnati hospital where Rothschild, a disreputable traveling salesman for his family’s jewelry business, was recovering from a failed suicide attempt. Paranoid someone was following him, Abe had gotten drunk and shot himself in the head, but managed only to put out an eye. The renowned swindler, womanizer and thief was arrested and whisked back to Texas to stand trial for the murder of Diamond Bessie.

This is where the play begins. First performed in 1955, the original script was written by Mrs. Lawton Riley, who mixed tragedy and humor with fact and conjecture to create an exciting and captivating drama. The play is staged in Jefferson’s Historic Playhouse, built in 1875 at Henderson and Market streets as a synagogue by the Hebrew Sinai Congregation. 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, and you will witness its best when Diamond Bessie rises from her grave to spy on the re-enactment of her own sensational murder trial.

Our dedicated and distinguished cast includes Kimberly Parsons, who will be playing the role of Diamond Bessie for the seventh year. Parsons holds a master’s degree in vocal performance from Baylor University. The role of Abraham Rothschild will be played for the 21st year by David Ham. Sharing the role of Rothschild will be Joe Buck Crisp, general manager of KMHT Radio in Marshall. Accompanying the stars of our show will be organist Glennda Abraham, in her 34th year, and assistant organist Charles Gilbert. Lighting technicians are Tony Jones, Terry Ioerger and Darrell Gaither.

Other returning cast members include Joey Romano, Bubba Haggard, Andrew Parsons, Mitchel Whitington, Marty Stewart, Steven Coleman, Skip Torrans, Tim Cariker, Bill Gleason, Glenda Ervin, Mary Spearmon, Brooke Bradley-LaFleur, Shelia Langbartels, Charlie Horn, Doug Thompson and Jim Stacey.

Kuhn, who portrayed Beau Wilkes in David O. Selznick’s 1939 film classic, played the role of Sam the gravedigger in 2018. In our 2022 production, he will share the role of Sam, and in the Saturday shows will play the part of bartender Antonio A. Morelli.

Tickets for the 68th annual performances will be available beginning Feb. 1, 2022, by calling Sandra Hall on the Diamond Bessie ticket-line, (903) 665-0737. The cost per ticket is $20.

Show times are Thursday, April 28, and Friday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, April 30, at 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday, May 1, at 2 p.m.

For additional information about the Diamond Bessie Murder Trial, please visit www.jeffersonpilgrimage.com or www.diamondbessieplay.com.