The chicken ranch, which received national infamy after the staging of “the best little whorehouse in texas” on broadway, was reportedly the oldest continuously operating brothel in the nation when it closed in august 1973, after an exposure by ktrk consumer reporter marvin zindler.
expert lady in public relations
Miss Edna, as she was known, joined the staff of the brothel in 1952 when she was 23, but with the owner, Miss Jessie Williams, in failing health, she soon found herself taking on more day-to-day administrative responsibilities. brothel day running the business, said jayme blaschke, who is writing a book on the history of the chicken ranch.
in 1961, after miss jessie’s death, chadwell purchased the establishment for $30,000 from her heirs and ran it for the next 12 years with a firm hand, tolerating no nonsense.
chadwell proved to be as adept at public relations as she was at running a brothel. she established a good working and personal relationship with t.j. Flournoy, the Fayette County sheriff who put himself on the direct line to the chicken ranch so he could be easily informed of any criminal activity, Blaschke said.
according to the texas handbook, chadwell also forbade any but professional contact with grange citizens, insisted that the girls see a doctor weekly, shopped with local merchants on a rotating basis, and donated generously to local charities.
business flourished. Generations of students from nearby Texas A&M University discovered that a visit to the chicken ranch was an established rite of passage for freshmen. Legend has it that a nearby military base transported customers by helicopter.
but in 1973, following a tip, zindler broadcast an exposure that led to the demise of the brothel.
“accion 13 received an anonymous complaint about two alleged prostitution houses”, was how zindler opened its nightly segment at the end of July of that year. “The whistleblower said the houses were openly operating in our neighboring towns of Sealy and La Grange. It is illegal to operate a house of prostitution in Texas. And past history shows that they cannot operate without an authority to protect them.”
for August. 1, pressure from zindler resulted in gov. dolph briscoe ordering law enforcement to shut down the two “obscenity houses,” as zindler called them. the next day, flournoy reluctantly complied.
eighth of 11 children
Chadwell was born in Caddo County, Okla., in 1928, the eighth of 11 children. the dust bowl and great depression forced the family to move frequently between oklahoma, texas, and arizona.
edna stopped going to school in the third or fourth grade, said her nephew, robert kleffman. At the age of 16, she was forced into an unwanted marriage and she had a son, who died shortly after birth.
Without money, she turned to prostitution for a living, Blaschke said.
after the chicken ranch closed, chadwell moved to gladewater and got married. After her husband’s death, she married Clayton Chadwell and moved to Phoenix, where she lived in relative obscurity until her death.
In the late 1970s, Chadwell sold the rights to his story to Texas writer Larry L. King, who wrote an article for Playboy magazine and was adapted by Peter Masterson for the stage as “The Best Whorehouse in Texas,” in which Miss Edna played a small, quiet role as the old lady.
“It was weird,” Masterson said. “She had no concept of acting, but we thought it would be good to have her on the show from a publicity standpoint. We didn’t want to praise prostitution. I thought this was a story about people just doing their best.” in life.”
The success of the show spurred the movie of the same name starring Reynolds and Parton, which Masterson thought trivialized history and which Chadwell hated.
“He said the movie was a joke,” Kleffman said. “There was nothing right except that it happened in a brothel.”