Famed 'Chicken Ranch' madam passes away

Edna Milton Chadwell was the last madam of the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel.

February 29, 2012 7:42:55 PM PST
The last madam of the infamous Texas brothel that inspired the movie "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" has died in Phoenix. She was 84.

Edna Milton Chadwell's nephew, Robert Kleffman, said Wednesday his aunt, the last owner of the Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange, Texas, died Feb. 25. She had been in the hospital since a car accident in October.

Chadwell began working at the Chicken Ranch in 1952, Kleffman said. Within three years, she had become the manager. In 1962, she bought the establishment from Jessie Williams, commonly known as Miss Jessie and ran it until it closed.

The Chicken Ranch operated under the radar, but allegedly with the knowledge of certain state officials and the Fayette County Sheriff for years, until the day Eyewitness News rolled into town in 1973.

A woman who identified herself as Edna Milton came out and said she owned the house and the land. We had asked what kind of business she was running.

"I have a boarding house here," said Ms. Milton

"Is that all it is?" asked Eyewitness News.

"That's enough," she responded.

We continued, "You're not operating a house of prostitution?"

"Whether I am or not doesn't come under the heading of your business," Ms. Milton retorted.

Marvin Zindler then joined in the story, met up with Sheriff TJ Flournoy and you know the rest. Marvin's hairpiece went flying, the ranch was closed down and for a time, Edna Milton, said to have donated a lot to local charity, tried to stay in La Grange.

Resident Aileen Hoehr though says the town made that impossible.

"There was a time she wanted to buy a house in La Grange and she was given her refund because the citizenry did not want her in the community," she said.

A short time later Chadwell moved to Arizona, where she got married and remained until she died.

Chadwell didn't often talk about her years at the brothel, Kleffman said, but sometimes would answer questions if prompted. She wasn't ashamed of the work she did there, he said, but also didn't want the notoriety that came with being the madam of a famous brothel.

"She was a hard-nosed lady. She was very straightforward, didn't put up with no monkey business, no nonsense," Kleffman said. "Hard-nosed. But with a spine of steel and a heart of gold."

Kleffman, whose mother was one of Chadwell's 10 siblings, said his aunt dreamed of ghost-writing a book about her years at the Chicken Ranch but was determined to do it only after everyone involved had already died. While Kleffman believes she did in the end outlive all the other women, she never did get to write the book -- something she wanted to do partly to set the record straight on the movie and show that put her establishment on the map.

"The only thing in the movie that was correct was that there was a whorehouse," Kleffman said his aunt would often say. "She said the sheriff and the madam, they don't have nothing going on. It was just a business."

At the same time, while there were people from that era that would bring a smile to Chadwell's face -- some of the other girls and associates -- there were many she described as unsavory and was happy to forget, Kleffman said.

Chadwell is survived by two brothers and sisters and several nieces and nephews. At her request, there will be no service or funeral.

The Associated Press contributed to this report