Last madam of infamous Texas brothel dies at 84

March 1, 2012 - 11:45 AM
Obit-Chicken Ranch Madam

This 1978 photo shows Edna Milton Chadwell posing outside of the Broadway Theater where she was appearing in the musical based on her past, "The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas". The last madam of the infamous Texas brothel that inspired the movie "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" has died in Phoenix on Feb. 25, 2012. She was 84. (AP Photo)

HOUSTON (AP) — The last madam of the infamous Texas brothel that inspired the movie and Broadway show "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 was shut down in 1973 after a TV story.

After the television report, Texas' governor ordered police to shut down the Chicken Ranch, and 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.

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