What Really Happened to Madam Bessie Jones? The Story of an Unsolved Pennsylvania Murder

Have you heard of the murder of Madam Bessie Jones?

"CARLISLE MADAM MURDERED" shrieked the October 1972 Carlisle Sentinel banner.

During a robbery, an assailant gagged and tied businesswoman Madam Bessie Jane Jones in her upstairs bedroom. The killer knifed the 77-year-old-woman three times, one stab severing the pulmonary artery. She bled out.

Detective Robert Warner presided over the crime scene and the case. An officer found the murder weapon, a four-inch switchblade, in the yard with traces of the victim’s blood.

Prostitute Georgia Ann Schneider fled the premises in a taxi with $2,789 stuffed into her clothes; Officer Mike Brennen stopped the taxi on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and detained the suspect at the Newville Substation for robbery and fleeing a crime scene.

The District Attorney later arrested and charged this pregnant White woman with the murder.

About 4:30 on the morning of the crime, another call girl called police from the Star Lite Motel to report her failure to gain admittance to 20 E. Locust Street residence known as “Bessie’s House.” Cassandra Jackson later appeared as the star witness for the prosecution at the Schneider’s February 11, 1973 trial.

Most locals know the basics of Bessie Jane Jones’s murder.

The woman had run a lucrative brothel or “house of ill repute” for fifty years, as had her mother Cora Andrews before her. 

Two books—Paul Zdinak’s Bessie’s House and Joe Cress’s Wicked Carlisle---as well as numerous newspaper accounts—provide salacious details of the gruesome killing, the trail and defendant’s subsequent acquittal forty-seven years ago.

And yet...the mystery of who killed Madam Jones remained.

Author JM West has some updates to the story in Madam Bessie Jones.

Book cover Madam Bessie Jones murder

Published April 2021

Mystery author JM West peers into the morass, revisiting the scenes and asking the important questions participants glossed over in 1972-73. 

In 1990’s, The Sentinel ran an article that Schneider’s defense attorney had Jones’s “sex book” locked away in a safe.

The murder resurfaced recently in a Sunday Patriot News article (below) and on a PennLive video in which Herbert (“Corky”) Goldstein reenacted his closing argument, which acquitted his client.

Sunday Patriot News Madam Bessie Jones Pennsylvania

An article about Madam Bessie Jones was published in The Sunday Patriot-News in December 2019 

Because Zdinak's Bessie's House is out of print, JM West summarizes key observations and testimony in it. The title is a misnomer; it should be titled Georgia Ann Schneider’s Journey, or maybe Georgia Ann’s Descent or Fall from Grace, since the bulk of the book describes the girl’s entry into prostitution at eighteen, her marriage, sojourn in New York, and then work at Bessie’s.

More valuable is part of the trial transcript—a first-hand witness to history. Though Zdinak summarized the defense strategy well, he implied the Prosecution lacked convincing or concrete evidence. The jury agreed.

But Bessie’s House contains inaccurate and conflicting information.

For example, Zdinak states that David Andrews was her husband. However, Cora Andrews’s (Bessie’s mother) death notice reported her as the daughter of Jane and David Andrews. Other sources, including the 1900 Census, report that she was a single mother.

Journalist Joseph D. Cress’s two chapters in Wicked Carlisle on Cora Andrews and Madam Bessie Jones offer more accurate information on this material, citing the raids and arrests of mother and daughter, the burglaries, arson, and downfall of the famous madam.

At times, historical records about Madam Jones conflict with one another.

Jones’s birth year is listed as 1895 on her headstone but 1899 elsewhere. Four children accompanied Andrews to court and to the Cumberland County Jail in 1899. The court then sent the children to the hospital. Albert, fifteen, the eldest preceded William and Bessie, who were likely twins (or possibly nine-eleven months apart) at eleven years old, followed by Marion, five and Vermont four in the 1900 Census.

As adults, both of Jones’s sisters, Marion Gibson/Middleton and Vermont Brown, married and lived down the street at 24 Locust Street at various times. At one point, Bessie’s husband resided with her briefly. Some records indicate he died; another said the couple divorced. Where conflicting facts occur, West includes both.

How did Carlisle, PA respond to the house?

Most of the town’s citizens tolerated the presence of Cora’s House; others detested it—gossip ran like a virus, and still, others ignored it. Perhaps some did not know of her.

One disgruntled citizen, Dickinson College President George Reed, “lodged a complaint and filed charges against Cora Andrews about the immoral influence of the cathouse as a blight on Carlisle’s good name.” Another complained of the noise—a fight in the alley between Andrews and a neighbor.

At any rate, questions beg answers.

In Madam Bessie Jones, JM West fleshes out Miss Bessie’s life and illustrates that her contributions and success stem from shrewd assessment of her environment, status, and situation.

She operated an illegal brothel three blocks from the police station for fifty years with only occasional raids, arrests, fines, and one protracted prison sentence at Muncy State Prison, another visit the next year, and a short stint in a federal pen in Virginia.

News sources and authors report her strict rules of denying students and Black men admission to the premises, keeping a low profile, and providing a service to an elite Caucasian clientele; these factors kept law enforcement from closing her doors until the last decade of her life.

During one court appearance, Jones’s attorney, Hyman “Hymie” Goldstein, described “Bessie’s Place” as a “venerable institution comparable to Jim Thorpe and Molly Pitcher.” That comment raised eyebrows, but her lawyer asserted that Bessie was a decent person who kept a clean and ordered establishment.

Questions still remain about her demise.

What information was withheld or omitted from the trial?

Why did the defendant’s lawyer allegedly destroy Jones’s Preference and Receipt books?

They contained damning lists of men who frequented “Bessie’s Place,” their preferred sexual appetites, and what they paid for assignations with prostitutes. If admitted as evidence, these books could have pointed to motive and contain suspects.

So why did the District Attorney say the books were not relevant information?

The killer could have been among the Madam’s “high-class” clientele.The ledgers were destroyed to protect the names of those lawyers, judges, police, and the legislators who frequented Bessie’s. On the other hand, men could have used aliases, but most did not know Jones kept records.

JM West looks beyond the sensationalism of the historical accounts to find the actual person in Madam Bessie Jones.

About the Author 

JM West author

J M West, author of the Carlisle Crime Cases, is a Professor Emerita of English Studies at Harrisburg Area Community College, The Gettysburg Campus. She also taught at Messiah College and Shippensburg University and served as Assistant Director of the Learning Center (SU). Her books include Madam Bessie Jones, Dying for Vengeance, Courting Doubt and Darkness, and four others. See her website www.carlislecrimecases.com for details.

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