Bessie's House was a notorious downtown Carlisle brothel, run by Madam Bessie Jones. It offered "services" in Carlisle beginning right before the Civil War and lasting until 1972, when a still-unsolved murder shut its doors.
Bessie's House, as this long-standing brothel was known, stood at 20 East Locust Avenue for over 100 years. Serving many of Carlisle's elite gentlemen through three generations, Bessie's House was run by Bessie Jane (Andrews) Jones, a third-generation, African-American madam. Born around 1893, Bessie is often described as a large yet attractive woman who walked downtown Carlisle in mink coats, elaborate hats, expensive jewelry, and a full face of make up. Friendly to all she met, Bessie frequented downtown stores and the markethouse with her maid in tow to carry her purchases.
By the mid-20th century, Carlislians seemed to ignore her business, as she was looked on as a kind, charitable old woman and something of a local curiosity. Her bawdy house was probably one of the worst-kept secrets in Carlisle, and townsfolk tried to catch glimpses of those going into Bessie's house from afar. Through various convictions for running a house of prostitution and tax evasion, her business survived. It was finally brought to an end by Bessie's shocking murder.
In October 1972, Bessie was found bound and stabbed in her house of ill repute, and a young prostitute named Georgia Ann Schneider was arrested and charged with her murder. Although some circumstantial evidence was found tying her to the murder, Schneider was ultimately acquitted. Rumors were prevalent that Bessie, who was under state and federal investigation for her involvement with the mob at the time of her death, was murdered by the crime syndicate that provided her prostitutes to tie up loose ends. So well-known was Bessie at the time of her death, that newspapers in Philadelphia and New York noted her passing. A book was later written about her house and her murder.
In 1990, Schneider's lawyer held a press conference where he claimed to be in possession of Bessie's infamous ledger, detailing her clients, their professions, and what they liked. No one has ever seen the ledger and many believe it doesn't exist. Bessie Jones' murder remains unsolved, and Bessie and her house have moved from local curiosity to town legend, as she is still talked about today by locals. The house was eventually demolished, and a public parking lot now stands in its place.
Sources: The Sentinel, CCHS Gardner Library website