It had been the longest-running brothel (est. 1844) in the US til Marvin Zindler, a zealous TV newsman from Houston, stuck his nose into the affairs of madam Edna Milton.
Texas state attorney general, John Hill, was Zindler’s governmental mole who supplied the newsman with inside tips on the operation.
Zindler caught a fierce ass-whipping from local Sheriff TJ Flournoy for his troubles. When Mr. Zindler returned to La Grange a year and a half after his TV piece ran, Flournoy saw his chance and pounced, dragging Zindler from his black 1975 Continental Mark IV, and beating him from pillar to post, breaking his ribs and snatching his toupee right off his dome-then stomping it into the rich Fayette County dirt.
A fitting treatment for a puritan.
“That man just went completely wild” railed Zindler.
Jessie Williams and Grace Koplan founded the Chicken Ranch, first in downtown La Grange on Travis Street in a ‘wretched hotel’ then on the outskirts of town on an 11 acre tract on Rocky Creek Road that they purchased for $700.
Back then bawdy houses dotted the Texas countryside and folks didn’t pay them much mind. Eventually the Great Depression hit and customers began showing up with chickens under their arms as payment for sexual favors. The rule was one chicken for one screw. The whorehouse paid their taxes as a poultry operation.
Thus was born the nickname replacing the more austere ‘Jessie Williams Fashionable Boarding House’.
Fresh off his humiliating beating, Zindler returned to Houston where he sued the sheriff for $3 million.Flournoy had been in office since 1946 and his constituents were not going to allow their high sheriff to take a hit on his bank account; they rallied around him and raised enough hush money to make Zindler go away. The exact amount was never revealed.
After the settlement was reached, Sheriff Flournoy advised Zindler to not return to La Grange for “one thousand years”
In late July 1973 Texas governor Dolph Briscoe, Attorney General John Hill and his First Assistant, Larry York, director of the Governor’s Criminal Council Mack Wallace, Department of Public Safety Director Col. Pat Spier, Secretary of State Mark White, the governor’s executive assistant Charles Purnell, and press secretary Robert Hardesty met in the governor’s office following Marvin Zindler’s demands for an audience.
The group of battle-hardened politicos discussed the hot topic of the Chicken Ranch and what they were going to do about it.
At first Briscoe expressed surprise that the business was still in operation. Spier admitted that it was and had been investigated for organized crime ties but none had been found. The media ramifications of a possible closure were bandied about with Hardesty saying “…they’re going to have a field day if you shut it down and they’re going to come down on you like a ton of bricks if you don’t shut it down. Zindler will see to that.”
Secretary of state Mark White finally delivered the death blow “Governor, I don’t see that you have any choice.”
Briscoe spoke to Department of Public Safety Director Spier, “Pat, we need to enforce the law.”
And that was the end of the Chicken Ranch.