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Edna Milton Chadwell, 84; led infamous Texas brothel

associated press/file 1978

Ms. Chadwell appeared in a Broadway show based on her past.

HOUSTON - 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 that his aunt, the last owner of the Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange, Texas, died Feb. 25. She had been hospitalized since an October car accident.

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Ms. Chadwell began working at the Chicken Ranch in 1952, Kleffman said. Within three years, she had become manager. In 1962, she bought the establishment from Jessie Williams, known as Miss Jessie, and ran it until it was closed in 1973 after a television report.

After the report, the Texas governor ordered police to shut down the Chicken Ranch, and Ms. Chadwell moved to Arizona, where she got married and remained until she died.

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

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

Kleffman, whose mother was one of Ms. 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 outlive all the other women, she never did write the book, something she wanted to do partly to set the record straight on the film 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 who would bring a smile to her face - some of the other girls and associates - there were many she described as unsavory and was happy to forget, Kleffman said.

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

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