Monday, May 09, 2016

Chicken Ranch report no. 68: Zindler's zany zeal pt. 2

A couple weeks ago, KTRK (ABC 13) out of Houston ran a couple of stories I helped them put together (here and here) about the infamous Chicken Ranch of La Grange, Texas, which served as the inspiration for the Broadway musical and subsequent film, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In addition to the new segments, KTRK's producers dug up old broadcasts from 1993, the 20th anniversary of the closure. I was a young reporter in Temple at the time, so this is the first I've ever seen the broadcasts. I'm going to share them here and then offer my thoughts, two decades removed.

"Yes, we called it a bawdy house back then," is one of the more amusing lines in this piece. Everything Zindler or another reporter says "bawdy house" it sounds to me like they're saying "body house," which isn't far from the truth. They couldn't say "whorehouse" back then (and today it's iffy) but had nobody back in 1973 heard of the word "brothel" or even "bordello"? Seems to me those would be acceptable for the 10 p.m. newscast. Oh, here's John Hill again, pretending he was the guiding hand behind efforts to close the Chicken Ranch. I wish he'd have been honest about his role in the affair--these quotes of his are just embarrassing. At the 1:28 mark, we get another look at the Wagon Wheel. I'm quite surprised at how few (read: none) photographs of the Wagon Wheel I came across from the time it was open for business. Lots of history at that location--most of it unknown.

"After 20 years, Kitzman is still hostile, and wouldn't talk to me," Zindler says on the film. And you know what? That's not a Zindler exaggeration. I interviewed former district attorney Oliver Kitzman, and he did not radiate fondness for Zindler. Kitzman spoke of his interactions with Zindler and the two brothels with a kind of bemused resignation, not quite believing anyone could take Zindler's grandstanding seriously. Kitzman's comments to Zindler, including his dismissal of any organized crime involvement, closely match what he told me nearly 40 years later. It also matches information I received from other sources--including the next star witness, former assistant attorney general Herb Hancock. Hancock turned out to be the lynch pin of the entire Chicken Ranch affair, as he is the one who--without Hill's knowledge or approval--recruited Zindler to the case. To watch Hill kiss up to Zindler, praising his exposure of the Chicken Ranch, is downright cringe-worthy. Look, from all my research shows, Hill was a fundamentally honest man, but closing down the Chicken Ranch was never a priority for him as AG. For him to claim otherwise after the fact is just painful.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now listed on both and for pre-order.

Title: Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse
Author: Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Publication Date: August 1, 2016
ISBN: 978.1.46713.563.4

Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch is still available:

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