The true story of the murderesses who became media sensations and inspired the musical Chicago
There was nothing surprising about men turning up dead in the Second City. Life was cheaper than a quart of illicit gin in the gangland capital of the world. But two murders that spring were special - worthy of celebration. So believed Maurine Watkins, a wanna-be playwright and a "girl reporter" for the Chicago Tribune, the city's "hanging paper." Newspaperwomen were supposed to write about clubs, cooking and clothes, but the intrepid Miss Watkins, a minister's daughter from a small town, zeroed in on murderers instead. Looking for subjects to turn into a play, she would make "Stylish Belva" Gaertner and "Beautiful Beulah" Annan - both of whom had brazenly shot down their lovers - the talk of the town. Love-struck men sent flowers to the jail and newly emancipated women sent impassioned letters to the newspapers. Soon more than a dozen women preened and strutted on "Murderesses' Row" as they awaited trial, desperate for the same attention that was being lavished on Maurine Watkins's favorites.
In the tradition of Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City and Karen Abbott's Sin in the Second City, Douglas Perry vividly captures Jazz Age Chicago and the sensationalized circus atmosphere that gave rise to the concept of the celebrity criminal. Fueled by rich period detail and enlivened by a cast of characters who seemed destined for the stage, The Girls of Murder City is crackling social history that simultaneously presents the freewheeling spirit of the age and its sober repercussions.
This jaunty retrospective of two Jazz Age trials introduces us to the real-life originals of the killer ladies of the musical Chicago and to the society that adored them. Journalist Perry (The Sixteenth Minute: Life in the Aftermath of Fame) revisits the 1924 cases of Belva Gaertner, a swanky divorc e, and Beulah Annan, a beautiful married woman, both accused of shooting their lovers to death. They were the most photogenic on Cook County jail's "Murderess' Row" of defendants in a spate of woman-on-man killings that inflamed the press and captivated a public grown bored with gangland murders. (Perry's third heroine is skeptical female reporter Maurine Watkins, who bemoaned the inability of all-male Chicago juries to convict killers with pretty faces.) The author gives an entertaining, wised-up rundown of the cases and the surrounding media hoopla, which the defendants and their lawyers cannily manipulated. (Annan hired a fashion consultant for court appearances and falsely declared herself pregnant to win sympathy.) Beneath the sensationalism, Perry finds anxieties about changing sex roles as feisty flappers and aggressive career women barged into public consciousness; his savvy, flamboyant social history illuminates a dawning age of celebrity culture. Photos.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Subject Great, Writing a Little Off
I would like to have enjoyed it more. Chicago was (ok is) an interesting place. In 1924 when this book is set, Chicago had 2X the murders of New York City. And of course at the heart of the book there were the unprecedented 12 "girls" charged with murder in Chicago's city jail.
The author is very good at keeping the setting in mind. Political corruption, prohibition, jazz babies and lots of illegal gin were the order of the day. The primary story is bracketed by Al Capone and cronies and the Leopoldo & Loeb thrill kill/murder of the century case. The intrepid girl reporter who is the " moral voice" of the serious Chicago Tribune, covers the murderous women for most of the book's action. Somehow Douglas Perry's voice sounds too much like the "sob sisters" or other sensationalist reporters of the times.