Getting Away With Murder

beulahannan“The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago” by author Douglas Perry is an education in the miscarriage of justice in the 1920’s era, during an epidemic of “gun girl” murderers who got off based solely on their looks and style.  In the Cook County Jail in 1924, a “murderess’ row” housed a group of women, most notorious of whom was Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, two married women who had shot their lovers.  Despite physical evidence, their own confessions, and a host of other compelling facts pointing squarely to their guilt, both women walked away from the charges.  During the trials, the media maintained an intoxicating love affair with their stories, following every move, lovingly describing every detail of their dress, their hair, their comportment in the court room.  Beulah was dubbed “prettiest” and Belva “most stylish,” and based on the inability of an all-male jury to convict an attractive or sophisticated lady, that these two murders hoodwinked the public and were freed.  One newspaper writer, however, was not taken in by their wiles–Maurine Dallas Watkins, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, who wrote scathing, satirical reviews of events.  Watkins, a rare item herself being a female police reporter, later penned the play “Chicago,” which debuted in its namesake’s city in 1927 to rave reviews.  The author of “Girls of Murder City”, Perry, presents this well-known story in a fresh way, exploring the events of the murders, but also the societal influences at the time which accounted for the city’s love affair with two murders and the juries’ inability to convict.  He raises the issue of the view of femininity at the time–that an essentially good woman, who was weak (as they all are), could be lead astray by liquor and a strong male influence.  The women were too pretty and too classy to be truly brutish murders, so after all, it wasn’t really their fault. The press fueled this skewed defense by playing up Beulah’s looks and, based on those looks, her certain girlish naiveté. Conversely, an older and rougher female inmate was characterized by the press as a dirty, hulking beast, capable of incredible brutality and clearly quite dangerous.  The courts, not surprisingly, convicted this woman and recommended the death sentence with much less evidence of her guilt.  One observer commented that the “refined murders” did not scare the men like the rough ones, and therefore were deemed harmless. Perry does a wonderful job wrapping up this 1920s package of mob bosses, flappers, gin joints, and corruption into an atmospheric tale of Chicago in the Jazz Age, and raises some serious questions about the power of the press to sway public opinion.  Has anything really changed? If you liked “Devil in the White City” and “American Eve,” you’ll likely enjoy this book as well. girlsmurdercity


Filed under Book Review

2 responses to “Getting Away With Murder

  1. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you, However I
    am going through troubles with your RSS. I don’t understand why I am unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting similar RSS problems? Anyone that knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanx!!

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