Release Date: August 2012
Pages: 320 pages
Source & Format: Library; Hardcover
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Chicago, 1924. 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.
Thoughts on The Girls of Murder City
I'm not much of a musical buff, but I've had a soft spot for Chicago ever since I saw it in London while studying abroad. I was browsing in the library one day, spotted this cover and had to pick it up. When I realized that Chicago was based on real events (please tell me I'm not the only one who didn't know that), I knew I had to check out this book.
Chicago in the early 1920s was an interesting place. And it was even more exciting in 1924 after there was a string of murders committed by women. Beulah Annan and Bella Gaertner were at the heart of two of the most famous cases. Were they famous because they were so brutal? Not quite. They were famous because the two women were beautiful, stylish and looked like anything but murderesses. Their stories captured everyone's attention and quickly dominated the press coverage. Juries at the time were all male, and there still hadn't been any women successfully convicted of murder in Chicago. The prosecutor's wanted to make a statement, and the media wanted its sensational headline.
Maurine Watkins was the reporter from the Chicago Tribune assigned to cover both cases. Unlike many of the male reporters, Maurine wasn't fooled by the doe-eyed ladies who'd bat their eyes and proclaim their innocence. She had a sharp mind, and her articles about both cases are pointed and pack a punch.
The media sensationalized the murders, the women and the trials. But they also lost interest once the tide started to change and there were better stories to cover. Still, Maureen decided to capture it all by writing a play she called "Brave Little Woman." The characters Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly were inspired by Beulah and Belva, who actually saw the play performed live in an ironic twist. It became a musical in 1970, which is the Chicago everyone knows (and often loves) today.
I found the book even more fascinating than the play or movie because it wasn't fiction. This is really a part of Chicago's history! I don't often read non-fiction, but this is the kind I love to read. It's fast-paced and really grabs your attention. I'd definitely recommend it to fans of history, crime novels or the musical Chicago.
"The most beautiful women in the city were murderers."