2011: 49. The Girls of Murder City

“The most beautiful women in the city were murderers.”

The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago, Douglas Perry

         I bought this book on a rainy vacation day, in Boothbay Maine, when we were killing time in a bookstore (just about the only place open in an off season September day), waiting for the train museum to open at 11.  I was choosing between this and something else (can’t remember what - maybe the new Richard Russo), and it was the right choice, because I gobbled this book down.  It’s just my favorite type of book to read - a well-written, and clearly well researched non-fiction story of a truly interesting quirky real life thing that happened (and if there is a true crime bent, all the better - I’m not proud, but there it is).  

       This one is the story of the lady murderers who caught Chicago’s attention in the Jazz Age.  A spree of female killers tore through Chicago, and the city lapped it up - they were front page news, and they played the system so thoroughly that people began to say that a woman couldn’t get convicted in Cook County - at it was basically true.  Pretty Beulah Anne and stylish socialite Belva Gardner battled for headlines - along with tragic Wanda Stopa - the killer law student who never made it to murderess row.  Their story was captured by the newspapers, including lady reporter Maurine Watkins, who managed to turn it into a famous play - that became the basis for the musical Chicago.  If you’ve seen Chicago, you’ll recognize Roxie and Velma in the real life tales (and you’ll be humming All That Jazz for all 267 pages).   

      The book hits my sweet spots - the confluence of crime and media and women’s history (along with our murderers, and reporters, there is a woman lawyer, too), with a soupcon of Broadway thrown in for good measure.  But its also well written - entertaining, but still well sourced and credible.  And Perry does a nice job taking on the issues raised - the role the press played in the circus, the way that being beautiful (and white) could save a stone cold killer, and if you weren’t those things you might not get the benefit of Cook County’s generosity to female villains.  As I said, I found this book on a rainy day’s diversion, and I have to say, an experience like this reminds me why we need bookstores, not just Amazon.com.

Categories:  Non-Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017