Less than a month after Walter’s shooting, on April 3, young Chicago bookkeeper Beulah Annan shot her colleague-turned-lover, Harry Kalstedt, in the back. After arguing with her sweetheart in the bedroom she shared with husband Albert, then-23-year-old Beulah allegedly watched Harry die over the course of four hours as she played the song ‘Hula Lou’ over and over.
As Beulah Annan’s case went to trial, newspapers dubbed her “Chicago’s most gorgeous slayer” – which seemingly overshadowed the fact she’d changed her story three times.
Both women played up their femininity for the jury.
“Beulah and Belva threw themselves at the mercy of
the juries. Understanding the necessity of looking good, the two women opened a kind of fashion school for female criminals at the Cook County Jail. They cut each other’s hair in the latest style. They discussed how to wear cosmetics. They gave themselves and each other manicures,” journalist Douglas Perry wrote in his book, The Girls Of Murder City.
Within two weeks of going
to trial, both women were acquitted by all-male juries. “Oh, I’m so happy!” Belva said repeatedly, laughing hysterically at the verdict.
Both the murders sparked immense media interest. Chicago Tribune journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins was sent to cover the cases and offer a ‘woman’s perspective’. Her coverage captured the imaginations of local women who, according to The Daily Telegraph, “wanted
to be like Beulah or Belva”.
“The tender-hearted slayer … was overcome with emotion when [her attorney] painted
the picture of ‘this frail little girl, gentlemen, struggling with
a drunken brute’,” Maurine wrote of Beulah, describing the scene in the courtroom.
“And the jury shook their heads in approbation and chewed gum more energetically.”
From Belva, Maurine extracted this explanation of why she couldn’t possibly have committed the murder of which she was accused: “No woman can love a man enough to kill him. They aren’t worth it, because there are always plenty more. Walter was just a kid – 29 and I’m 38. Why should I have worried whether he loved me or whether he left me? Gin and guns – either one is bad enough, but together they get you in a dickens of a mess, don’t they?”
Maurine left the newspaper soon after but the cases she watched unfold supplied perfect fodder
for her first play, Chicago, which premiered in 1926. The play was adapted into a silent movie and finally the musical we love today. The lead characters, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, are caricatures of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner respectively.
Even one of the production’s songs, ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’, is based on Beulah’s defence, which was that she and Harry had both reached for the gun during an argument.
She just got there first.
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