Murderess’ Row – Chicago

The 1920s was a time associated with the extravagance of Gatsby, Prohibition in the U.S., and urbanization.  Chicago was the center of a lifestyle that changed the way society viewed women and what they were capable of.

A section of the Cook County Jail was known as Murderess’ Row during the early part of the decade.  Women had begun killing husbands, boyfriends, lovers, or anyone else who was making life difficult(at least in their opinion) for them.   Women were gaining notoriety for crime in a town where crime was rampant. A long string of assumed female murders had been found not guilty of their crimes, many believed it was because they were women in front of an all-male jury.

In 1924, two women would be charged with murder within a month of each other.  Belva Gaertner was a former cabaret singer who gave up that life for wealth and a home in Hyde Park.  She couldn’t shake the lifestyle.  She was charged with murdering a boyfriend in her car, even though she was drunk and claimed she couldn’t remember it.

A month later, Beulah Annan would land on Murderess’ Row.  The woman worked in a laundry.  She was charged with killing her boyfriend in her apartment while her husband was at work.

Gaertner was considered the most stylish woman on Murderess’ Row while Annan was considered the prettiest.  The two would become enemies during their time in the Cook County Jail.  They were in competition for headlines in papers like the Chicago Tribune which was making them a household name.  They would also both be overshadowed by the case involving Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb.  A case involving the kidnapping and murder of a boy in an effort to commit the perfect crime was deemed by people at the time the “crime of the century.”   The two(Gaertner and Annan) would go to trial at a time when prosecutors had finally gotten a conviction of a woman accused of murder after a long string of accused women being found not guilty.  Both women walked.

A young Chicago Tribune reporter, Maurine Watkins, covered the trials for the paper.  Her cynical reports were often the only news story that didn’t defend the women.  She would later turn the story into a Broadway play, Chicago.  It has been adapted for several audiences including musicals, silent movies, and most recently a revival on Broadway and a new movie.  While the story is created using fictional characters, it is based on a very true story during a time when real life was at times unbelievable as truth.



National Geographic Society. “Chicago: The True Murders That Inspired the Movie.” National Geographic. (accessed November 1, 2013).

“The Real-Life Murderesses’ Row.” The Wall Street Journal. (accessed November 1, 2013).


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