One of my recent favorite films is CHICAGO starring Catherine Zeta Jones and Renee Zellweger as the two Chicago lady killers Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart. Never did get to see the stage play but I really loved the film.
Bebe Neuwirth won the Tony for the stage musical but I knew the second Catherine Zeta Jones came on screen that she'd win the Oscar. She was unbelievably stunning as Velma Kelly. As I searched for photos of the real Velma and Roxie, I was stunned at how unattractive they were. Hollywood and Broadway have certainly painted a much more lovely image of the girls.
Dear readers we hit the 200,000 reader mark today! THANK YOU ALL! Thanks to my terrific friend Jeff for suggesting I read a book review called Lady Trouble: Chicago was once full of killer broads... Great read and prompted tonight's back story...
Belva Gaertner (September 14, 1884 - May 14, 1965) was a stylish, 38-year-old cabaret singer who had been divorced twice by the end of 1923.
On March 11, 1924, Belva Gaertner, a thrice-divorced cabaret singer who used the professional name Belle Brown, shot and killed her lover Walter Law (a married used car salesman with one child). Law was found sprawled out dead in the front seat of Belva's car, a bottle of gin and a gun with three shots fired lying beside him. Belva, found at her apartment, with blood-soaked clothes on the floor, confessed that she was drunk, was driving with Law, but couldn't remember what happened.
All evidence clearly pointed to the singer herself as the shooter: She was found, drunk, with Law's blood on her body and the gun in her possession. Her legal team reshaped the facts to craft a defense.
Belva had drunk so much gin she didn't have a clue what happened. Belva's case went to trial the month after Beulah's. On the 6th of June, 1924, an all-male jury also set her free.
Gaertner told Maurine Dallas Watkins: (Maurine was prettier than the killer girls!) "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?" Gaertner was defended by William Scott Stewart. Gaertner's defense was that Law might have killed himself; she was acquitted in June 1924.
Gaertner was born Belva Brown and married a man named Overbeck. In 1917, she married William Gaertner, who was 31 years her elder, in Crown Point, Indiana. Five months later, William Gaertner successfully sued to have the marriage annulled, claiming that Belva's divorce to Overbeck hadn't been finalized. They were married a second time, but by the time Belva was accused of murdering Law, they were separated.
In 1925, following her acquittal, she remarried Gaertner, a wealthy industrialist. In 1926, William Gaertner filed for divorce, claiming she was abusive and an alcoholic. On July 5, Gaertner claimed his wife threatened to murder him after he found her with another man. She attended the 1927 opening of the play Chicago in Chicago, Illinois. The play has since been adapted into a 1927 silent film, 1975 stage musical, and 2002 movie musical (which won the Academy Award for Best Picture)
Velma Kelly, the 1975 musical character inspired by her, won Bebe Neuwirth the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for its acclaimed 1996 revival; it also won Catherine Zeta-Jones the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the 2002 film based on it. THE REAL ROXIE HART
Beulah Annan, a glamorous Chicago flapper, was married to Albert Annan, a garage mechanic. An unfaithful wife, Beulah (called Roxie Hart in Watkins' play) shot her lover, Harry Kalstedt, in the spring of 1924.
After fatally firing the gun, Beulah played a recording of "Hula Lou" on her Victrola phonograph as poor Harry died in a pool of blood. He had made the fatal mistake of telling Annan he was leaving her. Beulah drank steadily after she shot Harry. She called her husband to say she had foiled a burglary and killed a man to protect her honor.
By the time the police arrived, Beulah was drunk. Albert (called Amos Hart in the play) initially backed his wife's story. But too much illegal liquor loosened Beulah's lips and she confessed to the crime. In jail the night of the murder, Beulah met Belva Gaertner (called Velma Kelley in the play). By April 6th, the two women posed together for press photos. Soon after Kalstedt's murder, Beulah said she was pregnant.
Wisely, the prosecutor tried to delay the trial. But Beulah's press-savvy lawyer, W.W. O'Brien, objected. He knew his client was better off going to trial while she was expecting a baby. The Tribune's headline read: Beulah Annan Awaits Stork, Murder Trial
O'Brien, however, needed more than good press to win his case. He had to come up with a winning defense theme. What better way to get his client off than by claiming: We both reached for the gun... Read More... The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers who Inspired Chicago