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The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers who Inspired Chicago

3.64  ·  Rating Details ·  2,964 Ratings  ·  359 Reviews

The true story of the murderesses who became media sensations and inspired the musical Chicago

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-b
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published August 5th 2010 by Viking Adult (first published January 1st 2010)
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Clif Hostetler
Apr 13, 2013 Clif Hostetler rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is nonfiction history that reports on a time in 1924-25 Chicago when the mutually reinforced interplay between news about several alleged murderesses and intense competition among the local newspapers combined to fire up public interest to an absurdly passionate level. The book then finishes the story by following Maurine Watkins, a reporter at the trials, as she goes on to write a satirical comic drama based on what she had witnessed. Her stage play was performed on Broadway and had a ...more
Mar 17, 2017 Amy rated it it was amazing
A fascinating look at the women killers, journalists, and even (to a slight extent) lawyers of prohibition Chicago. At the end, the author focuses on the creation of the musical "Chicago." Similar to something Erik Larson would write but more holistically interesting. I particularly enjoyed the description and feel of the courtroom. The author uses the engaging language of the newspapers of the time to describe the murderesses and their crimes and it spices up the story.
Definitely one of those
Paul Pessolano
Feb 19, 2011 Paul Pessolano rated it really liked it
The minute I finished this book I ran downstairs and put my DVD of the musical "Chicago" in and found new meaning and enjoyment of it.

"The Girls of Murder City" is the true story of the beautiful killers who inspired the Academy Award winning musical "Chicago".

The story is told through the eyes of Maurine Watkins who reported their stories and wrote the play.

Chicago, at this time, had all male juries, and all male juries did not convict women, especially beautiful women.

The Cook County Jail had
Tara Chevrestt
Apr 28, 2010 Tara Chevrestt rated it it was amazing
In Chicago, 1924, illegal booze was all the rave, jazz music played into the wee hours of the night, and the number of killings committed by women had jumped 400 percent in the last forty years... And no, I'm not saying there is a connection. I can drink some wine and listen to some jazz tunes and I don't shoot my husband dead..

These women did tho... read the full review by clicking the link below.
Aug 10, 2012 Melissa rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I’ve seen the 2002 film of the musical Chicago, I’ve seen the live stage performance, but I never realized just how much of the story was based on fact. Perry tells the nonfiction tale of the actual murderesses, the crimes they committed and the media frenzy that followed in their wake. I thought the book was fascinating because the true story is even more intriguing than the fictionalized stage version.

In 1924 there were a surprising number of murders committed by women in Chicago. Two of the
"Sure, I whipped my millionaire husband, but it was he who gave me the whip." --socialite murder suspect Belva Gaertner

"My God! What did they do?" --Katherine "Tiger Girl" Malm, on hearing of her murder conviction

"This is one time when my face was my fortune." --Chicago Tribune reporter Margery Currey, learning that the new no-women-in-the-newsroom ruling did not apply to her because she was so unattractive that her presence wasn't distracting

"No woman can love a man enough to kill him. There ar
Aug 11, 2010 George rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nook-st, non-fiction, ipad

”Chicago was Bedlam: debauched, violent, unimaginable—and full of exciting opportunities”—page 29

The stories behind the stories that inspired the successful play, and award winning musical—stage and movie— Chicago, THE GIRLS OF MURDER CITY: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago, by Douglas Perry; just keeps getting better and better.

Young, bright, (and a bit self-righteous) Maureen Watkins, wannabe playwright fresh from academia, lan
Mar 18, 2016 April rated it really liked it
It would seem I am on quite a roll with all these murder-themed non-fiction books as of late. Read my review here
Meg - A Bookish Affair
I'm a big musical fan (I can often be found belting out various Broadway tunes) and I love quirky history non-fiction books. I like books that focus in on some minute part of history that I've never known about before. The Girls of Murder City had been on my TBR list for awhile so when I got an opportunity to read the book through Unputdownables Early Reader group, I was ecstatic. This book tells the true story behind some of the women that inspired the musical, Chicago. For you all not in the B ...more
Jul 22, 2015 Rachel rated it liked it
3.5 for this book. I can't really say I loved it because well some of the women were frustrating!!! While reading this book I had to write notes to make myself less mad. One I wrote was, 'Impressive and disgusting at the same time. One of the benefits of living in a man's world is not only will they buy you nice furniture, a fur coat, jewels, work overtime to give you a comfortable life, take you back when you cuckold them but give them a wistful sad smile with tears in your eyes you can (litera ...more
April Helms
Oct 11, 2010 April Helms rated it really liked it
Another good read for history fans, especially crime history buffs, as well as fans of the musical "Chicago." The story concentrates on Maurine Watkins, a young, conservative woman from Indiana who moves to Chicago to learn about life and to become a police and courts reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Her stage play, the Broadway hit "Chicago," was a result of her real-life experiences in covering several high-profile murder cases of that age. Fans of "Chicago" will easily see the inspirations b ...more
Kelsey Hanson
Nov 29, 2014 Kelsey Hanson rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book has a slow start for me, but the second half of the book makes up for the slow start. This book tells the stories of the women in Chicago who inspired the characters in the famous play. It is told mostly from the persepective of Maurine Watkins, a journalist who would one day write the play based on her experiences as she covered the trials of these women. As a big fan of the play and musical I found this really interesting and I was able to pick up right away on the similarities betwe ...more
Jun 17, 2012 Laura rated it liked it
The Girls of Murder City is an interesting book I picked up since I am a fan of crime and saw the 2002 movie "Chicago," at least once. The book gives you the true back story of not only the murderesses but also the origins of the production "Chicago." I loved the glimpse the author gave you of the newspaper industry in such a historical period. The author placed portions of actual articles and headlines written at the time which were less straight forward like the ones we read today and more lik ...more
May 06, 2014 Natalie rated it it was ok
Just okay for me. This book was just missing something. It was part biography of the playwright and part historical Chicago crime chronicle, but couldn't decide which it wanted to be. Perry knew he could get more money out of using the identifiable play as a headline to draw readers in, but his coverage of those stories and the trials wasn't all that interesting. Then he talked about the Leopold and Loeb case as well as a couple of other stories that weren't really part of the main story but whi ...more
Jan 20, 2012 Jodi rated it liked it
Not bad, although it got a little repetitive on some of the facts of the crimes toward the middle of the book. I wanted to know more about the backgrounds, the families, the childhoods of the murderers, but it's possible that that information is just not out there. Overall I was really interested in the background of the playwright who wrote Chicago and how covering these trials for the Tribune put her on that path. There was also a lot of interesting historical background on Chicago itself as w ...more
Aug 15, 2010 Meagan rated it liked it
This was a really interesting look into the Murderess' Row of Jazz Age Chicago, and the reporter who adapted their stories into the musical Chicago. It seemed pretty well researched, and I learned a lot specifically about Maurine Watkins, Ione Quinby, and Helen Cirese. Fans of musical theater shouldn't miss it, although I would say that I felt like the author played a little fast and loose with descriptions sometimes. Thoughts and actions are attributed to people even when no one was around to s ...more
Aug 06, 2013 Jennifer rated it really liked it
I loved this book. Perry has written an interesting/factual book about the murderous girls who inspired crime report Maurine Watkins to write the play "Chicago" during the 1920s. The tales of these women in Cook County Jail and their celebrity status and relationship with the media is fascinating but sickening at the same time. A really interesting look at crime reporting, justice and the media. I learned a lot from Perry through reading this and I am not sure how much society in general has cha ...more
Feb 23, 2012 Melinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maurine Watkins, intrepid crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune, covers the infamous murder trials of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, both accused of killing their lovers. In 1924 murderesses, especially pretty ones, were considered glamorous. Maurine later turned to screenwriting and wrote the famous play "Chicago" based on these real life killers. Douglas Perry told these women's stories (and touched on three other cases) in such a way that I could literally picture things happening. Well re ...more
Aug 16, 2010 Naomi rated it liked it
This book totally blew my mind away! This is a true story which was recommended to me. I couldn't believe the story line without going into spoilers. It would have gotten 4 stars from me but I thought the story could have been tightened up some.
Aug 30, 2010 April rated it it was amazing
Great book about the murderesses in Chicago in the 1920's. I didn't realize that the Chicago Tribune reporter that wrote about these women went on to write the play Chicago.
Jan 15, 2012 KellyWells rated it it was amazing
This was a wonderful read about the true events that inspired the play "Chicago." Exciting and enthralling!
Mar 18, 2017 Bonnie rated it really liked it
Chicago, 1924. Life was cheap in Chicago, the gangland capital of the world. In the spring of that year, something surprising happened--two murders by women. The first involved Belva Gaertner, the witty millionaire divorce who feared returning to the poverty of her childhood. Then there was Beulah Annan, a Kentucky farm girl turned jazz baby whose beauty obscured an ice-cold narcissism. Both had gunned down their lovers under mysterious circumstances. Now enters the heroine. Maurine Watkins, a m ...more
Drew Zagorski
Nov 10, 2016 Drew Zagorski rated it really liked it
As a native of Chicago, I simply ate this book up. I've always been interested in Chicago history, but this book offered a different wrinkle. It's based on the story that lead to the writing of the play Chicago - yes, that Chicago, which was turned into an Oscar winning musical. Perry tells the story of the actual Girls of Murder City - the murderesses who were sensationalized in the late teens in Chicago, and the "girl reporter," Maurine Watkins who covered their stories (and wrote the original ...more
Carrie White
Absolutely fascinating. This is a book I pulled off my own shelf b/c I wanted non-fic, and for some reason went through a phase of buying books about Chicago in the early 1900s (?). Wow-wow-wow. The book focuses on not only the women who were on trial for murder at the time, but also the unlikely reporter covering them, and tbh I found the murderesses the more interesting of the group. The author writes in a very smooth, easy-to-follow language, and injects enough personal guesswork and emotion ...more
EShay Fagan
Jan 15, 2017 EShay Fagan rated it liked it
Shelves: history, audiobook
Interesting even though I'm not a fan of Chicago the musical. If you loved Chicago, read this now. I'm more of a 40s and 50s fan than 20s and 30s. But if you like not-quite-microhistories, then you will enjoy this book. Femme fatales galore. It makes me feel better about our current times that things like this are not happening with such regularity.
Mar 02, 2017 Kathy rated it really liked it
This was much better than I expected, and not nearly as gratuitous as you would imagine. It's not just about the girls of Murder City we know and hate love (Beulah Annan aka Roxie Hart or Belva Gaertner aka Velma Kelly). It's also about the women who memorialized these killers in print, primarily Maurine Watkins, whose thinly disguised play Chicago savaged the circus surrounding their trials and others with razor-sharp satirical teeth. Definitely enjoyed this book a lot and now need to read more ...more
Nov 07, 2016 Forgottendreamr rated it liked it
A fine enough book following high profile women murders in the early 20th century. Some of the parts dragged a bit, but overall interesting crime stories.
Becky Hartley
Feb 24, 2017 Becky Hartley rated it liked it
This book was interesting because I didn't know the story behind it all. However, it didn't delve very deep into any of the women in the book so it could've been better. Still a decent read though!
Feb 05, 2017 Jill rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio
Fun. And weird. Now I want to watch Chicago again.
Barbara Nutting
Oct 13, 2016 Barbara Nutting rated it it was ok
As a huge fan of "Chicago" I can't figure out why this book was written??? It is so after the fact!! It's like Perry saw the musical/movie and then wrote from the facts that Maurine Watkins had already written from?? The only good part was the epilogue! Again Google had a more comprehensive account than this book!
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Bright Young Things: July 2014 - "The Girls of Murder City" by Douglas Perry 43 28 Feb 05, 2016 07:59PM  
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  • The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America
  • City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America
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  • The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York
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  • Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34
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Doug is the author of "Eliot Ness: The Rise and Fall of an American Hero" and "The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago."

An award-winning writer and editor, his work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Oregonian, Tennis, and many other publications.
More about Douglas Perry...

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“Being guided by your own thoughts and abilities, living out there on the high wire and being rewarded for it: That was the Chicago way. Nothing else counted. If it were sensational enough, whether a scientific breakthrough, a rousing new style of music, or an underworld murder, it would be celebrated.” 2 likes
“Her play would not only make no distinction between traditional comedy and farce, it also would make no distinction between comedy and tragedy. They were all one and the same in a superficial modern world of mass communication and overpopulated, spirit-crushing cities, a world that produced anonymous men and women seized by insecurity and a frantic desire for money, status, and attention.” 0 likes
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