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

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  4,417 ratings  ·  494 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, 304 pages
Published August 5th 2010 by Viking
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✘✘ Sarah ✘✘ (former Nefarious Breeder of Murderous Crustaceans)
Actual rating: 2.5 stars.

This book could have been Slightly Very Interesting Indeed (SVII™). It is, after all, supposed to be about a delightful bunch of somewhat homicidal (and ofttimes boozed out as fish) damsels in no bloody shrimping distress. Who kind of murdered lovers and husbands left and right in 1920s Chicago. And quite wonderfully managed to get away with their crimes because being young and pretty and stylish in the wonderful age of all-male juries was guaranteed to get them a Get
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Girls of Murder City provides an interesting insight into the prohibition era murderesses who painted Chicago red with their wares and bullets throughout the 1920's; leaving blushed faces on the living and blood spatter on the dead.

Douglas Perry's true crime account of the real-life characters who inspired the Chicago musical is as entertaining as it is head-shake-inducing at the ludicrous laws which walked these dangerous dames.

Primarily centered around Chicago crime reporter Maurine Watki
Mar 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
What?! The six merry murderesses of cook county jail were based on actual people?! The musical Chicago was inspired by actual events?! How did I not know this?!

In the Girls of Murder City, Douglas Perry explores the crimes and trials of beautiful killers Beulah Annan (inspiration for Roxie) and Belva Gaertner (inspiration for Velma) as well as other high profile cases from Chicago in the time of Prohibition.

I read the Girls of Murder City rather quickly. Perry's book reads more like a novel than
Ashley Marie
Entertaining at first, but it devolved into pancake-land. The narration jumped around considerably and it's difficult to agree with the subtitle ("Beautiful Killers") when the book seems to focus more on the female reporter, Maurine Dallas Watkins - yes, she's the one who wrote the original 1926 play that the musical was based on, but don't lie to me and tell me the book is about the murderesses when it's about the reporter instead. The inclusion of the Leopold and Loeb murder trial later in the ...more
Sometimes, you need to stop and ask yourself: Do I actually want to be a historian, or am I instead a frustrated romance writer? Around the moment that you pen the sentence "Maybe he would take her now, right here on the couch. Yank her underthings off and split her open, with the breeze from the window rolling over them" is probably one of those times.

I wanted, as promised in the jacket blurb, a "crackling social history," something that would set in historical perspective the tumultuous events
Clif Hostetler
Apr 13, 2013 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
Jun 30, 2012 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
BAM Endlessly Booked
Audiobook #263
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: would-read-again
I adore Chicago. I've seen the show on Broadway and listen to the cast album on repeat. So of course I wanted to read about the true story that inspired the musical. 1920's Chicago was a pretty corrupt place with an extremely high crime rate. And this crime was sensationalized by the press. Beautiful women consistently got away with it because the all-male juries were entranced with them. Roxie and Velma are real-life murderesses Beulah and Belva. Honestly, I was surprised at how similar the mus ...more
May 06, 2014 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
Paul Pessolano
Feb 19, 2011 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
Jill Hutchinson
Feb 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
This book is a story within a story.......the tale of women who killed their husbands/lovers and the reporter who covered the trials and turned them into the hit play "Chicago".

Murder in Chicago in the 1920s was a daily occurrence but what captured the public's interest for a short period in between gang killings were the "beautiful killers", women who killed and consistently were acquitted. Beauty trumping guilt. The novice reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Maurene Watkins is assigned to the tr
Tara Chevrestt
Apr 28, 2010 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.
Oct 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
3 1/2 stars. Very interesting. This is about the an almost unbelievable trend of women who got off on murder charges for decades in Chicago, particularly if you were beautiful and white (it didn't extend to African Americans). Two particular scandalous cases crossed the path of a woman reporter with a crusading mindset who was determined that these women should be convicted. It was a wild time in Chicago: the jazz age, changing women's role, prohibition, corruption and the violence of gangs and ...more
Christine (KizzieReads)
It was just alright. It got interesting in the middle when it talked of the trials of Beulah and Belva, but it was just bland for most of the book. It lacked something. At the beginning, it was almost like a history lesson on reporters and newpapers, by the end, it was adding any case that happened around the same time to prove that those cases weren't as flamboyant as the two woman's cases were. You also don't really get a history of the girls themselves. Just a few snippets of info, but that's ...more
Mar 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the whole aspect of the book. Set around the 1920's the deeper look and feelings of the court room was really interesting. The information on the real life murderesses and the information of the woman who went on to write Chicago very great. This is another book that while you're reading it you often feel like you are reading a novel, not something non-fiction. ...more
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at the true story behind the play/musical Chicago. I really enjoyed it.
Aug 10, 2012 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
Jan 18, 2020 rated it liked it
This came highly recommended by my friend Katherine Bruce, and although it took me some time to chase up a copy via the local library and then sit down and read it, I'm very glad I made the effort.

The book is about the real-life crimes and trials that were later turned into a play by Maurene Watkins, two different (not well-regarded) movies, and ultimately, the musical Chicago. It also looks at the wider context in Chicago (the city) of "murderesses" and the influence of the press and the ongoin
Aug 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nook-st, ipad, non-fiction

”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 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 ...more
Oct 17, 2018 rated it liked it
I have a few gripes with this books. First, the author certainly took some creative liberties with history and actual people that I don't think were wholly appropriate. Second, the inclusion of male murderers doesn't really make much sense, given the title. It was contextual and historical, I guess, but it's a book about female murderers, so like, why?

That aside, this was a super entertaining read! I love the movie Chicago and I didn't know that the musical was based on a play that was based on
May (a novel reader)
Jan 06, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: not-owned
What a disappointing first book of the year.

This is an uninspired retelling that parrots the newspapers without context framing, except spending paragraphs upon paragraphs describing in fine detail just how beautiful or ugly every single woman mentioned was.

I think that the author was trying to forward a thesis that what the events boiled down to was that a beautiful woman can get away with anything, including murder. While this is honestly just a reiteration of the thesis in Chicago: the Musi
Mar 13, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was okay. I enjoyed hearing about the murderesses and the period details about Chicago in the early 20th century, but during the first half of the book I kept thinking, “I’d like to hear more about Maurine Watkins!” I googled to see if there’s a published biography about her—none that I could find. I found the young, female Chicago Tribune crime reporter in a male-dominated profession fascinating. Then the focus of the book shifted and Maurine came into the spotlight, and either she’s ...more
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I played one of the Cell Block girls in a production of the musical CHICAGO many years ago so this was really interesting to me. I had seen the Ginger Rogers movie, but had no idea the original source material was based on real people. The Broadway play and ultimately, the musical, was actually taken from the lives (and crimes) of these women. There is an equally compelling story at play here about the newswoman that covered these crimes and went on to write the play. I wish there had been more ...more
Mrs. Palmer
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this one! I learned a lot about the real life murderesses and also the woman reporter who went on to write the play Chicago, which was then adapted to the famous musical (and one of my favorites) many years later.
Feb 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
wow If you love the musical Chicago you will love this book. It chronicles the real cases in 1924 which the Broadway play, 1927 silent film, 1940's movie, 1970's Broadway MUSICAL and the 2002 movie.
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was such an intriguing experience to read about the actual people who inspired both the play and musical CHICAGO.

It was impressive to see how straight-forward the writings of Maurine Watkins was.

Dec 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-book
Well researched and detailed look at the 1920s crime scene, specifically taking a look at female accused prisoners. It’s an in-depth look at the cases that inspired the play Chicago and consequently the movie adaptations.
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Bright Young Things: July 2014 - "The Girls of Murder City" by Douglas Perry 43 30 Feb 06, 2016 04:59AM  

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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.

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