Category: Historical

The True Story Behind The Musical Chicago

As a former weird theatre kid, I immediately fell in love with the movie musical Chicago when it was released in 2002. My theatre days are over but I will randomly bust out an impromptu version of “All That Jazz” from time to time. Apologies to my friends and family.

I still have this poster in my teenage bedroom. YOLO!

Now as an adult who writes about murder on the Internet, I get the tell the little-known true story behind my favorite musical.

The musical tells the story of Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, two murderesses in jail and on trial for killing their respective husband and lover in 1920s Chicago (which sounds super lit). Bathtub gin? Flapper dresses? Where do I sign up? The craft beer slugging Millennials in organic cotton t-shirts ain’t got nothing on the flappers of yesteryear. 

Not an IPA made with locally sourced hops in sight.

The character of Roxie Hart, played by Renée Zellweger in the 2002 movie, is based on Beulah Annan, who like the character of Roxie was suspected of killing her lover.

There isn’t much information available about Annan but there are a few cool newspaper articles from her trial online.

Beulah Annan.

Annan was born Beulah May Sheriff on November 18, 1899 in Owensboro, Kentucky. Watch out for lady Scorpios from Kentucky (AKA yours truly). She married her first husband as a teenager and soon left him for a man named Albert “Al” Annan. They moved to Chicago together and married on March 29, 1920. 

Al started working as a mechanic and Beulah started working as a bookkeeper at a laundry mat. At the laundry mat, she met Harry Kalstedt and the two began an affair that naturally led to murder.

On April 3, 1924, Beulah murdered Harry in her home she shared with her husband while he was at work. She claimed that she shot him after they started drinking wine and argued. There was a gun on the bed and they both reached for it at the same time. If you’ve seen the movie or the musical, you’ll know the super catchy song about this incident.

Beulah beat Harry to the gun and fired. Let’s face it, someone named Beulah is bound to make it a gun over a Harry. After shooting him, she played the record of the foxtrot song “Hula Lou” on repeat, drank cocktails, and watched him die. Honestly, that is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. 

After Harry died, she called her husband, Al and stated told him she killed a man who “tried to make love to her.”

She was arrested for the murder after she confessed. She then changed her story and said she shot him in self defense. Another version stated that she shot Harry after he told her he was breaking off their affair. At the trial, she changed her story yet again and said she was pregnant and that they both attempted to reach for the gun in her room and that she got to him first. 

Beulah was acquitted for the murder. The day after the trial ended she left her long-suffering husband, Al after he spent of all his money on her legal defense. She stated, “I have left my husband. He is too slow.” 

They divorced in 1927 and she married a boxer named Edward Harlib. The marriage only lasted three months and Beulah divorced him and was left with a $5,000 settlement. She then moved on to another man and died a year later at age 28 of tuberculosis at the Chicago Fresh Air Sanatorium.

You know Murderess’ Row is a 10/10 good time.

Annan’s short tragic life not only inspired the 2002 movie musical but also was the basis for a 1927 silent film also called Chicago and for a 1942 film Roxie Hart.

And people think the fascination with true crime is new.

Both of these cases were sensationalized thanks in part to journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins who went on to write the stage play version of Chicago.

The real-life story of Belva Gaertner, a fellow member of Murderess’ Row was the inspiration behind the Chicago character Velma Kelly played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie musical.

Belva Gaertner in and out of jail.

Like Velma Kelly, Belva Gaertner was a Chicago cabaret singer accused of killing her lover, Walter Law. Gaertner was married three times total. Her second and third marriage was to William Gaertner, a wealthy business man twenty years older. After only five months, he annulled the marriage after he found out her first marriage not had been finalized. #1920sProblems

They married again and were separated by the time Belva was accused of murder. On March 11, 1924, Belva allegedly shot and killed Walter Law, a married man she’d been having an affair with. At the time of his death, Belva was 38 and Walter was 29.

Walter’s body was found in her car along with a gun and a bottle of gin. Belva was found at her apartment covered in blood. She was arrested for the murder and claimed that she and Walter had been drinking and partying at jazz clubs but couldn’t remember anything else.

At her murder trial, one of Walter Law’s co-workers stated that Belva was possessive and had threatened Law with a knife when he attempted to break off their relationship. Law also stated that he feared Belva would kill him someday.

Belva used her notoriety and charm to sway the judge and jury during her trial. Like our girl Beulah, she was also acquitted of the murder. The judge claimed that Law could have killed himself. At the trial, she stated, “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?”

Good Lord, Belva.

An innocent woman does not wear a hat like that.

After her trial, Belva re-married William Gaertner. They were divorced again in 1926 after he claimed she was an abusive alcoholic. He also stated that she threatened to kill him after he found her with another man. The same year, she was convicted of driving drunk.

Belva lived the rest of her life traveling with her sister and living in Europe and California. She died at age 80 on May 14, 1965.

Good Lord. That was a wild ride. Jazz will kill you, kids. Stick with Black Metal.

From Russia with Love

Well, not so much love. More like murder and overthrowing the government.

First of all, I want to apologize for my lack of posts lately. I started a new full-time job and have been doing some more freelance writing.  Also, I realized that people actually read this blog, follow me on social media, and read my dumb fiction books, so I should post some more.

Anyway, back to what you came here for.

This month marks the 100-year anniversary of the murder of the Romanov family which forever ended the imperial rule of Russia.

Why are we still talking about this?

There’s Anastasia escaped theories followed by imposters and Rasputin, who at the time of the Romanov murders had been dead for almost two years.

There’s the horrific murder of an entire family and a decades-long mystery of their burial site along with misleading information from the Russian government aboutthe true fates of the last Russian Dynasty.

Rasputin and the Anastasia conspiracy are the highlights. The events leading up to the assassinations of the Romanov family are what led to the rise of Communism in Russia, World War II, and eventually the current state of the world.

The Romanov family. 

Most Americans, myself included, tend to forget how old the rest of the world is. In the timeline of world history, The United States is about a second grader. Compared to the rest of the world, 100 years isn’t a lot of time.

The overthrow of a government resulting in the murder of a ruler and their entire family is reminiscent of Ancient Rome and Game of Thrones plotlines, not something that happened a mere 100 years ago.

To put that number into perspective, my iPhone-toting grandmother and her twin sister are 92.

This is an often overlooked by both true crime enthusiasts and history buffs alike and one of my personal favorites; it’s sordid, politically charged, and ends with a diamond-stuffed massacre.

I’m going to get into the deep history of these events. Mainly because others have done it much better. Also, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Two years before his death, Tzar Nicholas II left his royal residence in Saint Petersburg to lead the struggling Russian Army during World War I.

Czar Nicholas was a notoriously ineffective leader. He became the Czar when he was only 24 and did not want the job. All he wanted to do was make babies with his wife German Princess and granddaughter to Queen Victoria, Alexandra.

They had 5 children (they were trying for a boy), Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei. Alexei suffered from hemophilia, a bleeding disorder passed down through years of royal inbreeding.

#SorryNotSorry

Alexi’s illness is where Rasputin comes in. Alexandra believed Rasputin could cure the hemophilia and secure the future of the Russian empire and their family line.

Spoiler alert: he didn’t.

Nicholas’ poor handling of military campaigns, rampant Anti-Semitism, and his wife, Alexandra’s reliance on the completely full of shit Rasputin made the Romanov family about as popular as the Trumps at a Whole Foods.

Now that I’ve dropped the T bomb, you’ll start to notice some similarities between what’s happening in the USA today.

Nicholas also pissed off everyone by pretty much ignoring the famine, economic disparities, the government firing at its own people during a protest *coughs and points to America*, and unstable government that was plaguing Russia.

In February 1917, Tsar Nicholas was forced to abdicate the throne due to pressure from the public and the Bolsheviks, the Leftist group that eventually became the Communist Party of Russia led by Lenin.

After the abdication, Nicholas and his family attempted to seek asylum all over Europe. When they were refused, the Romanov’s were captured by Lenin’s forces and sent to a house in Siberia where they would all eventually die.

In the house, all the windows were covered in newspaper and the family had to ask permission from an armed guard if they wanted to leave their rooms. There was only one small part of the window that was not covered. Anastasia was shot at by a guard when she tried to look out.

Nicholas believed that he and his family would eventually be rescued by those still loyal to Imperial Russia.

Little did the family know, their execution was being planned.

A secret meeting was held on June 29, 1917 where the Soviets planned the execution of the Romanov’s. In attendance was Lenin himself. Historians have argued for years if Lenin was the person who actually gave the orders for the execution.

Supposedly, Nicholas was the only member of the family who was supposed to be murdered. To ensure that Imperial Russia would be gone forever, the entire family went with him.

Around midnight on July 17, 1917, the Romanov family doctor who was captured along with them was ordered to wake the family. Under the impression they were finally being rescued, the family dressed and soon met their fate.

They were ushered into a 20 foot by 16 foot basement room where several members of the Soviet police force Alexandra and Alexei were sat down in chairs while the rest of the family stood. Nicholas was the first to die as several shooters focused in on him. Alexandra was killed with a single shot to the head.

Maria attempted to escape after she was shot in the thigh but was gunned down along with her siblings. Alexei, Tatiana, Anastasia, and Maria were the last to die as they had diamonds and other jewels sewn into their clothes for safekeeping in case there were ever freed.

The jewels acted as a shield and prolonged their deaths and suffering.

Not only were the Romanov’s shot with over 70 bullets, they were also stabbed with bayonets, disfigured with acid, and buried in unmarked graves.

Rumors persisted for years over the fates of the children as at the time of their deaths, many thought  they had been set free.

Their remains were not found until 1979. This discovery was not announced until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Nicholas, Alexandra, Tatiana, Olga, and Maria were all exhumed and reburied. Alexei and Anastasia were found in 2007.

Morals of the story:

  1. If you have to flee, bring more than just your jewels.
  2. Shit happens when you party with Imperial Russia.