This week in history: Chicago’s ‘prettiest slayer’ pulls the trigger

On April 3, 1924, Beulah Annan shot Harry Kalstedt in her South Side apartment. The case would go on to inspire the play, and later musical, “Chicago.”

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Beulah Annan

Beulah Annan, who went on trial in 1924 for the murder of Harry Kolstedt, was considered the most beautiful woman ever to go on trial for murder in Cook County.

As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

They both reached for the gun — but she got it first.

On April 3, 1924, 23-year-old Beulah “Anne” Annan shot her lover and coworker, Harry Kalstedt, in her South Side apartment while her husband, Al, was at work.

According to the report published in the Chicago Daily News the following day, Annan told assistant state’s attorney Roy Woods she “danced to the tune of jazz records a passionate death dance, with the body of the man she had shot and killed.”

The dramatic crime and subsequent press coverage that focused on Annan’s “most striking appearance” turned her into a celebrity — and later an inspiration. Chicago Tribune crime reporter Maurine Watkins, who covered Annan and other women accused of murder in 1924, adapted her experiences into the play, and later musical, “Chicago.” Annan inspired the character Roxie Hart.

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Much of the report came directly from Annan herself. She held court at the Harrison Street Police Station, answering all questions and waxing poetic about love.

“I didn’t love Harry so much — but he brought me wine and made a fuss over me and thought I was pretty,” she told reporters. “I don’t think I ever loved anybody very much. You know how it is — you keep looking and looking all the time for someone you can really love.”

Kalstedt, who worked with Annan at a laundromat, invited himself and two quarts of wine over to Annan’s apartment around 12:30 p.m., she said.

“We drank all of it and began to quarrel. I taunted Harry with the fact that he had been in jail once and he said something nasty back to me. Seems like we just wanted to make each other mad — and to hurt each other,” Annan said.

In her rage, Annan called Kalstedt a name, her “magnolia-white skin flushing and paling as she recited her narrative of death,” the paper reported. Kalstedt told her, “You won’t call me a name like that,” and he headed straight for the bedroom.

According to Annan, Kalstedt could only be going after one thing: a gun. Though usually tucked under a pillow, the gun sat on the bed in plain sight.

“I ran, and as he reached out to pick the gun up off the bed, reached around him and grabbed it. Then I shot. They say I shot him in the back, but it must have been sort of under the arm,” she recalled.

Kalstedt fell back against the wall. The record playing “Hula Lou” came to a stop “as the man in the bedroom breathed his last,” the paper said.

Annan told reporters she couldn’t stand the silence, and she restarted the record. After washing the blood off her hands, she took a washcloth to Kalstedt’s face and kissed him. “Then I went back and started the record over again.”

The shot, the paper said, was fired around 2 p.m., but Annan didn’t call for help until after 5 p.m. “I just kept going back and forth between the living room and the bedroom, where Harry’s body lay, and playing the phonograph,” she said.

It wasn’t until Annan’s husband returned home that the police were finally called — and the media circus began.

Want more on what happened to Beulah Annan? Sign up to get Saturday’s “This week in history” newsletter here and see just how close Roxie embodies Beulah in “Chicago.”

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