Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties

Overview

Michael Lesy’s disturbingly satisfying account of Chicago in the 1920s—the epicenter of murder in America—could be fiction, but it’s not.
“Things began as they usually did: Someone shot someone else.” So begins a chapter of this sharp, fearless collection from a master storyteller. Revisiting seventeen Chicago murder cases—including that of Belva and Beulah, two murderesses whose trials inspired the musical Chicago—Michael Lesy captures an extraordinary moment in American ...

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Overview

Michael Lesy’s disturbingly satisfying account of Chicago in the 1920s—the epicenter of murder in America—could be fiction, but it’s not.
“Things began as they usually did: Someone shot someone else.” So begins a chapter of this sharp, fearless collection from a master storyteller. Revisiting seventeen Chicago murder cases—including that of Belva and Beulah, two murderesses whose trials inspired the musical Chicago—Michael Lesy captures an extraordinary moment in American history, bringing to life a city where newspapers scrambled to cover the latest mayhem. Just as Lesy’s book Wisconsin Death Trip subverted the accepted notion of the Gay Nineties, so Murder City exposes the tragedy of the Jazz Age and the tortured individuals who may be the progenitors of our modern age.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Many murders, a ravenous press, villains ordinary and extraordinary, cops intrepid, cops corrupt-all mingled in bland retellings of sensational cases from 1920s Chicago. Lesy (Literary Journalism/Hampshire Coll.) revisits 17 cases. He begins in 1920 with the case of Carl Wanderer, hanged for killing his wife and another man. From there, the author takes readers on a bleak journey featuring sad little people with big guns and no conscience. Harvey Church killed guys for a new Packard. Thomas Catherwood offed a woman for $50. A banker faced with financial ruin, thanks to an embezzling partner, blew out his brains in his car. Other sterling characters include a cross-dresser, a couple of hit men who apparently stepped from the pages of Hemingway's "The Killers," a guy who decided to compete with Capone (not a good plan) and a Wisconsin farmer named Christ who dreamed of his daughter's death. The creepiest, most Byzantine case involves the disappearance and death of Northwestern student Leighton Mount. Was it murder? A hazing gone wrong? A massive cover-up by the university? Fans of the musical Chicago will enjoy reading the chapter about the actual cases it was based on, but all this sordidness has a sad, eye-glazing sameness that Lesy's narcotic narration deepens rather than relieves. Bodies drained of vital fluids, prose drained of affect.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393330595
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/18/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 780,856
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Lesy’s books include Angel’s World and Long Time Coming. In 2006 he was named one of the first United States Artists Fellowship recipients, and in 2013 was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. A professor of literary journalism at Hampshire College; he lives in Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

Carl Wanderer     9
Cora Isabelle Orthwein     29
Harvey Church     49
Catherwood     77
Roach and Mosby     83
Arthur, Eleanor, and Kate     89
The Banker     109
Leighton Mount     121
Fred-Frances     151
Duffy Double Murder     169
Belva and Beulah     195
Assassins     207
Hymie Weiss     233
Christ's Dream     247
Diamond Joe     261
Pearl     279
Three Murders     287
Afterword     303
Notes     311
List of Illustrations     323
Acknowledgments     327
Index     333
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