In my previous post, I presented the death of Matthew Shepard. In 1998, two men severely beat Shepard, leaving him tied to a rural fence to die. This week, we examine the case of Beulah Annan. In 1924, Beulah stood accused of murdering her lover, Harry Kalstedt. The press dubbed her “The Beautiful Slayer” and “The Jazz Killer.”
Born Beulah May Sheriff in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 1899, Beulah Annan seemed to have a restless soul. As a young woman, she married a linotype operator named Perry Stephens. Their union was apparently unhappy because they soon split up and divorced. Not long after, she met Albert “Al” Annan, an auto mechanic. Beulah and Annan traveled together from Kentucky to Chicago, where they married on March 29, 1920.
Beulah Annan and Harry Kalstedt
Al Annan took a job as a mechanic in Chicago, while Beulah went to work as a bookkeeper for Tennant’s Modern Laundry. Harry Kalstedt also worked at Tennant’s, and he and Beulah soon began a lengthy affair.
The Affair Turns Deadly
On April 3, 1924, Harry “invited himself” over to Beulah and Al’s south-side apartment (Al was at work). He brought two quarts of wine with him, which he and Beulah proceeded to consume. In this less-than-sober condition, an argument arose. Beulah later told investigators, “We drank all of it [the wine] 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.”
A gun happened to be lying on the bed (no one explained why it was there). One of Beulah’s stories—she told more than one—was that she and Harry both went for the gun. She got it first. “I ran, and as he reached out to pick the gun up off the bed, reached around him and grabbed it,” she said. “Then I shot. They say I shot him in the back, but it must have been sort of under the arm,”
Kalstedt fell back against the wall as the phonograph playing the jazz song “Hula Lou” reached the end of the record. Saying she couldn’t stand the silence, Beulah started playing it again. Although the shooting occurred around 2:00 p.m., she did not call the police. Instead, she told reporters, “I just kept going back and forth between the living room and the bedroom, where Harry’s body lay, and playing the phonograph,”
The police were finally called after Al came home from work around 5:00 p.m.
Beulah Annan on Trial
Beulah’s trial was, unsurprisingly, a media sensation. Her husband, Al, stood by her, draining his savings to hire the best lawyers.
Beulah first claimed she shot Kalstedt in self-defense, fearing he was about to rape her. During the trial, however, she said she told him she was pregnant, after which they both went for the gun, and it went off. In the end, it didn’t matter much what story she told. The jury acquitted her on May 25, 1924 (justice was much swifter in those days).
Beulah Annan did not replay Al’s loyalty. She promptly left him after her acquittal and divorced him in 1926. In 1927, she married boxer Edward Harlib but quickly divorced him also. As part of the settlement, Harlib paid her $5,000 (about $85,000 in 2023).
Beulah Annan died of tuberculosis in 1928 at the Chicago Fresh Air Sanitarium. She’d been living there under the name of Beulah Stephens.
One of the reporters covering the case was Maurine Dallas Watkins, who wrote for the Chicago Tribune. She used the Beulah Annan trial and another case as inspirations to write the play Chicago in 1926. Beulah was the model for the character Roxy Hart. Watkins based the character Amos Hart on Al Annan. The play was the basis for the 2002 film Chicago.
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