A secret love affair, several husbands and named the most beautiful slayer on Murderess Row. Beulah Annan was the inspiration for the iconic Roxie Hart!
Living on a farm just outside of Owensboro, KY and going to high school, at 15 Beulah married Perry Stevens a lithograph operator. They had a son, but Beulah was bored being a housewife and mother. She was young and beautiful and had what Perry called, “too many friends”. She was speeding in a car with a young man when they hit a telephone pole. Perry divorced Beulah and took custody of their infant son. Beulah took off for Louisville.
In Louisville she met Albert Annan, a garage mechanic, 10 years older than she. Albert’s family was a little notorious in Owensboro and Louisville, his brother Alfred was a bandit and a member of the Irvin Anderson gang. Alfred was killed in a restaurant hold up in Cincinnati. The Irvin Anderson gang was a bunch of boys no older than 20 that started stealing cars then advanced to highway robbery and even killed a policeman. Beulah was not thrilled with the idea of being associated with the fall-out from the Anderson gang, so she agreed to marry Albert if they moved to Chicago.
They moved to Chicago and Albert found a job in a garage making $60 a week, which would be about $1,600 today. He was working 10-14 hours a day to pay for the furniture that Beulah had bought to furnish their apartment. Beulah was bored again. She convinced Al to let her get a part time job as a cashier in laundry. There she met Harry Kolstedt.
Harry was an ex-con having been incarcerated for a “statutory crime” which we would call rape today. He was a laundry wagon driver and went to see the bookkeeper to pay his own bill and met Beulah. The started an affair.
On Thursday, April 3, 1924, Harry calls Beulah right after Al leaves for work and says he is coming over. He comes over and they drink for a while. Beulah gives Harry $6, and he leaves to get more gin. They drink some more, and Beulah starts taunting him about being a jailbird and he tells her that he is going to leave and end the affair. Beulah grabs the gun out of Al’s underwear draw and shoots Harry in the back.
I’ve got the cutest eyes
Never mind what shade they are.
But (lookin’ at them the boys*) will never get very far.
‘Cause I’m Hula Lou
I’m the gal that can’t be true
I do my nestin’ in the evenin’ breeze
‘Neath the trees
I got more sweeties than a dog has fleas.
— Hula Lou written by Jack Yellen, Milton Charles, and Wayne King
Beulah panics and turns on the phonograph and plays Hula Lou over and over for 2 hours. At 10 minutes to 5:00 she calls Al and tells him that she has killed a man that was trying to make love to her. Al hurries home and calls the police. When the police arrive, Al says that he killed Harry as he was attacking Beulah. The police don’t buy this and ask the drunken Beulah what happened.
At first, she confesses that she barely knew Harry and that he came to the apartment and “tried to make love” to her. She refused and when he kept coming, she grabbed the gun and shot him. The police wanted to know why he was shot in the back and take her to jail. At midnight when she has sobered up some, they take her back to the apartment to interrogate her.
“You are right I haven’t been telling the truth. I’d been fooling around with Harry for two months. This morning as soon as my husband left for work, Harry called me up. I told him I wouldn’t be home, but he came over anyway.
“We sat in the flat for quite a time, drinking. Then I said in a joking way that I was going to quit him. He said he was through with me and began to put on his coat. When I saw that he meant what he said, my mind was in a whirl and I shot him. Then I started playing the record, I was nervous you see. “
And off she goes to Murderess Row, just like Roxie Hart!
Beulah Annan – The making of a Celebrity
The Grand Jury is called. Roy Woods read the statement that Beulah had made the night before. Kolstadt had called her early in the morning saying that he was going to be over on the west side to get some wine. He stopped by her apartment fifteen minutes later to get the money. She had the afternoon off work, and he joined her in the apartment at about noon with two quarts of wine. After drinking for over an hour they got into an argument. She called him a four flusher.
This was a term that I hadn’t heard before, so I looked it up. A four flusher refers to poker when someone has four cards of the same suit instead of five needed for a flush. A person who is a braggart, makes empty boasts and can be a welcher is a four flusher. Oddly enough, Teddy Roosevelt was called a four flusher by Charles Haskell the first governor of Oklahoma, General George Marshall called Patton a four flusher, there was a Silent Movie made in 1919 called the Four Flusher, and finally, The Doobie Brothers included the song “Double Dealing’ Four Flusher” on their 1975 album Stampede.
Beulah also called him a jailbird and he said that she was no good. A revolver was laying on the bed.
At this point Beulah’s attorney W.W. O’Brien interrupted, “They both sprang for the gun!” But she got there first. He tried to get to his coat and hat but never reached them.
“Why didn’t he reach them?”
“Darned good reason, I shot him.”
She caught him as he slipped to the floor calling, “My God! You shot me!” She also confessed to having been intimate with Kolstadt three times.
Policeman Thomas Torton, who Al telephoned at 6:05, testified that the shooting occurred at approximately 2:00 in the afternoon. She paced the floor and played the phonograph for almost 4 hours before a doctor or the police were called. Dr. Clifford Oliver arrived at the scene at 6:20 and said Harry had only been dead for about half an hour.
Al then took the stand, although he had at first confessed to the murder when on the stand, he said nothing, just shook his head sadly.
The Grand Jury Charges Beulah with murder. Assistant State’s attorneys Bert Cronson, Roy Wood and William McLaughlin want an early trial and the Death Penalty.
Beulah made no statement to the Grand Jury. When they came to the finding of murder, she powdered her nose, took some money from her husband, and went back to jail.
Beulah gives interviews from her cell. She complains that she can’t have cold cream or powder, and that the radio will only play sacred music. She’s worried if her father will give her money for her defense.
Beulah’s mother, Mrs. M.W. Neale rushed to Beulah’s side when she heard of her arrest. Her mother left Chicago with her friend Mrs. Allard and went to Owensboro, KY, Beulah’s hometown to try to gain some financial support for the trial. They met with several members of Beulah’s family before checking in at the Rudd Hotel. A lot of phone calls were made from the hotel to other relatives. Hiram Marksberry, Beulah’s uncle, consulted with the two women for several hours at the hotel. Mrs. Allard stated that the firm of Stewart and O’Bryan had been retained to hand the trial. The women drove back to Chicago the next morning. Mrs. Neale was nearly hysterical, so Mrs. Allard spoke to the press.
“Beulah has a perfect case of self-defense. This man Kolstedt has served a term in the penitentiary for the very same thing that he was attempting on this weak girl in her own home.”
Kolstedt’s brother and brother-in-law told the press that Beulah need fear no trouble from them. They admit that Kolstedt was a dangerous man when it came to women. They had made every effort to get him to reform but it didn’t happen.
Beulah’s father refuses to give to her defense fund. This was not the first time that his wayward daughter had been in trouble. (Remember the car accident that ended her first marriage.) Both Beulah’s mother and his second wife pled with him to support her, but he wouldn’t budge.
“Beulah wanted a gay life, and she’s had it. I don’t think that my wife and I should die in the poorhouse for her folly. No, they will not hang her, she’s too pretty!”
This proved to be true bookies offered $1,000.00 on a 10-cent bet if she was found guilty, no one would bet.
During the interrogation by multiple detectives, she was not allowed a single friend, family member, or anyone else. She fainted five times. Mrs. Allard stated that Beulah is in jail with 31 hardened criminals, women of the underworld, Beulah resembles a flower among the weeds.
“I wish we were able to try this little slip of a girl before a jury of red-blooded Kentucky men.” Mrs. Allard stated with fire in her eyes. “The one big support this little girl, who doesn’t look over 20 years of age, has is the staunch loyalty of her husband. There is no doubt of the sincerity of the strong love of her husband. He is endeavoring, with all his ability to bring her out.
“Albert has never doubted her statement. He makes frequent visits to the jail to see her and is giving all of his time he can spare from his work, in getting up her defense. He is a poor workman, with no kinsfolks to go to. Albert must labor every day to sustain himself and raise as much money as possible to aid in her defense. He believes that she will come out of her trouble, for he doesn’t understand that any man sitting in the jury box could disbelieve this girl when she tells her story.”
Beulah sits in her cell giving interviews and having her picture taken. Prettily crying about how sorry she is and how she misses her 7-year-old son. She blames all her problems on her first marriage to Perry Stephens. She blamed her parents for rushing her into marriage “Before she knew her own mind.”
Thousands of people in hundreds of cities read her story and saw her pictures in the newspapers. She became an overnight celebrity, “The prettiest slayer ever to appear in Chicago court.” She received armfuls of fan mail, flowers and candy, proposals of marriage and even a steak dinner from a famous restaurant delivered to her. She began to think of herself as a heroine. Her attorneys soothed her with promises of acquittal, after all forty-eight women had been charged with murder and thirty-seven had been acquitted. None had been hanged.
Beulah, Belva Gaertner, and Sabella Nitti meet up in Murderess Row. Beulah pays Sabella to do her laundry. Beulah is described as the most beautiful, Belva the most stylish, and Sabella is neither. All three women were arraigned before Judge William Lindsay in criminal court.
Belva went first complaining her memory was still too befuddled to know who killed Walter Law on March 12. Religious faith and belief in her own innocence will sustain her during the trial. More about her later.
Beulah was next, lawyers on both sides of her trial were busy so it was postponed.
Sabella was third. She was almost merry as she walked into court, she was nicely dressed with her hair styled. She was granted a new trial instead of being hanged for killing her husband. More on Sabella later too!
Beulah announces to the press that she is pregnant. No one has any idea how this will affect the jury. If she was given the death penalty, they would have to wait to kill her until after the baby was born. There was never any follow up news of Beulah having a baby.
Beulah Annan – The end of Roxie Hart
Jury Selection. Beulah wore a simple fawn suit with a dark brown fur piece that framed her pretty face with her wide blue eyes and auburn curls haloing her head. Her head was bare (no hat) on advice of counsel. Beulah smiled and pouted and batted her eyes at the prospective jurors. Four bachelors were accepted with a smile and a nod of her auburn hair. A dozen or so were dismissed because they had a set opinion.
“Too damned many women getting away with murder.”
“I’d have given her the rope I would!”
And even on the acquittal side, “Kolstedt got what was coming to him — the fool! In a married woman’s apartment!”
Prohibition was also ground for dismissing some of them. Keep in mind only men could serve on juries in Illinois at the time. The defense excused several that said they weren’t sure the effect a pretty woman would have on them.
The first day of the trial was a jury box of men swearing that a classic profile and a beautiful figure are nothing to them compared to the cold facts of the case. Beulah’s attorneys lost the first test of the trial. All three of her confessions, two of them neither signed nor witnessed were to be allowed as evidence. William Wilcox, Kolstedt’s brother-in-law, testified that it was an accident.
Beulah wore a very demure dress of navy-blue twill, a simple dress designed to make her look childlike and innocent. Klieg lights through a bright light on her as movie cameras ran.
More of Beulah’s testimony. After his return later in the afternoon. “I saw that he was crazed with drink and I begged him to go. He refused and asked me to take a drink. I did — just to please him. I thought he would leave then but he didn’t, though I begged him. I told him that my husband would come home and that he would shoot us both.”
“Then he said, ‘Come into the bedroom.’ and I refused and begged him to go. Finally, I told him…”
“Go ahead Beulah tell the jury.”
“I told him of my delicate condition. But he refused to believe me and boasted that another woman had fooled him that way.”
“And what did he say to this?”
“He said, ‘Where is the gun?’”
“Then what did he do?” He started for the bedroom. Maybe he was a step ahead of me, but by the time I got to the bed he was even with me. He grabbed for it. I reached for it and got it first. Then he put up his hands and said, ‘I’ll kill you yet!’ He started toward me. I pushed his shoulder with my left hand and — pulled the trigger.”
After her hour of testimony on the stand the State cross-examined her.
Closing Arguments. The State pictured her as a vampire, a lurer of men, charging that she killed Kolstedt only because he was leaving her.
Her attorneys argued that it was self-defense, reiterating her testimony. They stressed the fact that any woman has a right to protect her honor, describing her as a “frail little girl struggling with a drunken brute.”
“It is true that a jazz record was being played at a maddening tempo as Beulah Annan shout Harry Kolstedt, but only to drown out the tumult caused by this drink-crazed fiend who invaded her apartment, and to save herself from scandal.”
The jury retired and deliberated for less than two hours when they returned with the not guilty verdict. Beulah kissed each juror in thanks. Albert sat with his head in his hands and wept.
Beulah packed up her extensive wardrobe and left Murderess Row with her husband Al for a few days of seclusion.
Albert Annan stood staunchly by Beulah during the periods both before and during her trial. He mortgaged all of his possessions to get money for her clothes for the trial and her defense.
“He doesn’t want me to have a good time. He never wants to go out anywhere and he doesn’t know how to dance. I’m not going to waste the rest of my life with him — he’s too slow.”
And less than 36 hours from the verdict, she packed her bags and headed out to face the world. She had ambitions to parlay her celebrity and become a movie star.
“I want lights, music and good times. I love to dance, I love good food, and I’m going to have them.”
Albert’s response was, “I cannot make myself realize that Beulah has given me up. When we married, we took solemn vows that it was for better, for worse, that it was to exist until death parted us. Don’t ask me what my conclusions are as to who got the worst of that marriage bargain. I shall love Beulah with a love that cannot be destroyed. Beulah is no different from any other woman, she is naturally weak and needs protection. She will come back to me. I have always worked hard, Maybe it was because I worked too hard and neglected Beulah that she has left me.”
Two years later, September 7, 1926, Beulah divorces Albert. “Albert is too slow. He doesn’t like to go out evenings for a good time. He is just an old-fashioned home body.”
Then on January 19, 1927, Beulah married Edward Harlib, a former pugilist, Edward (“Boston Red”) White, the owner of a garage/taxi service in Chicago. They were going to elope to Crown Pointe, IN. Several of the women we have talked about have been married in Crown Pointe, it must be the place people from Chicago go to elope! They were married at 8:00am. She was 23, he was 26. Harlib’s family bitterly opposed the wedding. There were some problems from the start, Edward said that he was divorced from his first wife in 1922, but his brother Peter said that they were still married. She met Edward at a party six months before and both wanted to leave the past behind after a honeymoon in Los Angeles.
Beulah was denied divorce from Edward Harlib in May, 1927, when Edward failed to show up in court. Inez White was also in the courtroom with a lawyer. She was married to Edward in 1922 and the mother of his two children. She was in court for non-support. Inez said she learned his new identity by pictures of him with Beulah in the newspapers. At some point Beulah was divorced from Edward.
Beulah becomes engaged to A. Marcus, January 1, 1928 and then becomes ill. As she was ill, she wanted out of the spotlight and became Dorothy Stephens as she entered the Fresh-Air Hospital in Chicago.
On March 14, 1928 Beulah dies under an assumed name from tuberculosis in a Chicago Fresh-Air Hospital. She was 32. She made up with her father before her death and is buried in Glenville, KY.
Attending Beulah’s funeral were Perry Stevens, her first husband and father of her son, Albert Annan her husband during the trial who was repeatedly called “the boob” by the prosecution, Edward Harlib her third husband, and Marcus her fiancé. Apparently once in love with Beulah, always in love with her. And that makes Beulah Annan the real Roxie Hart!