Peggy Beal changed history with her Sheik Love defense. Here’s how it happened.
Guests at the Midwest Hotel, called the front desk and reported that they had heard two gun shots. The hotel management called the police. Police Officers entered a prominent Kansas City hotel, The Midwest, and found the body of Warren Anderson, dead, shot in the back of the head. Lying beside him, bleeding from her right side where she shot herself, punctured her lung, and set her silken underwear on fire from the burning of the gun powder, was Peggy Beal. Only 10 hours before this Peggy had been talking to a neighbor in the hotel describing Warren as the “Perfect Lover” and showing the woman a stack of love letters from him.
Peggy Beal's history
Peggy was an army nurse when she met Warren, an aviator from New Jersey. They met in Dayton, OH, she as a nurse and he as an aviator stationed at a base close to Dayton. Both of them shared an interest in Esperanto, a language that was invented by a Polish ophthalmologist in 1887 an attempt to develop one international language to foster world peace and international understanding, the language is still somewhat alive. In 1999 William Auld won a Pulitzer Prize in literature for a book that he wrote in Esperanto.
Elizabeth Beal, Peggy’s former husband’s new wife spoke to reporters. She had been married to Steven since 1919, a year after his divorce from Peggy was final. Elizabeth was helping Steven raise two sons, that were 16 and 13 from Steven’s marriage to Peggy. Peggy did not want to share any of her personal information to the press. When asked about her sons she told them, “As to the baby, please, please, please leave the baby out of this. I am alone now in this affair. I have no fear of the future, let me face it alone.”
Elizabeth told the reporters that Steven married Peggy when she was 16 and they were married for 14 years. They lived in the Hungarian sector of Dayton, OH. Peggy’s maiden name was Marie Letenyer. Her parents were divorced when Peggy was 8 and Peggy’s father raised her. Her father was from Vienna, Austria and spoke nine different languages. He worked as both an interpreter and a teacher.
At the time of the murder both her parents were dead. Also, Peggy had a sister/half-sister living in Cleveland. Peggy fell in love with a doctor in Cleveland and they became engaged. She caught the flu, and her doctor fiancé took care of her. Unfortunately, he caught the flu and died on the day they were to be married. Peggy was admitted to Stillwater Sanitarium for treatment of mental illness, probably depression. She was there from January 19, 1921 through April 28,1921 when she was pronounced cured. Peggy went back to the sanitarium as a nurse’s aide on May 1, 1921 and stayed there until November 1, 1921.
After World War I, Warren worked as a Floor Manager in a department store in Kansas City. Peggy was still a nurse in Springfield, IL. They were living together in a prominent hotel in Kansas City as Mr. and Mrs. Anderson. Peggy and Warren had been living together as husband and wife for 10 days at two different hotels. Anderson introduced her to his friends and coworkers as his wife.
Peggy in the hospital
In critical condition, Peggy was rushed to the hospital. They found a note on the dresser from her. “My name is Peggy Beal. I am 29 years of age. I live in Springfield, IL. I came to Kansas City with the intention of marrying Warren Warren Anderson. When I arrived, I met him, and we went to a hotel together. He told me he was married and not divorced yet. Therefore, he could not marry me. There is nothing more to tell. I shot him because he brought me here and could not marry me. Signed, Peggy Beal”
Doctors believe that Peggy will recover from her self-inflicted gunshot wound. When the nurse told her she was going to survive she whispered, “I want to die. I’m not sorry I shot him. He deserved it. I did right to shoot him. I should have killed him before I did.”
Warren’s body was waiting at a mortuary waiting for transportation back to Collingswood, NJ. Women came to visit him to see the body of who Peggy describes as “The Perfect Lover.” The police received a phone call from an unnamed woman who had called the hotel where Warren and Peggy were staying and asked for Mr. or Mrs. Anderson.
The hotel receptionist told her what had happened, and the woman called the police to verify. Police also allowed her to see the body. She stood staring at it for a long time and said, “How could she? What devils women are!”
Letters were found between Warren and his father, in the letters it was apparent that Warren, the supposed war hero, as an army aviator never went overseas. The most exciting thing that he did during World War I was campaigning in Liberty Bond drives. In one of the letters Warren also told his mother that he was writing Romance Short Stories. One of the stories supposedly semi-autobiographical, had the facts a little skewed.
It was about a war hero aviator who fell in love with a girl that didn’t want anything to do with him because of his family’s wealth. She fled to the South Seas and the aviator followed her, they made up and became rulers of one the islands and created a kingdom of romance, tropical beauty and undying love. A little cloying! Give me a bodice ripper over this any day!
Warren told Peggy that they would take their honeymoon in the South Seas. He then told her that he had to postpone his wedding to Peggy because his divorce was not yet final. It was the second time that he had postponed the wedding. That is one of the examples Peggy Beal used to describe Sheik Love.
“My faith survived that, I ought to have known then. But I didn’t. I believed him. I thought he cared for me. And then he told me there were 50 others and showed me their names written in a diary and the cities where they lived. And my name was the last of all of them. Will there be more? I asked him. ‘I don’t know, maybe there will. Maybe I’ll go back to some of these. I can’t tell.’ Then I killed him. I ought to have done it before. All I’m sorry is that I didn’t kill myself too. There is nothing more for me.”
Warren had been married twice the first time to a woman named Ruth and the second to Opal, who’s nickname was Babe or B.
Oddly enough Warren really was still married to Opal Anderson who was staying with her stepbrother in Indianapolis, trying to recover from tuberculosis. Opal had been married before and was a war widow. She married Warren in November 1918. Their marriage was happy until Opal caught Warren with other women. One of the letters found in Warren’s trunk was a letter from his father, warning him that B was trying to track him down and had threatened to kill him. She had phoned Warren’s father to tell him this. This may have been the motivation for dropping the divorce, or it could have been as Peggy Beal described it Sheik Love.
Thuvia Maid of Mars
Prosecutor Orr also spoke to reporters. “This woman poses as a martyr to her sex. She says she killed ‘that other hearts might live’. Hers is the pose of a simple girl who hearkened a betrayer of many women who, thinking to save others from a shame like her own, killed that other women might not suffer her fate when she was cast aside.”
Peggy spoke to the press about their relationship, “The seed of love was planted at our first meeting in my hometown — Dayton, Ohio. It blossomed in the garden my heart after he had fertilized it with tender words; watered it with kisses and kept it under the warm rays of his adoring passion. And then he plucked the blossom of my life with his pledge to marry me. How many trusting girls have listened to the same tempter tongue — the tongue of man? I did not know it then — I know it now. He had won me — tried my love — and then sought another — ‘the most beautiful flower in the world’ which he craved. “
The prosecutor, Will Cameron Orr, thinks that a book that Warren suggested Peggy read, may have led to his death. Lying next to Peggy’s body in the hotel room was a copy of Thuvia Maid of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was opened to an illustration of Thuvia standing over her dead lover with a knife in her hand.
The police found a letter about the book from Warren to Peg, “Dearest Peg: I have just finished reading one of the most wonderful books, Thuvia — Maid of Mars. Honestly sweetheart, I never knew I was such a big cry baby. I read it with a handkerchief in the left hand and I had to use it constantly to clear my visage. If you have not read it, by all means do.” And she did.
Warren the Perfect Lover
Peggy began receiving letters in the hospital. One of the letters said, “Our sympathy is yours. The world needs more girls who have the courage and ability to shoot straight. “Another praised her for her courage and good marksmanship.
Mrs. Myrtle Lezote was one of the names on the list of 50. The press tracked her down and got her to speak to them. Myrtle was a 43-year-old widow beautiful but with gray hair according to the reporter. She said, “Anderson boarded in my home for seven years prior to his second marriage. We parted then as friend and have since corresponded. Anderson sometimes got sentimental. He once asked me to marry him, but I refused. He was hard to understand and had a temper. It is my impression he made many acquaintances with women while he was in the Army.” The entire list of names was posted in the New York Daily News on October 14,1923.
Peggy tells the press that Warren had a love formula, that he thought of himself as an alchemist of love. He told her, “I have planted the love seed in the hearts of 50 women. But the perfect flower of love has not sprung from any of them. I thought it would be from your heart–but it hasn’t. And so — I must try again.”
F.M. Anderson, Warren’s father denies that he was a “Perfect Lover”. He told the press, “the boy was no doubt romantic like thousands of other boys, but he never did a mean thing in his life, was never cruel to a living thing. I wish to state emphatically that the list of 51 names does not represent love affairs. The list contains names and addresses of school mates back to the ages of 14 and 15. No mention has been made of the male names found on the list. He was a methodical boy and from the time he went to school kept records, names and addresses.”
Peggy Beal back in the hospital
In August 1922, Peggy is temporarily released from the hospital . In the meantime, with time on her hands she writes a six-day series for the Washington Times on her story. If you want to read it the first day appears on August 30, 1922.
Back to the hospital on September 8, 1922. Peggy Beal had a skin graft on her left arm. It was a 14-inch-long graft. Peggy’s nightgown caught fire when she shot herself causing the wound. The wound would not heal, so Peggy needed a skin graft.
Three hundred men, 300! Have written to Peggy Beal in the hospital asking her to marry them. They range from ministers to wealthy capitalists to sea captains to convicts. Aside from the proposals of marriage she has received 1500 other letters from girls and women either thanking her or commiserating with her.
She finally left the hospital September 30, almost 4 months after she shot Warren Anderson. Prosecutor Orr does not feel he could get a capital conviction, and charges Peggy with second degree murder.. Peggy wanted and early trial, “I want to stand before the world vindicated. I want other women to know what I suffered. I want them to know I killed Warren Anderson to save other women from his clutches.”
On October 23, 1922 Peggy’s trial begins. The prospective jurors are a panel of 34 . Both attorneys agree to select the first 12 men to enter the juror box after the peremptory challenges are exhausted. The prosecution has 10 and the defense had 12. The jurors were only asked two questions: “Do you know the defendant?” and “Have you formed an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant?”
During opening arguments, Peggy’s attorney, George Birmingham, told the jury he would prove that Warren was a modern Sheik. The Prosecutor Orr said they would prove it was a deliberate and premeditated murder.
The first witness called was Dr. HE Moss the deputy coroner. He testified Peggy shot Warren in the back of the head while asleep.
Police Officer William J Lasley also testified Peggy had shot Warren in the back of the head. Officer Lasley also testified to finding a copy of Thuvia — Maid of Mars, next to Peggy, in his opening statement was the influence for Peggy killing Warren.
Peggy was to be the only defense witness. Some people didn’t recognize her as her appearance had changed so much during her ordeal first in the hospital and then in jail. Her testimony of course was as melodramatic as her telling the press during the past 5 months was. Peggy always appeared in control, sometimes she cried, sometimes she twisted her hands.
Elefa Stice, Peggy’s supervisor and the head nurse in Springfield was a surprise defense witness. “I saw the Sheik letter this man wrote begging marriage.” Elefa had paid her own way to Kansas City to help Peggy.
Peggy Beal was acquitted of the murder of Warren Anderson. The jury was only out for two hours. The defense contended that Peggy was the victim of a “love pirate” and that she was temporarily insane when she killed him. The jury agreed. Four ballots were taken the first two were 7-5 for acquittal, the third 10-2 for acquittal and the final ballot was unanimous for acquittal.
The announcement was met with a lot of cheering, by both people in the crowded courtroom and by inmates in the county jail, adjoining the courtroom. Peggy thanked the jury and told them, “Now I am going to stay in Kansas City and make good. “This was the shortest trial in the history of Missouri criminal courts
Warren’s mother, Flora, was not happy with the verdict. “I can’t imagine what the people of Kansas City are thinking of. A verdict of acquittal flies in the face of Justice. Her claim to freedom on the ground of emotional insanity is an appeal which does not take into account what she did. It was not necessary that the extreme penalty of the law be invoked. A second-degree verdict would have served notice throughout the country that women cannot commit murder with impunity. I am sick of reading of the murders that are committed every day. A woman of charm and some beauty, it would seem, may kill as she pleases and escape the law.”
Steven Beal tells the press that he is not giving up his boys, if Peggy wants them, she is going to have a fight on her hands. Louis, the 12-year-old told the reporters, “I’d like to go to Kansas City to see her or have her come here to see me. I’m mighty glad she was freed!” Neither Steven. Sr. or Steven, Jr. had a comment on the acquittal.
“This is the introduction into court procedure of an unusual plea for defendants that promises to have far reaching effect in criminal law in the future,” stated George Birmingham, Peggy’s Attorney.
He continued, “The jury’s decision makes the defense an unwritten law for unmarried women, it means that a woman, as in Mrs. Beal’s case, although not having the protection of marriage laws, can seek the solace of the married woman who has the unwritten law to guard her. The unfaithful lover and the sinful husband — the two in reality are the same.”