July 9, 1923 Sabella Nitti was called a “husband killer”, by 12 male jurors. She was sentenced to hang for the murder after the jury deliberated only one hour and forty-seven minutes. She was the first woman to ever be sentenced to hang in Cook County, Illinois.
Her execution was slated for October12, 1923. Sabella didn’t speak English, so she didn’t know what her sentence was. No one was willing or able to tell her the sentence. The newspapers described her as a “greasy woman”, “that she grew hysterical with the frenzied pleading of a cruel animal that was cornered and tortured”. They said she babbled in her Italian dialect, and further described her as a “dirty disheveled woman”, and a “cruel, dirty, repulsive” woman. Ironically, in the musical CHICAGO, Sabella was the inspiration for the beautiful ballerina Hunyak, who was sentenced to hang.
Her lawyer immediately asked for a new trial, and 24 hours later got her an interpreter to tell her her sentence. After which she tried to commit suicide twice. Once by jumping down an elevator shaft, which a deputy pulled her back before she fell, and the second time by butting her brains out against a concrete wall.
Frank Nitti disappeared from his truck farm near Stickney, Illinois on July 22, 1922. The state charged that Sabella Nitti, his wife, held her husband’s head in her gnarly fingers. Her boarder at the time, Peter Crudelle, who was also her lover and 23 years younger than she beat Frank to death. She sent her 15-year-old son Charlie and Peter to dispose of the body. In September, Sabella, Peter, and Charlie were arrested for the missing Frank.
The following March, Sabella and Peter were married, and in May Frank’s body was found in a catch basin.
The charges against Charlie were dropped in lieu of him testifying against his mother and her husband. However, Charlie disappeared in September 1923.
He never showed up for his deposition and could not be found, so her son Steven testified against her, instead. Sabella insisted that Steven killed Frank over $400 Steven needed to marry a Chicago girl. Frank and Steven had a fist fight and Frank was sick for 3 days. He then wandered into the fields that mysteriously caught on fire.
Now, get this! Sabella was allowed to keep her 4 year old daughter in her cell with her while she awaited trial!
Then, after six months in prison for Sabella, in waltzes Belva Gaertner. Belva immediately hires Sabella to clean her cell and do her laundry. Then the following month in breezes Beulah Annan, who also hires Sabella. They clean Sabella up, do her hair and get her a clean stylish dress. Sabella loved prison life with Belva and Beulah. She had never had such luxuries, never learned how to do her hair and makeup. Never had such nice clothes, or silk stockings or shoes and certainly not a fur trimmed coat.
Sabella Nitti seemed almost happy as she appeared to before the Supreme Court of Illinois that had granted her and Peter a new trial.
Then on December 2, 1924 all charges were dropped against both Sabella and Peter. A makeover had saved them both!