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200 North Main St | Bloomington, Illinois | 309-827-0428

History Reads Book Club- Ugly Prey: An Innocent Woman and the Death Sentence that Scandalized Jazz Age Chicago

Tuesday, August 3
Starts at 7:00 PM

McLean County Museum of History
200 N. Main St, Bloomington IL 61701

History Reads Book Club- Ugly Prey: An Innocent Woman and the Death Sentence that Scandalized Jazz Age Chicago

All avid readers are welcome to join the Museum and Bloomington Public Library on Tuesday, August 3 at 7:00 p.m. for the third installment of the History Reads Book Club for 2021. We will meet online via Zoom to discuss Ugly Prey: An Innocent Woman and the Death Sentence that Scandalized Jazz Age Chicago by Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi. Visit bit.ly/historyreads080321 to register for this free, online discussion.


An Italian immigrant who spoke little English and struggled to scrape together a living on her primitive family farm outside Chicago, Sabella Nitti was arrested in 1923 for the murder of her missing husband. Within two months, she was found guilty and became the first woman ever sentenced to hang in Chicago. Journalist Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi leads readers through Sabella’s sensational case, showing how, with no evidence and no witnesses, she was the target of an obsessed deputy sheriff and the victim of a faulty legal system. She was also—to the men who convicted her and the reporters fixated on her—ugly. For that unforgiveable crime, the media painted her as a hideous, dirty, and unpredictable immigrant, almost an animal.

Lucchesi brings to life the sights and sounds of 1920s Chicago—its then-rural outskirts, downtown halls of power, and headline-making crimes and trials, including those of two other women (who would inspire the musical and film Chicago) also accused of killing the men in their lives. But Sabella’s fellow inmates Beulah and Belva were beautiful, charmed the all-male juries, and were quickly acquitted, raising doubts among many Chicagoans about the fairness of the “poor ugly immigrant’s” conviction.

Featuring an ambitious and ruthless journalist who helped demonize Sabella through her reports, and the brilliant, beautiful, twenty-three-year-old lawyer who helped humanize her with a jailhouse makeover, Ugly Prey is not just a page-turning courtroom drama but also a thought-provoking look at the intersection of gender, ethnicity, class, and the American justice system.

To request a copy of the book, please contact the Reference Desk at Bloomington Public library at 309-828-6093 or email reference@bloomingtonlibrary.org.