Ugly Prey: An Innocent Woman and the death sentence that scandalized jazz age chicago

Ugly Prey tells the riveting story of poor Italian immigrant Sabella Nitti, who lived in Stickney, IL. She was the first woman ever sentenced to hang in Chicago, in 1923, for the alleged murder of her husband. Journalist Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi leads readers through the case, showing how, with no evidence and no witnesses, Nitti 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 reporters fixated on her—ugly. For that unforgiveable crime, the media painted her as a dirty and unpredictable immigrant, almost an animal.

Lucchesi brings to life the sights and sounds of 1920s Chicago and its then-rural outskirts, when two other women (who would inspire the musical and film Chicago) also captured headlines for killing their lovers. But they were beautiful, charmed the all-male juries, and were quickly acquitted, raising doubts with many Chicagoans about the fairness of Nitti’s conviction.

Featuring two other fascinating women—the 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 social justice.