Emilie Lucchesi

Ugly Prey

An Innocent Woman and the Death Sentence That Scandalized Jazz-Age Chicago

Chicago Review Press 2017

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Popular CultureNew Books Network May 2, 2018 Rebekah Buchanan

In her book, Ugly Prey: An Innocent Woman and the Death Sentence That Scandalized Jazz Age Chicago (Chicago Review Press, 2017), Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi presents...

In her book, Ugly Prey: An Innocent Woman and the Death Sentence That Scandalized Jazz Age Chicago (Chicago Review Press, 2017), Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi presents the story of Sabella Nitti, an Italian immigrant arrested in 1923 an accused of murdering her husband. Sabella was found guilty and became the first woman in Chicago sentenced to hang. Through meticulous research into court documents and other public records, Lucchesi shares the riveting narrative of Sabella’s case. Situating Sabella in the 1920s, and looking at the ways in which this case shows how the legal system set up to defend her failed Sabella at every turn, Lucchesi’s book walks readers through the trial where there was no evidence and no witnesses, but reporters and the jury knew one thing for certain, Sabella must be guilty: she was ugly. Describing how the press, judges, and juries decided the guilt or innocence of women based on their looks, Lucchesi examines how Sabella’s fellow inmates such as Beulah and Belva were able to charm their juries into acquitting them. She examines the role of Helen Cirese, the young lawyer who lead Sabella’s appeal giving her a jailhouse makeover in order to be more credible. Told with deep description, Ugly Prey makes sure that the story of Sabella Nitti is not lost. Instead, it is one that shows how the present day American justice system is not dissimilar to the system of the past in the ways that gender, class, and ethnicity are impact how individuals are treated throughout the justice system.


Rebekah Buchanan is an Associate Professor of English at Western Illinois University. Her work examines the role of narrative in peoples lives. She researches zines, zine writers and the influence of music subcultures and fandom on writers and narratives. You can find more about her on her website, follow her on Twitter @rj_buchanan or email her at [email protected].

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