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.