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Woman power - part two: Chicago’s most dangerous women

The ultimate crazy cat lady
The ultimate crazy cat lady

There is a dark side of woman power. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Case in point: between 1875 – 1920, the rate of women committing homicides shot up more than 400 percent; there were more women than men committing murders. Most of these situations were women offing their abusive husbands. So prevalent was this that Chicago became legendary for its Murderess Row.

The all-male juries back then tended to be sympathetic toward women, and most were acquitted. Also, it was considered distasteful to execute a woman. However, unlike the beautiful and stylish ladies in my last article, not all women were regarded so well; juries did sometimes convict women.

Sabella Nitti was referred to as a “cruel animal” by the Chicago Tribune, convicted of beating her husband to death with a hammer. Kitty Malm, who committed a robbery with her husband that went awry when a security guard was killed was sentenced and was known as “wolf woman” and “tiger girl.”

Wanda Stopa, who seemed to have it all – she was good looking and a lawyer back when there were few female lawyers – attempted to shoot the wife of a man she was in love with but ended up killing someone else by accident, the unfortunate Henry Manning, who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The story made the front page, and she went on the run. Police were hot on her trail, but she swallowed poison before they could get to her in a Detroit hotel room. The public was so fascinated by her that her family’s small apartment was mobbed as tens of thousands of people tried to squeeze in to get a glimpse of her at her wake.

But one of the most amazing stories of a woman who escaped the hangman’s noose -- not once, not twice but three times -- is that of Catherine Cassler, a/k/a “Lady Luck.” She was no femme fatale and in fact was described as “fat and 40,” but she slipped through the hands of justice as if on a merry sleigh ride, laughing all the way.

She lived a life of contradictions. For example, she marched with the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union while secretly moonlighting as a bootlegger. She oversaw a convoy that delivered moonshine to Chicago from northwest Indiana.

But the scary thing about her is she very likely was responsible for the killings of three people. The first was a Chicago cabinetmaker named Bill Lindstrom. The story is that Lillian Fraser confided in Cassler that she was bored with her lover, Lindstrom, so Cassler came up with a plot to kill him so they could collect and split his life insurance. But later, when the Chicago cops figured out Lindstrom’s death wasn’t an accident but murder, the suspects were rounded up. Fraser and another accomplice, Loren Patrick, who allegedly clubbed and killed Lindstrom, ganged up and testified against Cassler.

Cassler was given the choice to plead guilty, but she said rather than endure life in prison like her two accomplices got, she’d rather “trip gaily to the noose.” She was sentenced to be hanged, and uncannily, she stayed composed and retained her usual joviality. While awaiting her hanging, her execution was stayed. One accomplice changed his story and the other was no longer available to testify against her. Cassler was released scot-free.

Shortly after her release, her husband threatened her with divorce; he was seeing a younger woman, 24-year old Cameola Soutar, known as “Babe,” a Vaudeville dancer and skater. Cassler told him “You won’t be bothered with your sweetie anymore,” and soon afterwards, Soutar turned up dead with a bullet through the heart. This was within only 40 days after Cassler had been set free. Although it seemed obvious to everyone that Cassler was the murderer, authorities could not find enough proof to prosecute. No wonder Cassler said, “I’m laughing at life. I’ll never frown again.”

Eight years later, Cassler was back under police scrutiny. A boarder at her home on Chicago’s South Side, Warren Shattuck, fell from her terrace and died; he was 29. What was suspicious is that Cassler had taken a $1,000 life insurance policy on Shattuck six weeks earlier, listing herself as his mother. When police queried her closely, she chuckled through her explanation citing she’d gotten confused because Shattuck often referred to her as “mom.” She dropped the claim, and the cops dropped the investigation.

No wonder Cassler was called “Lady Luck”: three murders and no sentence, how tidy. And she didn’t stress, she didn’t go on the lam; she just kept on smiling and laughing. It’s grim and dark, but make no mistake about it: Cassler exercised her giggly feminine wiles – in other words, woman power – to get her way and escape justice.


Murder is wrong and so is the misuse of woman power.

If you care to do further reading, aside from the hyperlinks, most of the information on “Lady Luck” was obtained from this source.

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