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"Ugly Prey" Program

September 18, 2021 - 3:00pm4:00pm
Oak Park River Forest Museum
129 Lake St
Oak Park, IL 60302
United States

Join us as we welcome journalist and educator Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi to the museum to discuss her book, Ugly Prey: An Innocent Woman and the Death Sentence that Scandalized Jazz Age Chicago. Recounting an almost forgotten chapter in Cook County’s history and the two very different women who were its central figures, Ugly Prey is a thought-provoking look at the intersection of gender, ethnicity, class, and the American justice system.

In 1923, an innocent Italian immigrant was sentenced to die for the murder of her missing husband. There was no motive or evidence. Police didn't even have a positive ID on the corpse fished from a Berwyn sewer. But prosecutors wanted an easy win. Too many women in Chicago were charming juries into acquitals. In Sabella Nitti, prosecutors saw easy, ugly prey. She was poor, illiterate, and homely. A jury swiftly convicted her.  Young attorney Helen Cirese of Oak Park suspected the trial was a sham. With a team of Italian-American attorneys, Helen appealed the conviction and sought to save Sabella from the gallows. While they waited for the Illinois Supreme Court to make a decision, Helen came up with an ingenious plan -- if juries hesitated to convict beautiful women, then she'd just have to make her client attractive for the retrial.  Dr. Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi introduces audiences to the young, relentless attorney and the woman she saved. 

Dr. Lucchesi is the author of Ugly Prey: An Innocent Woman and the Death Sentence that Scandalized Jazz Age Chicago (2017, Chicago Review) and This is Really War: The Incredible True Story of a Navy Nurse POW in the Occupied Philippines (2019, Chicago Review). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Discover Magazine, The Atlantic, The Chicago Tribune and the country's top newspapers. She holds a PhD from the University of Illinois-Chicago and she is from Oak Park, IL.

Tickets for this program are $10 or $8 for members. Space is limited, so you must register in advance. Visit our online store to purchase tickets on our website or call the museum at 708-848-6755 to reserve your seat. All events are subject to change based on current public health guidelines.