Beulah May Annan (November 18, 1899 – March 10, 1928) was an American suspected murderer. Her story was the inspiration for Maurine Dallas Watkins's play Chicago in 1926. The play has been adapted into a 1927 silent film, 1975 stage musical, and 2002 movie musical (which won the Academy Award for Best Picture), all with that title, and a 1942 romantic comedy film, Roxie Hart, named for the character Annan inspired.
Annan was born Beulah May Sheriff in Owensboro, Kentucky, to Mary (née Neel) and John R. Sheriff. While living in Kentucky, she married her first husband, newspaper linotype operator Perry Stephens. They were divorced, and Beulah then met car mechanic Albert "Al" Annan. They went to Chicago together, where they were married on March 29, 1920. There, Albert found work as a mechanic at a garage and Beulah eventually became a bookkeeper at Tennant's Model Laundry. At the laundry she met Harry Kalstedt and began an affair.
On April 3, 1924, in the married couple's bedroom, Annan shot Kalstedt in the back. According to her initial story, they had been drinking wine Kalstedt had brought over, and got into an argument. There was a gun on the bed and both reached for it, but Beulah got it first and shot Kalstedt while he was putting on his coat and hat. She then sat drinking cocktails and playing a foxtrot record, "Hula Lou," over and over for about four hours as she sat watching Kalstedt die. She then called her husband to say she had killed a man who had "tried to make love" to her.
Annan's story changed over time: first, she confessed to the murder; later, Annan claimed she had shot Kalstedt in self-defense, fearing rape. According to one of her later versions, he told her he was leaving her, she reacted angrily and then she shot him. Prosecutors surmised that Kalstedt had threatened to leave Annan and she shot him in a jealous rage. Her final story at the trial was that she had told Kalstedt she was pregnant, they struggled, and they both reached for the gun.
Albert Annan stood by her, pulled his money out of the bank to get her the best lawyers and stood by her throughout the trial. The day after the trial ended in acquittal, on May 25, 1924, Beulah Annan announced, "I have left my husband. He is too slow." She divorced him in 1926 on the charge that he had deserted her.
In 1927, after her divorce from Annan was finalized, she married Edward Harlib, a boxer. She filed for divorce after only three months claiming cruelty. In the divorce settlement, Harlib paid her $5,000 (equivalent to $68,000 in current dollars).
After her divorce from Harlib, Annan was involved with a fourth man, Able Marcus.
Annan died of tuberculosis at the Chicago Fresh Air Sanatorium, where she was staying under the name Beulah Stephens, in 1928, four years after her acquittal on charges of murder. She was returned to her home state for burial in Mount Pleasant Cumberland Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Daviess County, Kentucky. Interestingly, her grave marker notes her death as a year earlier, stating it to be March 10, 1927.
- Maurine Watkins, "Demand Noose for 'Prettiest' Woman Slayer" Chicago Daily Tribune April 5, 1924, p.1.
- "Divorce 7 Year Sequel to Her Murder Trial." Chicago Daily Tribune, August 20, 1926, p.3
- Kathleen M'Laughlin, "Buelah Annan, Chicago's Jazz Killer, is Dead" Chicago Daily Tribune March 14, 1928, p.3.
- Beulah May Sheriff Annan at Find a Grave