I stood outside the old stone three-flat as the city started to turn to night. No one had shoveled, but foot traffic had cut a deerpath track in the mucky remelted, refrozen, sand-and-salt snow. I stood in the inches-wide path and looked up at the murderess’ home.
On April 28, 1924, my street was packed.
By some accounts, nearly 10,000 people mobbed this little strip of what was then Little Poland, throngs of strangers trying to force their way into the house a few doors down from mine.
“There were screams, laughter, a few curses,” Chicago Tribune reporter Maurine Watkins would later recall of that day, as related in Douglas Perry’s excellent “The Girls of Murder City.” “Two women were clubbed by the police. For a time it seemed that the crowd would win out, and a call was sent in to the fire department. The [fire wagon] arrived just as the throng began to disperse.”
They were there for a visitation — not even a funeral. And they didn’t know the beautiful 24-year-old attorney who was laid in state in the old stone three-flat on my block. They had just read in the papers of beautiful Wanda Stopa, the murderess on the run.
Wanda Stopa hadn’t lived in the stone house in years. It was in Little Poland, part of a past she tried to leave behind in favor of 1920s “bohemia” — jazz age booze, dope, art and fucking from when the ’20s roared.
She was brilliant — a graduate of John Marshall Law School who became Chicago’s youngest and first woman assistant U.S. district attorney. And god, she was beautiful. That’s what first captured me when I saw her picture in a Trib photo gallery a friend posted on Facebook. I saw a beautiful woman and an address a few doors from mine.
It’s the same house, the Cook County’s Assessor’s Office tells me. No new construction on the same spot. This 1889 home was the same one 10,000 people tried to force their way into 90 years ago to see a killer’s body.
Her victim’s name is often lost in the telling of this tale. His name was Henry Manning.
He wasn’t young, sexy and brilliant like Wanda.
He wasn’t connected and fancy like Genevieve Dawley “Doodles” Smith, a smart-set socialite who hobnobbed with the Tower Town bohemian crowd and was Wanda’s intended victim.
He wasn’t rich and powerful like Yeremya Kenley “Yen” Smith, a downtown adman, Doodles’ husband and Wanda’s lover.
Henry Manning was a 68-year-old gardener who tried to stop Wanda Stopa from gunning down Doodles as she lay sick in bed at the Smiths’ home in Palos Park.
Henry Manning. It doesn’t get said often enough.
Wanda wanted out of Little Poland and into Tower Town. She loved the bohemian life, the booze and drugs and witty banter of the community of painters and poets who gathered in the artist colonies around the old Water Tower.
Her first stab at entry came when she married a man who, according to the papers after the scandal broke, was either Russian nobleman Count Vladislaw Glascoff or bootlegger Ted Glascow.
In “The Girls of Murder City,” Perry writes that “Vladimir Glaskoff” was a bigamist who used marriage as a way of getting young women into bed. The Trib writes that “Zdzislaw Glasko” wooed Wanda, although she continued her affair with Smith.
Whatever the name (“Glasgow” and Glaskow” also pop up), he skipped town a few weeks after the wedding, Perry writes.
Or she was trying to leave him to be with Smith, to go by the Trib.
The stories change by teller, which 1920s newsmen thought they could sell how many papers on what lie. Would the nobleman cuckold appeal to the Evening American’s audience? Did the Herald and Examiner editor like the bootlegger abandoner idea? Was Wanda a victim or deluded homewrecker? Was Yen a married 37-year-old adman with a sweet young thing or a patron who tried to support this brilliant girl only to be rewarded with obsession and murder? What would sell more papers, get more copies on the street blaring the photo of that beautiful face?
Like water finding its level, the papers eventually decided society was to blame, particularly the immoral bohemians and their Tower Town dope turned this poor sweet girl so full of promise (and more photos on page 6) into a demon of sex, doped and dressed to the nines.
Whatever happened with the Count, she was having an affair with Yen, who wrote long, loving letters calling her “Polka.” With Yen’s support, connections, drugs and money, Wanda finally found her bohemia.
A couple that had been following me closely down that deerpath trail in the muck walked nearly into me. As I took a step into the snow to let them by, I heard the click of a key in a lock. I turned to see two figures disappear into the old stone house’s garden apartment.
We wouldn’t know much about the lives inside that Tower Town mess of affairs, drugs and fancy clothes if one of the young artists the Smiths housed didn’t turn out to be Ernest Hemingway.
“Pity the female Polak lawyer couldn’t shoot when she pulled a gun on Doodles,” Hemingway, who was deep in his Parisian “Movable Feast” days when the scandal broke, wrote the friend who was mailing him clippings.
Papa hated Doodles. Hated her piano playing, hated her affair with his fellow lodger, adman “Dirty Don” Wright, hated the way she drunkenly came on to him one night and told him by way of vengeance that his fiancée Hadley Richardson (who met Hemingway at a Smith soiree) had been carrying on with Wright.
In a burst of moralism from the man who would later leave Hadley for her best friend, Ernest confronted Wright about the affair. On Yen’s behalf, of course. A terrified Wright then complained to Doodles, who complained to Yen, who complained to Hemingway.
“Yen’s words to me are ‘You can never understand what Don means to Doodles,’” Hemingway later told Yen’s brother.
Realizing he had burst into the intricacies of an actual open marriage, Hemingway apologized with the tact, grace and restraint for which he was known.
Just kidding. Papa started sleeping on the roof, severed all ties with the clan and wrote Yen a bitchy note insulting his manhood.
But enough of Papa being Papa. He ran roughshod over so many brilliant women in his own life, it would be a shame to let him do the same to Wanda Stopa here.
He’s just eyes into a situation of mutual infidelity and brilliance and the rich surrounding themselves with the beautiful because what else do you do on a gin-soaked night in Chicago?
Read more places Chicago keeps its ghosts alive:
- 1920s jazzmen in a hardware store back office
- The Black Belt’s king in an old restaurant review
- The dean of Chicago truckmen on the side of a garage
- The father of modern dentistry in a field in Lincoln Park