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spacer.gif   Man Charged In Frieda Stein Fenster Murder
Posted by : cj on Tuesday, February 08, 2011 - 07:26 PM
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Chicago Poetry News: Click On Headlines .
Back in December of 1983, during my first year as a Writing Major at Columbia College, I was taking a journalism class and I had to write a human interest story. I chose a 77 year old woman named Frieda Stein Fenster as my subject, because she owned a used bookstore and magic shop that I liked to hang out in a few blocks from the Wabash campus. I talked with Frieda extensively, recording our conversations on cassette tape in order to write my article. During the winter break, only days after I turned my assignment in, I was back with my family in Aurora, IL, and I was watching television and there was the story of Frieda's murder. By the time I returned to school, Frieda's six story brick building and everything inside it was already torn down, hauled away and turned into a parking lot. That was my first experience of the often cold nature of big city life. I was so affected by it, that I even sponsored a poetry contest called the Frieda Stein Fenster Memorial Award from 2003 through 2007.

Today, February 8, 2011, 27 years later, a man who is already serving a life sentence for sexual assault has been charged with Frieda's murder after DNA linked him to the crime. I don't want to taint this wonderful woman's memory with the grisly details of this poor woman's rape and murder or repeat the ugly comments the alleged perpetrated made when charged with the crime. Instead, let me tell you a little bit about Frieda Stein Fenster.

When I met Frieda, she was looking forward to the 100th anniversary of Stein's Books, established by her father Max Stein, who was brought to Chicago from Germany when he was ten years old. Max's father opened a cigar and magazine shop, which Max eventually took over and turned into a publishing house and paperback outlet that published 50 titles--including the infamous "Abe Lincoln Jokes"-- through the 20s and 30s as well as collectible postcards. The bookstore was first at 521 S. State but moved across the street to 526 S. State in 1954. The new building was previously occupied by a magician named Howard Thurston and Max bought the rights to Thurston's magic books and turned part of his bookstore into a novelty shop. Frieda lived in downtown Chicago all of her life, where she roller skated and sold Mexican jumping beans in the window of her father's bookstore. She went to high school in Hyde Park, and attended the University of Chicago as well as Northwestern. Frieda had a chance to work on a dictionary at Northwestern but passed it up to take over her family's business so that her parents could travel. These are some of the things that Frieda told me during our conversations 27 years ago.

--CJ Laity

More from Tribune ** More from CBS.


 
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