All baseball teams have their misfortunes, but probably no team except the Chicago Cubs has had two players shot by obsessed fans. Although the two men were not with the North Siders at the same time when they were attacked, their careers did overlap a bit. Shortstop Billy Jurges played for the Cubs from 1931-1938 and 1946-1947, while first baseman Eddie Waitkus’s tenure was 1941 and 1946-1948.
According to the New York Times, Billy Jurges had been “playing brilliantly” for the Cubs prior to July 6, 1932, the day that 21-year-old “Violet Popovich Valli, former show girl,” put his career on hold for a while. They had been seeing each other for about a year, and she said that Jurges was “one in a hundred thousand. I met him at a party, and I fell hard.”
Apparently Jurges (age 24) did not share the same feelings, for he eventually broke off their relationship. On the morning of July 6, Popovich (Valli was her stage name) confronted him in his room (#509) in Chicago’s Hotel Carlos, where he and several other Cubs players lived. As she repeatedly asked him why he no longer wanted to see her, the conversation soon turned violent and deadly.
The New York Times related that she “made one final plea for his love” and pulled a small revolver from her purse. As Jurges made “a wild lunge” for it, the gun went off. One bullet “struck him in the right side, ricocheted off a rib and came out the right shoulder. The second ripped the flesh about the little finger of his left hand.” The third bullet hit Popovich, striking her in the left hand and traveling “up the arm six inches.”
The Hotel Carlos (which for many years was known as the Sheffield House) is just a couple of blocks north of Wrigley Field at 3834 North Sheffield Avenue. (Click on image to enlarge.)
As she fled to her room, Jurges stumbled into the hall, calling for help. Cubs teammate Marv Gudat had heard the commotion and came running up the stairs from the lobby. “What happened?” he asked Jurges. “Were you shooting firecrackers?” Jurges told him that he had been shot and yelled, “Get a doctor!” The Cubs physician, Dr. John C. Davis, happened to be in the hotel lobby, and after he treated both Jurges and Popovich the two were taken to the Illinois Masonic Hospital. Neither was seriously injured.
As one might expect, the news media pounced on this story. Just a few hours after reporters first heard the news, Chicago’s Daily Illustrated Times was on the street with a banner headline: “Bill Jurges Shot By Spurned Cabaret Girl,” followed by “Singer and Ballplayer Wounded in Love Tiff Gunplay.” A photo of Popovich and one of Jurges lying in his hospital bed (wearing “a smile as well as a couple of bandages”) were also splashed on page 1. Above the photographs was the caption “Singer and Ballplayer Wounded in Love Tiff Gunplay.” The headline of that afternoon’s Chicago Daily News was “Jurges, Star Cub Is Shot,” followed by “Girl Wounded in Hotel Mystery; Both Will Live.” (Click on image to enlarge.)
In their mad dash to cover what one newspaper called the “famous Carlos Hotel gunplay,” newspaper photographers even barged into Violet’s hospital room to take photographs. The small wire photo (below) of her recovering from her injury is rather unsettling, and it is certainly understandable why she is holding a towel over her face. Note the bandage on her left hand, where the third bullet hit her. The photograph is dated July 6, 1932, and the caption on the back of it reads:
“William Jurges, star shortstop of the Chicago Cubs, was shot in the right side and left hand while wresting a gun from Miss Violet Popovich, who is said to have attempted to commit suicide in his room in a Chicago hotel. The girl was wounded in the hand. Miss Popovich is shown a few hours after the shooting, hiding from photographers.”
That evening, a suicide note, addressed to Violet’s brother, was discovered in her room at the Hotel Carlos. It said in part: “To me life without Billy isn’t worth living, but why should I leave this earth alone? I’m going to take Billy with me.” (Later she backpedaled a bit, stating that “I had been drinking before I wrote that note, and when I went to Billy’s room I only meant to kill myself. He knows that.”)
Perhaps that is why Jurges, as the Chicago Daily Tribune reported, refused to sign a complaint against the “chestnut haired divorcee” and said he would not appear as a witness. She was still arrested and booked on a charge of assault with intent to kill, however, and on July 15 she appeared in the court of Judge John A. Sbarbaro.
Right: Within a day after the shooting, Violet Popovich was well enough to leave the Illinois Masonic Hospital. This photograph, dated July 8, shows her leaving a police patrol wagon as she is taken to the Bridewell Hospital, adjacent to Chicago’s Cook County Jail, “as a prisoner of the law” (from the caption). Note her bandaged left arm, where the third bullet hit her. (Click on the photo to enlarge.)
Not surprisingly, newspapers from all over the country covered the arraignment. The Tribune wrote that “after a curious crowd had filled the courtroom, Miss Valli, a former chorus girl, made her entrance.” According to the Chicago Daily News, “She wore a sport dress of white crepe with a cape, both of which were piped with peppermint candy red and white and with a red belt, worn rather high.” A subpoenaed Jurges “stepped to the bar” and told Judge Sbarbaro that he did not want to press charges and that he expected no more trouble from her.
Violet stands with her attorneys, Herbert G. Immenhausen and James M. Burke, in Chicago’s felony court on July 15, 1932. She is wearing, as the Chicago Daily Tribune pointed out in its article, “a white crêpe dress, trimmed in red, white hat and … red shoes.” Newspapers across the country covered the story of the show girl and the shortstop in sensational fashion. They referred to Violet as the “21-year-old comely brunette,” the “chestnut-haired divorcee,” the “dark-haired chorus girl,” the “raven-tressed beauty,” and similar phrases. The bandage on her left arm covers the bullet wound she received when she struggled with Billy Jurges over the gun in his room at the Hotel Carlos.
Judge John A. Sbarbaro’s courtroom on July 15, 1932. From left to right: Herbert G. Immenhausen, defense attorney; Violet Popovich; James M. Burke, another of her attorneys; and Billy Jurges (shielding his face from photographers with a handkerchief). Although Jurges refused to sign a complaint, she signed a contract–to perform in Chicago’s State-Congress Theatre, where she billed herself as “The Girl Who Shot for Love.”
“Then the case is dismissed for want of prosecution,” ruled the judge (a Cubs fan). After the arraignment hearing, Popovich said that she would not try to contact Jurges. “I owe it to my self-respect to consider the entire matter a thing of the past,” she said. “If I happen to see Bill again, it will be just impersonal.” By all accounts, Jurges stayed clear of her, too, and while he recuperated he missed only a few weeks of the baseball season.
Violet Popovich was clearly no “shrinking” Violet, and she did not waste any time capitalizing on her newfound notoriety. The above advertisement appeared in a Chicago newspaper less than two weeks after Judge Sbarbaro dismissed all of the charges against her. (The ad at left appeared in another paper. Note the reference to the “Bare Cub Girls” and the “Bare Cub Frolics” (rather than “Follies,” as in above).
The “Bare Cub Girls” weren’t exactly “bare,” however. According to a lengthy review of Violet’s show in a Chicago newspaper, some of the young women disrobed until they were nearly nude (the degree of nudity depended on audience applause and the “encore” performances of each actress). The males in the audience hoped that Violet would also doff her clothes, but she simply sang, to an orchestra accompaniment, a song that was popular at the time. When she finished she bowed, then left the stage “without a single gesture of salaciousness.”
This was not Violet’s first experience on the stage. A Tribune article relates that at age 17 she performed in the chorus of Broadway producer Earl Carroll’s Vanities. “After her show experience,” wrote the Tribune, “she modeled in New York for illustrations for confession story magazines. The girl has gray eyes, regular features and an olive skin.”
Violet’s singing and dancing act lasted only a few weeks, though she would continue to dabble in show business. A 1937 Chicago Daily Tribune article, for example, mentions her as a “torch singer” in a city nightclub.
Violet had three younger brothers, and in November 2012, Mark Prescott–the son of her youngest brother–contacted me after reading my web page. Mark kindly related additional details concerning his aunt. He remarked that his aunt’s life was not a particularly happy one. According to court documents, Violet’s mother lived “in constant fear” of her husband, and he began beating her soon after Violet’s birth. After the couple’s divorce, Violet and her brothers lived in Chicago’s Uhlich Children’s Home, a private institution that cared for children without parents or whose parents could not provide for them. I went through the records of the home, and the Popovich boys were residents until the early 1930s. In fact, I came across one document in which one of the boys told the superintendent that Uhlich’s was the only real home he had ever known.
Violet, however, hated foster care and wanted to live with her mother. Mark told me that in the early 1920s she deliberately set fire to one of the home’s bathrooms. That act of arson sent her back home, though she eventually wound up back in Uhlich’s. Violet still preferred her mother over a matron, and in 1926 she apparently talked her way out of institutional care. A few months later she may have regretted her decision, for the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that the local police were called when the 15-year-old ran away from home after being “whipped for going to a movie with a boy and staying out late.”
Right: This rare photograph of Violet Popovich was taken at about the time she ran away from home. It is from the collection of Mark Prescott, Violet’s nephew, who graciously allowed me to publish it on my Cubs website.
Mark Prescott gave me about a dozen or so other photographs of his aunt, some of which I have displayed in a photo gallery on this website. The saga of Violet Popovich (or Violet Valli, if you like) and her shooting of ballplayer Billy Jurges have always intrigued Chicago Cubs fans, and I thank Mark for his generosity. Below are two more photographs of her.
Left: Violet Popovich smiles as she sits in a doorway. She is around 16-18 years old. Right: Violet (at about age 40) plays with young Mark Prescott, her nephew. (Published with the permission of Mark Prescott. Click on the photos to enlarge.)
Violet’s divorce in May 1932 occurred just a few weeks before she shot Billy Jurges. The Cubs shortstop, however, was not the only ballplayer she dated. She was a “baseball groupie,” according to Mark Prescott, and was “a stunning beauty with a voluptuous body.” She was 5’9″ tall, though her large frame made her seem taller. She dated future Cubs manager Leo Durocher for a while, and also future White Sox manager Al Lopez. In the late 1960s, therefore, both Chicago baseball teams were managed by ex-boyfriends of Violet–what a trivia question that could be! Mark and Violet went to a White Sox ball game in 1959 and Lopez went into the stands and chatted with them, giving Mark a signed baseball. (Incidentally, in the chapter “Femmes Fatale” in Jerome Holtzman’s and George Vass’s book Baseball Chicago Style (2001), the authors say that Lopez–as a catcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers–warned Jurges shortly before the shooting that he should not have a serious relationship with her as she had a “bad reputation.”)
After Violet shot Billy Jurges, the newspapers quoted her as saying that she hadn’t really wanted to kill him. Mark said, however, that she had told his mother that she had indeed intended to kill Jurges, as “I was very angry.” He added that her subsequent career as a night club singer and performer lasted about eight months, as she possessed “no talent.”
Mark related that his aunt had a “very brief marriage” in 1947 to Charley Retzlaff, a heavyweight prize fighter from Duluth, Minnesota. (Mark added that the boxer was a “pretty good fighter until he met Joe Louis,” who on January 17, 1936, knocked him out in less than two minutes in the first round, thereby ending Retzlaff’s career.) Retzlaff took his new bride to his farm in the small community of Leonard, North Dakota. He may have liked rural life, but Violet did not, for according to Mark, she stayed only about a week and left.
The two still stayed in touch, however. Mark said that he met Retzlaff in 1962, when he was twelve years old. He and Violet “came to our family house for Thanksgiving dinner. They (Charley and Violet) had been sunbathing nude earlier in the day, which my Aunt Violet announced at the dinner table. That comment caused quite a stir.”
Mark said that at one point his aunt lived near the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she worked for a film studio. Violet was not employed towards the end of her life, and although there was no mortgage on the house, she had a couple live with her to help with expenses. The two offered to buy the $150,000 house for some $20,000 to $25,000 so she could pay the property taxes, telling her that she could stay there rent-free.
Violet failed to protect herself legally, however, and the couple evicted her soon after they bought her house. She lived off of Social Security for the rest of her life. She died at age 88 on February 25, 2000, and was buried in the Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California (the Enduring Faith section, lot 2416, space 3).
The tombstone of Violet Popovich in the Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery.
More details on Violet Popovich, her family, and the shooting are in my lengthy article: Jack Bales, “The Show Girl and the Shortstop: The Strange Saga of Violet Popovich and Her Shooting of Cub Billy Jurges.” Baseball Research Journal, volume 45, issue 2, Fall 2016, pp. 66-77.
I am pleased to announce that I have expanded by research on “The Show Girl and the Shortstop” and The Chicago Cub Shot for Love: A Showgirl’s Crime of Passion and the 1932 World Series will be published next year by The History Press in Charleston, South Carolina. I use hundreds of original sources, including interviews with Jurges and Popovich family members, and it is packed with many photographs, some never before published.
Back to 1932 and the trial. Although it was not mentioned during the proceedings, more than a few people knew (or at least suspected) that Violet had been having an affair not only with Jurges but also with his teammate, Kiki Cuyler. Cuyler had evidently spurned her as well, for when she registered at the Hotel Carlos she told the desk clerks that she intended to “get Bill, and maybe Kiki, too.” (Unfortunately, the staff did not pass this information on to either the players or the police.) More than fifty years later, when Jerome Holtzman and George Vass interviewed Jurges for their book, Baseball, Chicago Style, the long-retired ballplayer told them that Popovich “had gone to Cuyler’s room first. Kiki Cuyler was a big ladies’ man. She had the key to his room but he wasn’t there. She wrote a note and put it on the mirror: ‘I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!’”
Bill Veeck Jr. proposes a different set of circumstances in his book The Hustler’s Handbook (1966). He believes that Violet had gone to the Hotel Carlos looking for her married “boyfriend” and was told he was in Jurges’s room. (Was Veeck referring to Kiki Cuyler? He does not directly say so in the book.) “She came bursting through the door,” Veeck declares, “and by way of rebuking him for some new infidelity, real or imagined, pulled a gun out of her purse. Jurges stepped in between them like a good host, smiling benignly, his hand upraised in sweet reason.” Veeck writes in his book that she then shot Jurges in the hand. “Billy, being single, kept the intended victim’s name out of it, leaving everybody to believe that he had got shot on his own merits. I hate to blow the whistle on Billy, but he’s been traveling under false colors for years.”
Veeck’s scenario seems implausible, given the note Violet had written to her brother before the shooting and from what her nephew told me. Not so far-fetched, however, was the blackmail scheme involving the young woman and Jurges (perhaps another reason why Jurges did not want to press charges)? In August 1932, Lucius Barnett–a real estate dealer, small-time hustler, and Violet’s bail bondsman following her arrest–attempted a get-rich-quick scheme. He had 25 of Jurges’s love letters to her and threatened to publish them under the title The Love Letters of a Shortstop and sell them at ballparks unless she paid him off. Not surprisingly, he also wanted money from Jurges.
Once again, Violet found herself in the courtroom of Judge John Sbarbaro. Barnett was arrested and charged with extortion, larceny, and other crimes. Judge Sbarbaro ordered the letters returned and set Barnett’s bond at the rather high $10,000, explaining that “I’m doing this to protect the Cubs from unjust scandal.” He also remarked, “I don’t want this thing to worry Jurges.”
Right: Violet Popovich back in court (with Police Sergeant David Levin, right) after her Billy Jurges love letters were stolen by Lucius Barnett, her former bail bondsman.
Billy Jurges was doing well and soon put the entire matter behind him. Interestingly enough, when Judge Sbarbaro first met Violet Popovich in July and dismissed all the charges against her, he added “and I hope no more Cubs get shot.” Unfortunately, this was mere wishful thinking on his part, for seventeen years later another Cub (albeit a former one) made newspaper headlines after a deranged young woman nearly killed him.
According to the New York Times, 19-year-old Ruth Ann Steinhagen, a 6-foot dark-haired typist, had a “twisted fascination” for Philadelphia Phillies player Eddie Waitkus that began in 1947 when he played for the Cubs. The “bobby sox baseball fan” had collected hundreds of clippings about him and had built a shrine to him in her room. When he was traded to the Phillies in December 1948, she wanted to move to Philadelphia to be near him. Her mother said that Ruth was “so crazy” about Waitkus, a man whom she had never met, that she tried to learn to speak Lithuanian when she found out he was of Lithuanian ancestry. (Left, Chicago Cubs first baseman Eddie Waitkus in 1941, his rookie year. Click on image to enlarge.)
In mid-June 1949, the 29-year-old Waitkus was in Chicago with the Phillies to play a series against his old team. The Phillies stayed at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, and on June 13 Steinhagen checked into the same hotel with a suitcase, a .22 caliber rifle, and a paring knife.
On June 14, she sent Waitkus a note asking him to come to her room as she had “something of importance” to tell him. When he knocked on her door, she put the paring knife in her skirt pocket, intending to stab him as soon as he came in. But he quickly walked past her, sat in a chair, and asked her what she wanted. (The Edgewater Beach Hotel in 1949.)
She said, “I have a surprise for you” and reached into the closet and pulled out the rifle. “For two years you’ve bothered me,” she told him. “Now you’re going to die.” After shooting him in the right breast, she told the police that she started to reload the gun to shoot herself, but “blacked out” for a bit. She then phoned hotel authorities, telling them that “I just shot a man.”
This photograph appeared in the Chicago Tribune on June 15, 1949. (Click on image to enlarge.) Caption: “Room 1297A at the Edgewater Beach Hotel where baseball player Eddie Waitkus was shot. At right is the chair where Waitkus sat when Ruth Steinhagen fired her rifle. At left is a dresser with a martini glass and drink mixes.” The Edgewater Beach Hotel closed in 1967, and its main buildings were soon demolished.
Waitkus was taken to Illinois Masonic Hospital in critical condition with a collapsed right lung. Police booked Steinhagen on a charge of assault with intent to murder.
When interviewed by State’s Attorney John S. Boyle she said: “I’m not really sorry. I’m sorry Eddie has to suffer so. I’m sorry it had to be him. But I had to shoot somebody. Only in that way could I relieve the nervous tension I’ve been under the last two years. The shooting has relieved that tension.” Right: In this photograph from the Chicago Tribune, Ruth Steinhagen sits in a police wagon after her arrest for shooting Eddie Waitkus. (Click on image to enlarge.)
Police learned that Steinhagen’s mother, Edith, had urged her daughter to get professional help. Ruth did meet with two psychiatrists, but they could not help her with her obsession with Waitkus. Her father, Walter, and sister, Rita, had tried reasoning with her, but they, too, got nowhere. (Left: The caption of this wire photo notes that Ruth “is shown peering from her jail cell in Chicago after her arrest.” Click on image to enlarge.)
Ruth Steinhagen works on her autobiography at the request of Dr. William H. Haines, her court-appointed psychiatrist. At the opening of her twelve-page life story, she wrote: “In my entire life, I don’t think there has ever been one thing that turned out the way I wanted it to.” In this posed photograph, she sits in her jail cell at an attractive table with a picture of Eddie Waitkus propped before her. (Click on image to enlarge.)
She had begun making plans to shoot the ballplayer in early May, buying the rifle in a Chicago pawn shop. Rita told police that she had heard her sister threaten to “get Eddie,” but she never took Ruth seriously. “We thought she was just talking,” Rita said.
By June 16 (the day before the above photo of Ruth reading her Bible was taken), Waitkus’s condition was upgraded from “critical” to “good.” The hospital report added that he had “taken a turn for the better, but was not quite out of danger.” A few days later, however, after Waitkus underwent a minor operation to draw blood from his punctured lung, the hospital said that he was “breathing easier” and showed “marked improvement.”
Right: Ex-Cub Eddie Waitkus smiles weakly from his hospital bed in the Illinois Masonic Hospital in Chicago. His father, Stephen Waitkus, holds up his arm for an attempted wave while a nurse stands nearby. This wire photo is dated June 18, 1949, just four days after the young man was shot by, according to the New York Times, “19-year-old typist” Ruth Ann Steinhagen, “a girl fan whom he did not know.” (Click on image to enlarge.)
Left: This photograph appeared in newspapers on June 21, 1949 (click on image to enlarge). One caption reads: “Ruth Steinhagen (right) tries her hand at first base, Eddie Waitkus’ position, in practice baseball session among inmates at the jail. Mrs. Ann Markov, chief matron, takes the ump’s role.” Note Steinhagen’s high heels. Other obviously posed photographs show Steinhagen in jail admiring photos of Waitkus.
Right: Although Eddie Waitkus’s condition had improved by the end of June, he was not yet ready to go home. He did, however, have one important task to do on June 30 that would get him out of his sick bed for a few hours. The caption of this wire photo reads: “Baseball star Eddie Waitkus is shown with nurse Alice Klopfer today as he left the Illinois Masonic Hospital to appear in Chicago’s Felony Court to testify at the arraignment of Ruth Steinhagen, 19, who was charged with assault with intent to murder.” Waitkus was scheduled to return to the hospital “for further observation” after his testimony. (Click on image to enlarge.)
On June 30, both Eddie Waitkus and Ruth Steinhagen appeared in the Felony Courtroom of Judge Matthew D. Hartigan of Chicago. From the Chicago Daily Tribune: “Dr. William H. Haines, head of the Criminal court behavior clinic, was the only witness at the sanity hearing. He testified Miss Steinhagen is a victim of schizophrenia (split personality) and that in his opinion she would be unable to co-operate with counsel, altho[ugh] he believed she understood the nature of the charge against her.” (A year later, Haines published a “Case History of Ruth Steinhagen” in the American Journal of Psychiatry.)
This June 16, 1949, wire photograph is titled “Ruth Confers with Parents.” The caption reads: “Chicago: Ruth Steinhagen confers with her parents, Walter (left) and Edith (right) before arraignment today (6/16) in felony court on charge of attempted murder. She shot Phillies’ baseball star Eddie Waitkus once in the chest. Deputy bailiff Jennie Du Bray is in background.” (Click to enlarge.)
A crowded Chicago courtroom on June 30, 1949, includes, from left to right: defense attorney Michael Brodkin, Ruth Steinhagen addressing the court, policewoman Mary Henneberry, defense attorney George Bieber (looking up), Eddie Waitkus in a wheelchair, and nurse Alice Klopfer behind him. The unseen man holding the papers at far right is State’s Attorney John S. Boyle. (Click on image to enlarge.)
Part of the caption on this wire photograph reads: “Ruth Steinhagen, flanked by attorney Michael Brodkin and policewoman, cranes neck to see her hero Eddie Waitkus in wheelchair at Felony court here today (6/30).” What with Ruth just a few feet from the stoic Eddie, I can’t help but think that a circus-like atmosphere pervaded the jammed courtroom. (Click on image to enlarge.)
Waitkus, in a wheelchair, testified that Steinhagen shot him after he entered her hotel room. A jury of six men and six women found her insane, and Chief Justice James J. McDermott of the Criminal Court ordered her committed to the Kankakee State Hospital for treatment (located some fifty miles south of Chicago).
Eddie Waitkus spent a month in the hospital. Like Billy Jurges, he recovered from his injuries and resumed his baseball career, winning the sport’s “Comeback of the Year” award in 1950. Right: As he stands surrounded by gifts, Eddie Waitkus acknowledges the applause of fans during “Eddie Waitkus Night,” August 19, 1949, at the Phillies’ Shibe Park. He is in uniform for the first time since he was shot. (Click on image to enlarge.)
In March 1954, Philadelphia sold Eddie Waitkus to the Baltimore Orioles for $40,000. In July 1955 he rejoined the Phillies, retiring in October that year. Late in life he taught the fine points of hitting to youths at the Ted Williams baseball camp in Lakeville, Massachusetts. (Among Waitkus’s best pupils one summer was the grandson of Billy Jurges.)
Ruth Steinhagen spent several years at the Kankakee State Hospital undergoing therapy for her mental illnesses. She was released from the hospital on April 17, 1952, having been certified sane by hospital officials. Left: Ruth Steinhagen (second from left), age 22, walks between her parents, Edith and Walter Steinhagen, and with attorney Michael Brodkin the day following her release from the hospital. (Click to enlarge.)
Right: Ruth Steinhagen talks with Deputy Chief Bailiff George C. Ibsen at the Cook County sheriff’s office after her 1952 hospital release. That year Bernard Malamud published his first novel, The Natural, which included a paragraph in which a woman shoots ballplayer Roy Hobbs. It’s possible that the wounding of Waitkus (and maybe that of Billy Jurges) inspired Malamud. See this excellent article by Rob Edelman. (Click image to enlarge.)
In a 1988 New York Times interview with Edward Waitkus, Jr., he observed that “the shooting changed my father a great deal, as you might imagine. Before, he was a very outgoing person. Then he became almost paranoid about meeting new people . . . . When [Steinhagen] was about to be released from the mental hospital after only a few years–they said she had fully recovered–my father and my family fought to keep her in. My father feared for his life.”
Eddie Waitkus died of cancer on September 16, 1972, at age 53. As for Ruth Steinhagen, in 1970 she, her sister, and her parents bought a house on Chicago’s Northwest Side, where for decades she lived in seclusion. Her father died in 1990 and her mother died two years later. “Ruth keeps to herself, but she is always very pleasant,” her next-door neighbor told John Theodore, author of Baseball’s Natural: The Story of Eddie Waitkus (2002). “She’s a loner-type, mostly stays in her house with her sister,” a young woman remarked. “We really don’t see them much or know anything about them,” said a man who lives across the street.
In 2007, Ruth’s sister, Rita Pendl, died at age 76, and on December 29, 2012, 83-year-old Ruth died of a subdural hematoma caused by an accidental fall in her home (center). According to her obituary in the March 14, 2013, Chicago Tribune, “Her death had gone unreported and was only discovered when the Tribune was searching death records for another story.”
Above right: Ruth Steinhagen lived in the center house, situated in the 5000 block of Sawyer Avenue on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Photograph taken by Terrence Antonio James of the Chicago Tribune on March 11, 2013. (Click on image to enlarge.)
Left: The caption of this June 15, 1949, wire photo reads: “Mrs. Edith Steinhagen (left) and her daughter, Rita, 18, mother and sister of Ruth Steinhagen, who shot baseball star Eddie Waitkus here [in Chicago] last night, are shown at their home as they hear the news.” Mr. and Mrs. Steinhagen and their two daughters moved to another Chicago house in 1970.
Author John Theodore spent years trying to talk to Ruth Steinhagen for his biography of Eddie Waitkus, but was not successful. From the Tribune‘s obituary of her:
“It was very frustrating not being able to interview her,” [Theodore] said. “I made many phone calls, knocked on her door several times . . . talked to neighbors. I got nowhere. She would never answer her door. And the phone conversations were very short: ‘Oh, that’s in the past, so long ago. I don’t want to talk about it,’ she’d say.
“She seemed upset when I talked to her, nearly hysterical. But to be honest with you, I really didn’t know if I was talking to Ruth or sister Rita. I didn’t want to invade her privacy any more than I had. So I decided to stop–or risk becoming a stalker myself.”
Incidentally, while working on this web page I, too, tried contacting Ruth Steinhagen. Not surprisingly, she never answered my letters.