Cicero IL 1
December 23, 1929 1
29 Dec 2012 1
Swedish Covenant Hospital, Chicago IL 1

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Ruth Ann Steinhagen
Ruth Ann Steinhagen
Ruth Ann Steinhagen letter
Ruth Ann Steinhagen letter
Ruth Steinhagen
Ruth Steinhagen
Ruth Steinhagen, 19, held in the shooting of Eddie Waitkus, has her hand coated with paraffin in a test for gunpowder marks, by Detective James Johnston at Summerdale police station on Chicago's North Side — Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1949
Ruth Steinhagen
Ruth Steinhagen
Ruth Steinhagen "mops" the floor of a cell in Cook County Jail, where she was being held in the shooting of baseball star Eddie Waitkus. The photo is staged for news cameras, because the mop and floor are dry. — Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1949
Ruth Steinhagen, second from left, faces the bench at Chicago Felony Court on her arraignment on charges of assault with intent to kill baseball star Eddie Waitkus who is sitting in the wheelchair at the right. Within a day, the 19-year-old woman was indicted by a grand jury, found insane by a jury, and committed to Kankakee State Hospital. — Chicago Tribune, June 30, 194
The .22 caliber rifle used in the shooting of Eddie Waitkus, which Ruth Steinhagen had in the closet of her hotel room. She also had the paring knife. — Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1949
Hotel Room
Hotel Room
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. — Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1949

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Personal Details

Full Name:
Ruth Catherine Steinhagen 1
Also known as:
Ruth Ann Steinhagen 1
Full Name:
Ruth C Steinhagen 2
Cicero IL 1
December 23, 1929 1
Female 1
23 Dec 1929 2
29 Dec 2012 1
Swedish Covenant Hospital, Chicago IL 1
Cause: subdural hematoma 1
29 Dec 2012 2
Mother: Edith Steinhagen 1
Father: Walter Steinhagen 1
Race or Ethnicity:
German 1

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Chicago woman was real-life stalker from 'The Natural'

The Chicago woman whose near-fatal 1949 shooting of former Cubs first baseman Eddie Waitkus inspired the book and movie "The Natural" died with the same anonymity with which she lived for more than half a century.

The 19-year-old's crime, which put a spotlight on stalking crimes, nearly killed Waitkus, 29, and temporarily sidetracked his career. The incident also helped to draw attention to "baseball Annies" — young, hero-worshipping groupies who would pursue major league ballplayers, often relentlessly.

However, from the time that Ruth Ann Steinhagen left Kankakee State Hospital in 1952 after undergoing nearly three years of psychiatric treatment, she disappeared into near obscurity — so much so that one of her final next-door neighbors said he lived there for more than 15 years before learning her history.

Steinhagen, who never spoke publicly about the Waitkus incident after her release from the hospital, spent much of her final 42 years living in a modest house on the Northwest Side with her parents and sister.

She died Dec. 29 at Swedish Covenant Hospital of a subdural hematoma caused by an accidental fall in her longtime home, a Cook County medical examiner spokeswoman said. She was 83.

Her death had gone unreported and was only discovered when the Tribune was searching death records for another story.

"She was never social," next-door neighbor Chris Gentner said. "I talked to her and we knew each other, but she really wasn't the type of person who would sit down and talk to you."

Gentner said it was only recently that he learned of Steinhagen's notorious past.

"I was amazed. I then looked her up and saw all that stuff.  Interestingly, where I grew up in New York was real close to where they made parts of 'The Natural.'" 

Born Ruth Catherine Steinhagen in Cicero on Dec. 23, 1929, Steinhagen was the daughter of die-setter Walter Steinhagen and his homemaker wife, Edith, both of whom had emigrated from Berlin in their early 20s, according to Chicago author John Theodore's 2002 Waitkus biography, "Baseball's Natural: The Story of Eddie Waitkus." She spent two years at Waller High School before earning a diploma from Jones Commercial High School, now Jones College Prep.

At some point in her teens, Steinhagen, who had begun using the middle name Ann, became obsessed with Waitkus, who then was a first baseman for the Cubs. After the Cubs traded Waitkus to the Phillies before the 1949 season, Steinhagen's obsession with him intensified.

"Ruth has a place in Chicago crime history because of the good old-fashioned moxie she used to carry out her plan — to kill Eddie Waitkus," Theodore said via email Thursday. "Here's a 19-year-old girl, living by herself in a tiny apartment on Lincoln Avenue, in 1949. She builds an Eddie Waitkus shrine in her apartment: photos, newspaper clippings, 50 ticket stubs, scorecards. She knows he's from Boston so she develops a craving for baked beans. ... He's Lithuanian, so she teaches herself the language and listens to Lithuanian radio programs."

It all came to a head June 14, 1949, when the Phillies were in town to play the Cubs. Steinhagen, then a typist for the Continental Casualty insurance company in the Loop, attended the game that day. After the game, she sent Waitkus an unsigned note summoning him to a 12th-floor room in the now-demolished Edgewater Beach Hotel, where the Phillies were staying. When Waitkus arrived at 11:30 p.m., Steinhagen told Waitkus from behind the door, "I have a surprise for you," and then used a .22-caliber rifle that she had purchased at a pawnshop to shoot him just below the heart.

After shooting Waitkus, Steinhagen called the hotel operator and soon was taken into custody as he was rushed to Illinois Masonic Hospital. The bullet had torn through his right lung and lodged in back muscles near his spine, and he underwent two blood transfusions while in critical condition.

After about two weeks, Waitkus was transferred to Billings Memorial Hospital at the University of Chicago. He had six operations before doctors finally removed the bullet.

Waitkus made an impressive recovery and helped the Whiz Kid Phillies to the National League pennant in 1950. He was a regular for two more seasons and played through 1955, though he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and retired from baseball at 35. He died in 1972.

After the shooting, Steinhagen told authorities that she wasn't sorry and that she "just had to shoot somebody."

"Only in that way could I relieve the nervous tension I've been under the last two years," she was reported to have told the Cook County state's attorney. "The shooting has relieved that tension."

Police initially booked Steinhagen on a charge of assault with intent to murder. The extent of her fixation on Waitkus soon became known. Steinhagen's mother told the Tribune several days after the shooting that her daughter had become obsessed with Waitkus when he was on the Cubs.

"She seemed to become infatuated with him and couldn't talk about anything else," her mother said.

She also had filled her bedroom with Waitkus memorabilia, including photos and news clippings about him.

Just 17 days after the shooting, a criminal court judge ruled Steinhagen to be insane and ordered her committed to Kankakee State Hospital. While there, Steinhagen underwent electroconvulsive therapy to alter the chemical balance in her brain, as well as hydrotherapy and occupational therapy, according to Theodore's book. After 33 months, doctors in March 1952 concluded that Steinhagen was sane and she was returned to Cook County Jail as prosecutors weighed reinstating attempted murder charges against her

Waitkus told reporters at spring training in Florida that he did not intend to press charges against Steinhagen.

After a court hearing, Steinhagen told reporters: "I'm sorry it happened (and) I'm glad Eddie isn't going to prosecute me."

In April 1952, a jury concurred with doctors' diagnosis of Steinhagen's sanity and prosecutors dropped all charges, leaving her a free woman. Outside court, Steinhagen told reporters that she planned to go back to Kankakee State Hospital to work as an occupational therapist, although it's not known if she ever did.

Novelist Bernard Malamud fictionalized the story of Waitkus and Steinhagen in his 1952 book "The Natural," having young baseball phenom Roy Hobbs called to a hotel room by a mysterious woman named Harriet Bird who then shoots him in the stomach. The 1984 movie based on the book starred Robert Redford as Hobbs and Barbara Hershey as Bird. However, most other aspects of the Waitkus-Steinhagen incident differed from the book and the movie. In the film, Bird also had shot star athletes in other sports.

It's not known what Steinhagen did in her later years, although a neighbor told Theodore that Steinhagen once claimed to have held an office job for 35 years. Court records and other background checks uncovered nothing that sheds any light on her career.

In 1970, Steinhagen, her sister and her parents bought a house on the Northwest Side. Her father died in 1990 and her mother died in 1992, and Theodore's 2002 book reported that Steinhagen and her sister seldom communicated with neighbors or answered the door, largely keeping to themselves.

Gentner, who has lived next door to Steinhagen's house since 1994, said he and his family communicated more with Steinhagen's sister, Rita Pendl, whom he called "quite nice." Pendl died at 76 in 2007.

Gentner said he and his family would see Steinhagen occasionally but mostly heard from her when she was dissatisfied with something neighbors were doing, such as making noise or using an outdoor barbecue. In her final years, Steinhagen employed full-time caregivers, and at times would dispatch them to deliver messages to neighbors to ask them to curtail one activity or another.

"The barbecue was always a big thing. For as long as I've lived here, if we had the barbecue (going), she would always get upset. She would call and leave a message," Gentner said. "Ruth was not a big talker.  Her sister Rita was always like, 'Don't get Ruth upset,' and, 'That's gonna upset Ruth.' 

"I would help them do wiring or shovel snow or mow the lawn, that sort of stuff. And then, once Rita died, that kind of tapered off."

Steinhagen is not believed to have ever been married and did not leave any immediate survivors.

Ruth Ann Steinhagen Is Dead at 83; Shot a Ballplayer

On the night of June 14, 1949, a young woman gave an enormous tip — $5 — to a bellhop at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago to deliver a note to another guest, Eddie Waitkus, the first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, who were in town to play the Cubs. The two had never met, but she needed to see him, she explained in the note, in which she called herself Ruth Anne Burns. Could he come to her room?

She ordered two whiskey sours and a daiquiri from room service and sipped them while she waited. Waitkus received the note late in the evening and phoned her room about 11 p.m. When she answered, she said she had gone to bed and needed to dress. Would he wait half an hour and then knock on her door?

The woman, a 19-year-old typist for an insurance company whose name was really Ruth Ann Steinhagen, planned to stab Waitkus with a knife when he entered the room, she later said. But after she opened the door, he rushed by her and sat in a chair. So instead, she went to a closet and fetched a .22 caliber rifle she had recently bought.

“I have a surprise for you,” she said.

Training the gun on him, she forced him to stand up and move toward the window.

“For two years, you’ve been bothering me, and now you’re going to die,” she told Waitkus, according to a front-page account in The New York Times. Then she shot him.

The story was a sensation in the newspapers, and an antecedent of myriad celebrity stalkings in later decades, including the killing of John Lennon and the on-court knife attack on the tennis player Monica Seles.

Hit on the right side of the chest, Waitkus survived, and he returned to baseball the next season. Ms. Steinhagen was arrested and charged with assault with intent to murder. But less than three weeks after the shooting, a judge declared her insane and committed her to a psychiatric hospital, where she spent three years. She was not punished further.

Little is known of her later life, except that in 1970, she moved into a small house on the North Side of Chicago with her parents and her sister, all of whom she outlived. It was a reclusive enough existence that when she died, on Dec. 29 at 83, her death went unremarked upon until The Chicago Tribune reported it on March 15.

The newspaper said it had come across a notice of her death while searching public records for another article.

Anthony Brucci, the chief investigator for the Cook County medical examiner’s office in Illinois, said the cause of death was a subdural hematoma sustained in a fall. Ms Steinhagen leaves no immediate survivors.

The encounter in the Edgewater Beach Hotel was seemingly seized upon by Bernard Malamud, who placed a similar event in the opening section of his 1952 novel, “The Natural,” which posited baseball as a fertile source of American mythology. It was adapted into a 1984 film starring Robert Redford as the fictional ballplayer Roy Hobbs, whose rise to stardom is interrupted by a seductive woman, played by Barbara Hershey, who lures him to a hotel room and shoots him.

Ruth Catherine Steinhagen was born in Cicero, Ill., on Dec. 23, 1929, and graduated from high school in Chicago, according to a 2002 biography of Waitkus, “Baseball’s Natural,” by John Theodore. She adopted the middle name Ann as a girl.

Ms. Steinhagen had a penchant for falling in love with unattainable men. She told the police that before she began focusing on Waitkus, she had had crushes on the movie star Alan Ladd and a Cubs infielder, Peanuts Lowrey. She became obsessed with Waitkus during his three full seasons for the Cubs, collecting photographs of him and talking about him incessantly, her family said after the shooting.

When Waitkus was traded to Philadelphia after the 1948 season, she had a breakdown, her mother told reporters, and moved to a small apartment, where she built what amounted to a shrine to Waitkus. Mr. Theodore wrote that because Waitkus was from the Boston area, she developed a craving for baked beans. Because he was of Lithuanian descent, she studied Lithuanian.

“I had my first good look at him in 1947,” Ms. Steinhagen said of Waitkus in an autobiographical sketch she wrote after the shooting, at the direction of a court-appointed psychiatrist. “I used to go to all the ballgames just to watch him. We used to wait for them to come out of the clubhouse after the game, and all the time I was watching him, I was building in my mind the idea of killing him. As time went on, I just became nuttier and nuttier about the guy. I knew I would never get to know him in a normal way, so I kept thinking, I will never get him, and if I can’t have him, nobody else can. Then I decided I would kill him. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew I would kill him.”

Her plan was to commit suicide afterward, she told the police, but she did not have the courage to follow through. Instead, she called the hotel operator to say she had just shot a man. She knelt next to Waitkus and held his hand, she said.

The bullet had pierced one of Waitkus’s lungs and lodged in the muscles of his back, injuries that required several operations.

He played six seasons after the shooting, finishing his career with a .285 batting average. In 1950, he played in the World Series for the Phillies, a team nicknamed the Whiz Kids; they lost to the Yankees.

Waitkus, who had served in the Army in the Philippines during World War II, declined to press charges against Ms. Steinhagen when she was released from the hospital, and throughout his ordeal, he spoke about it with a lightheartedness that belied the damage it had caused him.

“Once he realized she was not going to be a threat to him, he wasn’t vengeful or angry,” Edward Waitkus Jr., a lawyer in Boulder, Colo., said about his father in a telephone interview Thursday. “He understood he was a victim based on nothing other than fantasy.

“The only resentment he had was it cost him the 1949 season, and he’d been playing really well. He’d survived three years in the jungles of the Philippines with barely a scratch, and he comes back here and this ‘crazy honey with a gun,’ as he used to say, takes him out.”

Mr. Waitkus said his father suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, possibly from his war experience, but certainly from the shooting as well. He died of esophageal cancer in 1972.

“His nerves were shattered for a while,” Mr. Waitkus said. “The fall from grace as an athlete was difficult for him. And he didn’t really recognize the problems, but they hampered him the rest of his life.”

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