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Ruth Ann Steinhagen Trial: 1949

"i Just Had To Shoot Somebody", "near Miraculous" Recovery, Obsession At First Sight

Defendant: Ruth Ann Steinhagen
Crime Charged: Assault with intent to commit murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: George Bieber
Chief Prosecutor: John S. Boyle
Judge: James J. McDermott
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Date of Trial: June 30, 1949
Verdict: Not guilty by reason of insanity

SIGNIFICANCE: The near-murder of Eddie Waitkus, star first baseman of the Philadelphia Phillies, was one of the first sensational examples of what came to be called "stalker" crimes. Waitkus, 29, a World War II veteran of the New Guinea campaign, was almost killed by a love-sick teenage girl. After fewer than three years in a mental hospital, the girl, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, was pronounced cured. Waitkus did not want her prosecuted, and she was released. The result contrasts with the results of most other high-profile crimes where prosecutors seem determined that somebody be punished, regardless of the circumstances. And it did establish that a murderous sort of schizophrenia can be cured.

To Eddie Waitkus, a heavy-hitting first baseman recently traded to the Philadelphia Phillies by the Chicago Cubs, this road trip to Chicago was something like a homecoming. When he returned to his hotel, the night of June 14, 1949, he found a note in his room box.

"It is extremely important that I see you as soon as possible," the note read. "We're not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about. I think it would be to your advantage to let me explain this to you as I am leaving the hotel the day after tomorrow. I realize this is out of the ordinary, but as I say, it is extremely important."

Thinking the note might be from a friend of a friend, Waitkus called the room listed on the note. A young woman answered and asked him to give her a half-hour so she could get dressed. About 11:30, he knocked on the door. A tall, pretty brunette opened the door. She asked him to come in. She was "very businesslike," he remembered, completely deadpan. He walked over to a chair and asked her what she wanted. When he turned around, she was holding a rifle.

"You're not going to bother me any more," she said. Before he could reply, she shot him. With Waitkus lying on the floor with a hole in his chest, the girl laid down her. 22 caliber rifle and called the hotel desk.

"I just shot a man," she said.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953