Showing posts with label stalkers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stalkers. Show all posts

26 March 2013


                                          “I’m your number one fan.”

                                                     Stephen King 

    Last week The Washington Post ran an obituary of Ruth Ann Steinhagen.  Time can wrap layers of obscurity around events, and it is doubtful that many readers who first spotted that obituary actually remembered who Ruth Ann Steinhagen was, or what happened during her fifteen minutes of fame, on June 14, 1949.

    From when she was just 11 years old Ruth Ann was transfixed by a young Chicago Cubs player, Eddie Waitkus.  Waitkus was something to watch –  his defensive abilities at first base were among the best in baseball, and his offensive skills were increasing every year.  After finishing the 1948 season with a .295 batting average Waitkus, likely at the top of his game, was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Unbeknownst to Waitkus, Ruth Ann was watching his every move.  She attended many games in which he played, she began watching for him on the streets of Chicago.  She mourned that trade to Philly.  And slowly her fan interest turned into an obsession.  Ruth Ann established a shrine in her house, an area cluttered with pictures of Waitkus and other memorabilia, including canceled baseball tickets.  Learning that Waitkus was of Lithuanian descent Ruth Ann attempted to master Lithuanian, even going so far as to call in to late night Lithuanian radio talk shows, posing questions in her halting second language.  She became obsessed with the number 36, which Waitkus wore on his team jersey.  She began setting an empty place at the dinner table for her hero.  As her obsession grew, her parents, with whom she lived, became increasingly uneasy, eventually sending their daughter to a psychiatrist.  It didn’t help.  Ruth Ann began papering the ceiling of her bedroom with pictures of Waitkus.  Soon she quit her job as a typist so that she could devote more time to following Waitkus and tracking his career.

    On June 14, 1949 the Phillies traveled to Chicago to play Waitkus’ former team, the Cubs.  Ruth Ann, who was then 19 and still lived with her parents in Chicago, packed a suitcase full of Eddie Waitkus memorabilia, including pictures and canceled baseball tickets, and then checked in to the nearby Edgewater Hotel, where the Phillies were staying.  She left the following note for Eddie Waitkus on the door of his room:
Mr. Waitkus–
It's extremely important that I see you as soon as possible
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 to you
I realize this is a little out of the ordinary, but as I said, it's rather important
Please, come soon. I won't take up much of your time, I promise

Ruth Ann Steinhagen in prison, with a photo of Eddie Waitkus
The note was signed “Ruth Ann Burns.”

    Eddie, who had been dating a woman named “Ruth” while on the road, thinking the note must be from her, showed up at Ruth Ann Steinhagen’s room.  She invited him in, excused herself for a minute, and then came back into the room carrying a 22 gauge rifle she had purchased the week before.  According to the Associated Press Steinhagen then said “If I can’t have you no one can.”  The Chicago Tribune, by contrast, reported in a 2001 story that Steinhagen yelled at Waitkus, who she had never previously met, “you’re not going to bother me anymore.”  What is clear is that she then shot the Phillies' first base man in the chest, and that the bullet lodged just below Waitkus’ heart.

    Ruth Ann Steinhagen immediately called the front desk of the hotel to report the shooting, and was cradling Waitkus’ head when medics arrived a few minutes later.  Ironically, her speed in reporting her own crime likely saved Eddie Waitkus’ life.  He survived six operations, a grueling rehab and returned to the field in 1950. 

    Eddie Waitkus did not press charges, but Ruth Ann Steinhagen was nevertheless arrested, tried on the charge of attempted murder, and was found innocent by reason of insanity.  According to police reports her justification for shooting Eddie Waitkus was simply that she was “infatuated with him” and “wanted to feel the thrill of murdering him.”  After three years of electric shock treatments Ruth Ann was declared sane and released.  She returned to live with her parents, and then with her sister after their death.  

    The story of Ruth Ann Steinhagen is interesting not only for its intrinsic drama, but  more widely because it reportedly was one of the very first publicized instances of a  “stalker crime.”  Although the shooting of Eddie Waitkus would be illegal under any jurisprudential system, the stalking events that precede the violent act in such crimes have proven difficult to prosecute on their own, prior to the violence, since they often constitute, on their face, a series of otherwise innocent activities.  What is wrong with collecting pictures of someone you idolize?  What is wrong with saying hello to them on the street?  What is wrong with watching them at the ballpark (or stagedoor) exit?  The difficulty in defining a crime in stalking circumstances is that to do so requires an analysis not of random events, each innocent standing alone,  but rather of a congeries of events that collectively point to an obsession that threatens others.

   Stalking is now a Federal crime under the terms of the Violence Against Women Act, a fact not without irony in the context of today's article.  In support of the passage of the law, researchers Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes reported that 8% of all U.S. women and 2% of all U.S. men at some point will be the victims of a stalker.  We need not look very far to find evidence of this.  There are many other analogs to Ruth Ann Steihagen’s story, and they run the gamut – the woman who repeatedly broke into David Letterman’s house, at one end of the spectrum; the murder of John Lennon by his “fan” Mark David Chapman at the other.

    An obsessional crime perpetrated by an otherwise “adoring” fan provides the backbone of Stephen King’s Misery, quoted above. But there is an even more direct example of a novel inspired by the Steinhagen stalking crime and its aftermath.  The story of Ruth Ann Steihagen and Eddie Waitkus was the direct inspiration for the 1952 baseball novel The Natural by Bernard Malamud, which was made into the 1984 movie of the same name starring Robert Redford.

The story differs from reality in that the central character in Malamud’s novel was poised on the edge of greatness when he was shot, and in the arc of the story returns from near death to claim that greatness (although more so in the movie version than the book).  While Waitkus had just completed a personal-best season when he was shot, and while he returned to baseball in 1950, winning the Associate  Press award for best comeback player, he was not The Natural.  As Sports Illustrated recently concluded in an article prompted by Steinhagen’s death:
The timing of that peak season might prompt one to wonder if the shooting did dash his promise on the diamond, but, . . .  Waitkus was already past peak age by then. Malamud built his now-iconic character around what was by far the most interesting thing about Waitkus’s career, the shooting, but the similarities between fact and fiction ended with the last reverberation of that gunshot.
Eddie Waitkus played professional baseball through the 1955 season, after which he retired.  During that time, and following his retirement, he reportedly battled post-traumatic stress disorder related to the shooting, but re-gained his health and ended his days coaching little league with the Ted Williams baseball camp.  He died in 1972. 

    His assailant, who never came face to face with him again, lived on.  As is often the case, the tides of time slowly washed away from the beach the footprints of this 1949 cause célèbre.  Even Ruth Ann Steinhagen’s obsession proved ephemeral, fading as she aged.  Over the years she reportedly led a reclusive life, shunning all interviews.  Few today remember Eddie Waitkus; fewer still remember Ruth Ann Steinhagen. 

   Although her obituary appeared nationwide last week, prompting several retrospective articles, she in fact died at the end of December, shortly after her 83rd birthday.  Apparently no one even noticed until last week.

20 May 2012


Dixon's stealth article Silence is Golden reminded me of men I grew up around, the last of the naturally rugged. Many came through WW-II one way or another, and more than a handful didn't much like what they'd seen of man's treatment of man while others were determined to do something about it.

The Right Reverend

One of the latter was Reverend Sommers. This kindly man liked working with boys– a phrase that didn't have the taint it does in today's world of paedophilic hysteria. I think he liked getting out of the house– he raised three brilliant, beautiful daughters, Treva, Trilby, and Aloha, and in a house of four females, he may have felt the need to top off the testosterone tank.

Don't let the 'Reverend' fool you. He never committed the sin of evangelizing nor did he let religion get in the way of doing the right thing. Lloyd Sommers was a retired preacher and professional printer– his hands were permanently stained from printers ink– and collected arcane knowledge and odd acquaintances like other guys collect baseball cards. He co-led Boy Scout troop 222, got involved with myriad community projects, and could cook up a fund-raiser on the smell of an oil-rag.

He loved to talk. I don't remember many of his lectures because I was counting fingers. He had the speakers' habit of emphasizing numbers by holding up fingers… except the digits he held up never matched the numbers in his speech. He would say, "You must remember three things…" and he might hold up two fingers or four, but never three.

What does this have to do with Dixon's article on stealth? I'm getting there.

Those Who Know

One of the great assets of Rev. Sommers was the unusual array of people he knew. Most were men, but a few were women. After we boys finished our mile swim and lifeguard training with a beautiful, deeply tanned woman, Sommers asked us to guess how old she was. Fourteen-year-old boys didn't have a clue, but she seemed an ancient 35 or 40. Nope, the lady was in her mid-70s and could out-swim any of us.

But the men… these were men who lived off the grid long before there was a grid or a name for it. They weren't People Magazine people but Argosy with pages from Popular Mechanics. They weren't antisocial, but they preferred their own company.

Some were expert bow hunters. The State of Indiana had (and may still have) a two-week deer season for bow hunters followed by two more weeks for solid-slug shotgun hunters. Bow hunters were so good– remember this was before the compound bow– that bang hunters lobbied for the seasons to be reversed: they claimed bow hunters thinned the herds before they got their shot.

Borderline and sometimes actual hermits, some of these men would go to ground in winter and emerge in spring looking as if they'd hibernated those few months. Some carved birds indistinguishable from Audubon paintings. A few were self-taught machinists who could build engines from scratch. Others collected 'points' and 'birdstones' meaning arrowheads, spear tips, and a type of sling or throwing stone Indians used to bring down birds.

This might be hard for people to understand, but the interesting part wasn't what they did, but what they knew.

Parental Guidance Suggested

I need to add my father to the list of male influence. At 6'4 and 230 pounds of muscle– he once lifted out a tractor stuck in mud– he was gentle with children. Animals trusted him. Women loved him.

A note about my mother: As World War II ended, rationing was still in effect when my parents married. They were farmers, but they refused to cheat. While their fruits and vegetables came straight from the orchard, most farmers and ranchers felt they didn't deserve better than soldiers or city folk.

My newlywed mother struggled to put meals on the table until she remembered her carbine. From time to time, she supplemented rations with squirrel and rabbit, pheasant and quail. Don't mess with my mother.
He had no patience with cruelty or waste– if you hunted, you ate what you killed.

Although he owned a couple of shotguns, he disdained them. He insisted if you couldn't bring a duck down with a rifle instead of a scatter gun, you shouldn't be hunting. After one 'hunter' from the city proudly offered Dad a brace of rabbits he'd nailed with a 20 gauge, Dad drawled, "Thoughtful of you to strip the meat off." Later he muttered, "Gives a whole new meaning to choke."

You've seen movies and television where the hero sets a tin can or bottle on a fencepost for target practice. Not for Dad. He lined up spent .22 shells on a fence post. "That's your target, son. Don't miss."

He didn't 'collect' guns, but he accumulated a few: Spencer and Marlin and Remington and a couple of octagonal barrel antiques. Between Dad and the mentors provided by Rev. Sommers, we learned to disassemble and reassemble Colts, Springfields, and even an M-1… blindfolded. It's not as hard as it sounds, but they felt 'field-stripping' was important to learn.

I'm woefully ignorant when it comes to modern (semi)automatics and frankly the idea of a Glock without a safety scares me. But one day if I meet up with David, Dixon, or RT, perhaps they might teach me the basics.

Shades of Sherlock

I value a comment from a New Yorker who said "Leigh can talk with anyone, banker or biker, Wall Street, Main Street, or Park Avenue." It goes hand-in-hand with a philosophy I do my best to remember, that everyone in some way is my superior.

Back to these quiet men: One was a 'deer stalker'. Squirrels would descend from trees and climb on his shoulders, poking their noses into pockets of his flannel shirt. He was good with animals, but his true art was silent stalking. Through a fringe of trees, he could slip up on an unsuspecting doe and stroke her back or slap the rump of a surprised buck.
A note about animals: In the country and in the wild, people are often obligated to aid injured animals– a fox, a rabbit, a cow in breech-birth. It's surprising how often animals– even wild animals– will trust a human– perhaps a demi-god to them– especially when they're in great pain. It's possible the story of Androcles and the Lion has a factual basis.

Unlike humans, animals given over to trusting a human almost never scream but simply endure. It's amazing to me.

The Indian Brave

I have distant Algonquin blood, as my parents sometimes reminded me usually when it came to braving pain. Physical pain I can tough out– it's emotional pain that's my weakness. In a hospital or on a roller coaster, I can't stand males who scream.

But we kids tried to learn from the handful of old Indians. They called most of us, me included, 'heel walkers'. They meant we clomped through brush like a marching drill team, clapping heel down first. Dixon's article describes how to 'toe' the ground and then rock the rest of the foot into place. The rule is: quick isn't quiet.


I'll add another point to Dixon's article. My sense of smell isn't terrific, but mentors hammered home the point that humans stink. It might be a good scent or a bad stench, but humans emanate body odors like few other animals.

The effect is worse in forest or field, but odor can be a give-away even in an urban setting. A seductive perfume, the manly aftershave, that new 'fresh scent' deodorant can make one's presence known. My ability to smell may be attenuated, but even I can detect cigarette smoke in parts-per-billion.

It's not merely colognes and unwashed bodies. In tense situations, breath turns sour and sweat floods the skin. If terrified, the very frightened may not be able to maintain control over the bladder and bowels. It just happens.

When sexually excited, pheromones change again. How that might be used in a mystery, I don't know, but there you have it.

In the meantime, shhh