As the “Natural” woman dies, baseball fans and movie fans remember Ruth Ann Steinhagen, the real-life 19-year-old woman who shot and nearly killed the star first baseman of the Philadelphia Phillies, 29-year-old Eddie Waitkus, in 1949. Ruth Ann Steinhagen’s shooting of Eddie Waitkus with a .22 caliber rifle which she had hidden in her hotel room along with a paring knife became later known as one of the first stalker crimes by an obsessed fan and it inspired the 1952 book and 1984 movie “The Natural.” According to a March 17, 2013, TimesOnline report,
“Ruth Ann Steinhagen died of natural causes at 83 in late December in Chicago. She had lived more than half a century in obscurity. Her passing was not noticed by the media until three months later.”
When Ruth Ann Steinhagen died on Dec. 29, 2012, only a few media sources covered Ruth Ann Steinhagen’s death which was reported to have occurred after suffering a fall in her home. On March 13, 2013, the Chicago Tribune reported that Ruth Ann Steinhagen had lived a very reclusive life “in the house at center in the 5000 block of Sawyer Avenue on Chicago's Northwest Side.”
Ruth Ann Steinhagen’s parents had immigrated to the United States from Berlin, Germany, in the 1920s. Born on Dec. 23, 1929, Ruth Ann Steinhagen grew up to be a typist and an obsessed fan with baseball player Eddie Waitkus.
Ruth Ann Steinhagen’s obsession with Eddie Waitkus included a shrine in her home with hundreds of photographs and newspaper clippings and according to her mother, she would even set an empty place across from her at the dinner table. Even though Ruth Ann Steinhagen’s parents sent their daughter to a psychiatrist in 1948, her obsession with Eddie Waitkus did not diminish. On June 14, 1949, when the Phillies came to Chicago for a game against the Cubs, Ruth Ann Steinhagen sent a handwritten note through a bellboy to Eddie Waitkus inviting him up to her 12 floor room in the Edgewater Beach Hotel where they both stayed.
According to the American Law and Legal Information Encyclopedia, Notable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953, “Ruth Ann Steinhagen Trial: 1949 – ‘i Just Had To Shoot Somebody’, ‘near Miraculous’ Recovery, Obsession At First Sight,” Ruth Ann Steinhagen’s note to Eddie Waitkus said,
"It is 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 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."
Eddie Waitkus thought that the note was from a friend and when he came up "to her room at about 11:30, 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," Ruth Ann Steinhagen said and before Eddie Waitkus could say anything Ruth Ann Steinhagen shot him with a .22 caliber rifle in the chest.
She then called the hotel desk telling them, “I just shot a man."
Ruth Ann Steinhagen was arrested and then arraigned on June 30, 1949. Ruth Ann Steinhagen’s trial of the near-murder of Eddie Waitkus became famous because it was one of the first sensational examples of what came to be called “stalker” crimes by a love-sick teenage girl.
According to a Miami News article from June 15, 1949, Ruth Ann Steinhagen told a psychiatrist and police that the reason for shooting Eddie Waitkus was,
"I didn't want to be nervous all my life. … The tension had been building up within me, and I thought killing someone would relieve it. … She said that she did not remember when she first thought of killing Waitkus, whom she did not know. She said she had developed admiration for him since she first saw him play ball three years ago. ‘He reminds me of everybody; especially my father’.”
After a court-appointed psychiatrist determined that Ruth Ann Steinhagen suffered from “schizophrenia in an immature individual," Ruth Ann Steinhagen was admitted to a mental hospital. After less than three years, she was considered to be cured and was released.
Even though the judge had ordered that Ruth Ann Steinhagen could be retried upon gaining sanity, Eddie Waitkus, who was a World War II veteran, did not want to prosecute Ruth Ann Steinhagen but rather forget about the incident that nearly took his life.
After her release from the mental hospital, Ruth Ann Steinhagen moved back home with her parents and her younger sister who died in 2007. Ruth Ann Steinhagen’s parents had died in the early 1990s. For the rest of her life, Ruth Ann Steinhagen lived a reclusive life in a small house on Chicago’s North Side.
Her life was so withdrawn that even her death at the age of 83 on Dec. 29, 2012, remained reclusive and quiet; -- until now.