Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Baseball stalker dies natural death

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CHICAGO -- She inspired a novel and a movie starring Robert Redford when in 1949 she lured a major league ballplayer she'd never met into a hotel room with cryptic note and shot him, nearly killing him.

After the headlines faded, Ruth Ann Steinhagen did something else just as surprising: She disappeared into obscurity, living a quiet life unnoticed in Chicago until now, more than a half century later, when news broke that she had died three months earlier.

Steinhagen passed away of natural causes on December 29, at the age of 83. First reported by the Chicago Tribune last week, her identity was a surprise even to the morgue employees who knew about the 1984 movie The Natural, in which she was portrayed by actress Barbara Hershey.

"She chose to live in the shadows and she did a good job of it," John Theodore, an author who wrote a 2002 non-fiction book about the crime, wrote in an email Sunday.

The story, with its elements of obsession, mystery, insanity and a baseball star, made it part of both Chicago's colourful crime history and rich baseball lore.

The story began with what appeared to be just another young woman's crush on Eddie Waitkus, the Chicago Cubs' handsome first baseman. So complete was this crush that the teenager set a place for Waitkus, whom she'd never met, at the family dinner table. She turned her bedroom into a shrine to him.

After the 1948 season, Waitkus was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies -- a fateful turn. "When he went to the Phillies, that's when she decided to kill him," Theodore said. She got her chance when the Phillies visited Chicago the next year.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 18, 2013 C11

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