I had no idea she was there, lurking, as it were, in the crowd, perhaps even rubbing shoulders with me.
This was after Chicago Cubs games in Wrigley Field in 1948 and, particularly, Cubs-Philadelphia Phillies games in the spring of 1949. I was a boy of nine in 1949, she a girl of nineteen. We were both, it turned out, starry-eyed over the ballplayers—she over a particular player—as they came out of their clubhouses under the shaded stands, hair all showered and slicked back, looking like tanned gods and stuffed with thick shoulders into their light-colored sport jackets.
Most of them scribbled autographs for the swarming fans as they walked and then hurried on and disappeared inside their cars in the players' parking lot—or the team bus for the visiting players—leaving behind a trail of awe and aftershave lotion.
My friends and I went regularly from our neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago to the ball games at Wrigley Field and across town at Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox. All the players and coaches—anyone with a major league uniform—interested us, though of course we had our favorites. One of mine was Eddie Waitkus, a smooth-fielding first baseman who had been traded from the Cubs to the Phillies in the winter after the 1948 season—another one of those inexplicable Cubs trades that sent one of their best and most popular players away and doomed the team to perennial bottom-of-the-standings finishes. Waitkus was also her favorite but in a completely different way—in an obsessive, homicidal way, as it turned out.
Her name was Ruth Ann Steinhagen, and she lived with her parents and sister on the North Side, a short distance from Wrigley Field. While I was often in the crowd of fans that sought the autograph of Waitkus and others, Steinhagen, as John Theodore writes in the compelling narrative that follows, often stood apart, with bizarre thoughts running through her head.