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The Chicago Cub Shot For Love: An Interview with Jack Bales Part 2
In the summer of 1932, with the Cubs in the thick of the pennant race, Billy Jurges broke off his relationship with Violet Popovich to focus on baseball. The famously beautiful showgirl took it poorly, marching into his hotel room with a revolver in her purse. Both were wounded in the ensuing struggle, but Jurges refused to press charges. Even without their star shortstop, Chicago made it to the World Series, only to be on the wrong end of Babe Ruth’s legendary Called Shot. Using hundreds of original sources, Jack Bales profiles the lives of the ill-fated couple and traces the ripple effects of the shooting on the Cubs’ tumultuous season.
I have to say that since we're going to be talking about baseball, I feel like I should put on the national anthem and stand and place my hand over my heart. How about you?
[00:00:12.700] - Jack
That's right. We need to be doing that for sure. Thank you. I love that idea.
[00:00:17.450] - Benjamin
Well, it's a pleasure to have you join us. Thank you so much for taking some time out for Crime Capsule.
[00:00:23.450] - Jack
Thank you for having me. I enjoy being here. And I love talking about my work, which certainly involves true crime and baseball history. At the same time.
[00:00:34.370] - Benjamin
It'S a potent mix, shall we say now, you worked for many years in Virginia, But you grew up as a young man in the upper Midwest. And I'm going to ask you just to take us a little bit back in time to that period in Chicago that you're describing. Now, one of my absolute favorite quotes of all time comes from Daniel Burnham. Make no small plans for they have no power to stir men's blood, right?
[00:01:09.220] - Jack
[00:01:10.970] - Benjamin
Marvelous. Quote, 1930. Chicago. When your book is set, the Depression had just broken out just a year or two earlier. What did Chicago look like at that moment? Had the great sort of building boom of the early 20th century? Had that just ground to a halt? What was going on then?
[00:01:38.060] - Jack
Well, I think I had ground to a halt at least a little bit. I do know that unemployment rates around the country were past 20%. And of course, baseball have been doing pretty well before the Depression. But after the Depression hit, baseball was a luxury and the attendance plummeted in both the American League and the National League. They had like, I think they were like, 10 million in 1930 to about 6 million in 1933. And it kept on falling. And baseball salaries had been falling, too. In 1929, the average salary was 7500.
And then in 1933, it was about $6,000. So it was pretty tough. And teams were losing players and salaries were being cut. So it was just a tough time, both on the field and off the field as well.
[00:02:38.160] - Benjamin
How much was your average ticket price if you just your everyday laborer in Chicago wanted to see his beloved Cubbies, how much are you going to have to pay?
[00:02:48.140] - Jack
Gosh, I don't remember. Right off Ham, it might have been $50, but I'm really not sure about that. I know. I saw it a couple of times and I might even have it in my book, but I just don't recall off the top of my head.
[00:03:04.710] - Benjamin
To what extent in those years were the fortunes of the team tied up with the fortunes of the city?
[00:03:16.170] - Jack
See, William Wrigley was ahead of the Cubs back then, and he was almost. He weathered the Depression fairly well himself. And I read some place it is gum Company. William Wrigley was the founder of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum, Wrigley's Gum. And he himself weathered the Depression, pressing quite well. And I think the club did fairly well, too. The club was making a profit throughout most of the years, and a couple of Chicago histories that I read said that William Rigley was a shrewd businessman and better than most.
And he did a good job and taking care of the players and himself, keeping the ballpark open and keeping the players on the field, too. A lot to William Wrigley, I think. And he was very well liked by the players, too. Some owners back then and probably even nowadays, too, are not well liked by the players. But I've had a lot of player interviews that said that William Brigley was quite well liked.
[00:04:16.970] - Benjamin
You know, the photos of him in your book, are they really depicting sort of smiling and having a good time having a good time? Yeah. Enjoying himself out there, which is a bit of a contrast to his son, isn't it?
[00:04:31.540] - Jack
It sure is. His son, Philip K or PK Wrigley. He preferred to be in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, on vacation, tinkering with his cars on the Lake there. And one time Me famously told Billiam, Bill Vex father, Excuse me, who was a President of the team back then, he said he told reporters that his vexed responsibility to run the team. I don't really care what's going on. He was kind of a standoffish owner didn't really take that much interest in the team.
[00:05:16.830] - Benjamin
No, the Cubs at that point, they had lost the 1930 World Series against the Philly Athletics. And then you're right. There had been a management shuffle with Joe McCarthy and then Roger Hornsby, Roger Hornsby. And then Charlie Graham came on during the 1932 season. This was a tumultuous few years for the franchise, wasn't it?
[00:05:42.580] - Jack
It was a tumultuous few years. In fact, William Beck did not want William Wrigley to get rid of Joe McCarthy. Of course. Joe McCarthy went on to become one of the best managers in baseball of all time and everything. And that was one of the only few arguments they really had. He wanted to stick with McCarthy and Hornsby. What's the word, Martinet? I guess it is. The management didn't like Hornsby. The players didn't like Hornsby, and so it was a tumultuous time. In fact, the Chicago Tribune read, the Chicago Tribune said about the 1932 Cubs, quote, Never before was a team be set with more irritating experiences apart from the playing of baseball.
Plus, in 1932, at the beginning of the season, I did not know this until I started working on it. The sports fighters didn't think the Cubs had much of a chance. Even Beck didn't think they had much pitching Besides good old Charlie Root, who was the mainstay of the Cubs and Pat Malone. But they had Lon Warnecky, who had been a rookie in 1931. But he had 238 Era in 1932. And Beck wondered about the outfield as the mighty Hack Wilson had been traded. But Johnny Moore stepped up and he had 308 that year.
Things were kind of all coming together a little bit after the disastrous 29, and they didn't do too well in 1930 or 31, either. I think in 1931, they were in third place.
[00:07:22.210] - Benjamin
Let me ask you this because I was really struck by your depiction of the management staff and really the portrait of Roger Hornsby in particular. how common was it to have a simultaneous player manager in those days that struck me as something that you don't see a lot of nowadays, do you?
[00:07:58.420] - Jack
No, you don't. And Charlie Grim was a player manager as well. So I think it was kind of common getting off the top of my head. I don't know too many other ones. I can't name any other ones, but I do know that it was a common occurrence, and no one thought much about it. And I went through the Chicago papers page by page by page looking at things, and no one ever expressed any amazement that the player manager that the manager was also a player for the team.
And I thought it was unusual, too, at the time.
[00:08:32.280] - Benjamin
Yeah. Because Hornsby right around the time that Billy Jergis is coming into the franchise and so forth. I mean, Hornsby, he's strict, he's severe, he's a power hitter, and he's very precise. But he's also demanding a lot of his fellow squad mates that you think. Well, there's a lot of power invested in one person here. How's that working out?
[00:08:53.220] - Jack
Yeah, that's exactly right. And I remember Billy Herman, the second baseman who later became a hall of Famer. He was a hall of Famer because he was so good at second base. He said that something like Rogers Hornsby was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, right handed pitcher in the history of baseball, but he never taught hitting with us. He just expected us to go out there and do it. And that was Hornsby's problem right there. And you mentioned the player manager, Charlie Grimm was the first baseman.
He was a player manager. Then he got fired. And Gabby Hartnot, the great Gabby Hartnot, another hall of Famer. He was a catcher for the Cubs, and he was a player manager for the Cubs as well.
[00:09:37.830] - Benjamin
It sounds like I'm not sure that I would want to be in that position. You know what I mean?
[00:09:43.220] - Jack
No, I don't think I would have to like it as well.
[00:09:48.230] - Benjamin
Yeah. So, Jack, you stumbled on this mystery of how a woman came to shoot a man in a hotel room, and we want to get into that mystery. But before we arrive at act three of this drama Act Three, right. Would you introduce for us the main characters of this particular stage play? Here we have Billy Jergas. Yes.
[00:10:21.050] - Jack
Okay. Billy Jargose was probably the star shortstop at the time, and he was £175 5ft eleven and a half inches tall. He was 24 years old in 1932. He's from Brooklyn, New York. He played in the minor leagues, and he started with the Cubs in let's see, 1930. I think it was. And he did really well in the minor leagues. He played in Redding, Pennsylvania, and then he was called up in 1931. I think it was and Rogers Hornsby really like Billy Joergens right from the beginning, you could see what he played to win.
He's a real hard nose player. He played to win and soon became their regular shortstop. And the other person on our list of characters is Violet Popovic, who was a former showgirl. And she was born. Billy was 24 years old and Billy was 24 and Ballot was 21 years old, dark haired, attractive, outgoing. In fact, she was rather statuesque. At about 5ft nine inches tall. She met Billy at a party in the summer of 1931, and again, she was born in 1911. She was 21 years old at the time of this dramatic incident.
[00:12:23.290] - Benjamin
Well, I want to come to her in just a second. But let's back up on Billy for one moment because he does really have an interesting kind of backstory. Billy was one of these guys who he played Sandlot ball right in New York in the teens and 20s. And when he gets picked up, it's really that his talent gets spotted kind of out of the blue, isn't it? He's just that good.
[00:12:46.840] - Jack
He was just that good. He was playing Sandlot ball in Queens, New York, and the umpire knew someone who played for the New York Giants. I think his name was Billy Gilbert, and he was a scout for the Newark, New Jersey Bears. And Jurgen signed a contract with the Bears. He played for the New England leagues, Manchester, New Hampshire, Blue socks to get some experience. And he did really well. In 1928, he was chosen the most valuable player, and Chicago bought him soon after that, I think in 1928 and Chicago said Billy to play for the club's, a team in the International League, the Redding, Pennsylvania, Keystones.
And in 1931 he worked out with the Cubs during spring training. And his first game was in 1931. And he did really well and Rogers Hornsby. He noticed how well he did, and he soon played for the team. Shortstop Woody English fractured his right index finger in March 1932, and that gave Billy his start at shortstop.
[00:13:59.110] - Benjamin
It's kind of remarkable, because when you think about how professionalized ball is today, right. These kinds of stories of a scrappy kid from the Bronx, from Brooklyn, from Queens, just kind of getting picked up out of the blue. We just don't hear quite as much of that anymore, do we?
[00:14:15.680] - Jack
No, we don't. And the papers made a great deal of this. I went through the papers in New York, and Billy was from Brooklyn. I went to the Brooklyn Eagle that was available online, and I came across all sorts of articles. It really painted this as a whole good luck story. Local Boy Makes Good had quite a few articles about that.
[00:14:46.140] - Benjamin
Now describe for us again, we're sort of traveling back in time a little bit, but describe for us what was the culture of interaction with baseball players at this time? It seems from the portrait in your book that players and fans and managers and kind of groupies and hangers on. They had a lot more engagement and sort of rubbing shoulders than we would ever see in this day and age.
[00:15:16.150] - Jack
That's exactly right. Because at this time, in fact, quite a few of the Cubs players were all staying in the same residential hotel called the Hotel Carlos, just a couple of blocks north of Wrigley Field on Sheffield Avenue. At least three or four were staying there, including Jurgen and Kaikai Kyler. And some of the groupies stayed there, too. Again. Botat Papovich. She stayed there. She lived in Chicago, and her mother had a house in Chicago. And of course, Botett stayed there, too. But when a lot of times she would stay in this residential hotel.
Billy was in room 509, and I think Ballet was in room 111. And so they got to see one another quite a bit. And there was a lot of dating of women. I know Kikai Kyler was married at the time, but Billy, I read an interview with Billy, and Billy said that he was something of a lady's man himself. And Al Lopez, who later became manager of the White Chicago White Sox. He went out with a lot of people. In fact, I think he might have married one of the fans.
I know one famous player, and now I can't recall her name, but he might have been she might have been the one married somebody. And Leo De Rosher. Oh, my gosh. She was a big womanizer at the time. He went out with quite a few people. I didn't mean too much about the managers and everything but managers hanging out with fans.
[00:16:52.810] - Benjamin
But I know the players certainly did and that abundance of opportunity is really what brought Billy and Violet together, isn't it?
[00:17:03.280] - Jack
That's exactly right. I think I have a quotation in the book that Vanessa says something. During the interview, she said I met Billy at a party in 1031, and if it wasn't, he was a boy and 100,000 for me. I met him at a party in 1931, and if it wasn't love at first sight, it was just about second.
[00:17:24.470] - Benjamin
Great. That's great. Now it does bear mentioning, because this is part of the scene in Room 509, which you'll describe for us shortly. But it does bear mentioning that Violet's reputation was one of them. It's too much to say ill repute. I mean, I'm not going to say that, but she was involved with enough players or had been involved with enough players by that time. That amongst the player base who were mingling and going to these parties and sort of having fun and they're off hours and so forth.
One or two of them were known to say, steer clear of this woman. She's trouble.
[00:18:12.230] - Jack
That's exactly right. Alpes was one of them. He was played for the Brooklyn Dodger, I believe at that time Kaikai Kyler was another one. And that's what in fact, even led to the big confrontation, because as Bollock wrote in a letter, she said gossip began to cast aspersions on my character, and she denied it all the time. But I got the impression. And I read an interview with Billy about 50 years later, and he said that she was seeing a lot of people and I don't think she was a real groupie and the fact that she was going around throwing herself at people.
But she did see a lot of people. She did see a lot of men dated a lot of men. She went out with a lot of men and she enjoyed partying, and she enjoyed socializing. But really, I do think that what ballot really wanted. But given her home life and the Cubs historian told me this the same thing told me the same thing that all she wanted was a nice, stable relationship and getting married and have a white picket fence and two kids and everything else.
That was really her goal. But she did like baseball players. And I think she would prefer to marry a baseball player than anybody else.
[00:19:39.390] - Benjamin
Right. And that's why I would like to cast a little aspersion on the aspersion casting.
[00:19:49.700] - Jack
That's exactly right.
[00:19:50.980] - Benjamin
Of the guys at that time who might have been looking at her with a little bit of what we call side eye today. You don't know somebody's motivations. And maybe she was just looking for a partner and trying to find someone that she could click with. And she found it in Billy or so she thought that's exactly right.
[00:20:08.800] - Jack
And that's a good way of putting that I would say the same thing. And there's a picture I have in the book of her sitting in a doorway with a smile on her face. It's probably one of my favorite photographs in the whole book. She has her legs tucked up underneath her, and she's smiling at the camera, and she looks so sweet and innocent. And I think she really was a good person at heart. She just kind of let things happen.
[00:20:39.550] - Benjamin
She did. And she also had a pretty itchy trigger finger.
[00:20:42.330] - Jack
Oh, yeah. Here she is, sitting on a porch with a smile on her face. And who knew a few years later she'd be packing heat and going up to Billy's room with a gun in her purse.
[00:20:54.130] - Benjamin
So tell us what happened.
[00:20:55.800] - Jack
All right. Okay. Now we're in the summer of 1932, and the Cubs were in the middle of this really tight pennant race, and in early July, there were just a few games out of first place. At that time, Billy was dating bottle and they were having a good time, and they were doing things and everything. But they had an argument when they were in New York, and he really wanted to spend more time. One, he wanted to spend more time on baseball. And two, I think he just wanted to get away from bottom for a little bit as well.
And he broke off the relationship when they were in New York and telling her he had to concentrate on baseball and this was a break up. She didn't take particularly well. As I said, some of the players were staying at the Hotel Carlos, which was just a couple of blocks north of Bridleyfield on Sheffield and at about 945 in the morning of July 6, the Cubs, I think, were three games out of first place, and Billy was getting ready for a game with the Philadelphia Phillies.
When Bonnet called him from her room 111 and said she wanted to see him. And he told her to come on up in about 1015. She knocked on his door room 509. They talked and they resumed arguing. I could tell from the newspaper articles at the time that Billy was kind of almost indifferent. Come on in. What do you want to talk about? And she wanted to talk about their relationship. And he had a really, I really don't care attitude about him. So they started arguing and she asked him for a glass of water.
And while he went to get the glass of water, she pulled a gun out of her purse and pointed at him. And as the New York Times said, quote, Lunch, he made a wild lunch for the gun. And as they say in the movies, three shots rang out and wounded them both. But not seriously.
[00:22:56.590] - Benjamin
The gun was fired.
[00:22:58.810] - Jack
Yeah, exactly right. And one bullet struck him on the right side, and I ricocheted off a rib and came out his right shoulder. That probably saved his life. The doctor said that saved his life. Otherwise it would have gone into a kidney or something. Another one grazed the little finger of his left hand, and the third bullet hit Bob's left hand at about the base of her thumb and went up about six inches upper arm, about six inches long. A couple of ball players heard the shots.
They came in and the hotel doctor came in, too. Billy yelled at one of them, get the gun there. Don't let her get it. He was slumped over a chair. One of them took the gun through it to one side. Ballot was on the floor. She threw herself on top of Billy, saying, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. He threw her off off of him. So it was just sheer chaos in the room, and both of them were taken to the nearby Illinois Masonic Hospital.
[00:24:00.610] - Benjamin
How much danger was Billy in from, say, blood loss? Was he actually in pretty bad shape, or was it more of a kind of grazing wound?
[00:24:10.420] - Jack
It was kind of grazing rooms now, Billy said later on in a 1988 interview that one doctor said told him, You're pretty done for you've, lost too much blood. But I did not find any contemporary accounts. The mind can play tricks on you 50 years later because Dr. Davis, the main doctor, said right from the very beginning that he was in pretty good shape, even for being wounded. Twice again, he was taken to the online Masonic Hospital. There's a picture in the newspaper the next day of Billy smiling, waving at the cameraman.
He was in that good a shape.
[00:24:49.030] - Benjamin
The fish gets a little bigger every time I tell the story of catching it.
[00:24:52.880] - Jack
That's exactly right. And I got that impression from reading Billy's later interview. Wait a minute here. I'm not sure if that's really true.
[00:25:02.170] - Benjamin
Now, Jack, What makes this story so interesting is that you have given us what are really generally agreed to be the documentable facts of what happened in that room on that hour on that day. Okay, but the debate starts to enter in. Once you begin to assemble some of the evidence that says Violet had in her room and some of the confessions about her motivation, which began to muddy the waters.
[00:25:39.820] - Jack
Yes, they should do muddy the waters. Okay, so immediately after the shooting, the police go into Battle's room. They find a couple of liquor bottles, and they found a note addressed to her brother.
[00:25:52.550] - Benjamin
It's a Prohibition, isn't it? A couple of liquor bottles in 1932 is itself.
[00:26:03.590] - Jack
I hadn't even thought about that. But you're exactly right. And in fact, she said that the shooting was the result of, quote, too much gin. But she left a note and she said, quote to me, life without Billy isn't worth living. But why should I leave this Earth alone? And I'm going to take Billy with me. So right off the bat, you know what her motive is right here. But later the next day in the newspapers and all this comes out on the newspaper. In fact, this is big news all across the country.
Ap picked it up again. I went through all of the Chicago newspapers page by page, every single Chicago newspaper I went through page by page because not all of these. Very few of them were available online. And there are big headlines. Billy, Georgia shop by former show girl or something like this. And so it was a big news. And she said that the note was the result of too much Jin and that she only wanted to kill herself to show Billy just how much she loved him and to make him sorry for breaking up with her.
Back in one interview, she said that when Billy was out of the room getting her a glass of water, quote, I pulled out my revolver intending to kill myself. Bill saw me and grabbed the gun. We fought for it. We really fought for it. The gun kept exploding. I didn't want to hurt him.
[00:27:29.510] - Benjamin
I love that passage. That one phrase actually stood out for me.
[00:27:33.490] - Jack
[00:27:34.260] - Benjamin
The gun just kept exploding. I didn't have anything to do, right?
[00:27:40.130] - Jack
Yeah. But funny, you said that because I found that buried in the Chicago Daily News, which was one of those papers I went through page by page, and I found that I saw at the last minute. Wow. What a great line. I've got to use that. So I almost rewrote that whole page and I'm trying to make sure I use that one line there.
[00:27:56.760] - Benjamin
Yeah. Growing up in Mississippi, of course, it's somewhat of a culture of firearms. And in my experience, ever handling pistols or shotguns or rifles, they really do just fire themselves. Any input for us? Any input from us?
[00:28:08.620] - Jack
[00:28:09.720] - Benjamin
Now, it is kind of interesting because her motivation here, it sounds like a corollary of the principle of if I can't have you, nobody can.
[00:28:24.560] - Jack
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. That's exactly what it was. And again, she wanted to make Billy sorry. And she was upset that he was seeing other people. So if you're not going to hang out with me, then I'm going to make you suffer for it. And I said, I'm going to take you with me.
[00:29:18.650] - Benjamin
You've got this great passage. You say that in her hospital room, this would never happen today. The photographers are sort of pushing and bursting in talk about chaos in the hotel room. You got chaos in the hospital, too.
[00:29:32.050] - Jack
I have a photograph. I didn't put it in the book because I thought it was more than intrusive. But I do have a photograph, an original wire photograph, a Violet with her arm and bandage covering her face with her bandaged arm as flashbulbs burst all over the place. And the caption of the and I have the original article in which that appears. And it says something like voddea's camera shy. And then the next line said something like Billy, whom she plugged was in the next room.
[00:30:05.790] - Benjamin
Fantastic. You're loving so much. You had to put a couple of slugs on your hand.
[00:30:10.130] - Jack
Yeah. And of course, the papers nowadays we say this went viral, but this is front page news. She was, quote, the dark haired former chorus girl, the pretty gun toter the 21 year old cumly brunette. And my favorite is the Raven trust beauty.
[00:30:30.870] - Benjamin
Edgar Allen Poe would be so proud. So now there's a plot twist here, though, isn't there? Because if that's act three and the high point has reached this scene of chaos, destruction and surreal. Hilarity, the plot twist in act four is that at the trial, Billy won't press charges.
[00:30:55.770] - Jack
Oh, yeah. Okay. And the judge in this case was a guy named Judge John Subbarboro, and he was a big time Cubs fan. And he was a judge. But he also ran a mortuary that was favored by Chicago's gangsters.
[00:31:15.810] - Benjamin
[00:31:17.310] - Jack
And he ran this mortuary. And he kept bootleg liquor in his garage, too. And Jonathan, Iger wrote a biography of Al Capone. I know he mentioned in his book that the judge, he bluntly says the judge was on the take. And he says when he wasn't putting the mobsters in jail, he was putting them in coffins. And he asked Billy beforehand. And this is an interview I saw and I read in. I'm not sure if this is true or not. But the contemporary newspapers all said that the judge was a Cubs fan, and he wanted all this to go away.
But Billy's 1988 interview said that the judge asked him, hey, Billy, what do you want me to do here? And Billy says, quote, Just forget it, which does happen. Billy refused to suppress charges. Billy wouldn't say anything at the arraignment. And then the judge says, quote, Let it be recorded that this case is dismissed for one of prosecution. And let's hope no more ball players get shot. That was on July 15. So the shooting was on July 6. And on July 15, Billy is up and at them and ready to get going.
[00:32:32.330] - Benjamin
I mean, that's remarkable.
[00:32:44.410] - Jack
After the shooting. Billy, I don't think Billy well had anything to do with her, but I do have in the book, I found this buried in a footnote someplace in a Cubs history. That a few months later, Billy and Woody English and a couple of other guys, they were out bowling, and they saw Violet in the bowling alley. And Woody English says we ran out of there like a bullet. Nobody wanted her to see us.
[00:33:10.510] - Benjamin
Yeah. Let me ask you, because I was curious, just from a kind of a legal perspective. As I was reading your account, if Billy refused to press charges, were there other charges that the state of Illinois would have wanted to bring against the violent independently of him? I just couldn't help but think the discharging of firearms in a public place. Right?
[00:33:36.830] - Jack
Right. Yeah. Or even the fact that the liquor bottles and everything. I thought about that and I looked into it, but I really couldn't find any definitive answers. And one person knew Violet's defense team, and he told me that these are really high priced attorneys and who paid for all this. And I looked and looked, but I couldn't find anything. I know her bail bond was paid by her Church or someone in the Church, but I don't know who paid for the defense team. Maybe they did a pro Bono because this was just a high profile case, and it certainly didn't do their reputations.
It didn't hurt their reputations at all. And, of course, the newspapers had a field day when they saw bodies come in, wear these gorgeous clothes, and the courtroom was packed. But you would think, though, discharging a firearm carrying a firearm. And the papers even reported that Violet and her mysterious girlfriend, which I think was her step sister. They were target shooting in the back of the hotel, and people said that they heard her say, I'm going to get Billy. I'm going to get Kaikai Kyler, too.
[00:34:45.430] - Jack
And Billy was warned that Violet was out to get him. Well.
[00:34:50.340] - Benjamin
And when you're hopped up on a couple of bottles of gin, yeah. Anything, won't you?
[00:34:53.880] - Jack
That's exactly right.
[00:34:56.050] - Benjamin
I can only imagine what kind of gin they were brewing in. I don't imagine that it was the quintuple distilled. Good Dutch stuff.
[00:35:04.710] - Jack
Good Dutch stuff. Right. And, of course, throughout this whole time. Remember that. I sum this all up later. In the end, the Violet said the gun went. The gun kept exploding. I didn't want to kill him. This is all a mistake and everything else I just wanted to make Billy sorry for breaking up with me. Yeah, right.
[00:35:26.410] - Benjamin
Well, let me ask you this, Jack. There's a passage I would actually like for you to read to us.So let me preface this by saying one of the things that I found so compelling about your narrative we can laugh and have fun with the notion that this sort of lover spat turned a little violent. But everybody kind of got patched up, and it was okay. In the end, we can have fun with that. But your argument in the book is actually that there were a series of little moments, almost kind of like the butterfly effect that ripples spreading outward in a pond that dramatically affected the fortunes of the Chicago Cubs in that year.
And they all related to one another. They all connected, didn't they?
[00:36:39.090] - Jack
Right. They all connected here.
Would you read for us?
[00:36:54.310] - Jack
The Cubs 1932 baseball season was a succession of adverse circumstances. But an observer could say it was also a year of multiple. What ifs what if Billy Jurgen had not been shot? What if Mark Kennedy had been awarded a full share of the World Series bonus money? What if the Cubs and the Yankees have not exchanged so many heated insults prior to Bay Booth stepping up to the plate in Game three when Bob pulled the trigger in the hotel, Carlos, who bullets not only struck Jurgis but also had a domino effect on the Cubs.
Mark Kennedy, the 1932 pennant race, the division of the World Series money, and Bay Booth called shot with Billy's recovery uncertain, the Cubs have brought in another shortstop. And as Ed Hartig contends, he was a Cubs historian. He is a Cubs historian. The shooting of Jurgen opened the door for Kennedy to become a Cub and a baseball legend.
[00:37:49.290] - Benjamin
Jack, let me ask you, what did it feel like when you saw all these threads coming together in that one moment?
[00:37:57.460] - Jack
Was it just marvelous and all the pieces started coming together in my head, too? Plus all these adverse circumstances, too, and Violet and wanting to get married and then becoming a Showgirl and then shooting Billy and then the judge working in a mortuary and helping gangsters. And then, of course, she had her love letters stolen by her bail bondsman. And she performs in her bolest show as a singer with her Bear Cub girls, you can't make all this stuff up and everything. Her career just goes on and on and on.
And finally she leaves Chicago, moves to La. But all this because of the shooting because with Billy out of the lot with Roger Horns be gone because he got let go by way and back. And then Billy's future is uncertain. The Cubs brought in somebody else to play shortstop Mark Kennedy and Mark really helped the Cubs win the pennant. But he was a former Yankee. And when it came time to divide the World Series bonus money, the Cubs only award him a half share of the World Series bonus money.
The Yankees call the Cubs cheap skates that gets in the newspaper that fires up the Cubs, in fact, one of the most famous sports writers of all that time, Shirley Povich, who, by the way was the father of the talk show host, Morri Povich. He says that the Cub Stinginess fired the Yankees to new heights. So what would have happened if they hadn't been so stingy with the World Series money? The Yankees might have gone into the World Series rather cockshire and confident, but not really out for blood the way they went into now they said all these dominoes kept on falling here.
[00:39:53.390] - Benjamin
It really is remarkable. And I was almost set up sort of both upright in my chairs. I was reading this. I thought, how is it possible that all these things converge in this one way, but yet they do.
[00:40:03.580] - Jack
[00:40:05.270] - Benjamin
Jack, let's talk about aftermaths.
[00:40:19.200] - Jack
[00:40:20.750] - Benjamin
That season after the shooting, Billy recovers a little more slowly maybe than he would have liked. He was getting a little stir crazy watching his teammates play, and he's sitting in the chair sitting in the bleachers. But he recovers. And then we reached this incredible moment of Babe Ruth standing on the mound staring down Charlie Root. And for those listeners out there who may not be familiar with possibly the most famous pitch in baseball history, right?
[00:40:51.980] - Jack
[00:40:52.760] - Benjamin
Yes. For the basketball fans out there, for the football fans out there, would you just describe very briefly what happened with the cold shot?
[00:41:00.790] - Jack
Okay. Billy was shot on July 6. The arrayment was on July 15, and he rejoined the team on July 22. And after the loss of Pittsburgh, they found themselves three and a half games behind the Pirates, and everybody was under a lot of stress. And all these comments within the Cubs organization centered on the obvious bad blood, the animosity, the dissension between the club's President, William Beck and Rogers Hornsby. He was thoroughly disagreeable and hard to get along with, and Beck believed the team was easily good enough to win the National League Penant.
And he was really getting sick and tired of Hornsby's constant complaining about the team and how they weren't any good and how they couldn't do anything with them. And the players had, of course, as I said before, little use for Hornsby. So the Cubs lost to the Brooklyn Dodgers on August 2 that put the Cubs five games behind the first place Pirates. And that evening Beck fired Hornsby and appointed as manager Charlie Grimm. Beck was very concerned about Billy's recovery right after the shooting. And then with Hornsby out of the way, they needed somebody else to be in the infield.
So they brought in Mark Kennedy to help out who used to play with the Yankees. And he definitely helped the Cubs clinch the National League pennant on September 20. But each team would get a share of the World Series gate receipts. But the players got to vote on how much each person got and two Cubs players who were Billy Jurges and Billy Herman. They were the two players who voted not to give Kennedy a full share. He played in just the last part of the season.
He played in 33 games. Billy Jurgen played in 115 games, but at the same time, I think Mark Kennedy batted. 353 and he definitely helped the Cubs win the pennant. Ok. So now during the World Series, the Cubs were down two games to none in the World Series when Game three was played in Chicago. And all these insults have been flying back and forth between the teams. It was really pretty bad. It was called bench jockeying was the expression they used. The Chicago crowd was screaming encouragement at the clubs.
They were screaming abuse at the Yankees, and the fifth inning with the score was tied four to four. Ruth was at the plate facing the pitcher, Charlie Root. It was a real hard nose pitcher, and the count was at two balls and two strikes and Bey Ruth raised two fingers of his right hand. Okay, now what was he doing? Was he signaling that was only two strikes? Did he rather contemptuously to the Cubs in the third base dugout? Did he just have your contemptuously to pitcher Charlie Route as well?
He should have, or did he point to center field as if he was going to signal that he was going to hit a home run? That is, as they say. Did he call his shot? And that's exactly what happened. He hit a home run and he's rounding the bases and FDR is in the stands and he's applauding Babe Ruth, and Babe Ruth is saying to himself, you lucky dog, you lucky, lucky dog. He rounded the bases and no one knows that. Luke Garrick was up next and he had a home run too.
But no one really knows anything about that because they were so excited about Bay Booth hitting that homerun. And of course, the Yankees went on to win that game. And in fact, they swept the Cubs in the World Series. No, six games to nothing, just as Babe with it hoped they would.
[00:44:35.210] - Benjamin
You have a great account of Charlie Root and the years long hangover that he had from Bay Bruce hitting that dinner and folks giving him grief about it. There's just this one moment I have to pick up on it's in your book, where you say that? For example, during spring training, one year, as Root was pitching towards batting practice, young player defiantly raised his bat towards center field. Root knocked him flat on the ground with his first pitch and proceeded to keep him there as he threw ball after ball at him.
Okay, he didn't point. The player finally shouted.
[00:45:16.430] - Jack
But my favorite one, though, is we're playing with a ball. Charlie Root's family is having a. Family picnic. Excuse me. And they're playing a game of whiffleball. And of course, Charlie Roots pitching, and Charlie Root, Roots Junior's wife, is at bat and she takes a whiffleball bat and points at the center field. And Charlie Root immediately unleashes a Whiffle ball and hits her in the neck and knocks it to the ground.
[00:45:49.630] - Benjamin
He had a hard time getting over that.
[00:45:51.630] - Jack
But he was such a hard nose guy. There's one quote I might have in my book that says, Anybody who knows me. He said he didn't point. Anybody who knows me knows that. I would have knocked him on his tail if he had shown me up by point of the center field. But later I thought thinking, Well, no, Lou Gehrig was up going to be up next when you really put Beirut on base knowing that guy like Lou Gehrig was up. So maybe that's just saying that afterwards.
[00:47:04.130] - Benjamin
Billy had a good few years after the 32 season and after he recovered from the shooting despite carrying a bullet around between his ribs. Sure, the rest of his life.
[00:47:17.340] - Jack
Yeah. Right. Because he did. In fact, I mentioned that a couple of weeks after the shooting, he was complaining of stomach pains. We had to go back in the hospital again, and they did find a bullet. They didn't know whether he was shot a third time or whether that bullet had been there all along. And they just didn't find it before and everything. But yeah, he was pretty well banged up, and then he later got in some. He screwed up his leg. I think one time sliding and might have been 1935, but he was very much of a play to win player.
I think it was traded 1938 and Phil Cavaretta, their scrappy first baseman, who was probably the Mr. Cub before Ernie Banks came along. Now he said White trade Billy Jorge and everything. He was just kind of the glue that held the whole team together. But he was traded in 1938. Yeah.
[00:48:39.460] - Jack
Yes. Which was kind of a disaster. And I think part of it was that he was just so demanding. And I read the contemporary newspaper articles at that time, and I think the press really gave him a bad deal. And Ted Williams was playing on the Boston Red Sox back then, and he and Ted Williams got along great because they were both hustling. But I saw an article in Sports illustrator and the Red Sox at that time didn't really hustle. I can't remember the name of their previous manager, but he was just kind of let everybody go their own way.
And it didn't really do too good of a job. And they fired him to make way for Billy. And Billy expected a lot of him. And in fact, Billy's managing style took precedence or overshadowed the fact that the Boston Red Sox brought in Pumpsy Green, an African American player, to play in the infield. And the Boston press really didn't make that much of a big deal about that because they are too busy focusing on how awful the team was. But Billy jumped all over Pumpsy Green because for missing out on double plays.
So a good infielder makes the double players because Billy was really good about making the double players. Finally, they kind of got things together in 1960 and all, but it was just too little, too late. He had a manager, a record of 59. 63 winning percentage of just 44. He was fired again, fired in 1960. So he played for part of 1959, part of 1960. It was a disastrous career. I've talked to Red Sox fans and they really fought Billy from reading the newspaper articles at the time.
He quit baseball largely because of the fear of flying. I think he didn't like to fly. And so he retired in early 1962 and outfielder. But he became a marvelous Scout, a baseball Scout, an instructor. Harmon Keller, Brew Hall of Famer. He owed his career Billy Jurgen, because all these teams brought in Billy Jurges to help their players in spring training. Eddie Matthews is another one. And so Billy did a great job helping struggling players learn the basics. And a lot of them really came right out and said that they owe their careers to Billy.
So he is a great instructor, wonderful baseball Scout.
[00:51:55.630] - Benjamin
I mean, that's a pretty good cod for him, even despite some Rocky years in the middle. But what was the end of Violet story?
[00:52:03.420] - Jack
Okay, after the shooting, after the shooting, Boda told reporters she was just going to go home and take things easy and not really do too much. But on the day that newspapers reported on Billy's return to the baseball field, which was on July 23, returned to the stage. Billy didn't sign any complaint, but Violet wasted no time in signing a contract to perform as a singer in an act at a Boles club called the Bear Cub Follies. She was a singer, but management did its part to attract an audience by booking some Bear Cub girls.
And I mean the Bare Club, not the Bear Club,
no points for the point where she folded. After a few weeks, her nephew said that his aunt quote like to sing. That is, she tried to sing. I talked about Serendipity. And again, as I told you before, I went through all the Chicago newspapers trying to find some things. And then one of them was the Chicago Herald examiner, and I came across a marvelous ad for her bullet show, and I reprinted it from the Chicago Heralding examiner, and none of these papers were available online or anything like that.
But I reprinted it in my book, and it mentions the Bear Cub Girls and the Bear Cub Follies and everything. And I also want to come across what exactly went on at that particular time in the show. In fact, the ads on page 46 in my book from the Chicago Herald and examiner. But I wanted to find out exactly what happened in the show. And by going through this car Daily News, I came across a whole review of her show with not only her singing act, but ordinary.
Yeah, but also what the Bear Cup Girls did. And the degree of nudity depended upon the applause each girl got.. And after that kind of started dating other people. She dated a guy named Fred Williams and took a marriage license out to get married. But they never didn't get married. She moved to Los Angeles in 1940 with her mother. She always considered herself a professional singer. She had photographs taken of herself to try to get back on the stage. I had some of these reproduced in my book. She was a city person in 1947, she got married to a guy named Charlie Rhett's.
Laugh, who was a prize fighter from Duluth, Minnesota, that was probably doomed from the start. He was known as the Duluth Dynamite. He was a very good fighter until he met a young boxer named Joe Lewis in promptly knocked him out in the first round. He got married. He was Minnesota, a small Ranch in Minnesota. Charlie Red Snap was he wanted her to stay on this Ranch, she said, forget this. She stayed a couple of months or so and then moved back to Los Angeles. She stayed married to him and never did get divorced.
In fact, one of the funniest parts I think I mentioned in my book is that I think it was in Charlie and Bollett are having dinner with Bollett's family. And one of the family members is Mark Prescott, who bought his nephew, whom I interviewed extensively for this book. And he gave me quite a few photographs of Violet in the family. And she brightly tells everybody that she and Charlie Sunbathe knew that afternoon. Mark says Charlie got embarrassed. My father was furious and the words went flying, and by it still, she was not a social butter social outcast.
And I interviewed both Violet's nephews. And they said that ballet had lots of male friends. She enjoyed baseball. She liked movies. She likes socializing with people. And one time she was in a club near her place of business, which was a film studio near her, near where she worked for a film studio in the color Department. And there was a club nearby. And John Wayne, the actor John Wayne, tried to what he did pick her up. And of course, John Wayne did not exactly take his marriage vows too seriously.
And he took her home and was hoping to go inside with her. But Valley's mother was waiting up for her, and he kind of dashed those plans.
[00:57:44.090] - Benjamin
[00:57:45.170] - Jack
[00:57:47.390] - Benjamin
I don't imagine John Lane was rebuffed on many pages or much of anything.
[00:57:51.260] - Jack
Right. Exactly. Right. Yes. I've read a biography of him, and it mentioned that quite a few times he liked to go out.
[00:58:01.490] - Benjamin
You said several times that you went through newspapers in Chicago and Brooklyn and other cities page by page and for your research process. You described early on in the book that you looked at newspapers, magazines, memoirs, court records, biographies, other sort of materials that you found at different places. What was the most valuable set of material that you found as you were researching and writing this book?
[00:58:37.930] - Jack
Well, I found these court records, but I did not find them. I had a professional genealogist in Chicago, and she knew people in an office of Public Records in Chicago. It was very hard to get these records, but she knew people, and it was just the best thing I ever did because she was very thorough. And all the case files related to Violet's father's divorce from his wife. And I found out that when Violet was ten days old, her father began beating his wife Ballet's mother, giving her, as she says, black and blue marks all over her body.
And they got divorced in 19, 28 year old, I think she thought it was eight years old. She had to testify on the stands during her own parents divorce. Of course, it had to affect her, which made me think this is why Violet wanted to get married so badly because of her awful home life. And it was valuable in this respect. I could not agree with what she did, but I could understand why she just kept on wanting to get married. She wanted to have a social life.
She was just an unhappy person. She went on the stage in 1931. I think it was to maybe 1930. She took dancing lessons. She went on the stage just because she saw the glamor of the stage. And later she met Billy. And she said, Well, I had a crummy life early on, but maybe I can have a real good life later. That probably was the most fortunate piece of material that I had. And also the interviews I came across with Bobless nephews and also the marvelous photographs, because, as you know, the photographs, I have 50 photographs in there, and they're just marvelous photographs of Violet and the hotel and other places.
So the court records, the photographs, the interviews and even just going through the newspapers enabled me to find so many things, like the interviews with the comments with the baseball players who found Billy on the floor. I just had to come across all this and it's very difficult because, as you know, we've jumped around an awful lot. There are all these simultaneous stories going on at the same time. So it's kind of tricky to weave them into one long narrative.
[01:01:19.950] - Benjamin
Well, and for folks who may not have done sort of primary archival research, sort of the old sitting in the chair until your lower back just can't take it anymore. Kind of research, that's work, that is hard work. But it's also the only way that you find some of these things.
[01:01:38.590] - Jack
The only way my colleagues would make fun of me in a nice way. I mean, because I was a librarian for all this time. And I'd get all these stacks of microphones. And I did this on my own time. By the way, this is all outside of library hours. And when we were closed over Christmas break, I would have all these bills and microfilm. I'd have a radio there, and I would have my bedroom slippers out there all packed up and people would come in over break to water the plants and they'd see me camped out, got food over there, Jackie.
It's like your second home is right here right now. I said, Well, I got to take advantage of the library closed. I got all these bills of microphone to go through, and they'd make sure my colleagues would make sure, hey, Jack's going to be here over Christmas. You got to make sure the microphone printers are working. So it was like a whole family affair, so to speak. They all worked hard to make sure that I would be successful in my research.
[01:02:30.570] - Benjamin
Well, and again, we were speaking in our last interview series with Jesse Sublett, who wrote a book about organized crime in Austin in the 60s. And we were talking about how the metaphor of being a Bloodhound on a scent, being sort of chasing that scent down a trail is really apt. You have to find what you're looking for because you know it's there.
[01:02:53.340] - Jack
That's exactly right. And I thought that way with the review about the show, I said, I've got to find out. I've got to find this. I'm going to go through everything. In fact, I even tried interviewing brilliant people. I sent emails to burlesque people. What was a burlesque show like in the 1930s? Because south of State Street, where the State Congress Theater was where Violet had her act that was well known for his broles shows. I read bullets, histories. I went through files of programs trying to find something about all this.
And finally I saw it reviewing the Chicago Daily News. I thought, oh, my God. Here it is, what I've been looking for. And I looked. And there are all these online sources, like newspapers, dot com and other things. But a lot of them, they cover a lot of Chicago newspaper. They don't cover every single year. And a lot of them, a lot of these sources didn't have 1932 for all the papers. So I had to do it the old fashioned way.
[01:03:53.370] - Benjamin
Well, and you say very entertainingly that some of the sources that you looked at were not necessarily reliable themselves. Mark Prescott violates own nephew. He didn't know that she'd shot Billy.
[01:04:07.420] - Jack
Yes. Mike Prescott didn't know that.
Mike Prescott right. Exactly. He did not even know that at the time I interviewed him. And he told me that. And he wrote me a letter, too, that he stayed with her for about a year, I think in the 19th, 69 or something like that. And that's when he told me that she liked movies. She liked baseball. She smiled all the time. And he told me that he knew that she stayed in an orphanage. In fact, after they got divorced, father did not pay child support, at least not pay all they supposed to.
And so the mother had to put the kids in an orphanage in Chicago. Well, as luck would have it, the orphanage records were in the Chicago History Museum, also called the Chicago Historical Society. And I found them there. And I got to know the people there, and they let me go through them. So I found all this great material about Violet and her brothers. He had three brothers. In fact, one of them told the report of the administrator there said that Ballet's father wanted to take one of the boys home, and the boy refused, telling the administrator that the orphanage was, quote, the only real home I've ever known, which was sad in itself.
But he said Mike Prescott said that he knew that she stayed there and she could have been sour all her life. But she was always upbeat. Her glass was always half full, so to speak. She didn't have much money or anything like that. But even when she was in the nursing home, she kind of regaled the staff and other people with tales of her eventful life.
[01:05:54.110] - Benjamin
You have spent years researching and writing this account and you have looked at material that nobody has ever seen and that no one would have ever seen had it not been for your efforts to dig it out of these forgotten places.
Are there any mysteries of the story that remain for you?
[01:06:42.990] - Jack
I would have liked to have seen and Billy's love letters. I go into the book about how her bail Bossman stole her love letters and she eventually got them back. But I would like to have seen those. Also, when Violet went to Billy's door, room 509 with the gun, the newspapers made a big deal about how her mysterious blonde companion, who was named Betty. And I make a guess, and I make a pretty good guess that this is probably her stepsister because I knew they were pretty close.
In fact, I have a picture of what I think is her stepsister in the book, and I would like to have had that verified. It wasn't really her stepsister and everything. And again, the papers called her The Mysterious Blonde Companion. I'd like to have to known more about that. Now, at the end of the book, I do say that Mark Prescott, the one who supplied the photographs. He told me that he heard Bada, tell his mother, quote that I was very angry and I wanted to kill him.
So there was no mystery about that. She went into that room intending to shoot him despite all her protests later on. But I'd like to know more about again, more about the love letters, know more about the stepsister and know more about the stepsisters later life. She and Violet. They both lived in La, but I really couldn't find much more about her family in La. I would have liked to find out how she met Charlie Red Slap, the Boxer. No one knew that. No one knew that.
None of the family members knew that. Thank you so much for joining us. And I have just one more question for you. When I was growing up, there were two things that I thought I would never see in my lifetime. One was an African American President, and the other was my beloved New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl.
[01:09:17.400] - Jack
[01:09:17.820] - Benjamin
And within a few years of one another, both of those things happen now for Chicago fans, for Chicago fans, there would be one more area to that particular list. And I just have to ask you, Jack, where were you in 2016, right?
[01:09:35.150] - Jack
Yeah. I was watching the game on television in my living room, and I swear to God, I just almost gave it up. And I really believe if it wasn't for that rain delay, I think the cows would have lost it. But for somehow the gods must have been smiling, because when that rain delay came and enamel the Cubs to get their act together, get all focused up. And I really thought it was all over. I thought it was all over. But then the rain came, and then they came back and I got to talk about heart.
In fact, when they finally wanted and I've watched that game a couple of times, I have the DVD of the one game and everything, and I watched it a couple of times, and I remember just sitting there and I didn't even move. People were standing up and cheering. I wasn't doing that at all. I was just kind in shock. Oh, my God, this finally happened. I was sitting in my armchair near right where I'm sitting right now and just staring at the television. So it was after midnight.
By the time all this has been going on. And I read later on when they had the big party, the big parade. That was the largest gathering of people in the history of the Western Hemisphere. I read someplace. You're kidding. Wow.
[01:10:58.930] - Benjamin
I mean, what are we talking like, 1 million. 2 million. 3 million. What was it?
[01:11:02.770] - Jack
I think it was over 5 million. I think I could have been wrong about that. But I have it written in my notes, but I can't remember offhand. I do have a picture of it, though. In fact, when I was at Mary Washington, the professor would like me to give, like, a little PowerPoint on the Cubs in my research. And so I end with this large gathering of people. And then I said, that was the 2016 World Series. And then I talk about the last time the Cosmo on the World Series in 19 and eight.
And I talk about the prey that wasn't held then, and it was like, kind of like a little wagon train assemblies, like four or five wagons. And it always gets a big laugh, meaning that not too much was going on back then.
[01:12:00.650] - Benjamin
It really is still surreal that it happened. And I remember just thinking, this can't be. This can't be. And then suddenly it is.
[01:12:07.780] - Jack
Yeah. I'm not sure if it was $5 million, but it was just huge. And that was a quotation. It was a fact I saw in Chicago paper that came up many times. How many people it was?
[01:12:23.010] - Benjamin
Well, Jack, your joy in both your beloved cuddies and telling a good story are very apparent to us. And so thank you for bringing that joy. And that great story to Crime Cap. So it's been a privilege.
[01:12:38.100] - Jack
Thank you very much for having me, too. I really enjoyed it. It was super.