The ability to play baseball well may cause a feeling of adoration in fans of the old ballgame. It may also evoke stronger feelings such as idolization and infatuation. This was the case with Billy Jurges and Violet Popovich. The Chicago Cubs shortstop and the aspiring showgirl found themselves ensnared in a love affair that would spiral out of control.
Wild Nights In the Big City
It was 1931, prohibition still hung on by a thread, and Jurges, like so many young baseball players, had plenty of money and enjoyed a trip or two to one of the clubs or speakeasies near Wrigley Field. It was at these establishments that ballplayers found themselves in close contact with fans. As a result of this contact adoring fans and willing ballplayers would occasionally form relationships of a more personal nature.
Billy Jurges began his Major League career with the Chicago Cubs in 1931. He split time between third, short, and second base, before becoming the Cubs regular shortstop in 1932. And while his numbers at the plate were average, his glove was unmatched. He led the National League in various defensive categories numerous times including Defensive Wins Above Replacement (1932, 1935) as well as Range Factor (1932, 1935) and Fielding Percentage (1932, 1935, 1937, 1939). It was with his defense that he became a three-time All-Star in 1937, 1939, and 1940.
Violet Popovich wanted to be a star. When she was a teenager she was befriended by an older woman who introduced her to showbusiness. In 1931, just as Jurges was making his mark as a Cub, Violet landed a role in a traveling revue called Vanities. This initial taste of the stage opened the door to Chicago’s social life. And Violet, who had taken the stage name Violet Valli, embraced the parties with open arms. She mingled with celebrities, which included baseball players. It was at one of these parties that Violet met Billy Jurges.
Unlucky In Love
Violet and Billy immediately hit it off and started dating, but over the next year, the relationship went south. Jurges wasn’t the first ballplayer that Popovich had dated and his teammates cautioned him about continuing to see her. His interest waned and he broke it off. Violet learned of Billy’s teammates meddling and wasn’t too pleased with them or with Jurges. She wanted revenge and knew how to get it.
The Cubs had been on a road trip in New York and were set to return the following day when Violet put her plan into action. Her first step was renting a room at the Hotel Carlos where many of the Cubs, including Jurges, lived when the team was in town. She moved into the room that day and included in her belongings was a .25 caliber pistol. Her intent was to talk to Billy about their relationship, hopefully, rekindle it, and go on their merry way. But, if Jurges was unwilling to continue the romance, Violet was planning to kill him and then herself. Popovich brooded in her room until the following morning when the Cubs returned to town.
July 6, 1932
Violet Popovich woke on the morning of July 6th with murder on her mind. She knew deep down that Jurges wasn’t interested anymore. In an attempt to dull the pain and her nerves, she started drinking gin. Then she penned a suicide note that she addressed to her brother. She left the letter in her hotel room, put the pistol in her purse, and walked down to the lobby. From the lobby, she phoned Jurges and asked if she could come to his room. He was willing to talk to her and told her to come up.
On the way to Jurges’ room, she took a detour. The brief aside was to Kiki Cuyler’s room. Cuyler was one of Jurges’ teammates who had warned him about Popovich. He wasn’t in his room, but she let herself in any way with a key she had managed to procure. She left him a note that said, simply, “I’m going to kill you.” Next up was Jurges.
She got to his room and knocked on the door. He opened it and let her in. They spoke briefly and Billy told her that it was over. She asked for a glass of water and when he returned with it, Violet had the gun to her head. Jurges didn’t waste any time and lunged for the weapon, trying desperately to wrestle it free. In the struggle, three shots were fired. All of them hit Jurges, but he still managed to get control of the gun. Popovich fled from the room and Jurges collapsed on the bed.
One Week Later
Fortunately for Jurges, the injuries were not life-threatening. And one week following the shooting he appeared at Popovich’s hearing and declared that he wouldn’t testify against her and wanted the charges dropped. Billy would go on to have a successful career in baseball as a player and manager. Violet, now free and clear to go about her business, rode out the little bit of fame that she had garnered. Popovich started a new act that she brought to Chicago’s stages and called herself “The Girl Who Shot For Love.”
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