SABR

Gordon McNaughton

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Former Boston Red Sox right-handed pitcher Gordon McNaughton, working as a postal clerk in Chicago, was enjoying the company of Mrs. Dorothy Moos in a hotel room when his jilted girlfriend, Mrs. Eleanor Williams, entered and shot and killed him. Williams used the service pistol of policeman Barney Towey, who was left sleeping in the hotel room to which he and Mrs. Williams had repaired after night-clubbing. Mrs. Williams, who was a “dice girl in a roadside tavern,” said she shot McNaughton because “he tried to dust me off.” Both Williams and Moos said they had left their husbands to be with McNaughton. It was the evening of August 6, 1942. McNaughton had just turned 32 a week earlier.

The Cook County death certificate described a “bullet wound thru the chest,” and said the death was “caused by bullet fired from a .38-cal. revolver.” On the line asking whether the death was accidental, homicidal, or suicidal, it simply read: “Murder.”

Though she could have received the death penalty, Williams was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to just 1 to 14 years imprisonment and, upon losing her appeal for a new trial, said she would remarry her former husband – telegrapher Clarence Williams – in her jail cell. Today, one might say she had “issues.” She wasn’t the only one. Towey shot himself to death after he was fired from the police force for negligence in the care of his weapon. Exculpatory testimony on Eleanor’s behalf came from other dice girls who said she “was a good girl” until McNaughton came on the scene and “gave her the old pitch.”

McNaughton had a one-month major league career, pitching for the Red Sox ten years before his vioent death. He made his debut on August 13, 1932, and appeared in just six games. In his first game, he was the second among four Sox pitchers who tried in vain to stop the Philadelphia Athletics but wound up being swamped, 13-2. McNaughton pitched two full innings and didn’t give up a hit, but perhaps that was in part because he wasn’t around the plate as much; he walked three batters and struck out no one. He struck out himself, in his one at-bat.

In his first three appearances, McNaughton gave up just one earned run – eight innings of work with a 1.12 ERA.  This wasn’t looking bad at all. He’d had worse experiences in amateur baseball. (At that point, he had never pitched in the major leagues.) Then things started to go badly. In his fourth game, he gave up two earned runs and, finally, in his six earned runs in each of his fifth and his sixth games (the only two games he started). In those last two games, he allowed 17 hits, walked 11 more batters, hit one, and threw a wild pitch. Even though they were solidly in last place and still had eight games left to play, the Red Sox had seen enough. McNaughton had a record of 0-1, with a 6.43 ERA and an upside-down walks-to-strikeouts ratio thanks to walking 22 and striking out only six. In 21 innings of work, he gave up 21 hits. Only one was a home run, but he still saddled himself with a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 2.048, and 15 earned runs.

McNaughton had been signed out of college. It was only the following year, 1933, that he pitched in the minor leagues.

At least he was in his hometown at the time he was killed. It was a big one: Chicago. He was born there on July 31, 1910, the first son of Bertram McNaughton, an auto tire salesman, and his wife, Catherine. The couple had another son, Thomas B. McNaughton, born the year after Gordon. The 1920 Census showed the elder McNaughton as the tire salesman; by the 1930 Census, he was listed as “retired” (at age 43). Maybe he’d made a killing in car tires and took early retirement? Maybe he’d been retired as the Depression began to hit. These remain open questions. We do know that in 1942, known as John McNaughton, he owned a tavern at 4742 North Western Avenue. Catherine’s parents had come to America from the Irish Free State. She was born in Illinois. Bert McNaughton was born in Ohio. In the 1910 Census, when his wife was Kiddie (Kitty, presumably), he said his father was Canadian but by 1920 and 1930 he was shown as from Ohio. Then again, the 1920 Census had Bertram rendered as Birchman.

Gordon was Gordon, though. He played high-school ball for Loyola Academy, where his two-hitter against St. Rita on June 2, 1928, won Loyola the Catholic High School Baseball League championship. In college, he pitched for Loyola University of Chicago and Xavier University of Cincinnati (where he also played left end on the football team) and grew to be 6-feet-1, weighing 190 pounds.

Once he’d had his six appearances with Boston, the Red Sox still kept him in the system for another year. He didn’t get in a lot of work in the minors. In 1933, he reported to the Reading Red Sox (Class A, in the New York-Penn League) but appeared in only four games. He had one decision, a loss. He gave up 13 runs in 11 innings, but we don’t know how many of those runs were earned runs. In 1934 and 1935, McNaughton played in the East Dixie League, in Mississippi for the Greenville Buckshots. It was a Class C league. McNaughton was 11-10 the first year with a 4.06 earned-run average. He didn’t get nearly as much work in ’35, most likely due to his 15.84 ERA. His record was 1-4. He hit his only professional home run in 1934, the only extra-base hit he had in minor-league ball. In 1936, he was again 0-1, pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association, affiliated with the Detroit Tigers.

It was mainly by getting killed that McNaughton’s name goes down in history. It was quite a sordid affair. Eleanor Williams had been living with McNaughton for three years. She’d forsaken her husband, Clarence, and young daughter, Patricia Ann, for life in the fast lane. Being married to a telegrapher didn’t seem to hold a candle to McNaughton’s night life. Though he was a postal clerk by day, in the evenings he frequented night clubs. A lengthy Chicago Tribune piece that included an extensive interview with Mrs. Moos ran on the day after the killing. It was accompanied by a provocatively posed photograph of Williams, described as a dancer and dice girl. The “nightclub Lothario” McNaughton was “noted for his expert handling of dice” and reputedly owned a number of gaming concessions in several taverns. Williams said, “I think I’m the third woman who left her husband for him.” [Chicago Tribune, August 7, 1942. Quotations from this point onward in the account come from the lengthy Tribune story unless otherwise attributed.]

Eleanor Williams offered an image of innocence: “I come from Canada, where my people don’t do things like I did today.” The other woman in the story, Mrs. Moos, was the estranged wife of Fred Moos, “owner of a race horse or two now at the Washington Park track and known in La Salle Street as a speculator, on a small scale, in the grain market. It was Moos who was with McNaughton around dawn when Williams pounded on Moos’s hotel room door. “Mrs. Moos opened the door with no clothes on,” Williams – wearing a “cheap, green linen printed dress that crumpled about her” – told reporter Rita Fitzpatrick. “I had to shoot him. I just had to. He was dressing when I walked in. We argued and I pulled out the pistol and fired a shot. I was shaky and it missed him. He turned my wrist and tossed the gun on the couch. Mrs. Moos ran and picked it up and hid it from me in the bathroom. She began to argue with me and I told her to mind her own business.

“I reminded him that I had had a miscarriage because of him and that they had to give me blood transfusions to save my life. I told him I didn’t want to become a bum. I asked him if he loved me or that woman, and when he didn’t answer I ran into the bathroom and got the pistol. When I came out Gordie said, ‘I am a coward; go ahead and shoot me. I deserve it.’ He leaned over me and I fired the pistol.” It came out at trial that it was an abortion by McNaughton’s “brutalities” and that he refused to pay for her expenses while she was in the hospital. Eleanor later claimed she had performed the abortion on herself, a point her sister vociferously denied. [Chicago Tribune, October 24, 1942]

Just the week before, McNaughton had urged Williams to get custody of her daughter so they could live together again as man and wife. She said she had nothing against Moos, and saw her as having been duped, too. “He didn’t love her. He thought she had money. She thinks she had a great romance. Three weeks is all she knew him and I’ve been like a wife to him for three years. Why, he even used to beat me when I went out with other fellows. And I thought he was true to me. … Oh, God.”

It was through Clarence Williams that McNaughton met Eleanor, who left her husband and young daughter to run off with him. Mrs. Williams then confessed to going “out with other fellows” and cited McNaughton’s beating her as evidence of how deeply he cared for her.

“It was like a scene in a cheap movie. I never thought things like that could happen to me,” muttered Moos. She herself had divorced Fred Moos, but then had remarried him just three weeks earlier. “I walked into my home and found him and another man with two girls. One of the girls had on his pajamas. I walked out and haven’t gone back since. I went to Gordon and told him and he was kind. He took me out several times with his little girl. It was like I always dreamed it was going to be. ….Gordon and I were going to be married. He was going to build a little house in Antioch and bring his little daughter to live with us. I loved him because he had one thing I wanted, his little girl. I can’t have a child. I loved him, too, because he was kind to me and, after the treatment I received in my first marriage, I couldn’t help but respond to his affection.”

Eleanor had moved back to live with her sisters, but heard rumors that McNaughton had jilted her for Moos. She had gone out on a tear with Barney, the policeman, on the evening of August 5, leaving his room at dawn with a splitting hangover to go to the New Lawrence Hotel, on Chicago’s North Side, where she knew Moos lived. “I couldn’t bear to let somebody else have him,” she said. Williams was described in an Associated Press story as a “professional dancer.” The AP account quoted Williams as saying, “Gordon struck me. I ran into the washroom and got the gun. Mrs. Moos shouted, ‘I love Gordon.’ Gordon just stood there and said: ‘I deserve anything you do to me.’ So I said ‘Okay’ and shot him. I loved him, but he tried to dust me off, the way they do in baseball.” [Atlanta Constitution, August 7, 1942] The Washington Post story called her “formerly a cabaret entertainer and now a dice girl in a roadside tavern.” [Washington Post, August 7, 1942]

Clarence Williams, who had divorced Eleanor on grounds of extreme cruelty, “embraced and kissed Eleanor at the inquest, talked to her privately, and patted her blonde head comfortingly, then told reporters, ‘I still love her.’”

On September 17, McNaughton’s ex-wife, Caroline Grassick, petitioned the court to regain custody of her daughter Patricia McNaughton, who was 8 years old. Patricia had been awarded to McNaughton when the couple divorced in 1937 because her mother was working and also in ill health. Patricia had been taken in by her McNaughton grandparents. Caroline had married a restaurant manager, Edward Grassick, and owned a beauty parlor of her own.

On October 14, Barney Towey was discharged from the police force. On the 16th, he was found dead of a gunshot wound at the Foote Brothers Gear and Machine Corporation, where he had been employed as a watchman. The death was ruled a suicide.

Jury selection for Williams’s trial began on October 19. Her defense was insanity. At the trial, Moos said that she and McNaughton had only arrived at her hotel around 6 A.M. after a long night on the town and that she was fully dressed until Williams showed up around 7. Clarence Williams testified that he would remarry his former wife. They had a daughter, Jacqueline, almost 6 years old, and he had been awarded custody. He’d tried to reconcile several times, he said. “I asked Gordon to give Eleanor up because I wanted to marry her again, but he hauled off and beat me up,” Clarence testified. Eleanor’s sister Jessica and brother-in-law Joseph Dumong, a policeman, testified that she was not herself and would alternate crying and laughing, almost hysterically, in the weeks before the shooting. Another sister, Leona, testified that she’d actually been the first to “go out with” McNaughton but that – despite being married – Eleanor began to see him.

Other dice girls from the Bowery Bar testified that Eleanor was a nice girl until she met McNaughton, who had twisted her arm and slapped her at the bar, and called her bad names. Eleanor collapsed on the witness stand. The trial lasted six days.

“Are we to forget law and order because she is blonde – by choice – curled and beautiful?  Treat her as you would a man,” intoned prosecutor Julius Sherwin, “so that no one can say a lady can get away with murder in Cook County.”  The jury of eight men and four women deliberated for three hours and returned a verdict of manslaughter. Mrs. Williams collapsed again when the verdict was delivered.

Clarence and Eleanor planned to remarry on October 27 in the county jail if the warden approved, provided their daughter could come back from her in-laws in Omaha.

Eleanor gave up any appeal of her conviction and was sent to the women’s prison at Dwight, Illinois. “I intend to be a model prisoner,” she announced. “I plan to study stenography and typing. I also intend to give up being a blonde, and let my hair return to its natural color – brown.” [Chicago Tribune, November 18, 1942] When she first came up for parole a little over a year later, the state’s attorney’s office said it would oppose parole.

In April, Gordon McNaughton’s mother, Catherine, was named the guardian of 9-year-old Patricia Ann.

On March 22, 1948, Caroline McNaughton was found dead. The cause of death was not reported in the newspaper. Patricia Ann was living with Julius and Theresa Becker at the time, apparently adopted by them. What happened later to all of the surviving principals we do not know.

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in this biography, the author consulted the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. A copy of Gordon McNaughton’s death certificate was furnished by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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