It is the coldest of cold cases – a 104-year-old homicide with no suspects, no eyewitnesses, no incriminating admissions, no police informant information, and scant physical evidence. About all investigators from the Indianapolis Police Department had to go on was a brief account of the crime supplied by the mortally wounded victim before he lapsed into unconsciousness. Regrettably, the assailant description provided by a dying Lefty Craig, a pitcher for the local entry in the American Association, was a generic one, fitting a large proportion of the male population of Indiana. All the usual villains were quickly rounded up, but little further evidence was developed. Within a week police despaired of identifying the perpetrator and the investigation languished thereafter.
A century later, the Craig murder remains unsolved. None of the dramatic developments that drive cold-case television shows – a DNA match, recovery of suppressed eyewitness memory, fingerprint identification, a deathbed confession, etc. – surfaced in Indianapolis. The slayer of Lefty Craig continues nameless to this day. Still, the Craig case is not without interest, as revisiting the crime provides us a small slice of life and death in the Deadball Era. Accordingly, the following narrative presents a thumbnail account of how one marginal pitching talent made his way in the game, before proceeding to how the connection to baseball brought Craig’s life to its end at age 27.
George McCarty Craig was born in Philadelphia on November 15, 1883,1 the youngest of eight children given birth by the twice-widowed Mary Ellen Schultz Craig (nee Hess, 1849-1927).2 Virtually nothing is known of George’s early life or schooling, apart from the fact that he attained literacy somewhere along the way. By 1900, 16-year-old George Craig was living at home in Philadelphia with his mother and other family members and employed as a laborer at a local stone foundry. Where Craig began playing baseball is another unknown, but the abundant Philadelphia sandlots are a likely guess. Craig first attracted press notice in 1906, pitching for the independent Camden (New Jersey) Athletic Association.3 Thereafter, his signing by Clayton (New Jersey) of the semipro South Jersey League was noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer.4 Craig’s first outing for Clayton, a 10-strikeout, five-hit victory over Paulsboro, was umpired by Philadelphia A’s pitching ace Chief Bender5 (but whether Bender brought the existence of Craig to the attention of A’s boss Connie Mack is yet another unknown). While with Clayton, Craig pitched for other local clubs as well.6
The following spring, Craig returned to the Camden AA club, but soon moved up to the Paschalls, the reigning champions of the fast-paced Philadelphia City League. A 17-strikeout, 10-0 shutout performance against the rival Crescents7 then suggested that Craig was ready for top-tier competition. That notion would soon be put to the test. In mid-July 1907, Craig was signed by the hometown American League club, the Philadelphia Athletics.8 Manager Connie Mack wasted little time coddling his new pitching recruit. On July 20 Lefty Craig made his major-league debut in Detroit, coming on in relief of A’s starter Jimmy Dygert in the second inning. Craig issued two walks, but held the Tigers hitless for the remainder of the frame. He was then replaced by right-hander Bill Bartley for the third inning. The A’s went on to drop a 6-1 verdict, but Craig and his 0.00 ERA in two-thirds of an inning pitched did not figure in the decision.
Although brief, Craig’s showing satisfied Mack that the young left-hander was not ready for the big leagues and he dropped him from the A’s roster. One published report maintained that Craig then spent time in the Class C Southern Atlantic League,9 but his post-A’s whereabouts are difficult to trace until he joined the Utica Pent-Ups of the Class B New York State League late in the 1907 season.10 Before the year was over, Craig was back in a Philadelphia A’s uniform. On September 17, 1907, he was the third of four hurlers sent to the mound by Connie Mack during an 11-3 trouncing by the New York Highlanders. Entering in the eighth inning, Craig’s outing – three runs allowed (two earned) on three hits, two walks, and two hit batsmen – was so poor that Mack preferred to have outfielder Bris Lord pitch the ninth. A harsh Philadelphia Inquirer game recap assessed Craig’s performance thusly: “Craig is a recent adjunct to Connie’s pitching department, and a man with a local reputation. After today’s exhibition, he will probably be considered as junk. He pitched badly. …”11 Although placed on the reserve list submitted by Philadelphia for the 1908 season,12 Craig was soon released, jettisoned with other one-time prospects not “of major league caliber in Mr. Mack’s opinion.”13
Although he would continue pitching for the rest of his short life, Lefty Craig’s major-league career was now behind him. In two games he had posted a 0-0 record, with a 10.80 ERA in 1 2/3 innings pitched. He retired only five of the 12 batters he had faced, and failed to record a strikeout. Craig went hitless in his only at-bat, and handled no chances in the field. Still only 24 years old, free agent Craig returned to Utica in 1908 and pitched well on occasion, as exemplified by a two-hit shutout of Binghamton on June 7.14 But somehow Craig also managed mound appearances close to home, pitching for the Southwark Field Club, the amateur baseball champions of Philadelphia,15 and a semipro club in Bridgeton, New Jersey.16 Meanwhile back in Utica, Craig’s record stood at 2-3 in seven games when he was released by the Pent-Ups “at his own request.”17
The 1909 season found Craig in almost constant motion, pitching for no fewer than six different amateur, semipro, and minor-league clubs. Early that year, his principal employer was the Reading club in the outlaw Atlantic League. With “lots of speed, breaking stuff like Christy Mathewson, [and] as eccentric as Rube Waddell,”18 Craig dominated the circuit, posting a 14-2 record before the Atlantic League folded in mid-July.19 According to Sporting Life, former major-league pitcher turned Philadelphia A’s scout Al Maul made “strenuous efforts” to sign Craig to an Athletics contract but was rebuffed.20 Instead, Craig inked a deal with the Boston Red Sox, to whom he would report in the fall.21 In the meantime, Craig would remain in Reading and play for the Reading Dutchmen of the Class B Tri-State League. Soon, however, Lefty was back in the Philadelphia area, pitching for Southwark, the Hartman Athletic Club of the Philadelphia City League, and the Fifth Ward team of the Big Four League in nearby Chester, Pennsylvania.22 At season’s end, he even put in a pitching appearance for the Loyola Athletic Club of Frankford (Philadelphia).23
The 1910 campaign brought Craig to the modest summit of his post-Philadelphia A’s career. The Boston audition failed to pan out, and by mid-February Sporting Life was informing readers that “George ‘Lefty’ Craig has secured his release from the Red Sox and is at liberty to sign with any club.”24 Craig subsequently returned to the Tri-State League, joining the Trenton Tigers. On May 13, 1910, he shut out Altoona, 6-0, allowing only four hits while fanning eight. Craig has “fine speed, fast-breaking curves, and is as cool and steady in the box as a veteran,” declared an admiring but unidentified Sporting Life correspondent.”25 Lefty then reeled off five more wins, until York stopped the winning skein of the “near invincible” Craig on May 30, beating him 13-4.26 At this point, Craig was pitching frequently, throwing “winning ball almost every other day … as [per] his own wish. He says he needs the work to get in condition.”27 By midseason, however, the overuse had taken its toll on Craig’s arm, with Sporting Life’s correspondent ruefully reporting that Lefty had taken on “more work than he can get away with. He is not as effective as he was a few weeks ago and his bad innings usually have come near the end of games.”28 Nor was he as “cool and steady” on the mound, as illustrated by a midgame altercation with a taunting fan that ended with Harrisburg cab driver Albert McCutcheon separated from two of his teeth. After the game, Craig and McCutcheon filed complaints against each other, with the matter bound over for trial at a later date. The two were then released from custody on bond pending further court proceedings.29
At a midseason field events day, Craig demonstrated that his arm was still powerful, winning the long-distance throwing contest with a heave that measured a prodigious 405 feet, 4 inches.30 It was to be his last notable exploit in Trenton. With Craig’s record standing at 16-12 in 32 games, his contract was sold to the Indianapolis Indians of the top-notch minor league American Association. In return, Trenton was to receive $2,500 and an unspecified Indianapolis player.31 The deal was easier made than completed. Craig refused to report, declaring that he would remain home to oversee his business interests (including a reported stake in a local pig farm) “rather than allow himself to be sold and resold at will.”32 Faraway press portrayed Craig’s stance as another example of his reputed Waddell-like childishness. When informed of his sale to Indianapolis, the Evansville (Indiana) Courier and Press reported, Craig “almost cried. He said he knew a trip on the ocean would make him sick and he did not want to mingle with wild Indians.”33 But Craig, a seasoned professional who had made his 1907 major-league pitching debut in Detroit, was no untraveled bumpkin, and his eventual acquiescence in the transfer to Indianapolis was likely induced by some undisclosed consideration supplied by his new employer.34 Whatever the case, Craig reported to Indianapolis in late August and was immediately put in harness by the Indians.
On September 1, 1910, Craig dropped a 4-2 decision to the Milwaukee Brewers in his American Association debut. “Craig, a new recruit, pitched a good game for Indy, but his support was poor,” reported the Omaha World Herald.35 A pattern had been set. Craig generally pitched well, but received meager support from a bad Indianapolis club headed for a 69-96 seventh-place finish. Lefty lost his next two decisions before turning in his Indianapolis masterpiece: a 16-inning, three-hit shutout of Columbus. Unhappily for Craig, Indianapolis did not score either, leaving him a 0-0 no-decision when the game was called by darkness. Lefty finished the season strongly, closing with a three-hit victory over Louisville to complete his abbreviated Indianapolis tour with a 2-4 record in seven appearances. In 68 innings he had allowed only 51 hits, striking out 22 while walking 23.36 Once back in Trenton, Craig stated that he liked Indianapolis and looked forward to returning there for the 1911 season.
Indianapolis management had high hopes for its new left-hander, with club boss Bill Watkins predicting that Craig would be “the sensation of the American Association” in the coming season.37 That campaign got off to a disappointing start for Lefty. He was “hit hard throughout the game”38 in his first 1911 outing, an 8-2 loss to Kansas City on April 15. An irritating stye then necessitated a visit to the oculist, pushing Craig’s next starting assignment back a week. But with the eye problem fixed, Lefty was slated to retake the hill in a home game against Minneapolis on April 23. The evening before, he retired to his first-floor room at the Mt. Jackson Sanitarium, a mineral spa with hotel-like accommodations for extended-stay residents. The facility served as in-season lodging for various Indians players and manager Jimmy Burke. Located on the city’s western outskirts – directly across the street from the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane and served by a stop on the West Washington Street streetcar line – the sanitarium was not exempt from the petty crime wave that had recently swept Indianapolis. But there is no evidence that Craig or roommate William “Robby” Robertson took any particular security precautions before going to bed that night.
The only substantive account of what happened thereafter was provided by Craig himself, before he lapsed into unconsciousness early the following morning. Under hasty questioning at the scene by Captain Coffin of the Indianapolis Police Department, Craig said that he had been awoken around 1:00 A.M. by the presence of a burglar in his room. The man was going through Craig’s trousers.39 As Craig arose from his bed, the burglar ran from the room and fled down a hallway. Craig pursued, caught up to the burglar, and grabbed him. As the two grappled, the burglar drew out a handgun and fired. The round struck Craig in the stomach, causing him to release his hold of the burglar. The man then ran out the building via a side exit door. Craig, meanwhile, staggered back to his room and sought the help of roommate Robertson, who had slept through the incident. “Wake up, Robby. I’m shot,” Craig cried.40 Before being removed for medical care, Craig described his assailant as “dressed in brown, with a brown hat, [and] about the size and age of [Indianapolis teammate] Orville Woodruff.”41 As the 34-year-old, 5-foot-9, 160-pound Woodruff was close to an Indiana Everyman, the description would not prove particularly helpful.
Upon arrival at Indianapolis City Hospital, Craig, in intense pain and bleeding profusely from his gunshot wound, was rushed into surgery, where it was discovered that the bullet had passed entirely through him. But not before it had inflicted devastating injuries to his internal organs. Craig survived the operation to stanch the blood loss, but the lead physician, Dr. Thomas J. Dugan, offered no hope of his recovery. Craig’s demise was only a matter of time.42 Word of Lefty’s condition was promptly dispatched to family in Philadelphia, and his mother and older brother William Craig soon boarded a train for Indianapolis. They arrived in time to join manager Burke and about a dozen Indianapolis players in the hospital room for the patient’s passing.43 After lingering unconscious for about 40 hours, George McCarty “Lefty” Craig died at 7:15 P.M. on April 23, 1911. He was 27 years old. After a brief service conducted by a local Episcopal clergyman the next afternoon, Craig’s body was brought home to Philadelphia for interment at Fernwood Cemetery.
Meanwhile, the investigation of Craig’s slaying was making little headway. For no readily apparent reason, “the police at first were inclined to scoff at” Craig’s account of the incident.44 Perhaps crediting the deceased’s reputation as an “eccentric,” investigators initially focused on whether Craig had shot himself, but discarded this hypothesis when search of the shooting scene failed to uncover the necessary gun. Sanitarium guests who had overheard the hallway scuffle and gunshot, as well as the disturbed condition of that area, further scuttled the notion that the Craig account was contrived. So did the discovery that the Craig/Robertson room had been ransacked. Robertson, moreover, now found that he was missing a watch and chain.45 In addition, streetcar conductor John Heier reported seeing a man running away from the sanitarium grounds at about the time of the shooting.46 These circumstances compelled investigators to draw the inescapable conclusion that they were dealing with a nighttime burglary gone fatally wrong.
Frustrating the slaying probe was that fact that neither Heier, Robertson, nor anyone at the sanitarium could provide a description of Craig’s killer. Nor had police informants provided any useful scuttlebutt. Inspection of the crime scene had also proved unenlightening. No significant physical or forensic evidence, including the spent bullet that had passed through Lefty Craig, was recovered. Although the crime was fresh, police were without a “clew” as to who had done it, a problem quickly trumpeted in local news reports.47 Recriminations were not long in coming, with Police Superintendent Martin J. Hyland publicly lambasting his precinct commanders for failure to act upon his earlier directive to round up neighborhood undesirables. “The record of arrests has been less than satisfactory,” Hyland declared. To rectify that, the superintendent ordered the force to immediately “arrest all known thieves, loiterers, suspicious persons, and vagrants found in your territory. I will hold each and every officer accountable where these people are allowed to remain unmolested … and allowed to prey upon the citizens of our city. A wave of crime has descended over the city recently, and it must be suppressed. … I expect every [police]man to get busy.”48
Duly chastened, the Indianapolis police acted with a vengeance, hauling in a multitude of local thieves, pickpockets, tramps, idlers, and anyone else deemed suspicious. Those showing promise were then turned over to Detectives John Mullin and Adolph Asch for grilling about the Craig homicide. But no credible suspect was developed, and leads quickly ran dry. Within days, the Indianapolis Star was commenting that “the murderer has disappeared as if the earth had swallowed him after the shooting.”49 Detective Mullin speculated that that the crime was likely committed by a novice burglar, rather than a professional, but that he “was absolutely at a loss as to how to proceed. There is absolutely nothing on which to begin an investigation.”50 A week later the investigation was still becalmed, as the relentless police detention of “suspicious characters” remained fruitless. “Detectives working on the case say the burglar left no trace of himself,” leaving in his non-existent wake “one of the most puzzling mysteries ever confronted by the Indianapolis police.”51 In time, investigators were obliged to take up new matters, and the unsolved Lefty Craig murder case went cold.
Re-examining the Craig murder more than a hundred years after the fact, no obvious suspect seems to have escaped police notice. Nor can failure to solve the case be attributed to glaring mistakes made by investigators. At the time, the science of criminalistics was in its infancy, with forensic analysis of DNA, examination of hair/fiber transfers, and the like decades from being developed. The Indianapolis police were obliged to use the investigative tools and techniques then at hand. Although the inquiry coincided with local arrests linked to the sensational bombing of the Los Angeles Times building,52 the Craig case was not given second-class treatment. Like all Indiana felony murders – generally defined as the unlawful causing of death during the commission of another crime like burglary or robbery – the Craig slaying was a hanging offense,53 and the Indianapolis police wanted to solve it. But there was little to go on. Lefty Craig did not recognize his assailant, no one else witnessed the crime, the killer made his escape successfully, and he left no telltale clue to his identify behind at the scene. Given this, investigators needed a break: an indiscreet remark later uttered by the perpetrator; discovery of the murder weapon that the killer used; the trace of Robertson’s stolen watch and chain, or something else tangible to work on. But they never got such a lead. Sadly, some murders, even those of victims in the public spotlight, are never solved. The April 1911 murder of Lefty Craig falls into that category.
Note: This biography is adapted from an article published in the 2014 issue of “Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game.”
1 Baseball reference works, from the original Turkin & Thompson baseball encyclopedia (1951) through various modern references, list our subject as George McCarthy Craig, born November 15, 1887. This is incorrect. The death certificate (informed by older brother William Craig) and other post-mortem documents indicate that Craig’s middle name was McCarty. See also reportage on the death of George McCarty “Lefty” Craig in the Indianapolis Star, April 22-25, 1911. The 1883 birth year used herein is the one published on Ancestry.com by Craig family descendants, and is the birth year contained on the Craig player questionnaire submitted to the Hall of Fame in August 2002 by great-great-grandnephew Joseph Burkhardt. An 1883 birth year also accords with the birth record for George McCarty Craig maintained by the City of Philadelphia, as well as with the 1900 US Census, which lists Craig as a 16-year-old laborer in a Philadelphia stone foundry.
2 Lefty’s mother had three or four children by her first husband, John Schultz (1849-1872). After his death and her subsequent marriage to George A. Craig (1851-1888), she had at least four more children, of whom Lefty (the second of two Georges) was the youngest.
3 See, e.g., the Woodbury (New Jersey) Daily Times, July 16, 1906, memorializing a 15-strikeout Craig performance in a 3-2 Camden AA win over Gloucester.
4 Philadelphia Inquirer, July 24, 1906.
5 As per the Philadelphia Inquirer, July 26, 1906.
6 A 15-strikeout shutout victory pitched by Craig for the Berlin (New Jersey) Field Club was noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, August 24, 1906. Lefty may also have pitched for a team in Bridgeton, New Jersey, during 1906, but the presence of another pitcher named Craig (Jesse) on the Bridgeton club makes the situation difficult to clarify.
7 The Paschalls victory behind Craig’s pitching was reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, June 23, 1907.
8 Sporting Life, July 20, 1907, reported that “Craig, a southpaw twirler, has been doing some excellent work … and has made a notable strikeout record in the Philadelphia League. … The Phillies and Cubs were also after the man.” That Craig threw left-handed is about his only vital stat that has survived. He was adjudged a good semipro and minor-league batter, but whether he hit righty or lefty has been lost. Nor were Craig’s height and weight memorialized, but from photos he appears to have been in the 5-feet-8 to 5-feet-10/170-pound range.
9 See Sporting Life, September 21, 1907.
10 A published dispatch found Craig wild but “practically invincible” in a 5-3 debut win for Utica over Scranton. See Sporting Life, September 7, 1907.
11 Philadelphia Inquirer, September 18, 1907.
12 As reported in Sporting Life, October 26, 1907.
13 Sporting Life, November 2, 1911.
14 As noted in the 1908 season roundup published in Sporting Life, January 23, 1909. Craig’s earlier signing with Utica for the season was noted in Sporting Life, March 7 and April 25, 1908.
15 As noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, May 21, 1908.
16 Craig “did not make good” in Bridgeton, as later reported in the Bridgeton (New Jersey) Evening News, May 15, 1909.
17 As per Sporting Life, July 4, 1908. Unless otherwise noted, the statistics presented herein have been taken from Baseball-Reference.com. Craig batted .421 (8-for-19) during his limited stay in Utica.
18 According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, July 4, 1909. See also the Philadelphia Inquirer, June 27, 1909: “Craig is as eccentric as Rube Waddell.” No examples of purported Waddell-like conduct were provided. Perhaps being a hard-throwing left-handed pitcher, being christened George, and having once worn a Philadelphia A’s uniform were deemed sufficient by the Inquirer to merit the Waddell reference.
19 Baseball-Reference has no stats for Craig in 1909. His 14-2 record with Reading was published in the Bridgeton Evening News, July 15, 1909.
20 Sporting Life, July 17, 1909.
21 As per the Trenton (New Jersey) Times, July 18, 1909, Bridgeton Evening News, July 19, 1909, and Sporting Life, July 24, 1909.
22 As reported regularly in the Philadelphia Inquirer. One noteworthy appearance for the Hartman AC, on July 20, was short-circuited by a game-stopping Craig temper tantrum over balls-and-strikes calls.
23 As per the Philadelphia Inquirer, October 2, 1909.
24 Sporting Life, February 19, 1910.
25 Sporting Life, May 14, 1910.
26 As per Sporting Life, June 4, 1910. The six-game winning streak did not include a rain-shortened, five-inning no-hitter that Craig threw at Harrisburg on May 26, as the contest ended in a scoreless tie.
28 Sporting Life, August 13, 1910.
29 As reported in the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Patriot and Trenton Times, August 1, 1910. The matter was later resolved by Lefty’s next employer, the Indianapolis Indians reportedly settling an undisclosed sum on McCutcheon in return for the dismissal of his complaint against Craig, according to the Trenton Times, September 15, 1910.
30 As per the Trenton Times, August 18, 1910.
31 As reported in the Harrisburg Patriot, July 31, 1910, Trenton Times, August 2, 1910, and Sporting Life, August 6, 1910. In due course, Trenton received ex-major-league spitballer Vive Lindaman from Indianapolis.
32 Sporting Life, August 20, 1910.
33 Evansville (Indiana) Courier and Press, September 4, 1910. This inane anecdote was frequently republished. See, e.g., the Baton Rouge (Louisiana) State Times Advocate and Greensboro (North Carolina) Record, March 22, 1911, and the Indianapolis Star, April 23, 1911.
34 As previously noted, Indianapolis paid to settle McCutcheon’s grievance against Craig. Indianapolis boss Bill Watkins suspected that Craig’s disinclination to report was prompted by covert blandishments from Brooklyn and the Chicago White Sox, both believed to have designs on Craig’s services. The National Commission, Organized Baseball’s governing body, subsequently dismissed a complaint by Watkins against the two clubs, but also ruled that Craig was exclusively the property of Indianapolis. See Sporting Life, September 24, 1910.
35 Omaha World Herald, September 2, 1910.
36 Baseball-Reference provides no data for Craig’s time in Indianapolis. The above information was compiled by the writer using newspaper line and box scores of Indianapolis games played in September 1910.
37 As reported in the Trenton Times, September 30, 1910 (which mistakenly gave Craig a 3-3 record, with one tie, in Indianapolis).
38 As quoted in the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Daily Herald and San Jose Evening News, February 4, 1911, Miami Herald, February 5, 1911, and elsewhere.
39 Relatively brief accounts of the crime were published in newspapers nationwide. See, e.g., the Evansville Courier and Press, Kansas City Star, and Trenton Times, April 22, 1911. The primary source of the narrative herein is the more detailed articles published in the Indianapolis Star, April 22-25, 1911.
40 As per the Indianapolis Star, April 22, 1911.
42 As immediately reported in the Kansas City Star, Los Angeles Times, and Trenton Times, April 22, 1911, and elsewhere.
43 As per the Indianapolis Star, April 24, 1910.
44 As reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Trenton Times, April 22, 1911, and elsewhere.
45 As reported in the Indianapolis Star, April 23, 1910.
47 See e.g., “Police at Sea in Lefty Craig Case,” Indianapolis Star, April 23, 1910, and “Craig Crime Baffles Police,” Indianapolis Star, April 28, 1910.
48 As reported in the Indianapolis Star, April 24, 1910. A century ago, vagrancy ordinances, anti-loitering statutes, failure to give a good account laws, and similar extra-constitutional police measures sanctioned such dragnets. Unfettered by Miranda warnings, the right to counsel, and other contemporary legal niceties, the interrogations that followed were often severe, and sometimes physical.
49 Indianapolis Star, April 28, 1910.
51 Indianapolis Star, May 5, 1910.
52 Amid labor strife in October 1910, the Los Angeles Times building was bombed. Suspicion quickly fell on the iron workers union. On the same date that Lefty Craig was shot, union official J.J. McNamara was arrested in Indianapolis and charged with involvement in the bombing. The event dominated news headlines and police attention for days thereafter.
53 Prior to 1913, those convicted of felony murder and other capital offenses in Indiana were hanged.