Rudy bladel



Keywords: rudy bladel
Description: Late on the hot and sticky night of Saturday, Aug. 3, 1963, 52-year-old Virgil Terry punched in for work as a switchman for the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad in the sprawling Hammond, Ind., (Page 2 of 4)

``I thought to run. But hell, I couldn`t outrun bullets, so I turned around and faced him,`` Sayne said. ``We wrestled. He tripped on my overnight bag and fell down. I fell on top of him, grabbed the gun and shot him.``

Dour faced Rudy Bladel, then 38, like Sayne a career railroader, mumbled, ``I did all I could to get the Niles men out of Elkhart.``

Bladel was charged with attempted murder, but in a plea agreement with prosecutors he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of aggravated battery.

On Dec. 31, 1971, he was sentenced to one to five years in the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City. He served 18 months.

Sgt. Keck studied the old file. Except for the fact that Sayne survived the attack, the pattern was identical to the two Elkhart rail yard murders and the double homicide in Hammond.

The original Hammond investigators had retired, but the case was reopened with Keck`s help by Detectives John Baron and Walter Murray.

``In Hammond there was a witness who had spotted this man (lurking in the switchyards) and said he walked `like a gorilla` or had a `farmer-type walk, like behind a plow, looking down at the ground.`

``Then we went to the Marshall case, in which there were eyewitnesses. They couldn`t put a face on the man but they put a walk on him and his build

Those who worked with Bladel agree that nobody really knew the quiet but powerfully-built, bespectacled man. He had no friends, nor did he seem to want any. While other crewmen talked or played cards as they waited for assignments, Bladel would disappear until train time.

During Bladel`s long walks, according to fellow railroaders, he was frequently seen talking to himself.

Sayne remembers Bladel as a morose, brooding fireman who, when they crewed together, sat looking straight ahead, rhythmically slapping his knees with his hands to the clickety-click of the rails.

``No words were ever exchanged between us. He would sit there on the left side of the cab talking to himself and playing pat-a-cakes with his knees.``

Not long after his release from prison in 1973, Bladel, who had been fired after the Sayne shooting, appeared at a union hearing in an unsuccessful appeal to win back his fireman`s job.

``He came up to me and shook my hand,`` the baffled Sayne said. ``He said his reason for shooting me had nothing to do with me personally, `just the Michigan men.` Imagine that!``

``The Michigan men,`` investigators would later determine, were the seat of one man`s fanatical grudge against the railroad industry.

In the late 1950s, the New York Central shifted most of its operations from Niles, Mich. to a new rail yard in Elkhart. The move caused the layoff of more than 75 trainmen in Niles, and the number of train crews on the Niles seniority list was cut from 22 to 5.

The railroad let the unions solve the job dilemma, and it was eventually decided that 52 per cent of the personnel needs at the expanded Elkhart yard would be filled by Elkhart men. The other 48 per cent, or ``Michigan percentage,`` would be men from Niles. A number of ``Elkhart men`` lost their seniority to the ``Niles men`` and were either ``bumped`` to lesser positions or laid off.

Among them was Bladel, a man whose entire life was geared to trains. Rudy Bladel had no wife, no girlfriends, no hobbies and no other known interests.

``His first love and his last love has always been railroading,`` said Rudy`s half-brother, a Chicago businessman who asked that his name not be used.

Bladel (rhymes with ladle) was born into a railroad family in Chicago on Dec. 8, 1932. His late father, Holgar, worked for the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad Co.

Young Rudy grew up in the neighborhood around 67th Street and Ashland Avenue, and attended Chicago Vocational High School on the South Side, where he took automotive shop courses.

After graduation in June of 1951, he went to work for the Rock Island as a fireman. ``That`s when you tossed coal in one end and you got smoke out the other,`` he chuckled in recalling his youth during a talk with a Tribune reporter.

During the Korean War, Bladel put on Army fatigues and served as a military engineer, ``hostling`` locomotives in a South Korean roundhouse, sometimes under enemy fire.

After Korea, Bladel returned to the Rock Island, beginning a rise in the seniority ranks that lasted until he was laid off and demoted in the Niles-Elkhart yard merger. By the time he was fired in 1971, in the wake of the Sayne shooting, he had logged 19 years with various lines.






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