af sx
andy logo
Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 12.00.44

Billy Papke Snr



Written by Rob Snell   

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Name: Billy Papke
Career Record:click
Alias: The Illinois Thunderbolt
Nationality: US American
Birthplace: Spring Valley, IL
Born: 1886-09-17
Died: 1936-11-26
Age at Death: 50
Height: 5' 9
Managers: Tom Jones, Al Lippe

  • Also known as the "Kewanee Thunderbolt"
  • Father of Billy Papke, Jr.
  • Killed his ex-wife, Norma Papke (46), with a gun and committed suicide November 26, 1936, in Newport, California
  • Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001


Billy Papke (born William Herman Papke, and known as "The Illinois Thunderbolt") (September 17, 1886November 26,1936) was an American boxer.

Born in Spring Valley, Illinois, he was the son of German immigrants to the USA. Papke was an abnormally hard boxer. He began his boxing career in 1906, winning 23 and drawing four times. His first loss was a 10-round decision to Stanley Ketchel, his first of four fights with Ketchel. He won the second meeting, and the World Middleweight title, largely by the expedient of punching Ketchel in the throat when he stepped forward to shake hands at the beginning of the bout. Two months later, he lost his title to Ketchel and received a terrific beating in the process. After the bout, Papke's own wife did not recognize him after it was over. Papke lost the final meeting, which the 4th was a particularly savage encounter.

After Ketchel's death Papke was one of several middleweights contesting the right to be called World Middleweight Champ. He travelled to Paris where he thrashed future champion Georges Carpentier but was beaten by another American, and Ketchel victim,Frank Klaus, ending his title hopes. He continued fighting until 1919, losing a four rounder to Soldier Barfield.

Papke's life ended tragically. He shot and killed his wife, then committed suicide by turning the gun on himself.

Billy Papke was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001.

The Syracuse Herald
20 August 1911

Inside The Ring With The great Fighters
By Charlie White

A few days before the last Papke Ketchel fight an enterprising reporter interviewed the champion's mother out In Grand  Rapids. In the  course of his conversation with her the subject of her telegrams to her soon before each of his ring battles was discussed. In connection with the fight Ketchel was to have a only a few days away, Mrs. Ketchel expressed the hope that her son would not win. In great astonishment the reporter asked: "Why do you hope he will not win?" "I don't mean that I hope he will lose," replied Stanley's mother. "I hope It will be a draw. This is the first time I have ever felt this way about it, but Billy Papke has a mother also. and I want her to be spared the sorrow of having her son defeated. Thai's the reason I want the fight to be a draw."

With the advantage of two victories to one defeat In his favor. Ketchel a favorite in the betting, the odds as high as 10 to 4 that he would win. Plenty of  even money was wagered that Papke would be knocked out Inside  of eighteen rounds. Ketchel himself was  so supremely confident of his ability to defeat the sturdy Illinois boy that he bet several thousand dollars that he would knock Papke out  inside of twelve  rounds.

The arena at Colma was packed so tight on that afternoon of July 5th that even a New York subway guard couldn't have put another man In.Papke and Ketchel weighed in at 10 o'clock that morning at Corbett's cafe. Both were under the 158-pound mark by a, comfortable margin. A big crowd attended the weighing-in ceremony, and as soon as that was over started for the arena at Colma. The crowd came so early that Coffroth was obliged to open the doors of the place nearly three  hours before the time scheduled for the battle.

.Odds on Ketchel Dropped.

The men entered the ring at about 2:30 P. M. As they faced each other In the ring Papke appeared to be in the better condition. He was well tanned and hadn't an ounce of superfluous flesh  on him. Ketchel's skin was dead white by comparison with the color of Papke. and some of the spectators thought he looked soft Stanley said, however . that he was in fine condition and the only thing he was afraid of was that his hands might not hold out. The odds on Ketchel were affected a little by his apparent lack of condition, dropping from.10 to 4 to 2 to 1. Billy Roche was the referee.

Ketchel  strted things with a hard right to the stomach and a moment later put another one in the same place. In a breakaway Stanley put his left to Papke’s  jaw. There was a lot of clinching and Roche had his own troubles In making the men break. Stanley ended the round with a volley of hard swings to the head and body. It was Stanley's round.

The second round was infighting almost from beginning to end. This was . supposed to be Papke’s strong suit, but Ketchel outfought him most of the time. His blows were more frequent, although not any harder.

Nip and Tuck In early Rounds.

In the third Papke took a brace and. backed up against the ropes, stood Ketchel off  with vicious  swings to the Jaw and stomach. He  drew blood from Ketchel’s mouth with a right hander. The Illinois  boy had the advantage In this round.

The next inning found Stanley in the lead again by a slight margin. Both men were-fighting viciously but neither one was able to put as much force Into his blows  as in their previous battles. The men clinched and hugged all over the ring during a good part of each round.  It was very hot and the referee was dripping perspiration from his violent efforts to break the frequent clinches .After being pushed  through the ropes by Ketchel  in the fifth round. Papke rallied and fought the Michigan boy to a standstill.

The heat began to tell on both men in the sixth and they both went to the floor together more through exhaustion from their own efforts than from the effect of the blows they received. The champion did most of the forcing.

The seventh, and eighth rounds found The  men fighting very hard, but rather ineffectually.  Most of their swings whistled harmlessly through the air. A lot more clinching. From the spectators' point of view, the battle was rather a tiresome affair.

The ninth found Ketchel at his best. He waded into Papke and landed hard and often. The Illinois boy bled freely from the nose and mouth all through the round. Stanley tried hard to swing over the dreamland punch, but his blows either did not have the necessary steam In them or he was unable to land on the  right spot. He looked much the better.

In the next Papke rallied and, surprised Stanley with hard punches to the head. Ketchel shook them off and Bored into his enemy. Billy was soon in bad condition, and hung on desperately  to save himself. A smashing left to the jaw pretty nearly put him down  but he managed to weather through. Papke staggered Ketchel in the eleventh round with an awful smash on the Jaw, but had no apparent effect on the champion. The round very much like the proceeding one. Ketchel slipped to the floor once, but was up in an instant.

It seemed that the harder the Michigan boy  the harder his enemy came back. After being nearly knocked through the ropes in the twelfth by a wallop on  the jaw Papke came back furiously and like flash landed terrific left and right swings to Ketchel's Jaw. Ketchel staggered from the force of the blows, and In an instant nearly even man in the house was on his feet yelling like a mad man. “'Go on. Billy." "Kill him." "Finish him. Papke," and other words of a similar tenor. But Billy couldn't finish him. Only for an Instant did Stanley hesitate and in that instant Papke was unable to reach him again. Then the Michigan boy gritted his  teeth, flung back his tow-colored hair  and sailed in so furiously that Papke was forced to save himself by clinching. Toward the end of the round Billy evened  matters  up by landing some hard punches.

Papke Becomes Confidant.

In the thirteenth round Papke grew stronger and became more confident. He opened the round with a hard right swing to Stanley's Jaw. a blow which ordinarily he could deliver hard enough to put the best man away, but It had no perceptible effect on the .champion. The round was slightly in Billy’s  favor.

In the fourteenth the two swung valiantly at each other for forty five seconds or more without more than one blow being landed. The rest of the round was clinching and infighting. with honors about even. After the  sensational flash in the twelfth the battle settled down into a wearisome affair again. The fifteenth was even tamer. It was nearly all wrestling and clinching. There wasn't thirty seconds of Good fighting in the whole round. The crowd began to manifest its disapproval and yelled loudly for action. Both men wore getting weaker and slower. The sixteenth round was much like the preceding one. Referee Roche was nearly exhausted by his efforts to make the men break.

As the end of the battle approached both men were trying hard for a knockout. but neither one could put any force Into his blows. Just as the bell rang for the end of the seventeenth round Ketchel was staggered a bit by a left on the Jaw. In the next two rounds Billy appeared to be the :stronger, and several times slowed up Ketchel with blows on the Jaw, one In the nineteenth round sending the champion  clear across the ring.

Slugged Till the End.

The twentieth and last round found both boys slugging away at each other without  much effect. Both were too weak to land a very damaging blow, although Papke had the better of the exchanges. The round ended with the men whaling away at each other in a neutral corner. Referee Roche then grabbed Ketchel's hand and held it up. declaring him the winner. The crowd was divided in Its opinion as to the correctness of the decision. Roche afterward sold that Ketchel had landed cleaner and oftener and was therefore entitled to the decision. There were numerous howls and hisses  of disapproval when the verdict was given. The majority  of the spectators thought that it should have been a draw.

In comparison with the battle betwen these two boys at Milwaukee. Ios Angeles and the former one at Colma, this battle was a tame and disappointing affair. There wasn't a knockdown In the whole twenty rounds. Only once, when Papke  staggered Ketchel in the twelfth round, was there anything approaching the dramatic tensity that fight spectators love. That was only for an Instant, and from then on until the finish the crowd had only the spectacle of two men pushing and shoving around the ring most of the time, with a few blows being landed now and then.