"The Trunk Murderess"
Characteristics: Shot her two room mates, hacked their bodies
into pieces and hid them into travel trunks
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: October 16, 1931
Date of arrest:
October 23, 1931 (surrendered
Date of birth: January 29, 1905
Agnes Anne LeRoi,
32, and Hedvig Samuelson, 24
Method of murder:
Location: Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona, USA
Sentenced to death on February 17, 1933.
The death sentence was repealed after a ten-day hearing found her
mentally incompetent; she was then sent to Arizona State Asylum
for the Insane on April 24, 1933.
Paroled and released on December 22, 1971. Died on October 23,
photo gallery 15
Winnie Ruth Judd (January
29, 1905 – October 23, 1998) was a Phoenix, Arizona medical secretary
found guilty of murdering and dismembering two of her friends and
stuffing them into travel trunks. Newspaper coverage and suspicious
circumstances; the sentence she received raised debate over capital
Born Winnie Ruth, while employed
at the Grunow Medical Clinic in Phoenix, Judd met Agnes Anne LeRoi, an
X-Ray Technician who worked at the clinic, and her roommate, Hedvig
Samuelson. LeRoi and Samuelson had become close friends while living
in Alaska and then moved together to Phoenix for its drier climate
after Samuelson contracted tuberculosis.
In August 1931, Dr. Judd left
Phoenix to start a practice in Los Angeles, leaving his wife in
Phoenix. At this time, Judd moved in with LeRoi and Samuelson, but in
early October, she moved out in order to be nearer to the Grunow
Clinic where she was employed. At the time of the murders Judd was 26
years old, LeRoi 32, and Samuelson, 24.
According to police, on the night of October 16,
1931, LeRoi and Samuelson were murdered by Judd after an alleged fight
among the three women over a conflict of interest—reportedly, all
three were interested in the same man, prominent Phoenix businessman
John J. "Happy Jack" Halloran. Halloran, 44, was a married local
businessman and a friend of all three women. The prosecution at Judd's
murder trial would suggest that quarrels over men and the relationship
between LeRoi and Samuelson broke up the friendship of the three
women, and that jealousy was the motive for the killings.
The two victims were killed with a .25 caliber
handgun in their rented bungalow located at 2929 (now 2947) N. 2nd
Street. According to prosecutors, after the two women were murdered,
Judd and an accomplice dismembered the body of Samuelson and stuffed
the head, torso, and lower legs into a black shipping trunk, with the
upper legs being placed in a beige valise and hatbox. LeRoi's body was
stuffed intact into a second black shipping trunk.
Flight to Los Angeles
Two days after the murders, on Sunday, October 18,
Judd boarded the Golden State Limited passenger train from
Phoenix's Union Station with the trunks containing the bodies; with
her left hand bandaged from a gunshot wound, she traveled overnight to
Los Angeles. Upon arrival at 7:45 the next morning, the trunks were
immediately under suspicion because of the foul odor detected by
station personnel as well as fluids escaping from the trunks. Thinking
at first the trunks contained contraband such as a dead deer, the
baggage agent, Arthur V. Anderson, wanted the trunks opened and tagged
them to be held. He asked Judd for the key, but she stated she didn't
have it with her.
Burton McKinnell, Judd's brother and a junior at
the University of Southern California, picked Judd up from the train
station unaware of the crime or the bodies. At around 4:30 that
afternoon, Anderson called the Los Angeles Police Department to report
the suspicious trunks. After picking the locks of each trunk, the
police discovered the bodies. Meanwhile, Judd's brother had dropped
his sister off somewhere in Los Angeles where she proceeded to
disappear. Judd hid out until she surrendered to police in a funeral
home the following Friday, October 23, 1931.
The murder was reported in headlines across the
country and Judd came to be referred to in the press as "Tiger Woman"
and "The Blonde Butcher". Eventually, the case itself came to be known
in the media as "The Trunk Murders".
Trial and conviction
On Monday evening, October 19, the Phoenix police
entered the bungalow where LeRoi and Samuelson resided for the first
time; neighbors and reporters were also allowed in and subsequently
destroyed the original integrity of the crime scene. The following day
the bungalow's landlord took out ads to be placed in The Arizona
Republic and The Phoenix Evening Gazette newspapers
informing the public that tours of the home were available for ten
cents per person. In the next three weeks, hundreds of curiosity
seekers toured the three room bungalow. During the trial, Judd's
defense protested by stating, "By the advertisements in the
newspapers, the entire population of Maricopa County visited that
The police maintained the two women were shot while
asleep in their beds. The two mattresses were missing the night the
police entered. Although one mattress was later found with no blood
stains on it miles away in a vacant lot, the other remained missing.
No explanation was ever offered as to why one was found so far away
nor what ever became of the other mattress.
The trial began January 19, 1932, three months
after the bodies had been discovered in the trunks. The state argued
that Judd acted with pre-meditation, that the relations between the
three women had deteriorated over some weeks, and that they had argued
over the affections of Jack Halloran. According to the prosecution,
all of this culminated with the murders. They maintained that Judd had
self-inflicted the gunshot wound to her left hand to try to bolster
her self-defense explanation. Judd's defense took the stance that she
was innocent because she was insane, but did not introduce the
"self-defense" argument for the record. None of the dismembering
aspect of the double slaying was addressed in court because Judd was
tried only of the murder of Mrs. LeRoi, whose body was not
dismembered. Judd did not take the stand in her own defense.
The jury found her guilty of first-degree murder on
February 8, 1932. An appeal was unsuccessful. Judd was sentenced to be
hanged February 17, 1933, and sent to Arizona State Prison in
Florence, Arizona. The death sentence was repealed after a ten-day
hearing found her mentally incompetent; she was then sent to Arizona
State Asylum for the Insane on April 24, 1933.
When it was discovered during the
course of the trial that Halloran and Judd had been involved in an
illicit affair, Halloran also became suspect of having complicity in
the killings. A known playboy and philanderer, Halloran was indicted
by a grand jury as an accomplice to murder on December 30, 1932
following new testimony from Judd. Judd referred to this testimony as
"the whole truth".
A preliminary hearing on the charge against
Halloran was held in mid-January 1933; Judd was the star witness. In
testimony that lasted almost three days, an emotional Judd told her
"I am going to be hanged for something Jack
Halloran is responsible for ... I was convicted of murder, but I
shot in self-defense. Jack Halloran removed every bit of evidence.
He is responsible for me going through all this. He is guilty of
anything I am guilty of."
Judd testified she had gone to the apartment on an
invitation to play bridge, and a fourth woman who had also been
invited to the get-together had already left. She testified that there
was an argument about Judd's introduction of Halloran to another
woman, and that she killed LeRoi and Samuelson in self-defense after
they physically attacked her.
According to Judd, she met up with Halloran shortly
after the killings and returned with him to the apartment. After
seeing the bodies he went out to the garage, returned with a "great,
heavy trunk" and told her not to tell anyone. Under cross-examination,
Judd admitted repacking Samuelson's dismembered body in a trunk and
other luggage two days after the murders.
Halloran did not take the stand in his own defense.
His attorney told the court that Judd's story was nothing more "than
the story of an insane person" and argued that since Judd had
testified that the two women were killed in self-defense, there was,
in fact, no crime committed, therefore Halloran could not be tried for
anything. Halloran's attorney then asked for the charges against his
client to be dismissed. On January 25, 1933 the judge freed Halloran,
saying that the state's case was inconsistent, and that trying him
would be "an idle gesture".
Escapes and parole
After her death sentence was repealed, Judd was
committed to the state's only mental institution, Arizona State
Hospital in Phoenix. From 1933 to 1963, Judd escaped from the
institution six times, in one instance walking all the way to Yuma,
Arizona, along the old Southern Pacific railroad tracks.
She escaped for the final time on October 8, 1963,
using a key to the front door of the hospital a friend had given her.
Judd ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area where she became a live-in
maid for a wealthy family living in a mansion overlooking the bay,
using the name Marian Lane. Her freedom lasted six and a half years.
Her identity in California was eventually discovered and she was taken
back to Arizona on August 18, 1969.
Judd hired famed San Francisco defense attorney
Melvin Belli. Belli needed an Arizona-licensed attorney to help him",
so he hired then "unknown Phoenix attorney" Larry Debus. Gov. Jack
Williams was going to sign for Judd's release as long as the meeting
was kept "hush, hush". In the following days, Belli called a press
conference calling for the immediate release of Judd, therefore Debus
had to fire Belli from getting in the way of Judd's release. Judd was
paroled and released on December 22, 1971 after two years of legal
Judd moved to Stockton, California. In 1983, the
state of Arizona issued her an "absolute discharge," meaning she was
no longer a parolee. She died 23 October 1998 at the age of
ninety-three, 67 years to the day from her surrender to Los Angeles
police in 1931.
Subsequent unofficial investigations, most notably
by investigative journalist Jana Bommersbach, revealed many people
close to the investigation believed Judd was guilty only of killing in
self-defense—what Judd had maintained all along—not of first-degree
murder. After Bommersbach had initially written about her
investigation of the Judd case as a series of articles in the
Phoenix New Times, she then published a book about Judd, The
Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd. For the book, Bommersbach
extensively interviewed Judd herself. During the course of
Bommerbach's investigations, the police and prosecution were found to
have been biased against Judd in a number of ways. According to the
book, due to Phoenix's small population in 1931, members of the
Phoenix police knew Jack Halloran well, who he associated with, and
who his friends—and girlfriends—were. Some police also knew the
victims. Some even believe Judd hadn't killed anyone, even in
self-defense, but was only covering up for the misdeeds of Jack
Halloran, and possibly other people. Many believe Judd wasn't capable
of dismembering Sammy Samuelson's body, of being "The Blonde Butcher,"
as the mainstream press had labeled her, or of being able to lift the
bodies. There are indications that someone with surgical skills had
performed the dismembering, a skill Judd hadn't possessed. According
to autopsy photos, the body was not "butchered," but cleanly dissected
in several places. Jack Halloran being let go was considered by many a
miscarriage of justice; his exoneration a political cover-up. His gray
Packard had been spotted at the crime scene the night of the murders,
and again there the next day. At the very least, he should have been
tried as an accomplice. Although officially exonerated by the law,
Halloran eventually fell out of favor with the local Phoenix
population, losing his valuable business associates and social status.
Bommersbach also introduces the possibility that a
second gun may have been involved because of early newspaper reports
that LeRoi was shot with a larger caliber bullet. The October 20, 1931
edition of The Arizona Republic stated, "Two different calibre
revolvers were used, autopsy surgeons said." On the same date, The
Los Angeles Times reported, "The killer is believed to have used a
.25 calibre automatic to murder Miss Samuelson, but a larger calibre
weapon was used to kill Mrs. LeRoi." No police reports, however, say
anything about a second gun and no written autopsy reports could be
located. Eventually, the unfounded reports of a "second gun" ceased.
Addressing the possibility that a person who
possessed surgical skills dissected Samuelson's body, Bommersbach
writes about a nurse she interviewed for her book named Ann Miller who
said that while she was working at the Arizona State Mental Hospital
in 1936 and had become friends with Ruth Judd, Judd had confided in
her that a Dr. Brown had come to see her while she was in prison and
told her he was going to confess everything. Later, after Miller told
a Phoenix attorney of Judd's story, he stated, "I'm sure she told you
that. Dr. Brown came up to my office and wanted to tell the whole
story. He made an appointment for the next week, but he died the day
before the appointment." Dr. Brown died in June 1932 of heart disease
at the age of forty-four. According to Bommersbach, some speculate he
might have been contemplating suicide. Bommersbach writes, "As the
New York Mirror reported the day Halloran's indictment was
'A second man would probably have been indicted,
according to widespread rumor, if death had not intervened. Mrs.
Judd's story included the declaration that a physician, who has
since committed suicide, was summoned to the murder bungalow to aid
in the disposal of the bodies.' "
The first feature-length film about the Judd case
was 2007's "Murderess" (written and directed by Scott Coblio and
featuring an all-marionette cast) which debuted at Rochester New
York's Little Theater in October of that year and has played annually
ever since at The Trunk Space in Phoenix, Arizona, always on October
16, the date of the fateful shooting.
The 2005 British film "Keeping Mum" is also loosely
based on the story. The main character, played by Maggie Smith, is a
murderess who has escaped from prison and is working as a nanny and
housekeeper. Her dismembered victims were found in two bloody steamer
trunks as she was traveling by train, though her victims are not
female friends as in the true story. "Keeping Mum" also stars Rowan
Atikinson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Patrick Swayze.
Winnie Ruth Judd, The
Trunk Murders by J. Dwight Dobkins, Robert J. Hendricks
Winnie Ruth McKinnell Judd was
born in 1905 to a Methodist Minster and his wife named Rev. and Mrs.
McKinnell. Born during a blizzard in Darlington, Indiana she was
raised in a Free Methodist household. Going to every service where
pentecostal worship and manifestations were routine.
Even as a child, she wanted a
baby. When she was 7 yrs old she told her school friends that her
mother was having a baby. As the neighbors came to congratulate Mrs.
McKinnell they were told the truth... there was no baby due.
As a teenager she accused her
boyfriend of getting her pregnant although she had never had sex with
him or with any boy. Her parents took her to a doctor who denied she
was pregnant or that she had had sex but she continued to claim she
was pregnant. Eventually she ran away from home and when she came back
she said she had been kidnapped and had given birth but there was no
baby. These lies and machinations as a child/teen could be the result
of immaturity and selfishness but it was causing adult consequences.
It also showed her emotional unbalance. It seems she was a nervous
child and woman.
She went to work at Indiana State
Hospital as an attendent. She did so well there that they were relying
on this teenager to take on more responsibility. She met her husband,
Dr. William C. Judd, there. Dr. Judd was a veteran of WWI and had
become addicted to morphine due to war wounds. He was never able to
hold a job for long.
At the time he was on staff at
the State Hospital when she met him. He was 26 years her senior and
she was only 17 yrs old when they married. They went to New Orleans
for their honeymoon and then moved to Mexico so he could be a doctor
for a large mining company. She left a small town, religious family
who had to live on a small salary to a marriage that led to a lot of
travelling, more money, her husband's drug and alcohol addiction and
no religious affiliation. There was no stability.
Her marriage in 1924 to Dr. Judd
didn't turn out to be as wonderful as she had hoped. Due to his
addiction and his inability to settle down and hold a job, he was
unwilling to have children. She would beg him to let her have a baby
but he insisted on a form of birth control. But she soon quit the
birth control without telling him and she got pregnant. Proving her
immaturity and her ability to manipulate to get what she wanted. He
decided that she was not emotionally or physically able to have the
child and performed an abortion on her. She fell into a deep
depression. When she got pregnant a second time, she left but
These events were traumatic to
her and probably caused a lot of emotional pain. I would imagine her
feelings towards her husband would have been hard to handle. His
addiction, his own demons and selfishness, his demand that she abort
the first baby, her trying to run away from him to save the 2nd baby.
But she always loved him and tried to get him off narcotics. But, when
he lost his job at the copper mine in Mexico they made the cross
country trek and when they arrived in Laredo, he used all their money
and sold their car in order to buy drugs again. This time she had a
nervous breakdown and left him. She went to live in Phoenix, AZ and
got a job. She brought Dr. Judd from El Paso to Phoenix and had him
committed to the veteran's hospital.
Her first job was as governess to
the wealthy Leigh Ford family, a position she loved. She met their
friend and next door neighbor, Jack Halloran. Jack Halloran was part
owner of one of the largest lumberyards in Phoenix and was one of the
town's movers and shakers. He was 44 yrs old and a successful business
man with a lot of charm. He liked to party. He was a good ole boy par
excellence. His wealth made him attractive and he liked the women
despite being married. Lonely, overwrought, still beautiful, Ruth fell
for Jack Halloran and began an affair with him. Torn between her love
for her husband and her religious values and the feeling of being
attractive to a dashing Jack Halloran with his money and power.
Winnie got a better job as a
medical secretary at the private Grunow Clinic where she met Agnes
Anne LeRoi and Hedvig "Sammy" Samuelson. They became best friends.
Anne was a 32 yr old twice divorced woman from Oregon and was the
X-ray technician. Sammy was a 24 yr old woman from North Dakota who
had been a teacher but was now struggling with tuberculosis. It was
possible that Anne and Sammy were bi-sexual and had a relationship.
Anne and Sammy were living together in 2929 North Second Street, a
small studio-type duplex.
Ruth moved in with the women for
a short time but living in too close quarters caused problems so Ruth
moved to Brill Street. Halloran would bring along his married friends
and lots of bootleg booze, to would party with the 3 women. The men
often gave them gifts and money. It seems that Anne and Sammy were
interested in Jack themselves and he would often visit them without
Ruth. Dr. Judd came back to Phoenix and moved back in with Ruth but
all the partying got him drinking despite her pleas to her friends to
stop including Dr. Judd in their parties. Then Dr. Judd took a job in
California and he left again.
One night in the Fall of 1931,
Ruth introduced Halloran to another nurse named Lucy Moore. There was
a hunting trip planned and Lucy Moore was from the hunt area. After
Jack and Ruth picked up Lucy, Jack wanted to make a stop at Anne and
Sammy's duplex. Ruth had turned down their earlier invitation to party
by telling them she had work to do. So she was embarrassed and didn't
want to go in but Jack went in and told them Ruth was in the car. So
Sammy and Anne came out and Ruth introduced them to Lucille Moore.
Although nothing was said that night, it seems the jealous Anne and
Sammy were none too happy that Ruth had introduced the pretty Lucy to
The next night, Ruth was again
invited to Anne and Sammy's to play Bridge with another friend but she
declined saying she had too much work to do. But she later changed her
mind and went over. Their other friend was just leaving. They wanted
to know how Jack knew Lucy Moore and Ruth told them she had introduced
them. That started an argument. They threatened to tell Jack that Ruth
had introduced him to a woman that had VD. Ruth told them they
couldn't tell that because it was confidential information and if they
did tell it then she would retaliate by telling the doctors at the
clinic that Anne and Sammy were lesbians. She went into the kitchen
and turned around to find Sammy standing there with a gun pointing at
her and shouting that she better not tell anyone anything bad about
According to Ruth, they struggled
with the gun and Anne started hitting Ruth with an ironing board. At
first Ruth was shot in the hand as she grabbed the gun barrell. After
strugging and fighting for the gun she said it went off and killed
Sammy. As Anne came at her again, she struggled to get up and she shot
Anne too. Then in a panic she put the bodies in a trunk.
The next day she had the trunk
taken to her home. It was too heavy to be shipped. She said she wanted
to ship the body to the coast and get her little brother to help her
dump the bodies in the ocean. Supposedly, at her home, she dismembered
the body of Sammy and put them in different trunks and baggage. She
had it shipped to California. But, by now, it was smelling and a
baggage handler brought it to the attention of the police. When it was
opened they were shocked to see Anne and Sammy's body parts. They
In 1932, Ruth was convicted of
the murder of the two women. Her parents and husband, Dr. Judd, stood
by her through it all. She was sentenced to death by hanging but it
was changed when she was declared insane. She was sent to the insane
assylum where she remained. She was a model patient and was greatly
loved by staff and patients alike. But she escaped 7 times from the
The last time was in 1962 and she
was missing for 6 1/2 yrs before being captured again. She had spent
her time taking care of an invalid and housekeeping. In 1971 it was
decided that she could be released. Winnie Ruth Judd returned to
California, as Marian Lane where she lived in Stockton with her dog,
Skeeter. She died at the age of 93 in her sleep, peacefully, on
October 23, 1998.
Jack Halloran was fired by his
silent partners in his lumber business for the scandal he created. He
eventually disappeared into oblivion. Dr. Judd died while she was in
the assylum. Her parents had moved to the area so they could be with
her. Her father died after a stroke. Her mother lived a long time. She
was put in the same assylum as Ruth when she became senile. Ruth
nursed her until her death.
Almost from the beginning, people
suspected there was more to the case. It's possible that Jack Halloran
was involved either in the murders themselves or in the cover up
afterwards and the dismembering of the body. Prosecutors said that she
entered the residence while the two slept, then shot them in the head
out of jealousy over attentions paid to them by her married boyfriend.
But she claimed self defense.
After she was convicted of murder
and sentenced to death, Ruth began to tell a different story. She said
that after the murders, she called Jack Halloran and he took care of
everything after that. But he was exonerated. Did the police cover up
Winnie Ruth Judd: "The Trunk Murderess" In Perspective
To this day,
one can only assume what happened inside the little duplex on North
Second Street, in Phoenix, Arizona, at approximately 10:25 p.m.,
October 16, 1931. History accepts this much: Two young women were shot
to death with a .25 calibre handgun fired by their former roommate,
pretty, svelte 26-year-old Winnie Ruth Judd - perhaps in self defense.
As well, someone (Mrs. Judd claimed it wasn't she) devised a plan to
hack the bodies into pieces so that they would fit neatly into
shipping trunks for tidy disposal. Taking blame for both the killings
and the mutilations, Winnie Ruth Judd earned the sordid moniker "The
years - and because of sleuthing supplied by many people, including
investigative reporter Jana Bommersbach - the story of that night and
its subsequent events has taken on a mien that reeks of political
chicanery. With their research, a behind-the-scenes cabal has
materialized that appears to have been wholly devoid of conscience in
using "The Trunk Murderess," the woman and that infamy, as its way to
escape its thoroughly deserved punishment.
article is stitched together from several sources, in particular Miss
Bommersbach's revelations. The facts are compiled in as chronological
an order as possible in order to tell the foundation of a compelling
story -- while keeping a tension line and a particular point of view
flowing in the same direction.
Like so many
gruesome tales of this genre, this version cannot be considered the
final, inclusive story. It is, rather, an interpretation founded on
the works of the most recent findings.
I would like to thank Ms. Lyn Cisneros for her time in
sharing with Dark Horse her one-on-one experiences with Winnie Ruth
Judd. Her recollections, which appear here in print for the very first
time (final chapter), offer an insightful and very human view of the
passengers in stylish Stetsons and feminine cloches rushed to and from
their trains amid the hustle-bustle of redcaps and stewards and
baggage men like himself who staffed Los Angeles Union Station this
Monday morning, October 19. The human activity was accompanied by the
shrill screech of arriving steam engines and the incessant, almost
automaton voice of the clerk announcing departures and arrivals.
George Brooker, in blue uniform and wearing the blue, round cap that
identified him as a baggage-checker, had been hard at work several
hours already. All of the cases, trunks, valises, parcels and packages
that had been unloaded from that morning's arrival of the Golden State
Limited from Phoenix, Arizona, had long been picked up by their
owners, but two trunks, he noted, remained on the flatbed truck.
Checking his baggage list against those trunks, he ensured that those
pieces did indeed come off the said train. He decided to wait a few
more minutes before returning them to storage; someone may call for
black with great silver latch-type locks. One was a large packer
trunk, 40" by 24" by 38," and had been weighed in at 235 pounds. The
other was an average-sized stream trunk, 15" by 18" by 36," weighing
some 50 pounds less.
had a particular interest in talking to the owner of those two trunks.
It was his job to act as inspector of any suspect luggage, and God
forbid should he pass on any contraband such as illegal firearms or
liquor; this was 1931, Prohibition was in effect, and he had been
given strict orders from the Southern Pacific for whom he worked to
keep an eye peeled for bootleg hooch or tommy guns in transit.
But, that pair
of seemingly abandoned trunks surely didn't smell of alcohol nor of
gunpowder. But, they had an odor that he best described to himself as
something foul, something... nauseating. It wasn't uncommon for
hunters returning from the mountains to try to smuggle their catch
through rail customs - venison, or deer, or even bear meat. Worse, he
had noticed a dark fluid dripping though the corners of the lid onto
A few minutes
before noon, Brooker noticed a Ford roadster backing up toward the
receiving dock. Alighting was an attractive young couple, a blondish
woman with a face like movie star Norma Shearer and a handsome
college-age male, several years younger than the woman. The former
asked for her trunks, presenting a claim ticket for both. She and her
associate ascended the few wooden steps to the platform.
boss, baggage agent Jim Anderson, with whom he had earlier shared his
observations of the shipment, stepped out of his office and signaled
to the other that he would take over.
"Have to ask,
ma'am: What're the contents?" Anderson inquired, thumbing her two
large baggage trunks.
Personal articles," the woman answered. Anderson, as did Brooker,
noted she seemed uneasy. As she was closer now to him, Anderson
thought she looked a trifle bruised about the face.
items?" the agent pursued.
they are my trunks," she explained. She tried to smile. "Sorry I'm a
little late picking them up, but I had to wait for my brother" - she
motioned the boy - "to drive over here and help me. They're rather
"Ah, I see,"
Anderson reasoned to remain personable, "and yes, they are - heavy.
Ma'am, excuse me, but there seems to be a stench coming from inside
intoned a surprise. A panic darkened her pretty features.
however, laughed. "You're kidding!" And he leaned over to sniff. One
whiff and he grimaced. "Hmm, you're right, sir" he turned to the
baggage man, nodding. "And look, Ruth, something seems to be oozing
intimated nonchalance. She claimed she smelled nothing - well, maybe a
little something; and as for whatever that was dripping -- for the
life of her she couldn't figure out what that was. After all, as far
as she remembered she had only clothing and ladies' private things
stored inside them.
ma'am," Anderson sounded stern this time. "I have to ask you to unlock
them for my inspection. Please open the trunks, ma'am."
seemed hesitant (but) opened her purse and fumbled around inside with
her one good hand - Anderson now noticed that the other was bandaged -
as though looking for the keys to unlock the trunks," says Jana
Bommersbach in her book, The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd. "'My
husband has the keys,' she told him, and Anderson took it for a lie
inquirer offered to let her use his station phone, she declined,
telling him that she would have to fetch her husband in person; she
could not recall his telephone number verbatim. Suddenly, she had
alerted and, as both Brooker and his superior noticed, could not wait
to get away from them. On the same token, her brother seemed as
equally puzzled as his sibling tugged him down the steps toward the
automobile, not looking back, not once, as the Ford wheeled out of the
Anderson phoned the L.A.P.D. A Lieutenant Frank Ryan answered the
call. Hearing the railman's tale, the detective picked the lock of the
larger trunk first. Even before he opened it, his decade of experience
warned him, by the smell and its putrid leaking, to expect the worst.
Opening the lid, he was momentarily overcome by more than the odor.
Lifting a layer of rags and clothing from a corner, the decomposing
face of a dead woman stared blankly back at him. He dropped the lid
"Holy sh---" A
wail of a locomotive from the tracks beyond drowned out his expletive.
senses, he dared to examine both trunks.
article that would appear in the following morning's Los Angeles
Examiner detailed what Lt. Ryan found: "In the larger one was the body
of an older and larger woman. She had been shoved into the trunk and
partly hidden by a mass of clothing, blankets, letters and a jumble of
other material, apparently thrown hastily on top of the corpse...In
the body of (a) younger woman were three bullet wounds. One was
through the left temple, one in the left breast and one in the left
shoulder...She had been stuffed into the smaller trunk, for the body
had been severed by a keen-edged instrument - cut completely into
three pieces, but the portion from the waist to the knees was
appeared to have been dead about two days.
pieces of the younger woman soon turned up. A janitor in the ladies'
restroom at the depot discovered that evening, a beige valise and
hatbox, hidden behind the door of the ladies' restroom. Police
recovered the items and, as they had with the two trunks, removed them
to the morgue where they were searched. In the valise was the
remaining lower torso, wearing shreds of pink pajamas. This was
bundled in blankets.
hatbox contained a surgeon's kit of instruments, the type used to
dissect, a Colt .25 calibre automatic pistol, one box of .25 caliber
Winchester cartridges, a bread knife and an assortment of cosmetics.
In no time,
the police verified that the wayward pieces of luggage belonged to
passenger Winnie Ruth Judd who had boarded the train Sunday evening in
most people called Ruthie or Ruth, was the daughter of Reverend and
Mrs. McKinnell from Darlington, Indiana, plunked deep within the rural
Methodist wheatbelt. She was 26 years old in 1931, seven years married
to a doctor whose practice had waned with his drug habit. It wasn't
Dr. William C. Judd's fault, Winnie would protest, defending him, for
he had become addicted through morphine he received to treat a wound
during the world war of 1918.
their marriage had been a disappointment. She needed a break.
Life with Dr.
Judd, her senior by 22 years, had never delivered its early
expectations. At the time she met him, he practiced at a psychiatric
hospital where she typed and filed; he was smitten with the cute,
fragile, hundred-pound dishwater blonde who, in return, was overcome
with his brainpower. While dating, he spoke of adventure, of how he
would love to travel the world, practicing his profession, she at his
married in April, 1924, they wound up in northern Mexico where her
dreams of having a baby broke the monotony. Twice she became joyously
pregnant, twice she miscarried. Her frail, weakened form soon
contracted a slight form of tuberculosis. Her husband placed her in a
sanatorium in California.
first attempt to recover her health, she tried several times to rejoin
her husband in Mexico, following him from one indigent town to
another. Tending to Mexico's poor spoke well of his principles, but
this practice did not support a young wife who was neither accustomed
to living in poverty nor, more practically, was she physically strong
enough to endure these conditions because of health problems. In 1930,
she traveled back to the U.S. He remained in Mexico. Their
communication was constant, but Ruth found she required more than Xs
on a letter.
In 1930, she
moved to Phoenix, Arizona, known for its tubercular relief.
She cut her
long hair and sported the fashionable "bob" cut of the day.
And she fell
in love with smiling, debonair, bedroom-eyed and saucy Jack Halloran.
Her first job
was as governess to the wealthy Leigh Ford family, a position she
loved. Halloran, the Ford's next-door neighbor, proved to be a side
benefit. Their over-the-fence chats developed into much more and every
chance they had she would steal from the Ford homestead, and he from
his wife and three children, for a rendezvous under the desert skies
44 years old and one of the town's success stories," reads Jana
Bommersbach's heavily researched The Trunk Murderess. "When anyone in
Phoenix named the movers and shakers, Jack Halloran's name was on the
list... If you wanted a political favor, Jack Halloran knew who to
ask. People remember him as a take-charge kind of guy whose laugh
could fill a room."
emanated a charm that the complacent William Judd never could, and
exploded sexuality totally foreign to the good doctor.
Phoenix in the
early Thirties, despite its jabs at modernity and a large population
of good people just trying to live and let live, was in many ways
still a Wild West personality, full of modern-day desperadoes. It
uniquely bore the raw and rough- and-tumble-ahead, carefree rapport
with life that was slowly disappearing in other, older cities behind a
somber, more prayerful and conscientious hope for industry thrust upon
them by a national Depression.
boardwalks were full of the regular john does who sought the most
peaceful life possible; they had heard that Arizona, the newest state
in the Union, offered that. Miles of desert between itself and other
metropolises seemed to have cut, at least escaped from, a reality of
desperadoes straddled the same boardwalks, and they were everywhere.
They didn't come this time with a snarl, waving guns and staging
shootouts at high noon. They smiled now, and wore pinstriped suits and
stole the advantage of the town rather than the money from its banks
outright. They were rustlers, like Jack Halloran, who enjoyed running
Phoenix like a Saturday night hootenanny and shooting from the hip
with swagger and verbosity; the meter of their caliber was lethal:
political savvy and an assured grin. They were the roustabouts,
boasting a clutch on the throttle of the town administration, scuffing
their path with invisible spurs, even up the sacred aisles of
Municipal Hall to address the civic committees to promise their
support for a more God-Fearing and Better Phoenix.
Phoenix had grown basically out of the desert ether, that is from a
hitching-post town to one with an emerging art deco skyline, it was
able to creep up ungoverned while the rest of the country was unaware
of it. The reformers were watching Chicago, as was New York and Kansas
City and St. Paul. But, Phoenix was viewed as a blossoming cactus of
the Southwest, its needles albeit unobserved. On the surface, it wore
a strict code of family morals and wedded loyalty - and most of the
50,000 residents practiced what they preached - but there was the
element who found the motto, "a city of homes, churches and schools" a
convenient mask to camouflage their lifestyles.
There was a
league of Jack Hallorans there, big biters and big takers and big
kickers. Suddenly rich on the pastel Sonora Desert, they ran Phoenix
for the pleasure of their own pocketbook and libido. Americans didn't
think of Phoenix as a Gomorrah, and that was its greatest power.
was part owner of one of the largest lumberyards in this modern-day
garden of sin. And owning a lumberyard in a burgeoning
garden-turned-metropolis is a virtue that speaks for itself. A member
of the Phoenix Country Club, he rubbed shoulders with the denizens of
smoke-filled political backrooms, mayor on down, as well as patrons of
business who, because they hoped to maintain an industry there, became
very adept at psalming, "Yes, sir, mayor!" with an efficient nod of
the head. Jack probably started out as a yes-man, too, but now he was
one of the rich and favored.
Judd didn't realize the dangerous company she was giving herself to in
the back seat of Model Citizen Jack's luxury sedan. She may have had
misgivings - she continued to pour out her love to Dr. Judd in ink
and, in fact, wrote him that she hoped he would come to Phoenix - but
in the interim she obviously was feeling the freedom of the new girl
in town. Attracting male stares made her feel like a woman, not just a
preacher's daughter. Sensing the space and experimenting with what a
woman can find in that space, she was having the time of her
After a few
months with the Ford family, Winnie sought a financial step up as a
medical secretary at the private Grunow Clinic. Her salary of $75 was
quite good for the year 1931; it afforded her monthly rent for a small
cottage at 1102 East Brill Street, food in the Kelvinator ice box, and
a little left over to send her husband who had left Mexico for
California where he had admitted himself into a hospital for drug
friends were Anne LeRoi, a 32-year-old Oregonian divorcee who was an
X-ray technician at Grunow, and 24-year-old Hedvig (or "Sammy")
Samuelson from North Dakota who, because she was suffering from TB,
had taken a hiatus from a teaching career. Before coming to Phoenix in
early February of 1931, both these professional women worked in
Alaska. It was there that they met and where they decided to move
together down south because of Sammy's worsening health.
deaths, certain newspapers would hint at Anne's "mannishness" and term
their friendship as a "queer love," a derogatory term for lesbianism
in the first decades of the 20th Century. That they were bisexual
might be true, for their relationship does seem to have extended to
that. But, simultaneously, they also openly exhibited an interest in
certain men, especially Ruth's male companion, who they called "Happy
They lived at
2929 North Second Street, in a small studio-type duplex, "a trolley
ride away," according to Bommersbach, from Ruth's Brill Street place.
There, they often threw small parties for Ruth and Halloran and the
latter's married business buddies whom he brought along for revel.
brought crates of bootlegged booze. The men wined and dined the girls
throughout the evening while their wives figured hubby was at the
office working hard. Rather, hubby was hardly working. Because these
knights of big business and big city dealings tended to leave behind
them a wad of money for the girls' hospitality, one might conclude
without so skeptical a mind that the hospitality may have included
more than a tray of pastrami sandwiches and a leisurely bowl of
Ruth knew that
Jack tended to visit the two girls on his own and would, many times,
begift them rolls of greenery and bundles of presents, but according
to what is known she never balked. Still, author Bommersbach hints in
her book The Trunk Murderess that beneath the amiability and, in fact,
secret-sharing relationship the three girlfriends had, there was
indeed a semblance of kinetic rivalry.
If she had
been a fool, Ruth might have totally overlooked Jack's generosity to
her female friends, but she was not a fool. Jack, she determined, was
not a benefactor Santa Claus. Anne was a tall, well-built, stunning
brunette with chiseled features, and blonde, dimpled Sammy did not
exactly leave men cold. Both were charismatic, fun loving and, what
Jack liked best, adventurous.
1931, the three girls attempted space sharing in the small quarters on
North Second Street. Living under one roof produced problems, though.
They began arguing daily, mostly over differences in housekeeping.
Ruth was casual in her habits; the other two were obsessively neat. To
placate, Ruth returned to her old digs at Brill Street.
But, a feeling
of animosity was developing nevertheless, and not over tidiness. The
bond between Anne and Sammy had always been impenetrable; they were
sisters in one thought for so long and, whether sexual or spiritual,
they doted on each other, protecting each other to no extent; Anne was
the breadwinner and Sammy the homemaker. They were a family of two.
Winnie, in a manner of speaking, was an outsider who, probably because
she felt that way, had chosen to give them the freedom they needed to
once again live the way they required.
Not that she
wished to penetrate their circle - she was independently happy and
lost in the throes of romance with her Jack - and fighting conscience
over her betrayal of Dr. Judd -- but, no doubt, the interplay that
existed between her and Jack, and Jack and her friends, almost
certainly caused a sensation of distrust among all parties.
underplay came to a combustive and startling - and deadly - head on
Friday, October 16, 1931. Trouble began to twitch the evening before,
on Thursday. During the week, Ruth learned that Jack and his crones
had been planning a deer-hunting party in the White Mountains of
northern Arizona. She offered to introduce Jack to a fellow employee
at Grunow Clinic, a pretty, young nurse named Lucille Moore, who had
come from that part of the country and was familiar with its wildlife.
Jack agreed to meet Miss Moore and on Thursday he first picked up
Ruth, then Moore, and headed back to Ruth's house where she had dinner
in the oven.
On their way
back, Jack remembered that he had promised to stop at Anne and Sammy's
house to see a couple friends who were visiting there. Ruth felt
uncomfortable because she had earlier turned down a dinner invitation
telling Anne that she had business that night; she hadn't wanted to go
into the history of the planned hunting excursion and Lucille Moore's
involvement. While her reasons are unclear, they strongly and
strangely suggest that she might have sensed a jealousy that would
have raged had the girls known that she was introducing Jack to
another good-looking woman. Later presumptions conclude that Ruth
knew, or strongly suspected, that she had been sharing Jack's bed with
Anne and, possibly, Sammy, too.
Jack went into
the house to see his buddies, and Ruth's friends came out to say hello
to Ruth and Miss Moore (whom Anne slightly knew from the clinic). Ruth
observed no resentment in their actions; they were highly cordial -
even asked them to stay for dinner, which Ruth had to turn down
because of her dinner waiting at home. It would not be until the
following night that Ruth realized her initial suspicions had been
Anne LeRoi and
Sammy Samuelson hadn't liked the idea of pretty, young Lucille Moore
October 16, 1931, Winnie Ruth Judd shot Anne LeRoi and Sammy Samuelson
to death. That's what history says and, for that matter, what Ruth
herself said. Details remain sketchy, however. To present a depiction
of what seems to have occurred that evening and over the weekend, the
following events are based on a transcript of a confession Ruth made
to a sheriff after her trial. Evidence uncovered from the crime scene
supports this story, including her testimony that she killed in self
holes, nonetheless, considering sensible theories that sprang up
afterwards. None of these discredit Ruth, but they suggest that Jack
Halloran's role in the crime was larger than his being the
after-the-fact participant exhibited here. (These suspicions will be
home from work around 6:30 p.m. that Friday evening, fed her cat, then
waited for Jack Halloran to take her to dinner. She waited until
nearly nine when she realized Jack had stood her up. This wasn't the
first time. Angry, she resolved to leave him waiting, and grabbed the
Indian School Trolley to visit with Anne and Sammy on Second Street.
She knew that they were playing bridge that evening with a mutual
friend and figured she would join them.
By the time
she arrived, their company had departed, but the girls asked her to
stay the night. The trolley line would soon shut down for the night
and, since both Ruth and Anne worked at the clinic on Saturdays, they
could go to work together in the morning. Ruth agreed.
for bed, but continued to sit up in their beds for a while, sipping
warm milk and talking. That is when an argument started. Anne suddenly
started berating Ruth for setting up the meeting between Jack Halloran
and Lucille Moore; she claimed the nurse was being treated for
syphilis and that in introducing Jack to her she had endangered Jack's
life. (Syphilis in the Thirties was as dreaded as AIDS is today.) Ruth
rebutted by saying that, firstly, she didn't expect Jack to be
interested in Moore romantically and, secondly, if it was true about
the woman's affliction, such information should remain in the clinic
and not made public.
erupted, and threats. Anne and Sammy joined forces to intimidate Ruth.
They insinuated that she was a slut, and wouldn't her husband be happy
to know how she was sleeping around! Ruth counter-attacked by
admitting that everyone at the clinic considered the two as lesbians
and no more than "perverts". When Anne, in retaliation, threatened to
tell Jack about Moore's disease, Ruth swore that, if she did, she
would tell the doctors at the clinic how Anne had, in a fit of rage
one day, purposely broke an expensive piece of X-ray equipment.
"This was no
longer just a quarrel between girlfriends that would eventually end
with tears and promises to forgive and forget," Jana Bommersbach
asserts in The Trunk Murderess. "This was now a bitter fight with each
side threatening to destroy the other - socially and financially."
daggers had pierced enough, Ruth determined, and left the bedroom to
put her cup of milk in the kitchen sink. The time was, Ruth estimated
later, about 10:25 p.m. From the corner of her eye, she saw a movement
and heard a grunt; turning, she saw Sammy behind her with a gun whose
barrel she placed against her chest. Ruth screamed, shoving the gun
away, simultaneously reaching for a bread knife from the kitchen
grappled, and the gun discharged a bullet into Ruth's left hand. She
faltered and, as Sammy re-aimed at her chest again, Ruth stabbed Sammy
across the shoulder in self-defense. Both women were stunned, but
recovered instantly, only to fall to the floor. Locked and fighting
over possession of the firearm, it fired, striking Sammy in the left
shoulder, but the latter still held on.
testified: "I grabbed the gun and her hand was yet on the trigger when
that shot went through her chest, and she never relaxed on the gun one
bit until after she was shot..."
meantime, Anne had approached them, smacking Ruth atop her head with
an ironing board yelling for Sammy to "Shoot...Shoot her!" After Sammy
lay still, Anne continued to "brain" her with the board and wouldn't
stop despite Ruth's cries. In getting up, Ruth, now in control of the
gun, thought it had discharged again and that the shot had gone wild
because she had no time to pause between Anne's wallops. Anne
continued to bat her until Ruth was forced to fire.
All action was
a blur, she wasn't even sure how many times she shot in Anne's
direction. She seemed to recall Anne listing, then recoiling, but that
too was part of the bad dream. Dizzy, she must have wavered for a
moment, because it wasn't long after that she found herself on the
floor, aching, flanked by two lifeless bodies.
had fallen, according to Ruth, "back towards the stove. Sammy's
head...was in towards the breakfast room, the feet towards the kitchen
door...I must have fell too, afterwards, because (when I came to) I
was sitting on the floor...I put my dress on and nothing else, just my
shoes and my dress."
straight back to her house to get her pocketbook. The ride home took a
little longer than usual, since the trolley line was closing and she
couldn't take the car the full way. She walked the last few blocks to
her doorstep. When she arrived home, about 11:30 p.m., she saw Jack
Halloran waiting there, "dead drunk". Her intention had been to call
her husband, but Jack talked her out of it. Instead, she relied on his
"I told him
what had happened (but) he wouldn't believe it...And I couldn't
convince him." To prove it, she had him drive her back to North Second
Street. They parked on adjacent Pinchot Street, and then entered the
scene of the fight through the front door. After examining the
aftermath, Halloran "picked up Sammy and carried her to Anne's bed."
When he dropped the corpse onto the mattress, blood splattered from
Sammy's hair across the mattress and walls - tiny drops of blood.
meanwhile, began to mop the kitchen tiles, but broke down and could
not finish. She was shaking; her left hand, which had taken a .25
calibre bullet, throbbed like the devil. Jack completed the job
himself. He seemed annoyed when Ruth suggested giving herself up to
the police. "He scared me of the police, he scared me of the state's
attorney...he scared the life out of me, what it would mean. He told
me...that he would take care of this himself...and that everything
would be all right (but) to say absolutely nothing (to no one)."
that he let an associate of his, a Dr. Brown, come over to attend to
her hand. When Ruth protested, worried that the doctor might in turn
implicate Jack in the crime, the latter smirked and ensured her that
Brown would prove to be a willing accomplice. According to Ruth, Jack
said he "had enough on Brown to hang him." Several attempts to reach
Brown by phone failed, however, and Halloran never mentioned his name
completed, Jack carried a good-sized packer trunk in from the garage.
Because she was still hysterical, he insisted that she go home - he
would drive her - and that she calm down. He would return alone to the
girls' house, he said, to finish up what needed to be done. His plan
was to force the two dead bodies into the trunk and dispose of it in
the desert. She agreed that that might be best for everybody. On her
way out of the house, she dropped the murder weapon, a .25 calibre
Winchester revolver, into her purse. Ten minutes later she was home,
but spent the evening weeping and wringing her hands, wondering what
Jack was up to and hoping that he would remain safe.
Early in the
morning, she called work and begged to take a day off, but her
employers insisted she come in. To avoid suspicion, she obliged.
Performing her duties was difficult, not only because she was on pins
and needles - she hadn't heard from Halloran - but because she was in
pain from the gunshot. Her hand festered and felt swollen under a
bandage she had applied hours earlier.
noon, Jack phoned her. He asked that she meet him at the girls' house
that evening; they needed to talk things over. She did as he asked,
taking the trolley directly to North Second Street from work. Entering
the front room, Ruth was disappointed to see the packing trunk still
there, hoping it was gone.
explained that it was too risky dumping corpses in the countryside;
the highway patrol scoured those roads constantly; and, besides, if
the remains were ever found, Ruth would be implicated immediately, she
being their friend and one-time roommate.
another plan: that she take the trunk herself to Los Angeles where it
could be gotten rid of safely, away from Phoenix. "He wanted me to
take (it) and he said there would be someone there to meet me...at Los
Angeles," Ruth reported, "that he had a man by the name of Williams,
or Wilson, (who) would meet me."
The plan made
sense. It appealed to Ruth. Doctor Judd currently lived there; he
could remove the bullet. Also, she had wanted to visit her brother,
Burton, who was attending college in Los Angeles. And, as Halloran
underscored, the trip gave her an ideal double-alibi for going to L.A.
- to see her husband and brother - just in case questions were asked
later. Jack promised to get her a ticket for the Golden State Limited
express train leaving Phoenix the following evening for the West
She nodded. So
that his Mr. Wilson could identify her at the busy train station, she
told Jack to tell him to look out for a short thin blonde in a brown
were other things to consider first, before L.A. and brown suits. As
for those other things, they had been neatly packaged in the trunk.
surveyed the gruesome black oblong thing. "You were able to fit
the...girls in there?" she asked.
"I forced Anne
in the bottom and, well, there wasn't a whole lot of room left. Sammy
was...er, operated on. That's the only way they would both compact,"
Jack admitted. Ruth grew nauseated at the thought even though, she
noticed, he had chosen the more discrete operated on over the harsher
cut up. Her eyes rejected the sight of the disgusting object.
left her alone at the house- turned- mausoleum while he went off to
procure a train ticket for her. It would be waiting and paid for at
the ticket window, he explained. He also left with her a phone number
for the Lightning Delivery Service. "Call them ahead of time," he
directed, "and have them ship the trunk to the station. They will load
it on the train you're taking and it will be waiting for you and my
associate when you arrive in L.A."
that this Wilson or whatever his name is will be there when I am?"
"Trust me," he
patted her hand. And left. She believed him, everything he said.
Especially that he would keep in touch with her. He lied. No contact
would meet her in Los Angeles, nor would he ever try to see her again.
After that night, it was as if he had never known her.
the old moral about "best laid plans," Ruth's went sour. When the
drivers from Lightning Delivery showed up later Saturday night they
told her the case was too heavy to be shipped by rail freight and
advised her to separate whatever was in it into two boxes before
sending it on. Caught unprepared, she told them to deliver it then to
her Brill Street address. The tradesmen thought her request, and her
bearing, were very odd - but she was the customer. They transported
the trunks and Ruth, to Brill.
In the early
hours of Saturday night, Ruth was left alone with the gruesome task of
dividing up the contents of the bodies into other containers. ("I had
to," she later justified her actions, "because that trunk was too
heavy to go by express and I didn't know what else to do.") She had
tried to find Jack to help her, but he had disappeared. According to
her testimony to come, she removed several of the smaller anatomical
slivers from the packing trunk (with a Turkish towel) into a larger
steamer trunk she had had at home for storage. As she sickened and the
macabre task overwhelmed her, she sought the relief of fresh air
outside before plunging back to her chore. Wanting to end this hell as
soon as possible, she decided to try another strategy: "I didn't lift
(the body parts), I lowered them over the edge and they fell into the
lower (trunk). The piece I lowered, it was on top. I pulled it over
the edge into the (larger) trunk at the side of it...I had the big
trunk and the little trunk at the side and I pulled (the latter) over
the edge and lowered it into the other - you can't lift that big
After she felt
she had equally dispersed all pieces, she quickly drew out one more
grisly section from the smaller trunk and stuffed it under wads of
soft materials in her valise. The glance she afforded that final
cutting told her it was Sammy's severed limbs.
revolting session was done, she raced to the bathroom and released
from her gut the curdling horrors of the weekend. By then, the Sunday
sun had risen to erase the gloom and vapors of the night.
hurdle remained this morning, Oct. 18: getting the two heavy trunks to
the train station for the eight o'clock evening departure of the
Golden Star Liner. (Again, Jack Halloran proved inaccessible and she
hoped he had at least fulfilled his promise of reserving her a seat on
the train.) For muscle, she sought the help of her landlord, Howard
Grimm, who lived in a small house behind hers. Grimm was delighted to
lend a hand and promised that he and his son Kenneth would stop by her
place at 6:30 p.m. to get her to the depot on time.
appointed hour, says Jana Bommersbach, "(Ruth) pointed them toward the
bedroom, where they found two black trunks. Grimm recalled grunting as
he tried to lift the big trunk. Mrs. Judd apologized for its weight,
explaining that it contained her husband's medical books...It took the
strength of two men to carry the trunk to the touring car (but)
Kenneth managed the smaller trunk himself...Winnie Ruth carried out a
battered suitcase and a hatbox."
at the station, the large trunk came in 175 pounds overweight. Ruth's
heart fell, sure that the handlers would refuse to accept it. But,
when she was told she would have to pay $4.50 extra for its excess
weight, she realized she was home scot-free. The baggage man then
clipped a numbered claim check to each of the trunk's handles, had her
sign the receipt, and wheeled the things from her sight. She watched,
thankfully, as they disappeared behind the baggage room door.
Picking up her
ticket (Jack had prepaid it), she boarded the train and rested her
head back upon the cold leather of the cushion. Through the skylight
grating, she could see that the sky overhead had darkened. A few stars
twinkled in easy harmony.
from now she would be in Los Angeles. Twelve hours. She hoped Jack's
Mr. Wilson would recognize her; she wore the brown suit, the one she
told Jack to tell his friend to watch for.
become of the trunks, she didn't know, hadn't asked. She didn't need
to. She knew that Jack always had a way of getting things done. He
knew people, knew how to deal. This time, she was sure, would be no
Angeles Union Station Mr. Wilson, or Williams, or whatever his name
was supposed to have been, never materialized.
And when she
phoned, the Halloran's housekeeper told her the master was not
available; he had gone hunting and would be unreachable for quite some
It didn't take the newspapers long to find a name for
Winnie Ruth Judd, and it was "The Trunk Murderess." Plain and simple.
For a while they toyed with "The Tiger Woman," but that seemed too
generic and didn't quite fit the genre of this woman whose petite,
angelic face ran large on the front pages of every newspaper across
the nation. It was the kind of face that men fell in love with and
women gaped at unable to understand how a face like that belonged to,
obviously, a femme fatale. They thought that if a Hollywood director
were to cast someone in a role of a character whose activities
resembled her insidious actions, they never would cast anyone who
looked like Winnie Ruth Judd.
clawed for information, anything they could find on the Indiana
preacher's daughter gone haywire. They uncovered her clothing sizes,
her favorite foods, her bouts with TB, her family's first names, her
marital history, even that she had a suspected boyfriend named Jack
Halloran. And in the morals-conscious milieux of 1931, the fact she
may have been adulterous met with as much scorn as her alleged murder.
offered rewards for her capture, and every columnist in every city
fell upon each other for "hot-button" tips and the latest police
findings in Phoenix and Los Angeles, the two cities currently sharing
a history of the Winnie Ruth Judd crime and getaway.
Angeles police combed their city for Winnie, who had vanished into
thin air after departing in haste from the train station, they wasted
no time in tracking down her husband, Dr. Judd, and her brother,
Burton McKinnell. After briefly questioning both parties, they quickly
realized that neither of them, who had strong alibis for their
whereabouts over the weekend, had any previous knowledge of the crime.
William Judd was clearly overcome with shock and anxiety. Burton,
because he had accompanied his sister to the train station to pick up
the telltale luggage, had at first been labeled a solid suspect, but
his explanation of how he innocently happened to be with her was quite
showed up on campus looking for him after her L.A. contact fizzled
out. Knowing there was no one else to help her, he dodged his classes
and drove her back to the station. It was only after they pulled out
of the depot that he realized his sibling had no intention of
retrieving them and was, in fact, preparing to go into hiding from the
law. As they cruised through Los Angeles' lunchtime traffic, she grew
When he asked
her jokingly, "Ruth, what's in that trunk, a man or a woman?" she
answered, quite solemnly, "I'm not going to answer any questions, and
I can justify everything." She refused to talk about what had
happened, her brother said, interested only in getting away. "She
asked me for money because she said she had to leave, and I said 'I
think that is the best thing you can do. I wish you all the luck in
the world, kid.' And she left." Making him pull alongside a downtown
curb, she alit from his Ford and melted into the noonday crowd.
unparalleled manhunt, she was found on October 23 hiding in, of all
places, a funeral parlor. When questioned, she replied, "I am Winnie
Ruth Judd." Hungry, disheveled, worn, she accompanied police to the
jail where reporters enveloped her. "I had to do it," she moaned, "I
But, with the
first stuttering of self-defense, the entire case turned topsy-turvy;
no one, the public nor the police, expected it. When newscasters
announced the killer was apprehended, America braced to meet a
snarling Hydra gloating over her wicked, wicked ways; instead, they
were introduced to photos in the newspaper of a wide-eyed, tearful
waif in handcuffs whose visage bespoke a blend of crucifixion and
apology, and whose sobs of I had to do it brought the house down.
Almost from the start, America sympathized with her; all except
Phoenix was very much a Coliseum of lions and Winnie Ruth Judd the
hapless Christian. Awaiting her extradition back to Arizona, the
town's administration turned curiously - and vindictively -- bent on
To the point
authorities closed ears to debate. Belief in City Hall Phoenix was
that Ruth Judd had killed her two victims in cold blood while they
slept. To corroborate this, they pointed to the fact that the
mattresses of both the girls' beds were missing - a finding that, when
Ruth first heard it, puzzled and shocked her. (The last glimpse she
had had of the bedroom, the mattresses were in place upon Anne and
Sammy's beds.) But, in the detectives' assumption, the only reason why
a suspect would have disposed of them was because they were soaked by
There was a
splattering of blood on the walls near one of the beds - and Ruth knew
that must have come from Jack Halloran's transporting of Sammy to the
bedroom. But, they refused to listen to her explanations about the
mattresses or the splatters. The intrigue was growing; she felt it
tightening; and her words were not being heard.
they were falling on those deaf ears.
To keep the
smoky light of guilt on Ruth, Phoenix administrators kept autopsy
reports of the murdered women vague. If they had not, the American
public would have read that the mutilations performed on Sammy were
not "mutilations" at all - whoever cut up the girl had been
experienced in anatomy. The dissections were clean and accurate. And
not performed by an amateur like Ruth.
police also surfaced their discovery of an ominous letter written by
Sammy Samuelson the day she died. The three-page document, addressed
to her sister, was found un-mailed at the scene of the crime. To the
press, a police spokesperson cited a fragment of that letter as
reading, "We are much happier by ourselves as Ruth and Anne clashed on
so many things and their quarrels were sometimes violent."
letter read, "We are so much happier here by ourselves. Ruth and Anne
clashed in many things. We get along so well but it shows there has to
be a lot of tolerance which comes from love."
When Ruth told
her story to the police, she spoke of a scuffle, of Sammy attacking
her with a pistol, of a .25 caliber bullet entering her hand while she
tried to ward off the attack, of Anne clubbing her with an ironing
board. She was left with bruises that, if apprised honestly by the
police and prosecution, would have held weight in her defense.
Ruth received emergency surgery to remove the bullet that had lodged
in her palm; the hand had turned gangrenous. In the same examination,
Dr. Grace Homman found an extraordinary number of fresh welts, cuts
and discolorations - 147 of them - across her body. They were the type
usually produced by assault. (Photographs still extant today) were
taken that graphically depict the extent of the injuries. The
attending physician's diagnosis was that, as she later wrote, "Mrs.
Judd put up a tremendous fight for her life."
the diagnosis and photographs of the wounds that Ruth suffered
evaporated from the investigation reports as if they had never
Ruth a liar. Of her hand wound, they proclaimed she shot herself after
the fact on Saturday to insinuate a struggle the night before. They
had not uncovered one person who saw Ruth with a bandaged hand the day
after the supposed attack - so they asserted. Yet, in the most botched
or plotted mishap of the whole investigation, they ignored the
testimonies of five people who vouched they had seen her left hand
bandaged early Saturday morning at work, as well as a crucial piece of
testimony given by the streetcar driver who drove her home Friday
night after the fracas.
Mitchell and Stella and Mike Kerkes saw the bandage and commented on
it that Saturday morning at Grunow Clinic. Medical Secretary Faye
Ayres and handyman Emil Clemmons vividly remembered her left hand in
gauze. And as for the trolleyman B. Jurgemeyer, he had told police
that when he picked her up at approximately 11:30 Friday night, to
take her back towards her home, "her left hand was completely
the bandaged hand did not fit with what the police wanted to say: that
Ruth shot and killed her two friends in their sleep, butchered the
bodies, shoved the pieces into an array of portables, went home to
sleep soundly, appeared at work the following morning, blew a bullet
into her hand for illusion of innocence in case she was suspected,
then proceeded to machinate her escape plans to Los Angeles.
The reason for
the suspected cover-up: to shield Phoenix's man of the hour, Jack
Halloran. Ergo, had Ruth's hand been accepted as actually invalidated
during the melee, then there wouldn't have been a ghost of a chance
for any sane man or woman to believe that a 100-pound woman, by
herself, with tuberculosis, and with one good hand, had lifted the
much-heavier Anne LeRoi into a trunk, cleaved Sammy, cleaned the house
and disposed of the mattresses.
of Phoenix's fear of itself - that is, its reputation - was the fact
that when Jack's name became implicated in the bloody mess - as either
Ruth's boyfriend or as an alleged accomplice - all papers across the
country, except in Phoenix, printed his name. According to Miss
Bommersbach, the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette referred to
him only as Mr. X.
neighbors had spotted Halloran's automobile on North Second Street,
parked near the scene of the fatality, on both Friday and Saturday
evenings. Ruth's neighbor, idling in the suspect's driveway on Friday,
had also seen it. Police heard them out, checked the reported license
plates against state records and concluded the car, a gray Packard,
was indeed registered to Halloran. Sharp newspapermen got a hold of
this bit of dynamite and, as every other major news outlet in the
union ran the information page one, the local press in Phoenix simply
disregarded it. As did the police when they failed to include the
findings in the prosecution's dossier.
newspapers continued to consider a possible "other-person" theory,
Phoenix mouthpieces refuted it. They disregarded Mr. X's presence as
hearsay and never took pains in pursuing either an abettor or, for
that matter, a motive that might have involved anyone else outside of
Mrs. Judd's personal jealousy/animosity.
all this, imagine the behind -the- scenes dither that must have ensued
when the International Wire Service leaked a report that a diary
belonging to Anne LeRoi had been discovered in her home, a diary that
named certain members of Phoenix's upper-elite who had patronized the
two women. According to the Wire, the alleged diary contained
"intimate details" of the slain girls and their beaus. The State's
Attorneys office was forced to admit its existence, but refused to
wondered what was in that diary - and [whom]. From its suggestion, it
sounded like it name-dropped not only Jack Halloran but also several
other married and prominent men in town of recognized high standing
and moral caliber. "Hanky was the name and panky was the game," wrote
Don Dedera, a well-known Arizona journalist in afterwards summing up
the hypocrisy that these men led. They played the community pillar,
but cracked its foundation in the interim. Respected and likeable,
they glossed their activities by pose and charm.
But, of the
general public, very few were fooled. They learned about the "summer
bachelors" who sent their wives and children away to the cottage every
June and July so they could party with the single pert young girls who
saw their chance for a job promotion, a diamond ring, a fur coat or
perhaps an advantage they could store away until they thought of
LeRoi's diary would have probably meant ruination for too many people,
instant ejection from high seats and an embarrassing scandal all
around for Arizona. But, whatever chaos ran amok among the
conspirators was brief, for soon all further mention of the
reputation-breaker was muzzled. Prosecutors forgot it and the diary
never found its way into Ruth's trial.
dissemblers remained safe.
Among the dark
knights of Phoenix there was one - one - who wore shining armor, and
meant it. Sheriff John McFadden believed that there was much more to
the story than the local yokels were being fed. From Ruth's
incarceration through her trial and afterwards he would prove to be
Winnie Ruth Judd's greatest ally - and lifesaver.
McFadden on his course were the autopsy pictures of Sammy Samuelson's
cut-up body. Helen McFadden, the sheriff's daughter, recalls that in
viewing the photographs her dad came to the conclusion that the
dismemberment "had to be done by a professional - a surgeon or a
doctor. He said Ruth was incapable of doing it."
remembered that Jack Halloran had told her Sammy was "operated on".
She assumed he was telling her, in a most polite way, that he
disjointed her carcass. In her confused and frightened state, she
hadn't stopped to consider anything else. Unless autopsy prints lie,
which of course they do not, Halloran could not have performed such a
neat, clean job, as illustrated.
Who could have
done it? Scholars point to one man: Dr. Charles W. Brown, the same
physician who Halloran claimed lay in his debt. One theory is that
Halloran, who had earlier tried to reach Brown to remove Ruth's
bullet, may have at last found him after he brought Ruth home. The two
men very likely returned to the death house on North Second Street
where the intimidated Brown conducted the dissection.
Not long after
Ruth was incarcerated at Arizona State Prison, the warden heard from
the guards that a man calling himself Dr. Brown, drunk and disorderly,
had wobbled into the front office insisting to see Winnie Ruth Judd.
When they asked why, he blurted, "Because I am the only man alive who
knows the truth!" Before they could quiz him further, he hotfooted.
A few days
later, he died. The coroner pronounced it a coronary, but many
believed he had committed suicide.
McFadden's initial suspicions were becoming concrete as incidences
such as these prevailed. The lawman's real contribution, however, will
be discussed later, but it adds to the story now to mention that,
during his independent investigations, he was proving a source of
worry to someone. Says Helen of her father, "He was getting telephone
threats that something would happen to his family if he didn't back
have had a confederate had Hugh Ennis worn a badge in 1931. Ennis, a
22-year veteran with the Phoenix Police Force was not a professional
lawman during the Judd trial, but joined the muster roll later,
working in the homicide, vice and narcotics departments. The force
that he knew was nothing like the politically run group of the
Thirties; he is proud to have been a member of what he considers an
honest, hard-working and intelligent organization. He retired as
captain in 1981.
openly condemns the botched and suspicious way the Winnie Ruth Judd
investigation was handled by his predecessors. "So much...smacks of
exactly what it probably was -- political interference," he told Jana
Bommersbach when she interviewed him for her expose, The Trunk
Murderess early in the 1990s
studied the case for years, he has read the original police reports
and has gone over everything relating to the case that he could get
his hands on, published and non. In reviewing the trial transcripts
and copies of police interviews with eyewitnesses, he presents his
overall judgment of the case: the police indeed "took care" of the
investigation so that the pieces fit someone's private puzzle, not the
He focused on
four particular areas:
sent officers out there who let reporters traipse all through the
place. Right then, they no longer had a crime scene. Any crime scene
integrity was gone...Who knows what evidence was destroyed as those
people were milling around? Who knows what was moved or taken away?
Who knows what fingerprints were wiped out? The police clearly acted
like this was a small hick town the way they handled this case."
matters worse, says Ennis, the county's blood expert didn't arrive to
take blood samples until twenty-eight days after the murders - and
after the landlord had opened the place to the public, charging
admission to literally thousands of curiosity seekers who paraded
through it. By then, Ennis reports, blood sampling became "a useless
where the victims were slain
understand how the state could uphold their claim that Winnie shot her
two friends in their bedroom while they slept. He attests, "There just
wasn't enough blood in that bedroom. If she'd shot the women as the
prosecution said...there should have been a lot of blood in that
bedroom around both beds. You don't kill somebody - especially
shooting them in the head - without a lot of blood.
"The (lack of)
blood in the bedroom alone shows the state's theory was wrong.
So...where and how were those girls killed?" Ennis continues. "And why
would Ruth Judd make up a story where she admits shooting them, but
puts the shooting in the wrong place? What did she have to gain? If
she was there, she's got to know what the physical evidence shows. Why
didn't she say the fight happened in the bedroom if that's the only
place she knows the blood will show up? It doesn't make any sense that
she'd insist the girls died in the kitchen unless that's what she
remembered. Those are the questions the police should have been
asking, but they weren't."
His views on
the disappearing mattresses is plain and simple: "There was either
something on the mattresses the perpetrator didn't want seen, or the
mattresses didn't fit the state's case - if there was no blood on
them, how do you explain a scenario where the girls were shot in their
that the missing-mattress factor should have been considered a highly
important focus. The police quickly dropped the issue and no
investigation took place. A conscientious police force would have
recognized the value of those mattresses as evidence and a hunt to
find them would have been mandated.
point: Why would Ruth Judd conceal the bloody mattresses, yet leave
blood across the walls that the police claimed was there?
defendant's premeditation of his or her criminal activity is a vital
part of a prosecutor's job; but, again, the state failed in that area.
"To show premeditation, you have to show where the gun was that night.
If she came over to kill them, they had to show she brought it with
her. They didn't do that. My guess is they didn't because they
couldn't explain where the gun was. There were never any tests done to
see if she'd ever fired a gun...a dermal nitrate test. It can even
tell what kind of gun was fired."
Of her actions in the week prior to the killings, there
was nothing to suggest a plan. "She wasn't conserving her resources to
make a getaway," adds Ennis. "The evidence you see presents a picture
of a person caught in a predicament who has to improvise. I couldn't
take the evidence the police gathered and get the case through a
preliminary hearing or a grand jury, to say nothing of a murder trial.
You'd pull the stunts today that they pulled and the judge would tell
you, 'Get outta town.' He'd throw the case out."
Shadow of a Trial
Jury selection for the long-awaited trial of Winnie
Ruth Judd commenced on January 19, 1932, at the Maricopa County
Courthouse in downtown Phoenix. Both the defense and the prosecution
were very particular whom they selected to sit on the panel; the
high-profile nature of the murders had generated distinct opinions by
everyone in the county and worries of a mis-trial over a slip of a
tongue or a nuance of bigotry were very real.
chose to try her for the death of Anne LeRoi only, to be followed with
a separate trial for Sammy Samuelson afterwards. The second would
never occur due to subsequent events.
the three-week LeRoi murder trial - an event in itself that condemned
Winnie Ruth Judd in a comparatively unsensational manner - was Judge
Howard Speakman, who, as a former state prosecutor and defender, had
cued up a brilliant career. Popular County Attorney Lloyd "Dogie"
Andrews headed the case for the state.
Ruth had a
combine of three lawyers, directed by well-known criminal attorney
Paul Schenck. But none of these, even Schenck, was effective on her
behalf. Less being more, they acted to surrender to her guilt before
the trial began, more concerned with pleading insanity than
anticipated event of the trial, the testimony proffered by the
defendant herself, surprisingly and sadly never happened. That Ruth
was not called to the stand disappointed Americans. Reporters in the
courtroom described how she sat at the counsel's table, day after day,
wringing her handkerchief, tugging at her bandage, pathetic in
character, miserable by accusation, silent and dismal throughout. Much
of the nation, in commenting on the suspicious nature of her being
kept "under wraps," so to speak, questioned her lawyers' ability and
the basic honesty of the ritual.
Scott Thompson later revealed that much of the evidence laid forth
against Winnie Ruth Judd was hard to understand because, he felt, it
was presented by the prosecution in a confusing and illogical manner.
The defense did next to nothing to contradict the prosecution nor
clarify said testimony. Scott wasn't alone in his opinions. In
researching the evidence on their own after the trial had ended,
Thompson and other jurors were alarmed to find that certain important
elements of the case - elements instrumental in helping them formulate
their verdict - were not satisfactorily explained. Much seemed twisted
to shape a particular conclusion.
One of these
concerned the mattresses supposedly removed from the girls' bedroom.
The juror claims that he and his peers were led to believe that a
mattress found in the alley parallel to the murder scene was
definitely proven to be to one of the victim's mattresses and was
definitely blood-soaked. Neither proved true.
stood their ground on accusing Mrs. Judd of having killed in jealous
rage. To support the motive of jealousy born from illicit love, they
conjured up only two hazy witnesses - one that claimed Ruth was at one
time angry at Sammy for trying to steal Jack, and another who spoke of
seeing Ruth and Jack kissing and cuddling. Neither had heard her state
words of violence, nor of revenge, nor of anything pertaining to a
murder to come. And yet, by dropping from the jury all evidence that
would have given another side to the story of Winnie Ruth Judd's
relationship with the girls or her last night in their company, they
convinced it that the defendant was guilty. Defense counselors
waivered, unarmed because they hadn't done their homework, then
whithered under the duress of a kangaroo court they assumed, going in,
couldn't be beaten.
Kunz, whose husband sat on the jury and who watched the trial
proceedings daily, "came away from the trial with two major
impressions about what had happened," writes Jana Bommersbach in The
Trunk Murderess. "One, that Ruth Judd was guilty of shooting the
girls, and two, that 'there was no question' she had help somewhere
along the way...'We never understood why Jack Halloran was never
called,' (Mrs. Kunz) remembers. 'His name was brought up so often in
the case. He was sworn in, but he was never called to the stand.'"
reached its verdict on the afternoon of February 8, 1932. She was
pronounced guilty. And before the session ended, they elected that she
should hang by the neck.
Judd was placed on death row at the Arizona State Prison at Florence.
Over the next several months, an appeals court juggled a verdict, her
proponents wanting a mistrial. But, eventually the court reached its
decision. It upheld the original verdict and punishment.
Ruth was sentenced to die February 17, 1933.
To Be or Not
Sheriff John R. McFadden was not content with the
trial, he convinced Ruth to talk, to tell her side of the story, an
opportunity she shamefully had not been given in court. . As head of
the jail where she was brought when extradited back from Los Angeles,
he had heard her initial self-defense story the night she was brought
in -- a story so simple yet blown out of proportion and rebuilt in the
meantime by others. Over the months as she sat in his cells, he and
his wife often visited her, extending her kindness, listening to her
informally describe that bloody evening of October 16, 1931. On his
own, McFadden had investigated elements of the crime, and from the
sidelines he watched those elements disregarded by the state; and his
conscience bothered him. He felt that he needed to do something to
save the accused from the burning stake. He made a last-ditch effort
to, metaphorically, douse the fires the witch hunters had ignited.
In the shadow
of the gallows, her execution less than two months away, Ruth was
brought from her cell at the state prison and placed at a table among
several witnesses whom McFadden had gathered to listen to her. His aim
was to bring the transcript to the grand jury to force a fresh
hearing. He believed he could do it. Around that table that evening of
December 18, 1932, were, besides Ruth and Sheriff McFadden, Oliver
Willson, Ruth's new lawyer; William Delbridge, the prison warden; Jeff
Adams, one of McFadden's deputies; and a court stenographer.
method McFadden used to convince the grand jury to listen - Judd
biographer Jana Bommersbach suggests he might have even threatened to
arrest Jack Halloran himself -- he was successful. The efforts given
by the convening grand jury proved to be not just another sideshow,
but a body of jurors interested in American Justice. On the stand,
Ruth related the entire story, the way it happened: the argument...
the fight...the attack on her person...the gunshots...the
deaths...Jack Halloran's admitted "operation" on Sammy Samuelson...her
flight to Los Angeles, funded by Halloran.
Van Beck, one
of the jurors, in recalling the case, remembers how the courtroom was
"spellbound" as it heard, for the first recorded time, an altogether
new version of the crime, new revelations spilling out of Winnie
Ruth's mouth, revelations that not only made sense, but were traceable
to a source of truth. "We didn't believe it was cold-blooded murder,"
he summarizes. "We felt positive she was unable to cut up the body. We
were told it took a professional...Most people in the valley knew
other people were involved in this crime, but there was nothing they
could do -- the other s involved were prominent married men."
amazing things happened. Not only did the grand jury request that the
Parole Board commute her death sentence to life imprisonment - it was
manslaughter, it said, not premeditated murder -- but it also
attempted to lighten Ruth's term further by bringing in someone who
could support her story. It indicted Jack Halloran. McFadden eagerly
volunteered to deliver the subpoena personally.
Board chose not to make a decision concerning Ruth's death sentence
until it heard the results of the Halloran hearing, although it
postponed the execution to Friday, April 14. In mid-January, "Happy
Jack" appeared in court to a tremendous popping of flashbulbs and
scratch-scratch-scratch of scores of reporters' cartridge pens
recording everything from his expression to the flashy necktie he
On the stand,
Ruth re-told the story of Jack's abetting, but this time she often
lost herself to hysteria when she saw her former lover's sneers. His
presence in the courtroom was lethal, and his intimidating manner not
discouraged by the court. During testimony, the defendant would begin
crying hysterically and, instead of answering questions, would rush
off into a string of epithets. The horrors she was re-living were
aggravated by the appearance of the victor who gazed at her in
showed the system had little sympathy for Ruth. Again, after hearing
her testimony, frenzied maybe but considerable nonetheless, it freed
Jack of all involvement in the case. Judgment, said the court, was
based on the fact that the woman's eccentric manner and personal
involvement with her one-time lover spoke of a personal vendetta. No
one ventured further investigation nor was Jack brought to the stand;
his lawyers spoke for him; and on January 24, "Happy Jack" sauntered
out never to be pulled back into this mess again.
to death row to die.
But, the final
hearing had not been a total waste, for it spurred public sentiment
like never before, especially in Arizona. The public simply believed
she was innocent. McFadden had stirred the nation's - and in
particularly - the state's conscience. Local newspapers began asking
questions. The largest paper in the Arizona, the Republic, headlined
The new warden
of Arizona State Prison, A.G. Walker, intervened - probably not
without a "reassuring wink from the governor," says Bommersbach - and
pleaded for an insanity hearing for his prisoner. It would mean, most
likely, a life-term stay at an institution, but it was better than
watching the lady being executed.
"There is good
reason to believe that (Judd) has become insane after the
delivery...to the superintendent of the Arizona State Prison," Walker
wrote to the parole commission. If the McFadden/Walker faction was
suddenly pulling strings, at least they had learned that to beat a
game one had to play as rough as the opponent. As if to get this
business over with - Arizona's reputation and its judicial system were
on the firing line - the state agreed to a sanity hearing, which
convened almost overnight in Pinal County Courthouse, near the prison.
It opened on April 14, the day Ruth would have died. About the hour
she had been destined to enter the execution chamber she instead
shuffled into the county's courthouse.
Ruth's newly appointed defense team maneuvered well; one of them was a
young, brilliant attorney named Tom Fullbright, who would go on to
become one of the state's most honored - and honest -- jurists.
over the next ten days was, speculatively, much of a staged show,
rehearsed by the "good guys." Their efforts may have been effected, on
the surface, for the benefit the governor, but they were most
assuredly done for the woman, Winnie Ruth Judd.
hearing began. Winnie laughed uproariously, clapped her hands and, at
one time, rose up and said of the jury, 'They're all gangsters!'" Jay
Robert Nash explains the theatricals in Bloodletters and Badmen.
"Another time, she said loudly to her husband, William C. Judd: 'Let
me throw myself out that window!'
desperation, Winnie's mother (took) the stand to state that insanity
ran through her family like a wild river. Then, Winnie's
father...rattled off numerous...loonies in his family tree."
Eventually, the defendant was pulled from the
courtroom, but, as Nash replies, "Winnie won". On April 24, 1933, Ruth
returned to Phoenix. Her new home was located at the corner of Van
Buren and 24th streets: the whitewashed, stucco edifice locals called
"the looney house" but, to be correct, it was the Arizona State Mental
The Arizona State Mental Hospital, like most
institutions of that nature in the first half of the 20th Century,
lacked proper facility and offered little guidance. Hot, understaffed,
short in benevolence but long on razor-strap discipline, these types
of places were more Bedlam than TLC. The establishment in Phoenix to
which Winnie Ruth Judd was commuted was the most overcrowded in the
herself alive, true, but thrust into a world of abstracts, a place she
could not understand. They said she was crazy - she often wondered
herself if perhaps she was -- but then how come she was sane enough to
sense the insanity of her situation? By now, having been yanked by
fate to all corners of hysteria, she learned to accept small gifts of
luck. She coped, and made the best of her new "home". Ruth became the
unofficial beautician for many of the women patients, fixing them up
for the occasional dances that the hospital sponsored for the inmates.
Her work was so good that the nurses began visiting her, glad to pay
her the small renumeration she charged.
An aide at the
asylum, Anne Keim, remembers Ruth distinctly: "She was more like a
member of the staff than a patient. She worked unusually hard - did
more for that hospital than any two or three people. She wasn't crazy,
either, she was sane as anyone..."
thing, Keim remembers, would drive Ruth over the edge, something very
understandable considering all she'd been through: Jack Halloran would
often show up at the dances, said she, merely to "sneer and laugh real
nasty at her and she'd just go to pieces." The provoker was eventually
banned from the grounds.
the institution's business manager during the 1940s, who came to know
Ruth Judd well, became convinced of two things: "As for being insane,
no...(Also,) there was a major question in a lot of people's minds if
she (was guilty) or not, or if she was just taking the rap."
Ruth became an
escape artist. During her 30-plus years of incarceration (1933 to
1971), she continuously gave the place the slip - usually for a brief
period of time, then ultimately for nearly seven years. The board of
directors babbled; they could not figure out how she was able to duck
out despite precautionary measures. Years later, after she was given
official freedom, Ruth admitted that one kind nurse, who realized the
injustice handed her, had given her a key to the front door.
and 1962, Ruth escaped seven times:
1939 (for six days). She returned on her own.
1939 (for several days). Grabbing a bus to Yuma, Arizona, 180 miles
away, police found her there. For this escape she was put into
solitary confinement for 24 months, retained barefooted and in
May 11, 1947
(for 12 hours). She absconded in broad daylight, but was picked up
that night hiding on the grounds of a nearby resort.
1951 (for a few hours). Authorities located her, stuck in Phoenix.
1952 (for five days). While on the lam, she remained at abetting
friends' homes the while, eventually turning herself in.
1952 (for two days). Escaped after Thanksgiving dinner, and was found
by police in the home of a friend.
1962 (for 6-1/2 years).
escape requires more than a capsule summary. Traipsing around Arizona
for several months, hiding out, particularly in Kingman, Ruth wound up
in Oakland, California. There she utilized a pseudonym, Marian Lane,
and even dared to apply at an employment agency for a local job. Her
brother was financing her, but she wished to make a go of it on her
own. Passing herself off as a maidservant, Ruth was hired by the
extremely wealthy Nichols family of San Francisco to serve as both
maid and sitter for the aging matriarch, affectionately called "Mother
lived in a huge mansion overlooking the Bay area. Up in years, she
found "Marian Lane" the ideal helper and companion. Ruth worked hard,
but loved it. She tended to the laundry, the cooking, the general
housecleaning, and when Mother Nichols entertained, the setting up of
delicate luncheons and afternoon teas. Ruth was in heaven.
When the old
lady passed away just before Christmas of 1967, the Nichols relatives
invited Marian to stay with them in a cottage they owned on their
property north of San Francisco.
her there on June 27, 1969. They had traced her through the records of
the state drivers' license bureau
When Ruth had
been found "insane" in 1933, the ruling had not altogether eradicated
a possibility that she might eventually return to the gallows if she
ever recovered her mind. With this looming fear, she time and time
again appealed to the authorities to have that aberration removed. In
1952, with the help of some supporters, she was given another hearing
to have the death penalty officially voided...again she described that
terrible night, again she described Jack Halloran's flimflam. Again
Jack Halloran dodged punishment. But, first things first, and this
time the first thing being her petition for leniency, the state freed
her once and for all from the noose.
Now, back in
the custody of the asylum after her latest and longest escape, Ruth
demanded a sanity hearing knowing that if she was found sane enough
for the outside world it wouldn't mean that she must die there.
Having had a
taste of the normal life, she yearned freedom more than ever. She
phoned the world-famous attorney Melvin Belli in 1969; he took her
case immediately. Assisted by local (Arizona) attorney Larry Debus,
Belli convinced the state parole board to review the case pending the
possibility of release. In October, 1969, Belli appeared before the
hearing with a brilliant summary of her case, her life, and brought
forth many witnesses to attest to Winnie Ruth Judd - her character,
her innocence, her sanity.
some things don't change. This was proven when the board denied
campaigned; they built up a such a cry for her release from among the
American public and press that, when her case came again before the
same parole board in February, 1971, it listened this time. After the
parade of paparazzi, the testimony, the repetitions and memories of so
many years, the board declared:
is not one you sweep under the rug and forget about...As time passes,
more and more people will join the ranks of those who think her
sentence should be commuted. What we will see is not a question of
modern penology, but the portrayal of out-and-out persecution of an
elderly grandmother type unfortunate woman. It is incumbent upon the
board to give her a commutation of sentence now..."
December 21, 1971, Governor of Arizona Jack Williams put pen to paper.
That evening, Ruth walked out of the asylum, this time without dodging
Judd returned to California, as Marian Lane where she lived in
Stockton with her dog, Skeeter. She died at the age of 93 in her
sleep, peacefully, on October 23, 1998.
the lawman who saved her from the gallows in the nick of time, found
his career politically ruined afterwards. Expecting such, he retired
from active duty. Embittered at the foulness of the men who ran him
out of office for trying to help a human being, he claimed he would do
it all over again, the same way, had he the chance.
was fired by his silent partners in his lumber business for the
scandal he created. He eventually disappeared into oblivion. Many
people today believe that he may have even been the man who killed the
two girls, but of course that cannot be, at this point in time,
substantiated. Theorists say he promised Ruth that if she stood in for
him on the killings, he would see that she was freed. He then paid his
way out and walked away.
Fetterer is one who believes Halloran was the killer. A daughter of an
Arizona legislator in the state's early days, Fetterer stands by the
story she told writer Jana Bommersbach in 1990 about her meeting with
him in the late 1930s.
It was New
Year's Eve, and Fetterer and her husband dined at the Adams Hotel, a
hangout for local politicians. There, she says, they met Halloran. She
goes on: "Somebody asked him a question, like if he could take care of
a problem. And he was bragging that, sure, he could fix it. Then he
said - I can't recall his exact words, but it was to the effect that
if you knew the right people you could fix anything in this town. He
laughed and said that Winnie Ruth was out in the state hospital paying
for what he'd done. He was bragging about it."
What sort of
person was Winnie Ruth Judd?
those who knew her - who spent real time with her - she was the
flip-side of everything the criminal court painted: not a tigress; not
vehement; [not] prone to either jealousies or abandon. Rather, she
emanated, throughout her life and despite her troubles, a considerate
quality of good will.
Multimedia is fortunate to have among its readership Lyn Cisneros, who
shares with us her personal recollection of Winnie Ruth Judd. As a
child, Lyn spent three days and nights with the woman whom the world
sadly knew only as the "Trunk Murderess".
speak fondness and affection.
Dark Horse is
sincerely grateful to Ms. Cisneros for the following anecdote.
seventh escape from the asylum in 1962, and before she ventured to
California, she spent several months in the town of Kingman, Arizona.
Kingman sits plunked in the scenic desert along the intersection of
Interstate 40 west of Flagstaff and U.S. Highway 93, south from Las
Vegas. While in town, Ruth the fugitive posed simply as Mrs. Ruth
Judd, a married woman fleeing an abusive spouse. The local minister,
Reverend Geesey, and his wife - as well as the members of the local
First Assembly of God church -- welcomed the woman with open arms.
Asking no questions, inviting her into its community of worshippers,
the congregation found its newest member, whom they called "Sister
Ruth," to be a sweet, intelligent, soft-spoken lady who demonstrated a
kind smile and expressed a warm heart to all she met.
was allowed to live in a small trailer adjacent to the church parking
lot and accessible to the church. She lived alone with her Persian cat
whom she called Whitey; the animal's color being obvious," laughs
Cisneros. "I've often wondered if the pastor knew her real identity
and accommodated her because he recognized the true value in the real
woman. He was that kind of man, very insightful. I really do believe
he might've known."
congregation, Cisneros states, loved Ruth. "They brought her food and
helped her out in a number of ways. And, in turn, she returned
whatever favors she could by doing domestic work for different
families, cooking for them, cleaning for them. She earned a small
income performing various chores, the money which would keep her in
food and clothing."
remembers that Sister Ruth often led the singing at church and
assisted in activities presented by the Missionettes, a girls'
Christian club sponsored by the church in which Cisneros belonged.
"To a child my
age - I was 11 years old at the time -- Sister Ruth was a curiosity.
She came out of nowhere and, well, was just there one day, as big as
life. She didn't say much if encountering her on the streets or
crossing the church lot, but she always extended a friendly greeting
and magnificent smile. I'd see her out front her place, talking to the
pastor or just petting Whitey. She loved that cat."
remembers vividly that scar on the lady's left hand. One day she asked
her about it, and Sister Ruth explained that a long time ago she had
been bitten by a spider. "It was a terrible bite," she remarked. "My
index finger still occasionally goes numb."
little Lyn (who was then Lyn Dowling) received the shock of her life.
"I was and still am an avid reader, and I poured over the pages of the
Arizona Republic with veracity. My father, then head of the town
council, subscribed to that paper. Anyway, I happened to be reading
the paper when I caught an article about the latest
flight-from-justice of Winnie Ruth Judd, the 'Trunk Murderess'. I felt
my child's eyes nearly burst from their sockets when they fell on the
accompanying black-and-white of the infamous figure. I recognized that
face immediately as our beloved Sister Ruth."
described the escapee's hair as fair, whereas Kingman's newest citizen
had black hair. "But," Cisneros adds, "I was old enough to know about
hair dye. As well, the article mentioned a [scar on her left hand],
from the gunshot wound. Imagine my shock!"
news, she told everyone - her parents, her neighbors, others in the
church, even the pastor - that she had uncovered a deep, dark secret
about mysterious Sister Ruth, but, says she, "they all rolled their
eyes and laughed. The pastor smirked, patted me on the head and told
me, ''Now now, Lyn, don't worry about such things.' You see, I was
immediately tagged as the kid with an overactive imagination."
never forget the day her parents announced they were taking a little
trip out of town for three days - but, not to worry, for they were
keeping Lyn and her nine-year-old brother in capable hands...Sister
Ruth's! "Alone with the 'Trunk Murderess'! Just think how I felt!" she
shakes her head at the absurdity of the situation. "I mean, this was
something right out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie - two defenseless
kids, whom no one believes, dropped into the hands of a psycho!"
three long days --- and nights. "The worst part of it was bedtime. I
distinctly remember pressing a chair under my bedroom doorknob,
cramming the chair dead right against it to keep her out. I slept with
a butcher knife beside my bed - that is, if I did sleep at all -
actually, I don't think I closed my eyes once. I just laid there,
listening, waiting, expecting to hear the thump-thump-thump of a trunk
being dragged up the stairs toward my room."
laughs. "What a silly child, but that goes to show the power of the
media, even in 1962. Now, in my maturity, I think back to recall how
consistently gentle she was, so loving to me and my brother during
those three days she watched us. She made us excellent meals, looked
out for our welfare and, for that matter, might as well have been our
godmother for all the care she proffered. She was a wonderful woman."
When asked to
give her overall impression of Winnie Ruth Judd the person, Cisneros
doesn't hesitate. "Everything about her seemed positive, she wanted to
please and she tried hard to do it. I believe in my heart she was
innocent of all crimes alleged against her. To me she'll always be
"She is, no
doubt, resting in peace today."
Jana: The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd NY: Simon & Schuster,
Robert: Bloodletters and Badmen; NY: M. Evans & Company, Inc., 1995.