Juan Ignacio Blanco  


  MALE murderers

index by country

index by name   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

  FEMALE murderers

index by country

index by name   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z




Murderpedia has thousands of hours of work behind it. To keep creating new content, we kindly appreciate any donation you can give to help the Murderpedia project stay alive. We have many
plans and enthusiasm to keep expanding and making Murderpedia a better site, but we really
need your help for this. Thank you very much in advance.




Ruth Brown SNYDER






A.K.A.: "The Granite Woman"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: To collect insurance money
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 20, 1927
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1895
Victim profile: Albert Snyder, 44 (her husband)
Method of murder: Beating with a dumb-bell - Strangulation with a wire
Location: Queens, New York City, New York, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution in New York on January 12, 1928

photo gallery 1

photo gallery 2

photo gallery 3


The "Dumb-bell Murder"

The Crime of Ruth Snyder & Judd Gray

By Troy Taylor

The Snyder-Gray murder, as one crime writer put it, was a "cheap crime involving cheap people". Many considered it the low point in the history of the early 1900's but for those who lived in the thrill-hungry days of the "Roaring '20's", they devoured every sordid detail and made the otherwise mundane personalities of Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray into infamous celebrities. In addition to murder, their second greatest crime was simply being stupid.

The events began quietly in 1925 when Ruth Brown Snyder, a discontented Long Island housewife, met a corset salesman named Henry Judd Gray while having lunch in New York. Ruth, 32, was a tall, blonde with solid good looks and a commanding personality. Judd Gray, 34, was short and almost instantly forgettable. He had a cleft chin and thick glasses that gave him a perpetual look of surprise. Despite the fact that they seemed to be polar opposites, sexual attraction flared between the two of them at their first meeting and they soon began a torrid affair. Ruth Snyder's husband, Albert, was the art editor of the magazine Motor Boating and was never home during the day. The adulterous couple only had the Snyder's nine year-old daughter, Lorraine, to contend with and the amorous pair would often meet at the Snyder's home while Lorraine was at school. On other occasions, the little girt would be left in a hotel lobby while her mother and her lover met upstairs. They met as often as possible and seemed unable to get enough of one another.

But Ruth Snyder soon changed from a sex-obsessed housewife to a woman with devious plans. Bored in her loveless marriage, she tried to convince Judd that her husband mistreated her and that he must be killed. Gray objected but Ruth continued to pester him with hints, suggestions and outright demands. She would playfully soften those demands with the terms of endearment that the two of them had created for one another. They often used baby talk in which Ruth was "Momsie" and he was "Bud" or "Lover Boy". Ruth's persistence so unsettled Gray however that he took to drink, consuming huge amounts of Prohibition liquor in an effort to settle his nerves. "Momsie" begged, argued and threatened but "Lover Boy" continued to refuse.

Finally, on Saturday, March 19, 1927 -- Judd gave in. It was a cold, raw day on Long Island and Gray spent most of the day drinking, trying to summon the courage to go through with the murder. He and Ruth had cooked up a plan that had him traveling by train to New York from Syracuse and then by bus to Long Island. When he arrived in Queens Village, where the Snyder's lived, he walked around for an hour, stopping under street lights to take drinks from his flask. It was almost as if he hoped to be spotted and arrested breaking the law. No one paid any attention to him though and finally, he had to enter the Snyder home. He came in through the back door, as he and Ruth had planned. The Snyder family was away at a party and would return late. Judd had promised to hide in a spare room, where Ruth had left a window weight, rubber gloves and chloroform -- all of the tools of murder.

The family returned around 2:00 am and Ruth opened the bedroom door a crack. "Are you in there, Bud, dear?" she whispered. She soon returned wearing only a slip and the two had sex with her husband asleep just down the hallway. Finally, after about an hour, Gray grabbed the window sash weight and Ruth led him to the master bedroom, where Albert Snyder slept with the blankets up over his head. The two of them stood on opposite sides of the bed and then Gray raised the sash weight and brought it down clumsily onto Snyder's head. The weak blow merely glanced off the man's skull and while stunned, he let out a roar and tried to seize his attacker. Judd became terrified and let out a whining scream: "Momsie, Momsie, for God's sake, help!"

There was no panic in Ruth Snyder however and with a snort of disgust and anger, she grabbed the weight from Judd's hands and crashed it down on her husband's skull, killing him. After that, the two of them went downstairs, had drinks and chatted about the rest of their plan. They faked a robbery by knocking over some chairs and loosely tying Ruth's hands and feet. Minutes after Gray left, Ruth began banging on Lorraine's door. The child ran out and removed the gag from her mother's mouth. She told her to get help and Lorraine ran next door to the neighbor's house, where the police were called.

Damon Runyon, the celebrated newsman, later wrote that Ruth and Judd were "inept idiots" and called the whole mess the Dumb-bell Murder, "because it was so dumb".

Even though the pair believed they had planned well, their "robbery" was far from convincing to experienced police officers. All of the items that Ruth said had been taken by the mysterious burglar were found hidden in the house and detectives began to question her. Surprisingly, she gave it up almost at once and confessed but not surprisingly, she blamed everything on Judd Gray. He was found hours later, hiding in his Syracuse hotel room. He shrieked his innocence and insisted that he was not in New York. When confronted with the train ticket stub that he had carelessly tossed in the trash can of the hotel room though, he broke down and confessed. Like Ruth, he blamed everything on his accomplice.

By the time the case actually went to trial, the two former lovers were at one another's throats, each blaming the other one for the deadly deed. The trial became a media frenzy. Celebrities attended in droves, including mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart; director D.W. Griffith; author Will Durant; evangelists Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson; and many others. Sister Aimee even received a large sum from the New York Evening Graphic to write up a piece on the sordid case. Sister Aimee, who would be involved in a scandal of her own a year later, used her column to encourage young men to say "I want a wife like mother -- not a Red Hot cutie."

Both defendants had separate attorneys arguing for their innocence. Ruth's lawyer stated that her husband "drove love out from the house" by longing after a departed sweetheart. He also said that Gray had tempted her by setting up a $50,000 double indemnity insurance policy on Albert Snyder. She was a loving wife, her attorney insisted, and it was not her fault about the conditions in her home. He then put the "wronged woman" on the stand, wearing a simple black dress. She played the role of the suffering wife, tell of how her husband ignored her most of the time, except when taking her to the occasional movie. It had been she who had read from the Bible to daughter Lorraine and had made sure the little girl attended Sunday School. Her lawyer glossed over the Gray romance and Ruth justified their affair by saying that Judd had also not been happy at home. However, she claimed that it had been "Lover Boy" who had dragged her to speakeasys and night spots, where she had watched him drink himself senseless. She, Ruth swore, rarely ever touched a drink and never, ever smoked. Then she testified that Gray insisted that she take out the heavy insurance policy on her husband. "Once," she told the court, " he even sent me poison and told me to give it to my husband."

At this, the excitable Judd Gray began whispering to his lawyers. A short time later, he also took the witness stand and his attorney described Judd's situation as "the most tragic story that has ever gripped the human heart." The lawyer claimed that Judd was a law-abiding citizen who had been duped and dominated by a "designing, deadly conscienceless, abnormal woman, a human serpent, a human fiend in the disguise of a woman." He then added that he had been "drawn into this hopeless chasm when reason was gone, mind was gone, manhood was gone and when his mind was weakened by lust and passion."

Judd played the victim when he took the stand, nervously glancing over at his elderly mother, who was sitting in the courtroom next to the actress Nora Bayes, who had come to watch the show. He testified that Ruth had tried to kill her husband several times, once putting knockout drops in his drink and when they failed, trying to gas him. "I told her that she was crazy," Judd said innocently, after testifying about how she had given Albert Snyder poison as a cure for the hiccups. It made the man violently ill instead. "I said to her that it was a hell of a way to cure hiccups," Gray added and told of two other times when Ruth tried to kill Snyder with sleeping powders.

Finally, Judd stated that it had been Ruth who had taken out the insurance policy on Snyder and it had not been his doing, or his idea, at all. He also described how she had struck the death blow on the night of the murder. At this, Ruth began to sob loudly in the courtroom and even the judge glanced in her direction. The jury was out only 98 minutes before coming back with a verdict of "guilty". Both defendants were stunned and even more so when they learned the sentence for their crime was death.

Judd Gray was executed first on January 12, 1928. He sat smiling in his cell when the warden came for him. He had received a letter from his wife forgiving him. He told the warden that he was ready to go and that he "had nothing to fear."

Ruth Snyder followed her lover just minutes after she watched the prison lights flicker, signaling that the switch had been thrown for the electric chair. Reporters remembered that, as she was being led to the electric chair, that she had said days before that God had forgiven her --- and that she hoped the world would.

A clever reported from the New York Daily News smuggled a camera into the death chamber by strapping it to his ankle. He managed to click off a photo just as the current entered Ruth's body and snapped her body against the chair straps. It ran in the next day's edition of the paper and then the lurid tale faded into history. What was a "celebrity trail" in 1927 is a barely footnote in American crime history today.

Troy Taylor -


Ruth Snyder & Judd Gray - The Granite Woman & The Putty Man

Albert Snyder, the Editor of 'Motorboating Magazine' was so attached to his former fiancee Jessie Guishard (to whom he'd been engaged for over 10 years) that marriage to Ruth Brown (in 1915) did nothing to alter his affections. He not only continued to enjoy Jessie's company, he also took her to his bed and expected his wife to have no objections. When Albert named his latest boat after his lover and Ruth complained about this public demonstration of his adultery, Albert angrily told her that Jessie was "the finest woman I have ever met!

In 1918, their union produced a daughter, but Ruth eventually followed her husband's example and took lovers of her own. The little girl - Lorraine - was cynically used to give a veneer of respectability to her mother's trysts with men. Ruth figured, correctly as it turned out, that hotel staff would never dream that any mother would take her young daughter to such meetings. Ruth would send Lorraine to sit in the lobbies and read magazines whilst she and her latest lover went to bed.

In 1925, she met Judd Gray - a corset salesman - it was the start of an affair that led to murder and the electric chair. He was weak and easily dominated; Ruth liked to impose her will and there was no doubt who was in charge of their relationship.

Eventually, Ruth decided to rid herself of Albert - whom she now called 'The old crab'. She took out a $48,000 life insurance policy on him with a double-indemnity clause. Twice, she disconnected the gas while Albert slept and slipped from the house - but both times he woke up and saved himself from asphyxiation. Apparently, he never suspected his wife. Another time she closed him inside the garage door while the automobile's engine was running, but Albert survived. Then she started putting bichloride of mercury in his whiskey. But he survived again.

Finally, in February 1927, with her husband still stubbornly alive, Ruth convinced Judd to help her murder him. Gray hid in a bedroom closet and when the Snyders returned home, he rushed out and hit Albert over the head with a sash weight. Albert struggled and begged for his wife for help. Judd reportedly weakened and could not finish what he had started - but Ruth picked up a 5 pounds sash weight and hit her husband repeatedly until he slipped into unconsciousness. Then, she chloroformed him and strangled him with picture wire.

Gray tied up Ruth. When the police arrived, she claimed they had been robbed and attacked by burglars. Albert's body was found in the bedroom, tied hand and foot. He had been chloroformed, his head bashed in; there were three bullets on the floor and a revolver on the bed. Picture wire was tied tightly around his neck. Money from his wallet was missing. Ruth told police that her jewels had also been stolen. Unfortunately for Ruth, the plan began to fall apart almost immediately - the missing jewelry was found tucked under her mattress.

In the police search of the house a bloody pillowcase was also found as well as the bloodstained sash weight. Police found a $200 check in Ruth's desk made out to H. Judd Gray and a tie clip with his initials on the bedroom floor. They found his name, along with 28 other men, in Ruth's address book. Later a $90,000 life insurance policy on Albert Snyder - including double indemnity clauses - turned up in a safe deposit box registered in her maiden name.

Judd contributed to the murderous couple's downfall. When he left the scene of the crime he walked to a bus stop and asked a policeman how long it would be before the next bus would come. He took the bus, then went to Manhattan by taxi. The cabbie remembered Judd very well because he'd given him a miserly five cent tip.

The police told Ruth (quite untruthfully) that Gray had confessed to everything. Ruth confessed too - laying most of the blame on Gray. Hearing that Ruth had confessed, Gray confessed for real. He said that Ruth had hypnotised him with "drink, veiled threats, and intensive love." He claimed that Ruth had tied the wire around poor Albert's throat. All Ruth knew, she said, was that Judd went into the bedroom and came out again, saying, "I guess that's it."

It took a jury only an hour and a half to convict them on May 9th, 1927. They were duly sentenced to death. The day before their executions, Judd spent his time quietly reading the Bible. Ruth pounded on the bars of her cell and screamed her head off. She had been undergoing a Death Row conversion to Catholicism - when a prison matron asked if she was serious on that point, Ruth told her to "Go to hell."

They were electrocuted one after the other at Sing Sing Prison on January 22nd, 1928. When double executions were carried out, it was considered logical to kill the weakest and most nervous prisoner first; Ruth was considered to be the stronger of the pair, so Judd died before her.

His electrocution was ineptly handled - his feet caught fire as the current coursed through his body - but Ruth's three minutes in 'Old Sparky' monopolised the newspaper headlines.

Photography was banned at Sing Sing executions, but Thomas Howard, a news photographer, secretly wore a camera strapped to his ankle. At the very moment that Ruth's body went rigid against the restraining straps as the electricity hit her, Howard crossed his legs and snapped a picture.


Ruth Brown Snyder (1895 – January 12, 1928) was an American murderess. Her execution, in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison, for the murder of her husband, Albert, was captured in a well-known photograph.

The crime

In 1925, Snyder, a Queens Village, Queens housewife, began an affair with Henry Judd Gray, a corset salesman. She then began to plan the murder of her husband, enlisting the help of her new lover. Her distaste for her husband apparently began when he insisted on hanging a picture of his ex-fiancee, Jessie Guishard, on the wall of their first home, and also named his boat after her. Guishard, whom Albert described to Ruth as "the finest woman I have ever met", had been dead for 10 years.

Ruth Snyder first persuaded her husband to purchase insurance, but with the assistance of an insurance agent (who was subsequently fired and sent to prison for forgery) "signed" a $48,000 life insurance policy that paid extra ("double indemnity") if an unexpected act of violence killed the victim.

Ruth, according to her paramour, Judd Gray, made at least seven attempts to kill her husband, all of which he survived. On March 20, 1927, the couple garroted Albert Snyder and stuffed his nose full of chloroform-soaked rags, then staged his death as part of a burglary. Detectives at the scene noted that the burglar left little evidence of breaking into the house; moreover, that the behavior of Mrs. Snyder was inconsistent with her story of a terrorized wife witnessing her husband being killed.

Finally, stolen property started turning up in the house. Snyder had dated Jessie Guishard before meeting Ruth and a detective found a paper with the letters "J.G." on it, and asked about it. Mrs. Snyder immediately asked what Judd Gray had to do with this, which was the first time Gray had been mentioned at all.

Gray was found upstate, in Syracuse. He claimed he was there all night, but eventually it turned out a friend of his had created an alibi, setting up Gray's room at a hotel. Gray proved far more forthcoming about his actions. (Dorothy Parker told Oscar Levant that Gray tried to escape the police by taking a taxi from Manhattan to Long Island, which Levant noted was "quite a long trip". According to Parker, in order "not to attract attention, he gave the driver a ten-cent tip".) He was caught and returned to Jamaica, Queens and charged along with Ruth Snyder.

Trial and execution

The trial at the Long Island City Courthouse was covered by such figures as Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Mary Roberts Rinehart, D. W. Griffith, Damon Runyon, and, a year before her own death from cancer, Nora Bayes. Runyon dismissed the value of the crime as a clever attempt at a murder - he nicknamed it "the dumb-bell murder case" because "it was so dumb!" It became a 'cut-throat' case: Snyder and Gray's defense was that the other was responsible for killing Albert. The jury ended up believing both, and Gray and Snyder were eventually convicted and both sentenced to death.

The final moments of her execution (by "State Electrician" Robert G. Elliott) were caught on film with the aid of a miniature plate camera custom-strapped to the ankle of Tom Howard, a Chicago Tribune photographer working in cooperation with the Tribune-owned New York Daily News. Howard's camera was owned for a while by inventor Miller Reese Hutchison, then later became part of the collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Snyder was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York with a gravestone that simply reads "Brown".

Lorraine Snyder

The fate of the Snyders' young daughter, Lorraine (born 1918), was never clarified. It is not known if she was adopted by relatives or another family.

Depiction in popular media

Sophie Treadwell's play Machinal (1928) was inspired by the life and execution of Ruth Snyder. The case was also the inspiration for the novel Double Indemnity by James M. Cain, which was later adapted for the screen (1944) by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler. Cain also mentioned that his book The Postman Always Rings Twice took inspiration from the crime. Another novel was based on the case, To the Gallows I Must Go (1931) by T. S. Matthews. The Pre-Code Hollywood films, Picture Snatcher and Blessed Event, both make references to Snyder's execution.


Snyder's cell at Sing Sing was also used for Eva Coo and Lonely Hearts killer Martha Beck. Photographer Scotty (Douglas Spencer) in The Thing from Another World (1951) informs the USAF crew that he attended the execution of Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray.

Guns N' Roses' 1991 Use Your Illusion albums feature, as part of their enclosed artwork, a photo of the band posing in front of an oversized reproduction of the Daily News' headline/photograph announcing Ruth Snyder's execution.


  • MacKellar, Landis: The "Double Indemnity" Murder: Ruth Snyder, Judd Gray, & New York's Crime of the Century: (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2006). ISBN 0-8156-0824-1.



Just as Irene Schroeder had dominated Glenn Dague, so Ruth Snyder had a stronger character than Henry Judd Gray, hence her nickname in the press of ‘The Granite Woman’ and his of ‘Putty Man’. Ruth, tall, blonde and attractive despite her icecold eyes, had married Albert Snyder, thirteen years older than her, but the marriage was not a success. It was hardly surprising that on meeting corset salesman Henry, weak-chinned with a nature to match, whose marriage was also on the rocks, they found much in common and started a passionate relationship.

But Ruth wanted more, she wanted money, and so insured Albert for $96,000. Then she tried gassing him, adding poison to his food, and arranging near fatal household ‘accidents’; when she told Henry what she was doing, he naively asked her why. ‘To kill the poor guy!’ she replied, and she persisted in keeping up the pressure on her lover until he agreed to help her.

On 19 March 1927 Ruth and Henry went shopping, buying a 5 lb sash weight, some chloroform and lengths of picture wire.

The next evening, while the Snyders were out at a party, Henry entered their house and hid. Husband and wife returned later, Ruth having plied Albert with sufficient drink to dull his senses; he staggered up to bed, whereupon Ruth and Henry followed shortly afterwards and Henry struck him a crushing blow with the sash weight. It didn’t kill him, whereupon the would-be killer shouted desperately to Ruth, ‘Momsie, Momsie, for God’s sake, help!’ She responded by joining in with a chloroformsoaked cloth, and when Albert had lost consciousness, they strangled him with the picture wire. Gray then tied Ruth’s wrists and ankles, and after gagging her – not too tightly – left the house.

The next morning she managed to raise the alarm, telling the police that she and her husband had been attacked by a burglar who had also stolen several valuable items. Things went pearshaped for her when, in searching the house for clues, they not only found the ‘stolen’ objects but also a tie-clip with Henry’s initials engraved on it and his name in her address book. Taking a chance, they told her that Henry had already been arrested and had confessed everything; panicking, she then accused Henry of plotting the murder and claimed that she had only stood and watched him killing her husband.

Amid nationwide publicity they went on trial at Queens County Courthouse, Long Island City, in April 1927, thousands of people applying for tickets to see the Granite Woman and the Putty Man, and to savour the gruesome details of the crime.

Outside the courthouse enterprising traders sold miniature sash weights mounted on tie-pins as souvenirs.

Both Ruth and Henry blamed each other, both were found guilty and sentenced to death. While in Sing Sing Prison each wrote their life story, Ruth’s notoriety bringing offers of marriage from nearly 200 men. Executioner Robert G. Elliott also received letters, one of which read: ‘If you don’t want to do it, will you let me have first offer? I won’t mind one bit to execute Mrs Snyder. It is just what she should get, the chair. I could execute her with a good heart. I also think that if they did have a woman executioner to execute a woman, it would take a whole lot off your mind. If you would like to have me help you the night she is put in the chair, I would be more than glad to do so. I hope to hear from you soon.’ Needless to say, he didn’t.

In an attempt to shift all the blame on to the adverse publicity she had received from the press and thereby obtain a reprieve by arousing public sympathy, Ruth wrote a self-pitying verse:

You’ve blackened and besmeared a mother Once a man’s plaything – a Toy – What have you gained by all you’ve said, And has it brought you Joy?

The ploy didn’t work, and on 12 January 1928, wearing a brown smock over a black, knee-length calico skirt, she was led to the execution chamber. Her blonde hair had been freshly combed; once thick, the tresses were now so thin that it was not necessary to clip it short where the electrode was to be positioned. On seeing the electric chair she swayed and almost collapsed, a wardress having to assist her to sit in it. There, she broke down and wept: ‘Jesus, have mercy on me, for I have sinned,’ she sobbed.

The black stocking on her right leg had been rolled down so that the electrode could be attached, and the executioner, Robert G. Elliott, parted the hair at the back of her head so that the other electrode would make good contact, then fixed it in position. As he put the mask over her face, she cried, ‘Jesus, have mercy.’ He threw the switch, the series of high voltage currents surged through her body, and after two minutes it was turned off to allow the prison doctor to use his stethoscope and announce that Ruth Snyder was dead.

Macabre souvenirs of executions were also all the rage during the French Revolution. The new plebeian Parisian society took the guillotine to their hearts (while aristocrats were taking it somewhat higher up). The popularity of the device was not overlooked by manufacturers, who wasted little time in bringing out miniature versions of the death-dealing device as toys for children, no doubt resulting in the early demise of many a household pet.

Larger versions for adults included dolls resembling unpopular politicians which could be decapitated at the dinner party table and would exude ‘blood’, this being a liqueur or perfume, the latter for the benefit of the ladies present, many of whom wore silver or gold earrings in the shape of the guillotine, or brooches bearing the same image.

Amazing True Stories of Female Executions by Geoffrey Abbott


The Murder of Albert Snyder

By Denise Noe -

Albert in Love

Albert Schneider was an intelligent man who loved the outdoors and sports. He had six siblings and was close to his mother. Good with his hands, he would industriously paint walls and paper them for her.

The boy grew into a man who was perpetually tanned from many hours of boating and fishing. There were few things Albert liked more than to be out on the sea with the wind blowing through his curly hair. He personified the hail-fellow of his time-- the early twentieth century.

His job as art editor of Motor Boating suited him perfectly. He also liked bowling. However, at 32, he felt something lacking in his life. It was time to find a wife.

Albert already had one tragic engagement with a young woman, Jesse Guishard. She had taken ill and died before they could marry. Albert had been at her bedside when pneumonia took Jesses life. He still longed for her even as he got on with his life and work.

One day at work he grew irritated at a telephone operator who had intended to call a manufacturer. The angry art editor let loose a fusillade of harsh words.

Please excuse me, the distressed operator said in a sweet, melodious voice.

Albert was suddenly contrite about his temper. He was quick to anger but could put it behind just as fast. He wanted to apologize to the hapless operator in person. He asked where she worked.

The face-to-face apology was delivered a few hours later. When he saw the pretty blonde-haired 19-year-old, Albert was instantly captivated. Her name was Ruth Brown. Her co-workers playfully called her Brownie. Perhaps it was her ready smile or her mischievous blue eyes or her air of anticipating good and exciting things but Albert knew he wanted to see more of Ruth.

He began visiting the telephone switchboard regularly. Just a couple of weeks after meeting the lovely lady, he offered to help her get a job as a reader and copyist at Motor Boating. It sounded like a step up to Ruth and she eagerly accepted.

The two were soon dating regularly. Ruth was flattered by the older, sophisticated mans attentions. However, his repeated passes distressed her. She was a virgin and planned to remain one until her wedding night.

For his part, Albert was frustrated at his inability to get the inexperienced young woman to succumb. Contraception in that era was fallible, and an unmarried womans pregnancy could ruin her stature. Ruth remained resistant to Alberts overtures. She was, in her own words, a self-respecting girl.

Eventually, Albert proposed marriage. Yes, was Ruths reply.

But Ruth had one request. The name Schneider sounded so Germanic. Could he change the name to something that sounded more American, like Snyder? He agreed and Albert became a Snyder, as did Ruth.


The woman who would later outrage the world was born in the late 1890s to two Scandinavian immigrants to the U.S. Her mother had been born Josephine Anderson in Sweden. Her father, Harry Sorenson, came from Norway. Sorenson would change his name to Brown because he wanted a last name that would not give away his origins. As his daughter would years later, he wanted a name that seemed American. He had been a sailor but, to placate his wife and support his family, gave up the sea for life as a carpenter. The change left him perpetually disgruntled and longing for the freedom and adventure of a sailors life.

Harry Brown made a respectable living, but his wages were meager. Frugality was a requirement for a family that consisted of Ruth, an elder brother, and Josephine. Ruth yearned for nice-- but unattainable -- things throughout her childhood. No, her parents said, they could not afford that blonde doll. But Ruth was fascinated by the beauty of the doll and went to the store every day just to look through the window at it. Until it disappeared because someone else bought it.

No, her parents said, she could not have a Shetland pony nor could they afford a wristwatch nor a white bedroom set nor that party dress she so admired. They could not take her to the theater.

However, money was spent on Ruth for her numerous medical problems. She had epilepsy and often fainted. She had intestinal surgery at age six. She had an appendectomy a few years later. The surgery was botched and Ruth Brown was left with various internal ailments in its wake.

The Brown family regularly attended the Methodist Episcopal Church. Ruth prayed each night before bed but later said her faith was not strong. I didnt believe in my inner heart [God] existed, she said, when recalling her childhood, but I went through the motions in case I was wrong.

School afforded Ruth no solace. She did not have an academic mind and was easily bored by reading, writing, and arithmetic.

She never had any strong career aspirations. Her wish was marriage. She believed that she was suited to be a good wife. She was a neat, clean housekeeper, quick with a needle and thread, and a fine cook. A good husband, she believed, would carry her over the threshold into a life of joy, love, and prosperity. Ruths marriage would not be the dull, banal union of her parents. For one thing, she was a real American, born in a time of optimism. She would find a man who would provide her and their children with the finer things in life.

However, she was realistic enough to realize that she would have to get a job while she was single. A training course at the New York Telephone Company accepted her. Ruth was assigned to the night shift where she worked for two years until she married Albert. She happily quit New York Telephone.

Mismatched Marriage

The marriage was troubled from the start. Their age difference may have been part of the problem. Albert just did not have the energy for attending the social events that Ruth so enjoyed. She kept house and served him tasty meals, but Albert wanted more. He wanted someone with whom he could discuss issues and share ideas. Ruth found books and art dull. Why, he wondered, couldnt she be more similar to his beloved Jesse? Why couldnt Ruth take an interest in culture? She always wanted to play bridge or jitterbug and listen to Cole Porter tunes. Ruth also did not share two of Alberts other passions -- sailing and hiking.

For her part, Ruth felt as if she had kissed Prince Charming only to have him become a frog. She could not comprehend his cerebral conversations, nor did she want to. Another problem was that Ruth was becoming increasingly jealous but her rival was a memory: the dead Jesse Guishard. Albert wore a necktie pin with the initial J.G. His sailboat was the Jesse G. Worst of all, perhaps, was that their home had a large picture of Alberts dead fiancee in the living room. There were also many smaller reminders of Jesse, including a photo album devoted to her.

Jealousy occasionally got the better of Ruth and she removed the portrait. But that always led to an intense fight with Albert who demanded that it be re-hung.

Then Ruth received what to her was good news: she was pregnant. Albert was not pleased. He had not wanted children. Ruth couldnt understand his attitude. Wasnt one of the main reasons people marry is so they can have a family? He was even more disappointed when the child was born and it was a girl. Ruth named her daughter Lorraine.

The baby drove the couple further apart. Albert did not share Ruths interest in the infant and he did not like being bothered by early morning crying and the smell of diapers. Albert also thought childbirth had ruined Ruths figure.

The family moved from neighborhood to neighborhood in New York City. Then in 1923, they settled into Queens Village. At each residence, Jesse Guishards portrait had prominent display.

The Queens home was two-and-a-half stories, painted muted pink with green trim. Two maple trees stood in the yard. To the right of the house was a driveway leading to a garage in back. Eventually a makeshift bird fountain, constructed out of a large saucepan and a pole, sat in the back yard. Lorraine Snyder would spend much time replenishing the pan and calling to birds.

At a certain point, Ruths mother, Josephine Brown, moved into the Snyder home. Ruth now had a babysitter for her daughter. The extroverted Ruth began attending more parties and socials. Delighted by her high spirits, friends nicknamed her Gay Tommy. (The word gay did not have its contemporary meaning in that era.)

One afternoon, when Ruth was lunching with a friend at Henrys, a Swedish restaurant, enjoying a smorgasbord. The friend introduced her to Judd Gray, a slender, bespectacled corset salesman with a chin cleft.

Now 32, Ruth was concerned about her figure. She had a tendency to put on weight and may still have been self-conscious about the thickening effect of childbirth on her waistline. Smiling, she asked to see some some of Judds wares.

Judd Gray, Corset Salesman

Judd Gray was born in Cortland, New York, in 1882. His family moved to New Jersey when Judd was a toddler. Both parents loved him, but Judd developed a tight bond with his mother. He developed a fondness for reading and for sports, especially, tennis and football. He regularly went to church with his family.

He went to high school for two years, then dropped out because he had a bad bout with pneumonia. He did not want an education. He wanted a job. At first, he worked with his father in the jewelry business. Dissatisfied, he found a job with the Bien Jolie Corset Company.

At the age of 22, Judd married Isabel. She had been his girlfriend since he was 16. The couple had one child, a daughter.

Most people thought of Judd Gray as a nice, ordinary man and a good citizen. He liked to play golf and bridge and drive his automobile. Judd was a good and reliable worker for the Red Cross in World War I. The Grays regularly attended a First Methodist Church where Judd worked for the Sunday school. He belonged to the Orange Lodge of Elks. He was also a member of the Corset Salesmen of the Empire Club.

Judds wife, Isabel, was shy and self-effacing. Several of Judds work colleagues were surprised to learn that he was married.

Judd later wrote of Isabel, and how she could never replace his mother:

"Isabel, I suppose, one would call a home girl; she had never trained for a career of any kind, she was learning to cook and was a careful and exceptionally exact housekeeper. As I think it over searchingly I am not sure, and we were married these many years, of her ambitions, hopes, her fears or her ideals -- we made our home, drove our car, played bridge with our friends, danced, raised our child -- ostensibly together -- married. Never could I seem to attain with her the comradeship that formed the bond between my mother and myself . . . "

It was not terribly long after Ruth and Judd met that they were having an affair. Realizing that Judd was a classic mamas boy, Ruth asked him to call her momie or momma something he was delighted to do. For Judd, Ruth provided the emotional connection and the physical passion sorely lacking in his marriage with Isabel. For Ruth, Judd was a sympathetic ear on whom she could unburden herself of her frustrations at living with a man who nagged and belittled her and kept his most tender feelings for a dead woman.

The couple usually met at the Waldorf Astoria hotel where they registered as Mr. and Mrs. Gray. They were such frequent guests that they kept a small suitcase in a hotel locker that included bathrobes, brushes, cards, condoms, pajamas, and slippers.

When Judd and Ruth had been drinking, the talk sometimes turned to murder. There are two incompatible versions of how murder first became a topic. Ruth claimed that it was Judds idea. Judd insisted that Ruth related to him her solitary and unsuccessful attempts to do away with her husband.

According to the tale spun by the corset salesman, Ruth confided that she had engineered several accidents for Albert. Once, Albert was in the garage jacking up the Buick to change a tire when the jack slipped. The car fell and Albert barely missed injury or death. Then he was hit by the crank, knocking Albert unconscious. A third garage accident when his wife bought him some whiskey. The booze made Albert strangely and suddenly sleepy. Very soon he realized that the garage door was closed and he was breathing carbon dioxide. Panicked, he fled from the Buicks underside and escaped.

uth had three different life insurance policies on her husband. One was for $1,000, another for $5,000, and a third for $45,000. The last had a double indemnity clause, meaning that the insurance company would pay $90,000 if Alberts death was accidental. According to Judd, Ruth tricked Albert into signing all three documents by telling him the least expensive policy had to be signed in triplicate.

The reason she took out the policies, Ruth claimed, was because Judd suggested it and threatened to tell Albert about their affair if she did not comply. Ruth feared that her husband would get custody of their daughter, Lorraine, because the courts would look harshly on an adulteress. She also said that Albert was fully aware of the policies and how much they were worth. She did not want to murder Albert and did not believe Judd would ever do it even though he talked about it whenever he had been drinking heavily.

On the other hand, Judd claimed that Ruth attempted murder three more times on her own. Twice she tried to kill him by turning on the gas tap and once by giving him bichloride of mercury to drink.

And on top of all the claims and counterclaims, Judd had one more: he was compelled to shoot Albert because Albert was threatening to shoot Ruth.

"Judd Did It!"

Both versions, Ruths and Judds, agree that, on a trip to Kingston, New York, Judd purchased chloroform, a sash weight, and a picture wire. They also agree that, in a meeting at Henrys, where the couple had first met, Judd presented Ruth with a package. He did not reveal its contents but said, Im in an awful hurry, Momie. I have to get the 1:25 train. Judd told her to take the package home.

When Ruth opened the package, she saw that it contained an odd mixture of the prosaic and the profane. First, there was the flesh reducer. This item was something Ruth wanted, a rolling pin device to melt excess fat. She also saw that there was a sash weight, some powders, and a note from Judd. The letter said that she should put the powders in Alberts drink to make him groggy so that Judd could kill him easily with the weight. Horrified, Ruth poured the powders down the sink. She was going to give the weight back to Judd and terminate the affair.

Yet Judd showed up a few days later, saying he was there to finish the Governor. Both often called Albert the Governor.

Judd, you cant do such a thing, Ruth replied.

Well, he countered, if I cant do it tonight, I am coming back . . .[to] get him. Judd soon sent Ruth another lagniappe. This one also contained powders to spike Alberts drink. Ruth was also instructed to leave the side doors unlocked. Ruth later said she disposed of the powders -- but did admit leaving the doors open. She claimed that her intent was to inform Judd upon his arrival that their relationship was finally over.

It was just after midnight on Sunday, March 20, when Judd slipped into Albert and Ruth Snyders house through an unlocked side door. Albert, Ruth, and Lorraine were still at a neighbors house where the adults were playing bridge. Albert had been drinking fairly heavily, but he drove home safely at about 2:00 a.m. Tired, Albert went straight to bed.

Mother and child went to Lorraines room. On the way back to the couples bedroom, Ruth encountered Judd in the guest bedroom.

Be very quiet, Ruth told him. Ill see you later.

Then Ruth got dressed for bed and lay in a nightgown beside her husband. When she thought he had gone to sleep, she got out of bed and went to see her clandestine visitor. Meanwhile, Judd had donned rubber gloves.

Judd, she said plaintively, What are you going to do?

If you dont let me go through with it tonight, Im going to get the pair of us. Its he (sic) or us.

Ruth pulled at his arm and he reluctantly accompanied her downstairs. She pleaded with Judd not to kill Albert. Judd appeared convinced, and promised to leave without incident.

Relieved, Ruth went upstairs to the bathroom. Then she was startled by a terrific thud. Terrified, she rushed to the bedroom to find Judd on top of her husband, kneeling on Alberts back. She tried to pull him off. Then she fainted. When she regained consciousness, a motionless Albert was piled up with blankets. She started to remove them, but Judd pulled her into her mothers room.

Ive gone through with it, he told her, and you have to stand just as much of the blame as I have. We can frame up a burglary and well both get out of it.

Ruth, in shock, listened.

My shirt is covered with blood, Judd said, Lets see if you have any on you.

Looking down at her nightgown, Ruth saw a bloody palm print where Judd had struggled with her. They burned that nightgown and Judds stained shirt. Judd took one of Alberts shirts.

Judd told her to wait while he ransacked the house to fake a burglary. But neither of them thought to take some the most valuable items in the house, Ruths jewelry. Instead, Ruth took her jewelry and put it under the mattress. For some reason, neither of them thought to have Judd simply take the jewelry when he left. Then he tied her up and put cheesecloth in her mouth.

"Ruth Did It!"

That was not how the murder happened in Judds telling of it. He agreed that he had purchased the chloroform, sash weight, and picture wire but said it was all Ruths idea. If Ruth did indeed suggest the last item, she may have been thinking of the portrait of Jessie Guishard that hung from a picture wire.

He was in her mothers bedroom, as Ruth said, when he saw her taking little Lorraine to her bedroom. Ruth came back to him and whispered, Youre going to do it, arent you?

I think I can, Judd replied firmly even though, he claimed, a wave of terror washed over him.

Ruth turned around and her lover followed her to the bedroom. There Judd struck the first blow, hitting a sleeping Albert with the sash weight. Albert instantly woke up and began a furious fight for his life. He grabbed Judd by the necktie, choking him. Then Ruth hit her husband with the sash weight. Even with the two of them on the man, he fought mightily. Ruth put chloroform on Albert but that did not stop his struggle. She handed a necktie to Judd, saying, Tie his hands! Judd could not manage it and Ruth tied his hands with a towel. Then she tried to cover his head with a sheet while Judd wound the necktie about the struggling mans feet, tying them together.

Is he dead? Ruth asked.

No! Judd told her.

This thing has absolutely got to go through or I am ruined! she wailed.

Judd slugged the man who refused to die and screamed, Help me, Momie!

Momie wound the picture wire around the bleeding mans throat and pulled on it, hard.

Finally, Albert Snyder ceased moving. The murderers paused and waited and were certain that he was also no longer breathing.

Judd looked down and saw his that his shirt and hands were gleaming with blood. He felt disoriented and numb. His mind was blank.

Here, a helpful Ruth said, holding a blue shirt of her late husband before her crime partner, Put this on.

Mechanically, Judd took his shirt off and, just as mechanically put this replacement on, slowly buttoning it up. A more efficient Ruth took his bloodstained clothes and hers down to the basement where they were incinerated.

He followed her down there and fortified himself with a few drinks. Then he threw things about to simulate a robbery.

On the way to the Snyder house, Judd had picked up a scrap of Italian newspaper. That would fit into their plans, the killers decided. They would pin this crime on a couple of immigrants so they left it in the bed as a false clue.

Dawn was breaking as Judd bound his partner to a chair. She opened her mouth so he could place the cheesecloth in. Before he turned to leave, he said, It may be two months, it may be a year, and it may be never before youll see me again.

"Lorraine, Come Quick!"

Judd had gone to a great deal of trouble to set up an alibi. As a traveling salesman, he was in and out of hotels and cities all the time. He had slipped his hotel room key to a longtime friend of his, Haddon Gray (no relation) and told Haddon to go into his room and rumple the bed to make it look slept in. As Leslie Margolin wrote in Murderess!, He told Haddon he needed cover for a dinner engagement with Ruth Snyder in Albany, and that he probably would not be back that night. While Haddon was in Judds room, he was supposed to telephone down to the desk, identify himself as Judd Gray, and tell the operator that he did not feel well and did not wish to be disturbed. Haddon was also supposed to mail some letters Judd had given him and place a do not disturb sign on his doorknob.

Despite these preparations, Judd bungled his getaway. He made himself strangely conspicuous. Waiting at the bus stop, the murderer struck up a conversation with an elderly man. Judd observed a police officer shooting at a row of beer bottles and jokingly remarked, I would hate like hell to stand in front of him and have him shoot me. Then he topped that blunder by shouting, I wouldnt want you shooting at me!

After departing the bus at the Jamaica station, he hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take him to Manhattan. Gray left a nickel tip, causing the cab driver to look hard at the man in his rear view mirror.

The conductor and porter on the New York Central both noticed him because he told them that he wanted to ride the Pullman ticket to Albany and then ride in coach to Syracuse.

Back at the Snyder house, Lorraine Snyder was comfortably asleep in her bed when she was awakened by a series of knocks on her bedroom door. The child opened her eyes, blinking, into the morning.

Then she heard urgent but strangely muffled words in what was unmistakably her mothers voice. Lorraine, Ruth said, Lorraine, come quick!

The pajama clad youngster jumped out of her bed and rushed to the source of the noises. She could hardly believe her eyes. Her mother was on the floor, helpless and bound with cord. Her face was white as chalk and her eyes wide with terror. Her father lay on the bed, his bloody arm protruding from under a sheet.

Lorraine threw on a bathrobe and headed to a neighbors home. Shivering more from fright than the cool morning hair, she banged on the door until Mr. and Mrs. Mulhauser answered. Through chattering teeth, the little girl told how somebody had killed her daddy and her mommy was bound up with ropes.

The Mulhausers headed to the Snyder home where they found things much as the child had described. The couple freed Ruth from her bindings. The dazed woman found a chair and the Mulhausers phoned the police.

When the police arrived, they found a scene of utter chaos. Cushions had been tossed hither and yon, drawers pulled out and left open, and the curtains torn down. Police realized one thing immediately: this was not what a burglary really looked like.

The pretty, blonde woman whose husband had been murdered was only semi-coherent. However, they were able to piece together a tale from the fragments that babbled out of her mouth. She and her husband had come home from a party and they had been assaulted by two men who looked Italian. The men had beat on her husbands head. My jewelry! she cried. They took my jewelry.

One police officer questioned Ruth while others looked about for clues. They easily found one: a scrap of Italian newspaper in the bed where the murdered man lay. But like the furniture scattered for no reason, it was fishy. They also found the stolen jewelry under the mattress.

Officer Arthur Carey began looking through Mrs. Snyders bankbook. He found a $200 check made out to one Judd Gray. His name was also in her phone book. They found a pin with {J. G}. for Jessie Guishard and thought it was Judd Grays. Mail arrived and with it a letter from Judd that had been posted in Syracuse. It was a jaunty note that began, Hello, Momma! How the dickens are you this bright beautiful day . . .

They asked the new widow to come down to headquarters for questioning. A police officer asked, What about Judd Gray?

Has he confessed? a startled Ruth asked.

The police assured her that they had not yet even found Gray for questioning.

Carey consulted with the District Attorney, then had both Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray arrested for first-degree murder. In their confessions, each pinned as much blame on the other as possible.

"Granite Woman and the Putty Man"

Perhaps because of his small stature and rather wimpy appearance, almost everyone seemed to accept Judds story that Ruth had talked him into murder. As reporter Peggy Hopkins Joyce wrote in the Daily Mirror, Poor Judd Gray! He hasnt IT, he hasnt anything. He is just a sap who kissed and was told on! The Herald Tribune wrote about Judd, All facts now adduced point to a love-made man completely in the sway of the woman whose will was steel.

The couple was often labeled The Granite Woman and the Putty Man. Terms describing Ruth alone included Fiend Wife, faithless wife, blonde fiend, marble woman, flaming Ruth, woman of steel, hard-faced woman, vampire, and Ruthless Ruth, the Viking Ice Matron of Queens Village. She was compared to Lucretia Borgia, Messalina, and Lady Macbeth. Playwright Willard Mack wrote in an essay, If Ruth Snyder is a woman, then by God! You must find some other name for my mother, wife, or sister.

When Judd Gray and Ruth Snyder went on trial, the courtroom was packed with spectators wanting to glimpse the blonde-haired, slightly plump Granite Woman attired all in black as well as her slightly built Putty Man in his three-pieced pin-striped suit.

Three different narratives of the murder of Albert Snyder were presented. One was that of the prosecutor, short but powerfully built Richard Newcombe, who pointed his finger equally at Ruth and Judd as co-conspirators and murderers. The fingers of Ruth Snyders lawyers, Edgar Hazelton and Dana Wallace, pointed at Judd who, in their version had committed the murder entirely on his own and was trying to hide behind Ruths skirt. Judd Grays attorneys, William Millard and Samuel Miller, did not deny his part in the slaying but indicated mitigating circumstances because of Ruths powers of persuasion.

Interestingly, both sets of defense attorneys tried to save their clients by draping them in cultural paradigms of gender victimization. Hazelton told the jury that his client was no gay butterfly or woman of many loves but a real, loving wife, a good wife whose husband drove love from that home by pining for his dead love, Jessie Guishard. Poor Ruth was then seduced and manipulated by silver-tongued Judd Gray. Trying to impress these points upon the jury, Hazelton intoned that, Woman is just as God intended her, were it not for some man. And we will prove to you that Mrs. Ruth Snyder is just as God intended her to be were it not for her incompatible husband and the deceiver Gray.

Gray lawyer Willard Millard saw it very differently. Before meeting Ruth Snyder, Judd Gray had not a blemish, not a move outside the normal paths of life. He was a wonderful boy, wonderful, not a mark, not a scratch, not a stain, not a blot, a splendid, ideal character.. Then, Millard said, That woman, that peculiar creature, like a poisonous snake, like a poisonous serpent, drew Judd Gray into her glistening coils, and there was no escape. . . Just as a piece of steel jumps and clings to the powerful magnet, so Judd Gray came within the powerful compelling force of that woman, and she held him fast. . . This woman, this peculiar venomous species of humanity, was abnormal; possessed of an all-consuming, all-absorbing sexual passion, animal lust, which seemingly never was satisfied. Sexy Ruth was Eve and the serpent rolled into one, an irresistible temptress.

Nearly everyone in the courtroom and elsewhere seemed to buy Judds version of his succumbing to Ruths domination. But it did him no practical good. There was no way to get around the fact that he had willingly participated in a premeditated murder.

The jury found both defendants guilty of first-degree murder. On May 13, 1927, the judge sentenced both to be executed.

Two to the Chair

Shortly after the sentence was passed, Ruth Snyder converted to Roman Catholicism. Some more cynical observers believed that this was a calculated ploy to win a commutation from New York Gov. Alfred Smith, also a Roman Catholic. If so, it was a mistake. The governor was even less likely to extend mercy to a co-religionist and leave himself vulnerable to charges of religious favoritism.

Ruth and Judd were taken to the Death House at Sing Sing where Ruth would be the only woman during her stay. While much of the general public sympathized with Judd as a man caught in the coils of an evil woman and hated Ruth, sentiment in Sing Sing was precisely reversed. There is nothing more despised in the hyper-masculine world of male criminals than male weakness. Shifting blame for ones own crime onto a woman made the Putty Man lower than a slug in the eyes of most of his fellow prisoners and they shunned him. He was, however, able to make a few friends, according to Murderess!, Gray found it possible to converse with the occupants in the cells bordering his. He even managed to play checkers with them by calling out moves corresponding to the numbered squares on a checkerboard.

While denounced in the press in terms of horror, Ruth did have her admirers. They were submissive men who swallowed hook, line, and sinker Judds depiction of her powers. According to Crimes of Passion, Ruth received 164 offers of marriage from men who -- in the event of her being reprieved -- were eager to exist humbly beneath her dominance.

Even more isolated than her co-defendant, Ruth spent her time writing. Her memoirs would be published as My Own True Story -- So Help Me God! In the New York Daily Mirror. It was a confused mishmash of observations, memories, and outright craziness. The first step on her way to her present predicament had begun with adultery, Ruth believed, so she devoted much of her prose to warning other women away from affairs.

I wish a lot of women who may be sinning, she penned, could come here and see what I have done for myself through sinning and maybe they would do some of the thinking I have done for months and they would be satisfied with their homes and would stop wishing for things they should try to get along without when they cant have them.

Maybe there are women who have nice homes (and husbands who do the best they can for them) even if they dont like their husbands and they could bear it if they would only make up their minds everything cant be just perfect.

Some husbands dont make enough money to get their wives the things they wish they had and if the wives have the brains they will just take what they can get and try to make the best of it.

As the months of sustained terror wore on, Ruths mind began to unravel. It showed in her writing. She wrote, Judd Gray talks! -- about the big brown bug he put out of its misery -- does (he) -- J. G. -- ever think back of RUTH BROWNS BUG he put out of his misery? What Ruth refers to here is quite unclear but the question automatically occurs to the reader: was Albert Snyder RUTH BROWNS BUG?

On January 12, 1928, both people convicted of murdering Albert Snyder were put to death. In keeping with the Sing Sing tradition of executing the most distressed prisoner first and getting the worst of an inevitably grisly business out of the way, Ruth was taken to the electric chair before Judd.

Her entire head was not shaved but a bald spot was made for the electrode. Her eyes were red and swollen from crying as she was led to the death chamber, a matron holding her under each of her arms. When she saw the electric chair, she started screaming hysterically and her body went limp. The matrons forced her to the chair as she shrieked, Jesus, have mercy on me! Then as the black leather mask was placed over her face, she prayed aloud for her executioners using Christs words, Father forgive them, they know not what they do.

Just as her body shook with the force of electricity, a newspaper photographer raised his trouser cuff where he had secreted a small camera, and snapped a picture of her dying. Cameras were forbidden at executions but this man had smuggled it in and the photograph appeared in front pages the next morning. It is still frequently displayed in articles about the death penalty.

When Judd was brought in, he was obviously terrified, but not faint. He walked to the chair even as rivulets of sweat poured down the skin of his ghost white face. He and the clergyman who accompanied him said parts of the Beatitudes to each other.

Blessed are the pure in spirit, Judd announced as he sat in the death chair.

Blessed are they that mourn, the clergyman replied.

For they will be comforted! Judd filled in. Blessed are the merciful. The guards had trouble adjusting the leather mask to his face. An obliging Judd held his head still so they could do their job. Then electricity shocked the life out of Judd Gray.

Double Indemnity

The Snyder-Gray case has inspired much in the way of art, both literary and theatrical. In 1928, Sophie Treadwell wrote Machinal, a play loosely based on the case. Its title comes from the French word for mechanical or automatic. It was listed in The Best Plays of 1928-29 and The New York Times predicted that in a hundred years, the play would still be vital and vivid. Their prophecy came true for Machinal has recently been revived.

Two of the greatest classics of film noir, Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, were inspired by the murder of Albert Snyder. In both, the killers carry out the murder of the womans husband in a manner quite a bit smarter than Snyder and Gray did but they dont escape their comeuppance. In both the wifes lover is depicted as bachelor. Perhaps this was to simplify the narrative and focus attention on the triangle involving the murder victim. However, in every scene in Double Indemnity where Fred MacMurrays supposed bachelor appears, he is wearing a wedding ring. Of course, it was only a movie. Actor MacMurray simply did not feel comfortable taking his wedding ring off.

Double Indemnity was released in 1944. It was based on the novel by James M. Cain, scripted by Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder, and directed by Billy Wilder. Barbara Stanwyck starred as Phyllis Dietrichson, Tom Powers played her husband and Fred MacMurray played her lover Walter Neff. Edward G. Robinson was Barton Keyes, Neffs superior in the insurance company in which both worked. The story is told in flashback as a sweating and wounded Neff tells Keyes and the audience that he murdered for money and a woman -- and did not get either. Stanwyck plays Phyllis Dietrichson as passionate and ruthless, greedy and pathetically trapped in a bad marriage. Her husband is shown as an insensitive lout.

Walter Neff is meeting with the Dietrichsons to convince them of their need for insurance. Mr. Dietrichson remarks skeptically, The next thing youll tell me is that I need earthquake insurance, and lighting insurance, and hail insurance.

His wife supports his position by saying, If we bought all the insurance they could think of, wed stay broke paying for it, wouldnt we, honey?

He reacts to this by cutting her down in front of company. What keeps us broke, he snaps, is you going out and buying five hats at a crack.

When Neff talks about his feelings immediately after the murder, he says, I couldnt hear my footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man. This is almost a direct quote from Judd Gray who, when he confessed, told police that, after killing Albert Snyder, When I walked I listened for my step -- no sound seemed to follow.

The Postman Always Rings Twice came out just two years later, in 1946, and was directed by Tay Garnett. It was also based on a novel by James M. Cain. Cecil Kellaway plays Nick Smith, proprietor of a roadside diner while Lana Turner gives a sultry performance as his much younger, dissatisfied wife Cora. There is a sign in front of the diner -- Man Wanted -- that appears to speak for Cora and indeed draws Frank Chambers (John Garfield) to work there and fall passionately in love with Cora. Kellaways Nick has an element of sadism in his make-up. Her husband tells Cora, who is imbued with a strong American entrepreneurial spirit, that they must sell the restaurant because his ill sister needs care. Cora is terribly disappointed but her feelings are of no concern to her husband who, secure in his position as head of the family seems to get a kick out of her distress.

Both films have been remade. Double Indemnity was changed to Body Heat in the 1981 movie starring Kathleen Turner and William Hurt. A second The Postman Always Rings Twice was released that same year starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. Neither movie packed the power of the original.

Why does the sad story of Judd Gray and Ruth and Albert Snyder evoke such interest? People in general may identify with -- more than they would like to believe -- the victim and the killers. Some men may recognize themselves in the offhand, belittling cruelty of Albert Snyder. Other men may recall regret for mistreating a woman they loved. Some women know what its like to be married to uncommunicative men and identify with Ruth Snyder on that level. Some of them react to her with fierce condemnation but that too may be the result of uneasily seeing some small part of their own lives in hers. Perhaps the case holds interest because of the way in which so many perennial human faults, including insensitivity, greed, lust, heartlessness, and finally plain stupidity came together to create tragedy.



home last updates contact