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Henry Judd GRAY






A.K.A.: "The Putty Man"
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: July 8, 1892
Victim profile: Albert Snyder, 44 (his lover's husband)
Method of murder: Beating  with a dumb-bell - Strangulation with a wire
Location: Queens Village, Queens, New York, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution in New York on January 12, 1928

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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



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