In the summer of 2011, I was watching an episode of Investigation Discovery’s show Deadly Women (Season 3, Episode 6: “Hearts of Darkness”) on the television. I was surprised (and I admit a little excited) to discover that a horrible and macabre incident had occurred practically under my nose. Shortly after watching this episode, I started to poke around gathering information– it was a task all too easy for a murder over 80 years old. After years of getting side-tracked, I’m finally putting this story to paper for The Witching Hour’s 2013 “Murderous May”.
Be forewarned, this story is of a gruesome nature and contains one photograph which may be disturbing to some readers.
DISCOVERY AT THE TRAIN DEPOT
Two heavy black and silver trunks lay in baggage claim at Los Angeles Union Station. The first trunk, a large packer trunk (40″x24″x38″), and its contents had weighed an exceptional 235 pounds. The second trunk, a steam trunk (15″x18″x36″) weighed under 200 pounds. The unusual heaviness of the trunks was what first aroused suspicions of baggage agent George Brooker as he checked baggage from the Golden State Limited from Phoenix, Arizona. It was October 19, 1931 and, at the height of prohibition, the railroads had been instructed to keep an eye out for contraband such as Thompson submachine guns and bootleg liquor. But baggage agent Brooker knew something was different about these particular suitcases because they had the nauseating smell of putrefaction and were leaking a dark liquid that a baggage handler in Phoenix had mistaken as medicine.
Brooker told his boss, baggage agent Jim Anderson, about the suspicious baggage. When the owner of the luggage arrived just before noon that day and made latent claim to the seeping trunks, the claim agents refused to release the trunks unless the owner opened them. When Winnie Ruth Judd declined to open the suitcases and quickly left the scene and her baggage behind, Anderson rang up the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Lieutenant Frank Ryan responded to the call and, upon arrival, he picked the lock on the larger of the two trunks.
The smell of rot washed over Ryan as he opened the lid of the trunk. Probing deeper, lifting a layer of rags and clothing, he was soon staring into the vacant eyes of a dead woman.
THE CONTENTS OF THE TRUNKS
The large packer trunk held the remains of Miss Agnes Anne LeRoi and the partial remains of Miss Hedvig “Sammy” Samuelson along with a mass of clothes, blankets, and other items which had been thrown in on top of the bodies. Among those items was a clean bread knife, which had been bent almost to a half circle, and two purses. The purses contained several spent .25 caliber pistol cartridges and one unfired bullet.
Sammy’s arms and legs, from the knees down, were found in the smaller steam trunk, wrapped in blankets.
The lower torso, thighs, and entrails were missing, but it wasn’t long before a janitor found the missing body parts in a beige valise and hatbox, which had been stashed behind the door of the ladies’ restroom. The luggage was then relocated to the morgue, where it could be searched more thoroughly.
The valise was found to contain the missing torso and thighs, also wrapped in blankets. The hatbox contained surgical instruments used for dissection, a bread knife, a .25 caliber Colt pistol, a box of .25 caliber Winchester bullets, and a variety of cosmetics.
An investigation of the bodies would reveal the women had been murdered two days prior to their bodies’ arrival in Los Angeles.
A PERPLEXING PUZZLE OF MURDER
What makes this murder stand out from others isn’t just the gruesome dismembered bodies that made a trip across state lines by rail. All the evidence also points to Winnie Ruth Judd as having had an accomplice help her dispose of the bodies, yet Judd was the only one tried for the crimes. This case is also a very enigmatic story because what really happened to the two women changed with every telling.
Winnie Ruth (McKinnell) Judd was born in Darlington, Indiana in 1905 to minister McKinnell and his wife. In April 1924, she married Dr. William C. Judd who was 22 years her senior. She and her husband moved around a lot before settling in California. Ruth moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1930 after discovering she had contracted Tuberculosis. Her husband was to follow later. Mrs. Judd got a job as a governess to the Leigh Ford family. A friendship blossomed between the Ford’s next-door neighbor, attractive and wealthy lumber tycoon “Happy” Jack Halloran. Eventually, the relationship would become an affair.
Months after her arrival, Judd found employment as a secretary at Gunrow Clinic. She had a salary of $75 a year, which provided enough money for her to let her own apartment at 1102 East Brill Street. Ruth met Agnes Anne LeRoi and Hedvig “Sammy” Samuelson through the Gunrow Clinic, as Anne was an X-ray technician. Sammmy and Anne had both moved to Arizona from Alaska in February 1931, their friends in Alaska had raised money to send them both to Arizona for the dry climate, which (then) was said to help Tuberculosis (TB). The women became fast friends and when Anne had to travel home to Oregon in the summer of 1931, Judd moved into the bungalow at 2929 N 2nd Street to help care for Sammy.
Ruth had introduced Anne and Sammy to “Happy Jack” in February 1931, and Jack spent a lot of time visiting the women during their nightly card games. When Anne returned from Oregon in September 1931, the tall, stunning brunette was deeply in debt. Halloran was rich and he would frequently gift Anne and Sammy with presents, Judd surmised, in return for their affections. This planted the seeds of jealousy in the house as the girls began a series of underhanded psychological games for Halloran’s attention and, for Anne, money.
Thursday, October 15, 1931, Judd offered to introduce Jack to yet another coworker, Lucille Moore, so Moore, who had knowledge of the local wildlife, could help Halloran plan a hunting trip to the White Mountains of Arizona. This introduction would spark a conflagration of contention between LeRoi and Judd. Anne LeRoi insisted that Lucille Moore had syphilis, and that by introducing Jack to Ms. Moore, Ruth Judd had endangered Jack’s life. Anne began to taunt and tease Ruth, calling her names and threatening to tell her husband of her affair with Halloran.
“I was cruely made fun of by Ann to Halloran in my presence, so finally I moved.”
As contention escalated, Ruth moved back to her apartment on Brill Street. Judd also claimed that the memory of those taunts were keeping her from sleeping, so she had been taking Luminal as a sleep aid. During this time, Halloran was still visiting Mrs. Judd. According to Ruth’s April 6, 1933 written confession of the crimes, Halloran visited her 10 of the 14 nights between when she moved back to Brill Street and when the murders were committed.
In the version of the story in the confession as penned by Mrs. Judd, Jack Halloran was supposed to meet Ruth at home the night of Friday, October 16, 1931, but he never showed. Knowing Anne and Sammy would be up playing cards, she headed over to the bungalow on 2nd Street… with a knife and a gun. When Ruth Judd arrived, the women had just finished playing cards and were going to bed. Ruth overheard Anne tell Sammy that she was going to tell Jack Halloran that Lucille Moore had syphilis. Judd laid the knife and her shoes at the door, went inside, and fell asleep on the couch with the gun. (Strangely, she had no trouble sleeping…)
According to Judd, Sammy had risen several times throughout the course of the night to use the facilities. Each trip to the bathroom woke Judd, and each time she would fall back to sleep. She resisted the urge to kill Anne until the sun started to creep over the horizon. Finally, it was time to kill Anne.
Sammy got up to use the restroom and Ruth snuck past the bathroom door and slipped into the bedroom, where she shot and killed Anne. On her way past the bathroom, Sammy was exiting the restroom to investigate the noise. Sammy took the gun from the hysterical Ruth, and kicked Ruth out of the house. Ruth went out the garage door, grabbed the knife she had left outside, re-entered the house, and stabbed Sammy in the shoulder as she reached to take back the gun.
It was during the struggle for the gun that Sammy, whose finger was still on the trigger, was shot. The bullet passed through Ruth’s hand and into the left side of Sammy’s chest. Sammy tried to fire again, but the gun misfired. It fell to the floor, where Ruth picked it up and fired point blank at Sammy’s head. The bullet pierced Samuelson’s left temple and she fell dead to the ground.
According to the confession, Ruth moved Anne’s body to the bed and got the packer trunk from the garage. She then lifted Anne’s body into the trunk– a task she claimed took her two whole hours. Sammy’s body, she hauled into the bathroom, where she left it all day Saturday while she was at work. Judd would return later on Saturday to finish packing the bodies away. She claimed to have been unable to lift Sammy’s body into the trunk because it was too heavy, so she grabbed two cheap knives from the kitchen and used those to sever her into manageable proportions. Yet, the autopsy report would later reveal that Sammy’s body was dismembered with surgical precision, a task impossible to accomplish with shoddy kitchen knives.
There were more than a few flaws with the series of events in Judd’s confession. First and foremost is the fact that she was not strong enough to have hefted the bodies around– especially since she was afflicted with tuberculosis. To state that she could move Anne to the bed and easily stuff her into one trunk, yet she couldn’t lift Sammy’s body into the trunk without dismembering the body; and later, to hear Judd talk about inching the trunk inch-by-inch across the living room when it contained not ONE, but portions of TWO Bodies sounds a bit inconsistent. There is also inconsistency in her claiming to have dismembered Sammy with kitchen knives when she did not have the training to dissect a body with such surgical precision as was used on the body of Sammy Samuelson. A more likely scenario includes the possibility that Winnie Ruth Judd was almost murdered at the hands of the other two women and she acted in self defense, and, in a state of shock, panicked and called Halloran, who called in a few favors to help dismember and dispose of the bodies; or, the much darker possibility that Winnie Ruth Judd did not kill the women at all, but took the fall for Jack Halloran instead.
In either case, Saturday evening the house was scrubbed clean and the bodies were stuffed into trunks. Winnie Ruth Judd found herself hiring the transport services of Lightning Delivery who testified that it took three baggage men to left the then 450 pound trunk onto their delivery truck. They recommended that, if she were to travel by train, Judd would need to lower the weight of her baggage as the rail company might not ship it. They delivered the trunk to Judd’s residence on Brill Street. In the morning, the set of 4 trunks and Judd would embark on their journey to Los Angeles, California.
After an extensive manhunt, at 6 pm on Friday, October 6, 1931, Winnie Ruth Judd eventually surrendered to police and was extradited to Arizona, where, on January 19, 1932, she was put on trial for the murder of Agnes Anne LeRoi. (She was never tried for the murder of Sammy.) The State of Arizona was seeking the death penalty, which was still the short drop and sudden stop of hanging in those days.
The trial itself was a sensation. Tales of the “Trunk Murderess” made headlines across the nation. She had an all male jury that was being shown only the evidence implicating Judd in the murders as the prosecution proceeded to paint a one-sided portrayal of what happened the night of October 16, 1931. Even that was sketchy. In those days, they didn’t have secure crime scenes as we have now. That alone may have influenced the evidence because the owner of the bungalow on 2nds Street where the two women had been murdered and stuffed into trunks had opened the building up to the public for 10 cents a person. Newspaper clippings and photographs of the long lines to see inside the house were submitted as evidence. Although three policemen and the landlord were also questioned in court, the judge still overruled objections and allowed evidence found at the disturbed scene of the crime to be used in court. Miranda rights were also not in effect at this time, so things Judd had said prior to her trial were used against her in court. Judd herself claimed that alleged witnesses were lying to the court. The defense did not dare put Judd on the stand to defend herself.
On February 8, 1932, the jury found Judd guilty of murder and she was convicted to death by hanging, which was to be performed on February 17, 1933. The Supreme Court denied her appeal, but days before her execution, she was declared insane and transferred to the state mental institution.
Sheriff John R. McFadden, who had investigated the crime on his own, did not agree with the verdict. There were several important elements of the crime which had been disregarded by the state. Probably the most poignant evidence was that of Jack Halloran’s possible involvement in the murders. Though he and Judd had been having an affair, though his name had been brought up in court several times, Jack Halloran was never questioned or interviewed in court. Even one of the jurors said the courtroom was “spellbound” by the prosecution’s story, and none of the jury really believed it was cold-blooded murder. “We felt positive she was unable to cut up the body. We were told it took a professional.” The jurors also knew there were other, prominent and married men involved in the story that were never questioned in court. Judd’s simple story had been blown out of proportion and reconstructed with just enough fragments of what he believed was truth mixed up in the prosecution’s case so as to make their version believable.
At great personal cost, Sheriff McFadden managed to convene a grand jury to review the information from the case. Judd’s execution was postponed to Friday, April 14. The grand jury indicted Jack Halloran, but his presence in court proved detrimental to Judd’s testimony. Halloran’s cold stare caused Judd to cry hysterically from the stand. Jack, though implicated in the murders by Judd’s testimony, was deemed to not have been party to the murders– that Judd had simply, in a jealous rage, killed the two women. Jack Halloran walked free while Judd remained on death row.
PUBLIC SENTIMENTS FOR THE INSANE
There was one positive outcome from the hearing. The public, who until then, had only been spoon fed the outrageous story of murder and guilt now started to believe that Judd was innocent of the crime. The newspapers began asking the questions the prosecution should have asked. As sentiments for Judd’s innocence built, A.G. Walker, warden of Arizona State Prison, called for an insanity hearing. Her hearing took place in lieu of her hanging on Friday, April 14. Ten Days later, Winnie Ruth Judd was declared insane and moved into the Arizona State Mental Hospital.
The facility was hot, understaffed, and over crowded. Winnie Ruth Judd became an asset to the place, finding a niche as a beautician she would fix up many of the patients for hospital sponsored dances and the nurses eventually took advantage of her services as well.
Jack Halloran would visit Ruth frequently, taunting her and laughing at her until she would break down. Staff eventually banned him from the grounds.
Between 1939 and 1962, Ruth escaped the hospital a total of seven times.
- October 24, 1939: She left for 6 days before returning on her own.
- December 3, 1939: Judd took a bus 180 miles to Yuma, Arizona before she was discovered by police and brought back to the hospital.
- May 11, 1947: Ruth left during the day and disappeared for 12 hours before she was found at a nearby resort.
- November 29, 1951: She was caught within a few hours of her escape.
- February 2, 1952: Judd absconded to friends’ houses for a period of five days before turning herself in to authorities.
- November 23, 1952: After eating a hearty Thanksgiving dinner, she took leave to visit a friend.
- October 8, 1962: Ruth spent six and a half years at large as she worked her way to north to Kingman, Arizona before ending up in Oakland, California. There she secured employment as a maidservant to “Mother Nichols” in San Francisco. Nichols passed away in the winter of 1967, but the family so loved Ruth that they invited her to their cottage north of San Francisco. She was arrested at the cottage on June 27, 1969.
Authorities were baffled at the number of successful escapes until they discovered that a sympathetic nurse had in fact given Winnie Ruth Judd a key to the front door!
In 1952, Ruth was given another hearing. This time, the death penalty was changed to life in prison. Immediately following this ruling, Ruth demanded a sanity hearing. In October 1969, the board denied her parole. In February 1971, she had another sanity hearing. At this time, the board ruled
… The case is not one you sweep under the rug and forget about… As time passes, more and more people will join the ranks of those who think her sentence should be commuted. What we will see is not a question of modern penology, but the portrayal of out-and-out persecution of an elderly grandmother type unfortunate woman. It is incumbent upon the board to give her a commutation of sentence now…”
Finally, on the morning of December 21, 1971, Arizona Governor Jack Williams acquitted Winnie Ruth Judd and she was able to walk out of the asylum one final time.
The most perplexing aspect of this case is figuring out what really happened? How did Miss Judd, a slight woman suffering from Tuberculosis, manage to haul around a steamer trunk that, before it’s contents were divided into other luggage, could barely be carried by several men? How did she cut up bodies so neatly and cleanly without any professional medical training? Indeed, it would seem as though Miss Judd had an accomplice who was never implicated in the murders.
Miss Winnie Ruth Judd, living under the name Marian Lane in Stockton, California, died in her bed at the age of 93 on October 23, 1998.
Jack Halloran was eventually fired by the partners in his lumber business. He disappeared into oblivion. To this day, several people believe that Halloran may have killed the women and pinned the whole thing on Ruth Judd. Virginia Fetterer, daughter of an Arizona legislator who served during the time of the murders, claimed to have met Halloran and actually heard him bragging that you could fix anything in Phoenix if you knew the right people. He laughed as he elaborated to say Winnie Ruth Judd was paying for what he’d done.
Sadly, Sheriff John McFadden’s career was ruined after he saved Judd from the gallows. Although he was forced to retire and leave town, McFadden is glad to have helped Ruth Judd avoid the hangman’s noose.
What really happened in the house at 2929 N 2nd Street on the evening of Friday, October 16, 2931 still remains shrouded in mystery. The players in the drama have all expired and only memories of the events that transpired as recorded and the evidence, gathering dust in a judicial vault somewhere, remains to remind us that things aren’t always as they seem…
If you’re still interested in this case, please enjoy these videos that I found during my research.
Tour of House:
* AZ Historical Society – Event Summary (PDF)
* Period Photos from Arizona Memory Library Archive Collection
* TruTV Crime Library – Winnie Ruth Judd
* AZ Daily Star’s Tales From the Morgue: Winnie Ruth Judd