Winnie Ruth Judd: 'The Trunk Murderess' In Perspective
What sort of person was Winnie Ruth Judd?
According to those who knew her who spent real time with her she was the flip-side of everything the criminal court painted: not a tigress; not vehement; [not] prone to either jealousies or abandon. Rather, she emanated, throughout her life and despite her troubles, a considerate quality of good will.
Dark Horse Multimedia is fortunate to have among its readership Lyn Cisneros, who shares with us her personal recollection of Winnie Ruth Judd. As a child, Lyn spent three days and nights with the woman whom the world sadly knew only as the "Trunk Murderess".
Her memories speak fondness and affection.
Dark Horse is sincerely grateful to Ms. Cisneros for the following anecdote.
After Ruth's seventh escape from the asylum in 1962, and before she ventured to California, she spent several months in the town of Kingman, Arizona. Kingman sits plunked in the scenic desert along the intersection of Interstate 40 west of Flagstaff and U.S. Highway 93, south from Las Vegas. While in town, Ruth the fugitive posed simply as Mrs. Ruth Judd, a married woman fleeing an abusive spouse. The local minister, Reverend Geesey, and his wife as well as the members of the local First Assembly of God church -- welcomed the woman with open arms. Asking no questions, inviting her into its community of worshippers, the congregation found its newest member, whom they called "Sister Ruth," to be a sweet, intelligent, soft-spoken lady who demonstrated a kind smile and expressed a warm heart to all she met.
"Sister Ruth was allowed to live in a small trailer adjacent to the church parking lot and accessible to the church. She lived alone with her Persian cat whom she called Whitey; the animal's color being obvious," laughs Cisneros. "I've often wondered if the pastor knew her real identity and accommodated her because he recognized the true value in the real woman. He was that kind of man, very insightful. I really do believe he might've known."
The congregation, Cisneros states, loved Ruth. "They brought her food and helped her out in a number of ways. And, in turn, she returned whatever favors she could by doing domestic work for different families, cooking for them, cleaning for them. She earned a small income performing various chores, the money which would keep her in food and clothing."
Cisneros remembers that Sister Ruth often led the singing at church and assisted in activities presented by the Missionettes, a girls' Christian club sponsored by the church in which Cisneros belonged.
"To a child my age I was 11 years old at the time -- Sister Ruth was a curiosity. She came out of nowhere and, well, was just there one day, as big as life. She didn't say much if encountering her on the streets or crossing the church lot, but she always extended a friendly greeting and magnificent smile. I'd see her out front her place, talking to the pastor or just petting Whitey. She loved that cat."
Cisneros remembers vividly that scar on the lady's left hand. One day she asked her about it, and Sister Ruth explained that a long time ago she had been bitten by a spider. "It was a terrible bite," she remarked. "My index finger still occasionally goes numb."
One day, little Lyn (who was then Lyn Dowling) received the shock of her life. "I was and still am an avid reader, and I poured over the pages of the Arizona Republic with veracity. My father, then head of the town council, subscribed to that paper. Anyway, I happened to be reading the paper when I caught an article about the latest flight-from-justice of Winnie Ruth Judd, the 'Trunk Murderess'. I felt my child's eyes nearly burst from their sockets when they fell on the accompanying black-and-white of the infamous figure. I recognized that face immediately as our beloved Sister Ruth."
The paper described the escapee's hair as fair, whereas Kingman's newest citizen had black hair. "But," Cisneros adds, "I was old enough to know about hair dye. As well, the article mentioned a [scar on her left hand], from the gunshot wound. Imagine my shock!"
Bursting with news, she told everyone her parents, her neighbors, others in the church, even the pastor that she had uncovered a deep, dark secret about mysterious Sister Ruth, but, says she, "they all rolled their eyes and laughed. The pastor smirked, patted me on the head and told me, ''Now now, Lyn, don't worry about such things.' You see, I was immediately tagged as the kid with an overactive imagination."
Cisneros will never forget the day her parents announced they were taking a little trip out of town for three days but, not to worry, for they were keeping Lyn and her nine-year-old brother in capable hands...Sister Ruth's! "Alone with the 'Trunk Murderess'! Just think how I felt!" she shakes her head at the absurdity of the situation. "I mean, this was something right out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie two defenseless kids, whom no one believes, dropped into the hands of a psycho!"
They were three long days --- and nights. "The worst part of it was bedtime. I distinctly remember pressing a chair under my bedroom doorknob, cramming the chair dead right against it to keep her out. I slept with a butcher knife beside my bed that is, if I did sleep at all actually, I dont think I closed my eyes once. I just laid there, listening, waiting, expecting to hear the thump-thump-thump of a trunk being dragged up the stairs toward my room."
She suddenly laughs. "What a silly child, but that goes to show the power of the media, even in 1962. Now, in my maturity, I think back to recall how consistently gentle she was, so loving to me and my brother during those three days she watched us. She made us excellent meals, looked out for our welfare and, for that matter, might as well have been our godmother for all the care she proffered. She was a wonderful woman."
When asked to give her overall impression of Winnie Ruth Judd the person, Cisneros doesn't hesitate. "Everything about her seemed positive, she wanted to please and she tried hard to do it. I believe in my heart she was innocent of all crimes alleged against her. To me she'll always be Sister Ruth.
"She is, no doubt, resting in peace today."