Winnie Ruth Judd: 'The Trunk Murderess' In Perspective
On Friday, October 16, 1931, Winnie Ruth Judd shot Anne LeRoi and Sammy Samuelson to death. That's what history says and, for that matter, what Ruth herself said. Details remain sketchy, however. To present a depiction of what seems to have occurred that evening and over the weekend, the following events are based on a transcript of a confession Ruth made to a sheriff after her trial. Evidence uncovered from the crime scene supports this story, including her testimony that she killed in self defense.
There are holes, nonetheless, considering sensible theories that sprang up afterwards. None of these discredit Ruth, but they suggest that Jack Halloran's role in the crime was larger than his being the after-the-fact participant exhibited here. (These suspicions will be presented later.)
Friday: The Murders
Ruth arrived home from work around 6:30 p.m. that Friday evening, fed her cat, then waited for Jack Halloran to take her to dinner. She waited until nearly nine when she realized Jack had stood her up. This wasn't the first time. Angry, she resolved to leave him waiting, and grabbed the Indian School Trolley to visit with Anne and Sammy on Second Street. She knew that they were playing bridge that evening with a mutual friend and figured she would join them.
By the time she arrived, their company had departed, but the girls asked her to stay the night. The trolley line would soon shut down for the night and, since both Ruth and Anne worked at the clinic on Saturdays, they could go to work together in the morning. Ruth agreed.
They dressed for bed, but continued to sit up in their beds for a while, sipping warm milk and talking. That is when an argument started. Anne suddenly started berating Ruth for setting up the meeting between Jack Halloran and Lucille Moore; she claimed the nurse was being treated for syphilis and that in introducing Jack to her she had endangered Jack's life. (Syphilis in the Thirties was as dreaded as AIDS is today.) Ruth rebutted by saying that, firstly, she didn't expect Jack to be interested in Moore romantically and, secondly, if it was true about the woman's affliction, such information should remain in the clinic and not made public.
Name calling erupted, and threats. Anne and Sammy joined forces to intimidate Ruth. They insinuated that she was a slut, and wouldn't her husband be happy to know how she was sleeping around! Ruth counter-attacked by admitting that everyone at the clinic considered the two as lesbians and no more than "perverts". When Anne, in retaliation, threatened to tell Jack about Moore's disease, Ruth swore that, if she did, she would tell the doctors at the clinic how Anne had, in a fit of rage one day, purposely broke an expensive piece of X-ray equipment.
"This was no longer just a quarrel between girlfriends that would eventually end with tears and promises to forgive and forget," Jana Bommersbach asserts in The Trunk Murderess. "This was now a bitter fight with each side threatening to destroy the other socially and financially."
The verbal daggers had pierced enough, Ruth determined, and left the bedroom to put her cup of milk in the kitchen sink. The time was, Ruth estimated later, about 10:25 p.m. From the corner of her eye, she saw a movement and heard a grunt; turning, she saw Sammy behind her with a gun whose barrel she placed against her chest. Ruth screamed, shoving the gun away, simultaneously reaching for a bread knife from the kitchen counter.
The women grappled, and the gun discharged a bullet into Ruth's left hand. She faltered and, as Sammy re-aimed at her chest again, Ruth stabbed Sammy across the shoulder in self-defense. Both women were stunned, but recovered instantly, only to fall to the floor. Locked and fighting over possession of the firearm, it fired, striking Sammy in the left shoulder, but the latter still held on.
As Ruth testified: "I grabbed the gun and her hand was yet on the trigger when that shot went through her chest, and she never relaxed on the gun one bit until after she was shot..."
In the meantime, Anne had approached them, smacking Ruth atop her head with an ironing board yelling for Sammy to "Shoot...Shoot her!" After Sammy lay still, Anne continued to "brain" her with the board and wouldn't stop despite Ruth's cries. In getting up, Ruth, now in control of the gun, thought it had discharged again and that the shot had gone wild because she had no time to pause between Anne's wallops. Anne continued to bat her until Ruth was forced to fire.
All action was a blur, she wasn't even sure how many times she shot in Anne's direction. She seemed to recall Anne listing, then recoiling, but that too was part of the bad dream. Dizzy, she must have wavered for a moment, because it wasn't long after that she found herself on the floor, aching, flanked by two lifeless bodies.
Anne's body had fallen, according to Ruth, "back towards the stove. Sammy's head...was in towards the breakfast room, the feet towards the kitchen door...I must have fell too, afterwards, because (when I came to) I was sitting on the floor...I put my dress on and nothing else, just my shoes and my dress."
She went straight back to her house to get her pocketbook. The ride home took a little longer than usual, since the trolley line was closing and she couldn't take the car the full way. She walked the last few blocks to her doorstep. When she arrived home, about 11:30 p.m., she saw Jack Halloran waiting there, "dead drunk". Her intention had been to call her husband, but Jack talked her out of it. Instead, she relied on his help.
"I told him what had happened (but) he wouldn't believe it...And I couldn't convince him." To prove it, she had him drive her back to North Second Street. They parked on adjacent Pinchot Street, and then entered the scene of the fight through the front door. After examining the aftermath, Halloran "picked up Sammy and carried her to Anne's bed." When he dropped the corpse onto the mattress, blood splattered from Sammy's hair across the mattress and walls tiny drops of blood.
Ruth, meanwhile, began to mop the kitchen tiles, but broke down and could not finish. She was shaking; her left hand, which had taken a .25 calibre bullet, throbbed like the devil. Jack completed the job himself. He seemed annoyed when Ruth suggested giving herself up to the police. "He scared me of the police, he scared me of the state's attorney...he scared the life out of me, what it would mean. He told me...that he would take care of this himself...and that everything would be all right (but) to say absolutely nothing (to no one)."
Jack insisted that he let an associate of his, a Dr. Brown, come over to attend to her hand. When Ruth protested, worried that the doctor might in turn implicate Jack in the crime, the latter smirked and ensured her that Brown would prove to be a willing accomplice. According to Ruth, Jack said he "had enough on Brown to hang him." Several attempts to reach Brown by phone failed, however, and Halloran never mentioned his name again.
The mopping completed, Jack carried a good-sized packer trunk in from the garage. Because she was still hysterical, he insisted that she go home he would drive her and that she calm down. He would return alone to the girls' house, he said, to finish up what needed to be done. His plan was to force the two dead bodies into the trunk and dispose of it in the desert. She agreed that that might be best for everybody. On her way out of the house, she dropped the murder weapon, a .25 calibre Winchester revolver, into her purse. Ten minutes later she was home, but spent the evening weeping and wringing her hands, wondering what Jack was up to and hoping that he would remain safe.
Saturday: Best-Laid Plans
Early in the morning, she called work and begged to take a day off, but her employers insisted she come in. To avoid suspicion, she obliged. Performing her duties was difficult, not only because she was on pins and needles she hadn't heard from Halloran but because she was in pain from the gunshot. Her hand festered and felt swollen under a bandage she had applied hours earlier.
Finally, about noon, Jack phoned her. He asked that she meet him at the girls' house that evening; they needed to talk things over. She did as he asked, taking the trolley directly to North Second Street from work. Entering the front room, Ruth was disappointed to see the packing trunk still there, hoping it was gone.
Halloran explained that it was too risky dumping corpses in the countryside; the highway patrol scoured those roads constantly; and, besides, if the remains were ever found, Ruth would be implicated immediately, she being their friend and one-time roommate.
Jack opted another plan: that she take the trunk herself to Los Angeles where it could be gotten rid of safely, away from Phoenix. "He wanted me to take (it) and he said there would be someone there to meet me...at Los Angeles," Ruth reported, "that he had a man by the name of Williams, or Wilson, (who) would meet me."
The plan made sense. It appealed to Ruth. Doctor Judd currently lived there; he could remove the bullet. Also, she had wanted to visit her brother, Burton, who was attending college in Los Angeles. And, as Halloran underscored, the trip gave her an ideal double-alibi for going to L.A. to see her husband and brother just in case questions were asked later. Jack promised to get her a ticket for the Golden State Limited express train leaving Phoenix the following evening for the West Coast.
She nodded. So that his Mr. Wilson could identify her at the busy train station, she told Jack to tell him to look out for a short thin blonde in a brown suit.
But, there were other things to consider first, before L.A. and brown suits. As for those other things, they had been neatly packaged in the trunk.
Ruth's eyes surveyed the gruesome black oblong thing. "You were able to fit the...girls in there?" she asked.
"I forced Anne in the bottom and, well, there wasn't a whole lot of room left. Sammy was...er, operated on. That's the only way they would both compact," Jack admitted. Ruth grew nauseated at the thought even though, she noticed, he had chosen the more discrete operated on over the harsher cut up. Her eyes rejected the sight of the disgusting object.
Halloran then left her alone at the house- turned- mausoleum while he went off to procure a train ticket for her. It would be waiting and paid for at the ticket window, he explained. He also left with her a phone number for the Lightning Delivery Service. "Call them ahead of time," he directed, "and have them ship the trunk to the station. They will load it on the train you're taking and it will be waiting for you and my associate when you arrive in L.A."
"You're sure that this Wilson or whatever his name is will be there when I am?"
"Trust me," he patted her hand. And left. She believed him, everything he said. Especially that he would keep in touch with her. He lied. No contact would meet her in Los Angeles, nor would he ever try to see her again. After that night, it was as if he had never known her.
To paraphrase the old moral about "best laid plans," Ruth's went sour. When the drivers from Lightning Delivery showed up later Saturday night they told her the case was too heavy to be shipped by rail freight and advised her to separate whatever was in it into two boxes before sending it on. Caught unprepared, she told them to deliver it then to her Brill Street address. The tradesmen thought her request, and her bearing, were very odd but she was the customer. They transported the trunks and Ruth, to Brill.
In the early hours of Saturday night, Ruth was left alone with the gruesome task of dividing up the contents of the bodies into other containers. ("I had to," she later justified her actions, "because that trunk was too heavy to go by express and I didn't know what else to do.") She had tried to find Jack to help her, but he had disappeared. According to her testimony to come, she removed several of the smaller anatomical slivers from the packing trunk (with a Turkish towel) into a larger steamer trunk she had had at home for storage. As she sickened and the macabre task overwhelmed her, she sought the relief of fresh air outside before plunging back to her chore. Wanting to end this hell as soon as possible, she decided to try another strategy: "I didn't lift (the body parts), I lowered them over the edge and they fell into the lower (trunk). The piece I lowered, it was on top. I pulled it over the edge into the (larger) trunk at the side of it...I had the big trunk and the little trunk at the side and I pulled (the latter) over the edge and lowered it into the other you can't lift that big trunk."
After she felt she had equally dispersed all pieces, she quickly drew out one more grisly section from the smaller trunk and stuffed it under wads of soft materials in her valise. The glance she afforded that final cutting told her it was Sammy's severed limbs.
When the revolting session was done, she raced to the bathroom and released from her gut the curdling horrors of the weekend. By then, the Sunday sun had risen to erase the gloom and vapors of the night.
Sunday: Leaving Phoenix
Only one hurdle remained this morning, Oct. 18: getting the two heavy trunks to the train station for the eight o'clock evening departure of the Golden Star Liner. (Again, Jack Halloran proved inaccessible and she hoped he had at least fulfilled his promise of reserving her a seat on the train.) For muscle, she sought the help of her landlord, Howard Grimm, who lived in a small house behind hers. Grimm was delighted to lend a hand and promised that he and his son Kenneth would stop by her place at 6:30 p.m. to get her to the depot on time.
At the appointed hour, says Jana Bommersbach, "(Ruth) pointed them toward the bedroom, where they found two black trunks. Grimm recalled grunting as he tried to lift the big trunk. Mrs. Judd apologized for its weight, explaining that it contained her husband's medical books...It took the strength of two men to carry the trunk to the touring car (but) Kenneth managed the smaller trunk himself...Winnie Ruth carried out a battered suitcase and a hatbox."
When weighed at the station, the large trunk came in 175 pounds overweight. Ruth's heart fell, sure that the handlers would refuse to accept it. But, when she was told she would have to pay $4.50 extra for its excess weight, she realized she was home scot-free. The baggage man then clipped a numbered claim check to each of the trunk's handles, had her sign the receipt, and wheeled the things from her sight. She watched, thankfully, as they disappeared behind the baggage room door.
Picking up her ticket (Jack had prepaid it), she boarded the train and rested her head back upon the cold leather of the cushion. Through the skylight grating, she could see that the sky overhead had darkened. A few stars twinkled in easy harmony.
Twelve hours from now she would be in Los Angeles. Twelve hours. She hoped Jack's Mr. Wilson would recognize her; she wore the brown suit, the one she told Jack to tell his friend to watch for.
What would become of the trunks, she didnt know, hadn't asked. She didn't need to. She knew that Jack always had a way of getting things done. He knew people, knew how to deal. This time, she was sure, would be no different.
But...at Los Angeles Union Station Mr. Wilson, or Williams, or whatever his name was supposed to have been, never materialized.
And when she phoned, the Halloran's housekeeper told her the master was not available; he had gone hunting and would be unreachable for quite some time.