Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Winnie Ruth Judd: 'The Trunk Murderess' In Perspective

Pondering

McFadden (in hat) escorting Ruth to trial (Courtesy: Orien Fifer Jnr. & Jerry McLain)
McFadden (in hat) escorting
Ruth to trial
(Courtesy: Orien Fifer Jnr. &
Jerry McLain)

Among the dark knights of Phoenix there was one one who wore shining armor, and meant it. Sheriff John McFadden believed that there was much more to the story than the local yokels were being fed. From Ruth's incarceration through her trial and afterwards he would prove to be Winnie Ruth Judd's greatest ally and lifesaver.

What set McFadden on his course were the autopsy pictures of Sammy Samuelson's cut-up body. Helen McFadden, the sheriff's daughter, recalls that in viewing the photographs her dad came to the conclusion that the dismemberment "had to be done by a professional a surgeon or a doctor. He said Ruth was incapable of doing it."

Ruth had remembered that Jack Halloran had told her Sammy was "operated on". She assumed he was telling her, in a most polite way, that he disjointed her carcass. In her confused and frightened state, she hadn't stopped to consider anything else. Unless autopsy prints lie, which of course they do not, Halloran could not have performed such a neat, clean job, as illustrated.

Who could have done it? Scholars point to one man: Dr. Charles W. Brown, the same physician who Halloran claimed lay in his debt. One theory is that Halloran, who had earlier tried to reach Brown to remove Ruth's bullet, may have at last found him after he brought Ruth home. The two men very likely returned to the death house on North Second Street where the intimidated Brown conducted the dissection.

Not long after Ruth was incarcerated at Arizona State Prison, the warden heard from the guards that a man calling himself Dr. Brown, drunk and disorderly, had wobbled into the front office insisting to see Winnie Ruth Judd. When they asked why, he blurted, "Because I am the only man alive who knows the truth!" Before they could quiz him further, he hotfooted.

A few days later, he died. The coroner pronounced it a coronary, but many believed he had committed suicide.

Sheriff McFadden's initial suspicions were becoming concrete as incidences such as these prevailed. The lawman's real contribution, however, will be discussed later, but it adds to the story now to mention that, during his independent investigations, he was proving a source of worry to someone. Says Helen of her father, "He was getting telephone threats that something would happen to his family if he didn't back off."

Ennis

McFadden would have had a confederate had Hugh Ennis worn a badge in 1931. Ennis, a 22-year veteran with the Phoenix Police Force was not a professional lawman during the Judd trial, but joined the muster roll later, working in the homicide, vice and narcotics departments. The force that he knew was nothing like the politically run group of the Thirties; he is proud to have been a member of what he considers an honest, hard-working and intelligent organization. He retired as captain in 1981.

However, he openly condemns the botched and suspicious way the Winnie Ruth Judd investigation was handled by his predecessors. "So much...smacks of exactly what it probably was -- political interference," he told Jana Bommersbach when she interviewed him for her expose, The Trunk Murderess early in the 1990s

Ennis has studied the case for years, he has read the original police reports and has gone over everything relating to the case that he could get his hands on, published and non. In reviewing the trial transcripts and copies of police interviews with eyewitnesses, he presents his overall judgment of the case: the police indeed "took care" of the investigation so that the pieces fit someone's private puzzle, not the truth.

He focused on four particular areas:

Basic Mishandling of Crime Scene

"(The police) sent officers out there who let reporters traipse all through the place. Right then, they no longer had a crime scene. Any crime scene integrity was gone...Who knows what evidence was destroyed as those people were milling around? Who knows what was moved or taken away? Who knows what fingerprints were wiped out? The police clearly acted like this was a small hick town the way they handled this case."

To make matters worse, says Ennis, the county's blood expert didn't arrive to take blood samples until twenty-eight days after the murders and after the landlord had opened the place to the public, charging admission to literally thousands of curiosity seekers who paraded through it. By then, Ennis reports, blood sampling became "a useless gesture".

Determining where the victims were slain

Ennis cannot understand how the state could uphold their claim that Winnie shot her two friends in their bedroom while they slept. He attests, "There just wasn't enough blood in that bedroom. If she'd shot the women as the prosecution said...there should have been a lot of blood in that bedroom around both beds. You don't kill somebody especially shooting them in the head without a lot of blood.

"The (lack of) blood in the bedroom alone shows the state's theory was wrong. So...where and how were those girls killed?" Ennis continues. "And why would Ruth Judd make up a story where she admits shooting them, but puts the shooting in the wrong place? What did she have to gain? If she was there, she's got to know what the physical evidence shows. Why didn't she say the fight happened in the bedroom if that's the only place she knows the blood will show up? It doesn't make any sense that she'd insist the girls died in the kitchen unless that's what she remembered. Those are the questions the police should have been asking, but they weren't."

The issue of the absentee mattresses

His views on the disappearing mattresses is plain and simple: "There was either something on the mattresses the perpetrator didn't want seen, or the mattresses didn't fit the state's case if there was no blood on them, how do you explain a scenario where the girls were shot in their beds?"

The alleged
The alleged "missing mattresses"
(Maricopa County Archives)

Ennis notes that the missing-mattress factor should have been considered a highly important focus. The police quickly dropped the issue and no investigation took place. A conscientious police force would have recognized the value of those mattresses as evidence and a hunt to find them would have been mandated.

One more point: Why would Ruth Judd conceal the bloody mattresses, yet leave blood across the walls that the police claimed was there?

Premeditation

Proving a defendant's premeditation of his or her criminal activity is a vital part of a prosecutor's job; but, again, the state failed in that area. "To show premeditation, you have to show where the gun was that night. If she came over to kill them, they had to show she brought it with her. They didn't do that. My guess is they didn't because they couldn't explain where the gun was. There were never any tests done to see if she'd ever fired a gun...a dermal nitrate test. It can even tell what kind of gun was fired."

Of her actions in the week prior to the killings, there was nothing to suggest a plan. "She wasn't conserving her resources to make a getaway," adds Ennis. "The evidence you see presents a picture of a person caught in a predicament who has to improvise. I couldn't take the evidence the police gathered and get the case through a preliminary hearing or a grand jury, to say nothing of a murder trial. You'd pull the stunts today that they pulled and the judge would tell you, 'Get outta town.' He'd throw the case out."

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