Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Winnie Ruth Judd: 'The Trunk Murderess' In Perspective

Shadow of a Trial

Jury selection for the long-awaited trial of Winnie Ruth Judd commenced on January 19, 1932, at the Maricopa County Courthouse in downtown Phoenix. Both the defense and the prosecution were very particular whom they selected to sit on the panel; the high-profile nature of the murders had generated distinct opinions by everyone in the county and worries of a mis-trial over a slip of a tongue or a nuance of bigotry were very real.

The state chose to try her for the death of Anne LeRoi only, to be followed with a separate trial for Sammy Samuelson afterwards. The second would never occur due to subsequent events.

Presiding over the three-week LeRoi murder trial an event in itself that condemned Winnie Ruth Judd in a comparatively unsensational manner was Judge Howard Speakman, who, as a former state prosecutor and defender, had cued up a brilliant career. Popular County Attorney Lloyd "Dogie" Andrews headed the case for the state.

 Ruth had a combine of three lawyers, directed by well-known criminal attorney Paul Schenck. But none of these, even Schenck, was effective on her behalf. Less being more, they acted to surrender to her guilt before the trial began, more concerned with pleading insanity than exonerating her.

The most anticipated event of the trial, the testimony proffered by the defendant herself, surprisingly and sadly never happened. That Ruth was not called to the stand disappointed Americans. Reporters in the courtroom described how she sat at the counsel's table, day after day, wringing her handkerchief, tugging at her bandage, pathetic in character, miserable by accusation, silent and dismal throughout. Much of the nation, in commenting on the suspicious nature of her being kept "under wraps," so to speak, questioned her lawyers' ability and the basic honesty of the ritual.

Jury foreman Scott Thompson later revealed that much of the evidence laid forth against Winnie Ruth Judd was hard to understand because, he felt, it was presented by the prosecution in a confusing and illogical manner. The defense did next to nothing to contradict the prosecution nor clarify said testimony. Scott wasn't alone in his opinions. In researching the evidence on their own after the trial had ended, Thompson and other jurors were alarmed to find that certain important elements of the case elements instrumental in helping them formulate their verdict were not satisfactorily explained. Much seemed twisted to shape a particular conclusion.

One of these concerned the mattresses supposedly removed from the girls' bedroom. The juror claims that he and his peers were led to believe that a mattress found in the alley parallel to the murder scene was definitely proven to be to one of the victim's mattresses and was definitely blood-soaked. Neither proved true.

Prosecutors stood their ground on accusing Mrs. Judd of having killed in jealous rage. To support the motive of jealousy born from illicit love, they conjured up only two hazy witnesses one that claimed Ruth was at one time angry at Sammy for trying to steal Jack, and another who spoke of seeing Ruth and Jack kissing and cuddling. Neither had heard her state words of violence, nor of revenge, nor of anything pertaining to a murder to come. And yet, by dropping from the jury all evidence that would have given another side to the story of Winnie Ruth Judd's relationship with the girls or her last night in their company, they convinced it that the defendant was guilty. Defense counselors waivered, unarmed because they hadn't done their homework, then whithered under the duress of a kangaroo court they assumed, going in, couldn't be beaten.

Mrs. Kate Kunz, whose husband sat on the jury and who watched the trial proceedings daily, "came away from the trial with two major impressions about what had happened," writes Jana Bommersbach in The Trunk Murderess. "One, that Ruth Judd was guilty of shooting the girls, and two, that 'there was no question' she had help somewhere along the way...'We never understood why Jack Halloran was never called,' (Mrs. Kunz) remembers. 'His name was brought up so often in the case. He was sworn in, but he was never called to the stand.'"

The jury reached its verdict on the afternoon of February 8, 1932. She was pronounced guilty. And before the session ended, they elected that she should hang by the neck.

Winnie Ruth Judd was placed on death row at the Arizona State Prison at Florence. Over the next several months, an appeals court juggled a verdict, her proponents wanting a mistrial. But, eventually the court reached its decision. It upheld the original verdict and punishment.

Ruth was sentenced to die February 17, 1933.

 

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