Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Women Who Kill: Part Two

The Trunk Murderess

Winnie Ruth Judd
Winnie Ruth Judd

Among American crime legends is that of Winnie Ruth Judd, otherwise known as "tiger woman," "wolf woman," the "blond butcher," and the "velvet tigress." Journalist Jana Bommersbach read the local news articles in Arizona library archives and then tracked down people familiar with the case, including Judd herself, to retell the story in The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd. From Bommersbach's point of view, there was much to question about the investigation, sentencing, and subsequent punishment of a woman who insisted that the facts are different than the legend allows. Edward D. Radin, in Women Who Kill indicates that the Judd's many conflicting statements during her trial point to her guilt.

October 16 in 1931 landed on a Friday. Winnie Ruth Judd, 26, was a medical secretary and the daughter of a minister. She was an attractive blue-eyed blonde in her mid-20s, living in Phoenix, Arizona, where the crime took place. That night, she had planned to be with her closest friend, Hedvig "Sammy" Samuelson; and Sammy's housemate, Agnes Anne LeRoi. In fact, they were to spend the next three days together, but something happened around 11 p.m. that night. According to those who arrested and prosecuted her, Winnie Ruth waited until her friends were asleep and then shot them to death. Her motive was to eliminate them as competition for the married man she loved.

On October 19, the Southern Pacific train arrived in Los Angeles, coming in overnight from Phoenix. The baggage handler claimed that two trunks in one of his cars smelled pretty bad, and one was leaking brownish liquid. They were set aside for inspection. A blonde tried to collect them with a claim check, but when they insisted the trunks be opened before she could have them, she walked away and disappeared.

Eventually the police opened the trunks. Inside one was the nude body of a woman, crammed into a jack-knife position. The second trunk held the head and body parts of another woman. Both victims had been shot in the head, and the dismembered woman was also shot in the left breast and right hand. An abandoned suitcase found in a restroom contained the missing torso.

It wasn't difficult to learn the identities of the victims, since snapshots and letters were also inside the trunks. They were Anne and Sammy, and Sammy was the one who had been cut up. The place where they had been killed was traced back to Phoenix, to the bungalow where they had lived. Inside the place, police found bloodstains and pieces missing from the carpet that matched the piece of bloody carpet found in the trunk. There was blood on the sidewalk and both mattresses were missing from the beds.

Those who had seen Winnie Ruth the morning after the murders saw nothing amiss, and she had been typing all morning. Later in the day, people noticed that her left hand was bandaged.

Neighbors reported shots in the bungalow late on Friday night. A friend of Anne and Sammy's said that when she left the place at 10:00, Sammy was in bed and Anne was preparing for the same. Winnie Ruth had not been there.

The police found Winnie Ruth's ailing husband in Los Angeles. Twenty-two years her senior, he was surprised to hear she had been in town, and he assured investigators that she and the victims were close friends. She had even written him a chatty letter the day after the time when the murders had taken place and he saw no indication in it that she was in trouble.

She called her husband on October 23rd, and he met her with an attorney. She told police that Sammy had shot her in the hand. When the bullet was removed, doctors saw that her body was bruised.

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