Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Women Who Kill: Part Two

Murder or Self-Defense?

Then a torn-up letter was found in the drainpipe of a Los Angeles department store. It appeared to be a confession written by Winnie Ruth to her husband. She admitted that she'd told harmful lies in the past and that she and the two victims had quarreled over a man. Sammy shot her in the hand and she managed to shoot Sammy twice. Then he feared that Anne would blackmail her, she shot Anne, too. She packed them into the trunks over fear of being hung. She insisted she had killed the two other women in self-defense.

Winnie Ruth admitted to writing the letter, but then denied it. A handwriting expert for the prosecution later claimed it was her hand-writing, but the alleged time of death did not match that of the neighbors who heard the shots.

Then Winnie Ruth changed her statement. She had accused the victims of being "perverts," but the prosecutors believed she was now trying to appear to be insane. Pathology reports indicated that both women had been shot while lying in bed and Sammy had been dismembered immediately. The facts contradicted Winnie Ruth's statement. The police also suspected that she'd shot herself in the hand some time on Saturday afternoon so that she could claim self-defense.

During her trial in 1932, several medical experts said she was sane and quite crafty, but her defense team dug up a family history of insanity and a few incidents in Winnie Ruth's past that made her mental state questionable. However, an all-male jury found her guilty of first-degree murder. She was to get the death penalty.

Winnie Ruth appealed this, but failed, so then she went into a grand jury and said that a man with whom she was in love had been involved, too. He was the one who had packed the bodies in the trunk. She stuck to her tale of self-defense. The jury indicted the man, who denied any involvement whatsoever, and asked the parole board to commute Judd's sentence to life.

The board didn't go for it, so her defense attorney asked for another sanity hearing, and during it, Winnie Ruth cried and screamed in such a way as to make people believe she was emotionally out of control. One doctor predicted that once the gallows was taken off the table, her malingering would be revealed.

Nevertheless, the jury fell for it. They decided that she was insane and she was placed in a psychiatric hospital. Almost at once, her insane behavior stopped. She fled from the hospital on numerous occasions, but was always brought back. Eventually she was released on parole.

The man she had named was never tried.

She spent almost 39 years in prison — at that time the longest sentences ever imposed to that point on a killer. While her motives for murder remain elusive, it's likely that love was at stake. She was seen with a man on the Sunday morning after the murders, while the one she had named in the trial denied any relationship with her. The theory was that she'd set him up to deflect attention away from her true love, should anyone have seen them together.

Winnie Ruth exhibited none of the signs of psychosis, and her play-acting and ability to manipulate others indicates something more along the lines of a psychopathic female who wanted to eliminate hindrances to her own goals. She claimed years later that she was far too small and weak to have committed the crimes on her own, but she could have done so and then had assistance with the clean-up. Whatever the case may be, she certainly did shoot both women, all evidence indicates that she did it while they were in bed, and she was certainly part of the plan to ship their remains to another state.

Winnie Ruth displays the same cold calculation and disregard for others as those women who have come to be known as Black Widows.

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