This Day in History: October 16th- The Truth About Ruth Judd and Her Infamous Murders

This Day In History: October 16, 1931

juddWinnie “Ruth” Judd was the 26-year-old wife of a physician who spent much of his time away from home, including leaving Ruth in Phoenix while he was off in L.A. To kill time, Ruth kept company with 44-year-old “Happy Jack” Halloran, an influential – and also married – businessman. According to a Phoenix jury, time wasn’t all Ruth Judd was killing; they ultimately convicted her of murder in one of the most well publicized trials of the 1930s.

What happened on the night of October 16, 1931 leading up to the murders is unclear and accounts from the only (then surviving) person who is known to have definitely been an eye-witness, Ruth Judd, varied a bit from telling to telling.

What is known for certain is that Ruth went over to the residence of Agnes “Anne” LeRoi, 32, and Hedvig “Sammy” Samuelson, 24. It’s alleged that all three were having affairs with Halloran and that Anne liked to rile Ruth up with accounts of her own sexual adventures with the studly businessman, particularly playing on the fact that Judd was in love with Halloran, while Anne was just using him for money.

At some point someone pulled a gun and Anne and Sammy were both fatally shot while Ruth received a gunshot wound on her left hand.

Three days later, a railroad worker at Central Station in Los Angeles caught a whiff of an incredibly repugnant smell. He looked in the direction it was coming from and saw trunks seeping what looked like blood. At the time it was thought perhaps it was just animal blood, with someone transporting a deer or the like. As for Judd, she claimed she didn’t have the keys to open the trunks on her and left the scene, meeting with her brother and, according to police interviews with him, asking him to come get the trunks and then dispose of them in the ocean for her.

trunksHowever, when the trunks were eventually opened via the authorities picking the locks, human remains were found inside. Judd’s other luggage contained a .25-caliber Colt pistol. She remained at large for several days, but gave herself up on October 23rd and was sent back to Arizona for the trial that would become the talk of the nation beginning in January of 1932.

For her part, Judd had several slight variations of the story of what happened that night on tap over the course of the trial, though she never took the stand to give her testimony under oath. The central theme of all the tales was that on the night in question she was attacked and only fired her gun in self defense. (Although why she had a gun on her at all at the time was never clear.) She also always stated that Halloran had supposedly entered the mix and took control of the situation for her, assuring her that as long as she did exactly what he told her, he’d use his considerable influence to make sure she didn’t go to jail. She also stated he then called in a friend who was a doctor to chop up the bodies and sent her on her way to LA to dispose of them.

Of course, why such a doctor would help in the first place and why Halloran would suggest bringing in a witness to the fact that he was helping a murderer dispose of bodies isn’t really clear. If he was really helping her, it would have been much easier (and safer) to take her in his car out to the desert to dispose of the whole bodies that way. Still not an ideal scenario, but certainly better than what she claimed happened.

Nevertheless, when details of Judd and Halloran’s relationship got out, he was going to be tried as an accessory to murder, but the charges were eventually dropped, as the judge concluded any attempt to prosecute him would be “an idle gesture,” this despite the fact that rumor had it (whether true or not, isn’t clear) that Halloran’s car had been seen at the apartment on the night in question and the next day. This led many to wonder if Judd was being sacrificed to spare the well-connected Halloran, who insisted that Judd’s tale was “the story of an insane person.”

As for Judd, she stated, “I am going to be hanged for something Jack Halloran is responsible for … I was convicted of murder, but I shot in self-defense. Jack Halloran removed every bit of evidence. He is responsible for me going through all this. He is guilty of anything I am guilty of.”

In the end, the jury found her, and her alone, guilty and did indeed sentence her to hang. However, days before her scheduled execution in 1933, she was declared insane and sent to the Arizona State Insane Asylum. During her several decades in the asylum, she managed to escape a whopping seven times.

The last time she broke out she remained at large for six years under the alias of Marian Lane, working as a nanny for a wealthy family in northern California. The police finally caught up with her in 1969, and Judd began legal proceedings to reopen her case. In December of 1971, she was granted a pardon by Arizona Governor Jack Williams.

Judd returned to northern California and her life as “Marian,” eventually dying in her sleep in 1998 at the age of 93.

But that’s not the end of the story. After nearly a century of rampant speculation in various books and articles written on the case, it would seem that perhaps the truth has finally come out. In 2002, a 19 page confession letter written by Judd’s own hand from all the way back in April of 1933 was donated and added to the Arizona state archives, with no one giving it any notice until 2014.

In the confession, Judd in great detail described to her lawyer planning and executing the murder (she had originally only intended to kill Anne). According to her confession, she did it all by her lonesome every step of the way.

She opened the letter stating, “I am writing the absolute truth of this case, in full confidence, that you will use it as you see fit in your best judgment. Mr. Richardson, I have full confidence in you and trust you.” And that

Anne was used to the world, I truly was not. Jack was the only man I had gone with since my marriage. I was ashamed of things I had done. I could not openly compete with her, I was married and ashamed to. Day after day she lorded it over me, always smiling and fresh and sweet, well knowing she was hurting me with her taunts.

Many evenings Anne would kiss Jack and caress him in our presence, then after he was gone gloat over not caring a thing for him but merely working him for money. . .

Those taunts kept me awake, I could not sleep. I cried. I even prayed. I wrote my parents to please come to me. I was losing my mind. Wild ideas kept me awake. I took sleeping sedatives, Luminal. I wrote Doctor my nerves were breaking. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I loved Anne still, but those taunts. I would take more medicine to quiet my nerves, cried to please get things off my mind, to sleep.

Friday night I expected Jack. He did not come. I went to bed. Again I could not sleep. I got up, went over to Anne’s house. My brain whirling. I was so excited I was panting for breath.

Never did I have the slightest dream of hurting Sammy. She simply never entered my mind. Except to get Anne, stop those taunts so I could sleep. Nothing more did I think of. I took the gun and a knife. How I would do it I was not sure. But I had no intention of harming Sammy. Jack was as intimate with Sammy as Anne, but it was Anne’s cruel taunts that haunted me. . .

I hid in the house next door. Anne and Sammy returned to the bedroom.

After they retired, I went to the back door, laid the knife and my shoes outside the door, then crept in the unlocked front door . . . I sat down on the couch in the same dark room and soon fell to sleep clutching the gun.

I awakened, Sammy had gone to the bathroom, that insane desire, that power lead me on, I started for Anne. My stomach was turning inside out really twitching, jumping out of me, outside not a tremor, but my stomach jumping like convulsions. I retreated, curled up and went to sleep again. I went back to sleep again. Oh again and again all night I don’t know how many times. Sammy kept going to the bathroom, I started for that bedroom and retreated each time so exhausted I immediately went to sleep. . .

Morning! I heard the milk man. Sammy went to the bathroom again. I started to call her, tell her I was there. I really did. Then I began shaking inside and remembered what I had come to do so this time I crept past the bathroom door, shot Anne. It was a low shot. Sammy called, What fell, Anne? I was hurrying past the door Sammy came out demanded to know what was the matter. I was limp she completely took the gun from my hands. I was non-resistant. I said, Sammy, I am crazy. I have lost my mind give me that gun and I will blow my brains out right here in this door. She held the gun and said, you get out of here right this minute. . .

I then picked up the knife and went back after her with the knife. As I grabbed for the gun, I stabbed her in the shoulder, the fight with Sammy in that breakfast room door; her own finger on the trigger when the shot went through her chest; our fight is all about as I have always related she shot me through the hand as I grabbed for the gun; the gun jammed; we fell to the floor, struggled and I finally got the gun and shot her and in my wild state I really do not remember where in the head. . .

I pulled Sammy into the bathroom. I cleaned up the floor I pulled in the trunk from the garage. It was now about 6:30 or 7 a.m. . .

I tugged and pulled and finally got Anne from the bed into the trunk. Now it doesn’t sound possible but this all took about two hours. I left for the office . . . I had pulled the trunk with Anne’s body into the living room. But the trunk was unlocked. Sammy was on the bathroom floor all day Saturday . . . This all happened in the morning. . .

I stayed in my office . . . until 4 p.m. I then took the bag home with me with the gun, knife, pajamas and dress. I fed my cat and went back to the 2929 N. 2nd Street house at around 6 p.m. I really had nothing definite in my mind. No plans made. . . . I pulled the trunk back into the hall tried to lift Sammy into it, but that was utterly impossible, I couldn’t possibly lift her, she was too heavy her body was stiff. I then got two cheap knives from the kitchen and severed her body into portions I could lift. I was hours doing this and then inch by inch pulling the trunk back into the living room. . .

The baggage men after taking the trunk to the truck informed me it was too heavy to ship as baggage. I told them to take the trunk to 1130 Brill Street then, which they did . . . I also left the mattress from Anne’s bed rolled up right there in front of these baggage men at 2nd Street, blood soaked in the living room. . .

Sunday noon, I started getting ready to go to Los Angeles again. I transferred portions of Sammy’s body to the smaller trunk and suitcase. . .

Unsurprisingly, her lawyer wasn’t interested in revealing the existence of the letter, let alone its contents, to the court. Instead, after reading the confession, he promptly hid it away in a safety deposit box where it sat until being donated to the Arizona State Archives a little over a decade ago.

So, case closed right? Well, it has been speculated that the confession may have just been a carefully made up version of what really happened. The hypothesis here is that in writing the letter and frequently citing how she was “insane,” then subsequently trying to kill herself after writing it, she was just trying to avoid the noose. (At the time, you couldn’t use insanity as a defense unless you actually confessed to the crime in question.)  Of course, trying to kill yourself to avoid being sentenced to death seems a bit of an odd strategy… But, she wasn’t successful, so if that was really her plan, it worked out OK in that respect.

As for her final lawyer, Larry Debus who she employed the services of in 1969, he stated after reading the letter, “It’s the first version of her story I’ve ever read that really matches up with things she told me privately.”

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  • To set the record straight: Mrs. Judd was tried and convicted of only one murder, that of Agnes Anne LeRoi, whose body was not dismembered. Only Hedvig Samuelson’s body was dismembered, and Mrs. Judd was not tried and convicted of Hedvig’s murder. Nor was Mrs. Judd ever charged with dismembering her body.

    This is an unfortunate, but common, reporting error all these many years later. These errors began with an extensive Associated Press article in 1952 that misstated various facts, especially that two bodies where “chopped up” and shipped to LA in trunks and baggage.

    I grew up with this case. My Dad was a friend of Mrs. Judd’s for about a year prior to the “Trunk Murders.” I co-wrote the first book published about Mrs. Judd: Winnie Ruth Judd: The Trunk Murders, 1973, Grosset & Dunlap. Of my 12 published books, that was the only book I used the formal name of J. Dwight Dobkins.

    That book still is considered the only objective — non editorialized — book published about Mrs. Judd and the “Trunk Murders.”