What do you do when the apple of your eye starts canoodling with two of your best friends? If you’re Winnie Ruth Judd, you just might grab a pistol and teach your pals to never mess with your forbidden fruit. October 16, 1931, Winnie Ruth Judd, a pretty Arizona secretary all of 26 years old, went down in history as the Trunk Murderess when she allegedly killed her female friends Agnes “Anne” LeRoi (32) and Sarah Hedvig “Sammy” Samuelson (24) in the name of love.
Ruth, Anne, and Sammy were each smitten with the same man, Jack Halloran, a good-looking playboy who didn’t let his marriage get in the way of a busy date book. Though rumor had it Anne and Sammy were occasional lovers, reports say that Anne carried on a romance with Jack, the lurid activities of which she often threw in Ruth’s face.
Ruth met Jack while nannying for his next-door neighbor. Like Jack, Ruth was married, though her doctor husband was often away on business. So the pair started seeing each other on the sly. Their affair began on Christmas Eve in 1930 and continued until that fateful October day in 1931 when, according to prosecutors, Ruth turned to murder.
Much of the case remains shrouded in mystery—due largely to Ruth’s differing accounts and the baffling details of the slayings themselves. What we do know is this: Anne LeRoi and Sammy Samuelson were shot to death in Phoenix, Arizona; the bodies of both victims were discovered a few days later at a train station in Los Angeles stuffed into traveling trunks. Sammy’s body had been chopped into chunks and placed in different cases, with blood oozing from the seams.
Ruth, of course, was the primary suspect. But how could one petite woman manage to kill, hack apart, and pack up two bodies twice her size? If she had an accomplice, what was the motivation? And, in either case, why catch a train for the West Coast with the grisly luggage in tow?
The commonly held version of events went like this: It was a quiet Friday evening on October 17. Ruth was at home, fuming over Anne’s sexcapades with Jack. Something finally snapped in her that night; she grabbed a gun and a knife and headed over to Anne and Sammy’s bungalow. Upon arrival, Ruth removed her shoes and left them with the knife outside the back door. Determined but terrified, she entered the house, struggling to muster the courage to complete her deed. She then made her way to Anne’s room and pulled the trigger from the doorway.
Hearing shots, Sammy rushed to the room. She jumped at Ruth and wrenched the gun from her, demanding Ruth leave immediately.
Ruth fled to the back door and retrieved her original weapon, the knife. She then lunged at Sammy and stabbed her in the shoulder. The pair struggled. Sammy shot Ruth in the left hand as Ruth went for the gun. But Ruth managed to wrestle it away; she pointed the weapon at Sammy, and then shot her in the head.
With the melee over, the next question was what to do with the bodies. Anne’s corpse was squeezed wholesale into a large traveling trunk. Sammy, however, required some work. Her body was butchered into chunks and stuffed into a series of different bags.
Ruth left the scene of the crime and returned home. Then on Sunday, October 18, she, Anne, and all three cases of Sammy boarded the Golden State Limited train bound for Los Angeles.
Upon arrival to sunny California, the pungent stench—and bloody trail—from Ruth’s luggage caught the attention of a baggage agent. He confiscated her gear, demanding that the bags be opened. Ruth claimed she had no key for the luggage, and then fled the station.
The baggage agent phoned the police. They arrived to crack open the luggage, uncovering the grisly contents inside. Authorities then set off through Los Angeles to find Winnie Ruth Judd. On October 23, she finally surrendered at a funeral home.
News of the lurid murders spread quickly. Headlines of “The Trunk Murders” and “The Blonde Butcher” splashed across the front pages of papers. Before long, the Phoenix bungalow had become a morbid tourist attraction and Ruth’s case was a media sensation.
The trial began January 19, 1932. Ruth’s unofficial version was that the murders were done in self-defense, after the women had physically assaulted her. Her lawyers, meanwhile, claimed she was insane. The prosecution maintained the slayings were pre-meditated, the work of a woman motivated by jealousy.
Rumors swirled about a possible accomplice. Yet Ruth never took the stand to explain what happened. On February 8, 1932, she was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging on February 17, 1933.
By this time however a campaign of sympathizers had gathered around Ruth, concerned over shoddy police work, Ruth’s claim of self-defense, and her lawyer’s assertion that she was mentally ill. They petitioned Arizona to reconsider her execution. Eleanor Roosevelt was among those involved.
The case took yet another twist when in 1993 a grand jury indicted the playboy at the heart of love affair, Jack Halloran, as an accomplice to the murder. A preliminary hearing commenced in January. Ruth was the star witness, armed with a shocking new version of the slayings.
In addition to asserting her claim of self-defense, she now claimed that Jack helped her with the disposal of the bodies—including Sammy’s dismemberment. It was also Jack’s idea to board a train to Los Angeles with the bodies in tow, where another accomplice would take care of their disposal.
Halloran, for his part, did not take the stand. His defense maintained that Ruth’s testimony was that of a “crazy person” and Halloran should be free to go.
The judge dismissed the case against Jack later that month, though Ruth’s February execution still stood. Then, just days before her scheduled hanging, a panel declared Ruth insane. She was spared the death penalty and sent to Arizona State Insane Asylum.
The bizarre tale, however, is far from over. Not long after Ruth’s arrival to the asylum, she escaped. Then she escaped again, and again. She broke free from the asylum a total of seven times. During her final escape in 1962, she stayed gone for roughly seven years, hiding in northern California under an assumed identity, as Marian Lane. Police finally caught up to her in 1969. But in 1971, Arizona’s governor, Jack Williams, granted her a pardon. She returned to the quiet life living as Marian. In 1998, she died in her sleep at the age of 93.
With its ghastly details and outlandish twists, it’s no wonder that the strange case of Winnie Ruth Judd continues to attract true crime enthusiasts the world over. In 2014, news broke of a yet another revelation. A confession letter surfaced, penned by Ruth and submitted to her lawyer in 1933. It had been collecting dust in a security box for decades before finally landing in the Arizona state archives. The startling account, 19 pages in total and written in Ruth’s cursive hand, reveals every sordid detail of the slayings—including Ruth’s confession to the “homicide of Anne LeRoi and Hedvig Samuelson.”