THE INFAMOUS "TRUNK MURDERESS"
THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF WINNIE RUTH JUDD
On October 18, 1931, Winnie Ruth Judd, an attractive 26-year-old secretary from Phoenix, Arizona, arrived by train in Los Angeles. She had some very strange baggage with her when she rolled into the station – trunks that contained the severed body parts of Winnie’s two best friends. She had murdered them, it seems, all in the name of love.
The bizarre tale began in Arizona. Winnie, along with her two friends -- Agnes “Anne” LeRoi, 32, and Sarah Hedvig “Sammy” Samuelson, 24 – were all in love with the same man. His name was Jack Halloran and he was a good-looking playboy who never let the fact he was married stand in the way of a good time. The whole affair was a mess. Not only were Anne and Sammy occasional lovers, but both of them were also seeing Jack. Winnie met Jack when she was working as a nanny for his next-door neighbor. Like Jack, Winnie was married, but her doctor husband was often away on business, so the pair began secretly seeing each other. Their affair began on Christmas Eve 1930 and continued until that dark day in October 1931, when Winnie ended the lurid activities with murder.
A lot of the case remains shrouded in mystery, which is largely due to Winnie’s varying accounts and the baffling details of the murders. What is known is that Anne and Sammy were shot to death in Phoenix and that their bodies were discovered a few days later at the Los Angeles train station. They had been stuffed into steamer trunks. Sammy’s body had been cut into pieces of various sizes and placed in different cases. It was the blood that was oozing out of the seams that alerted station agents that something was seriously amiss.
Winnie immediately became the prime suspect, but police wondered how the petite woman had managed to kill, cut up, and pack up the bodies of two other women. Why would she do it? Did she have help? And why did she catch a train to LA and bring the grisly luggage with her?
The commonly accepted version of events starts on Friday, October 17. Winnie was at home, fuming over her friends’ affairs with Jack. She snapped that night, grabbed a knife and gun, and went over to Sammy and Anne’s bungalow. When she arrived, she left her shoes and the knife outside the back door. She mustered up the courage and broke in. She first went to Anne’s room and pulled the trigger from the doorway. When Sammy heard the shots, she rushed to the room. She jumped on Winnie and managed to take the gun from her. Winnie fled to the back door and retrieved the knife. She lunged at Sammy and stabbed her in the shoulder. The women struggled. Sammy shot Winnie in the left hand as Winnie fought her for the gun. She finally got it away from Sammy and shot her in the head.
When the struggle ended, Winnie questioned what to do with the bodies. Anne’s corpse fit into a large traveling trunk, but Sammy required a lot of work. Winnie had to cut her into pieces and she stuffed her into a series of traveling bags. She managed to load all of it into her car and returned home. Then, on Sunday, October 18, she – along with the case that contained Anne and the three cases of Sammy – boarded the Golden State Limited Train that was bound for Los Angeles.
When the train arrived in LA, the pungent stench and bloody trail left by Winnie’s luggage got the attention of the station agent. He confiscated the bags and demanded that they be opened. Winnie claimed that she had no keys for trunks, and then fled the station.
The agent called the police and detectives arrived to crack open the luggage and discover the gruesome contents. A search immediately began for Winnie Ruth Judd. On October 23, she finally surrendered at a funeral home. The news of the ghastly murders spread quickly and the story was splashed across the front pages of newspapers. The Phoenix bungalow became a morbid tourist attraction and Winnie’s case became a media sensation.
Winnie’s trial began on January 19, 1932. Winnie’s unofficial version of events was that the murders were committed in self-defense, after the other women had attacked her. Her lawyers, meanwhile, claimed she was insane. The prosecution maintained that it had all been premeditated – the work of a jealous woman. What Winnie actually thought during the trial remains unknown. She never took the stand in her own defense. On February 8, 1932, she was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging on February 17, 1933.
By this time, Winnie had managed to drum up a lot of sympathy and a lot of support. There were accusations of shoddy police work, belief that she was defending herself, and, of course, her lawyer’s continued assertions that she was mentally ill. Supporters – including Eleanor Roosevelt -- petitioned the state of Arizona to reconsider the death penalty in her case.
And then the story took another turn. In January 1933, a grand jury indicted Jack Halloran as an accomplice to the murders. Winnie became the star witness in the preliminary hearing that followed the indictment. She was still claiming self-defense but added that Jack had helped her with the disposal of the bodies – including Sammy’s dismemberment. It had been Jack’s idea, she said, that she should board a train with the bodies and travel to LA, where another accomplice would get rid of them for good. Halloran never took the stand. His defense maintained that Winnie’s testimony was that of a “crazy person.” Apparently, the judge agreed. The case was dismissed against Halloran that month.
Meanwhile, Winnie was still set to hang. Then, just days before he execution, a panel declared her to be insane. She was spared the noose and sent to the Arizona State Insane Asylum.
But, with a story this bizarre – that’s not the end. Not long after Winnie arrived at the asylum, she escaped. And then she escaped again, and again – a total of seven times. Her last escape was in 1962 and she stayed on the loose for seven years, living in Northern California under an assumed name – Marian Lane. The police finally caught up with her in 1969. But in 1971, Arizona Governor Jack Williams granted her a pardon. She returned to a quiet life as Marian Lane and passed away in her sleep in 1998 at the age of 93.
And nope – still not the end. In 2014, a confession letter that was written by Winnie to her lawyer in 1933 was found in a security box in the Arizona state archives. The startling account – 19 pages in Winnie’s cursive handwriting – reveals every sorted detail of the crime. Is the letter the rambling of a mentally ill woman or a cold-blooded killer? You can decide for yourself if you’d like. It’s available to the public at http://azmemory.azlibrary.gov/cdm/ref/collection/ahfmur/id/138