Winnie Ruth Judd
Aka: The Trunk Murderess, and The Tiger Woman (for some reason)
Born: January 29 1905
Died: October 23 1998
Active: October 16 1931
Location: United States
Method of Disposal: Gunshot and Dismemberment
Consequence: Death Sentence, later commuted to jail time, eventually released
- Agnes Anne LeRoi (co-worker and roommate)
- Hedvig “Sammy” Samuelson (co-worker and roommate)
Winnie McKinnell thought that when she got married to Dr William Judd, it would lead to an exciting life. They had fallen in love by fluorescent light, when she began working as a typist in the psychiatric hospital where he practiced. It hadn’t mattered at the time that he was 26 years her senior. She only saw her dashing brainy doctor.
Once they married, Winnie followed her new husband to Mexico where he started up a new practice. It was not a happy change. William became increasingly addicted to morphine over the ensuing seven years, a fact that Winnie dutifully explained away as being the unfortunate consequence of an injury from the War. His addiction meant that William was unable to settle down and hold a job, and despite her loyalty to him he was unwilling to start a family with her.
Added to this, at some point Winnie contracted tuberculosis and was soon unable to handle the Mexican climate. She spent some time in a sanitarium before the couple ultimately decided she should return to the United States. Winnie settled in Phoenix Arizona, leaving her husband back in Mexico, and found work as a receptionist at Grunow Medical Centre.
There were two other girls working at Grunow, Agnes LeRoi, known as Anne to her friends, and Hedvig “Sammy” Samuelson. Winnie made fast friends with Anne and Sammy, as they had many things in common (for instance, all three women were suffering from the long term effects of tuberculosis). It wasn’t long before Winnie had moved out of her rental and was living in a duplex with her new friends.
The girls’ living arrangement worked for a time but it was not to last. Anne and Sammy had a particularly close relationship, and Winnie soon felt she’d outstayed her welcome in the little apartment. So she moved out again. However, she remained good friends with the two women, continuing to attend the parties that were thrown there.
There were parties every weekend, frequented by many local businessmen. One man in particular was a regular visitor. “Happy” Jack Halloran was part-owner of a lumberyard, married with three children. He had been carrying out a torrid affair with Winnie since she had first moved to Phoenix. Once Anne and Sammy also met Jack, they became quite enamoured with the chap. With each woman vying for Happy’s attention, this was a quadrangle that was destined to end badly.
The sequence of events that led to murder began not on the night of October 16, 1931, but the night before. Winnie had turned down an invitation to attend a party at Anne and Sammy’s house on the 15th, saying she had a lot of work to do, but in truth she was going on a hunting trip with Happy. Going with them on the trip was a nurse called Lucy who lived in the hunting area. Prior to leaving for the trip, Happy wanted to make a stop at the party house. Winnie decided to wait in the car to avoid the embarrassment of having lied to her friends, but Happy mentioned she was in the car. Winnie introduced Lucy to the girls, after which the trio left to go hunting. It seemed an innocuous enough meeting.
However, the next night Winnie was invited to play bridge at the little duplex on Second Street. She initially thought about blowing them off again but then changed her mind and showed up at the apartment. At this point, there is a lot of conjecture about what actually happened that night, given that only one third of the people involved lived to tell the tale. The defence line on the issue goes a little something like this:
Winnie was barely inside the door before both girls were asking how Happy knew Lucy. Winnie admitted introducing the two. This appeared to be quite unacceptable. Anne and Sammy told Winnie that they knew Lucy had a venereal disease, because of their position at the clinic. They threatened to tell Happy about Lucy’s VD. Winnie was aghast. That was personal information, and as such should not be bandied about so carelessly. Winnie shot back that if they did such a thing, she would just go ahead and tell the doctors at their clinic about Anne and Sammy’s rampant lesbianism.
On that note, Winnie turned on her heel and stomped off to the kitchen to get a glass of milk. As she drank, Winnie heard a noise behind her. She turned around to see Sammy holding a gun and warning her against speaking ill of Anne.
Winnie lunged at Sammy in an effort to relieve her of the gun. As they struggled, a shot was discharged hitting Winnie in the hand. Anne charged into the fray with an ironing board, because clearly all the normal weaponry was already in use. Anne began braining Winnie with the board. A second shot was fired, hitting Sammy in the torso. Sammy fell to the floor, mortally wounded. Enraged and no doubt frightened at this point, Anne renewed her ironing board assault on Winnie. A third and final shot was heard, and Anne slumped to the floor alongside her closest friend.
Winnie dropped the gun, horrified that the night had escalated so quickly. She froze for the amount of time you’d expect a lady to freeze in such a situation. Then she did the only thing she could think of: she called Happy.
Within twenty minutes, a grim-faced Happy was at the duplex. The two of them attempted to clear up the mess, but Winnie became hysterical. Exasperated, Happy told her to go home, where he would call her soon. Winnie did so, but by the early morning she had not heard from him. He finally called her at work, where she had apparently gone in an attempt at normalcy. Well, normal except for the missing co-workers and the festering hole in her hand that she’d hastily wrapped in a bandage. That kind of normal.
Happy instructed Winnie to return to the duplex. The large packing case was unfortunately still there. Happy’s plan was simple. Winnie would travel to Los Angeles with the packing case where a man called Wilson would relieve her of them. Happy told her he would have a ticket waiting for her at the station. He also said she should call the number for the Lightning Delivery Service to transport the packing case to the railway station.
Downfall and Arrest:
Unfortunately for Winnie, things did not go as expected. Best laid plans and all that. Firstly, Winnie called the delivery service to transport her and her macabre cargo to the station. But when the service arrived, the driver said the trunk was too heavy to be transported by rail freight. So Winnie instead had them transport the case to her home.
Once there, Winnie retrieved all the luggage items she owned. Then she opened the packing case. Horrible. On top of Sammy’s complete corpse lay the jigsaw that remained of Anne’s body.
Into a large steamer trunk went Anne. The girl folded up neatly inside, and left plenty of room for a few dresses and her favourite comforter. Sammy’s torso fit into a second steamer trunk with some of the smaller body parts. But once Winnie had finished playing the worst game of Tetris in recorded history, there was no space left for the lower part of the body. Winnie grabbed her second-best suitcase, and in went the pelvis and legs. Finally, into the nearest hatbox went dissection tools, the automatic pistol, one box of cartridges, a bread knife and other murderous incidentals, along with her makeup and other toiletries. Then she called for a cab.
At the station, Winnie checked her trunks with the baggage clerk and entered the train. She had with her the large hatbox and the pelvis-and-legs-sized suitcase. When the porter asked if she wanted her carry on luggage stowed in the luggage compartment above, Winnie declined the offer and hugged the hatbox protectively.
Once she was in Los Angeles, Winnie went looking for the Wilson chap who was meant to meet her. She could not find him anywhere. It could have been that Wilson got tired of waiting for her. After all, it had taken two days for Winnie to get from Phoenix to Los Angeles. Or it was entirely possible that Happy had never intended to assist Winnie at all once she left Phoenix. In any event it was some time after arriving that Winnie realised she was in an unfamiliar city with two large trunks with which she wanted no further association.
So before going to collect her cargo, Winnie contacted her brother Burton McKinnell, a junior at the University of Southern California. It took some time for Burton to get there but finally he arrived with his pick up.
Unfortunately for Winnie, her uncollected luggage had drawn a bit of attention, especially given the dark liquid which had begun oozing its way out of the bottom of one of the trunks, and both pieces of luggage were beginning to emit a rather unpleasant odour. Most likely from the trunk holding the body parts that weren’t secured in plastic or some-such to prevent said oozing and smelling. Unrefrigerated meat will do that.
Winnie approached the baggage claim with her ticket. The station master insisted on her opening the trunk. Winnie stated she didn’t have the key but that her husband did. She promptly left before anyone could stop her, dragging her brother behind her.
By late afternoon it became obvious to the staff at baggage claim that the lady with the dishwater blonde hair would not be returning. And since the smell was beginning to envelope the room, and there was only so much you could ask of a paper towel when cleaning up an expanding puddle, the station master had no choice but to call the police. They suspected they were dealing with the stolen remains of a dead deer, which was apparently an ongoing issue the railways were trying to stamp out. The police arrived and broke open the trunks.
It was not the stolen venison they had expected.
A search of the station was immediately launched to locate Winnie and her brother. This search revealed the suitcase and hatbox hidden behind the door to the women’s restroom, but Winnie herself had vanished.
As it turned out, Burton had dropped his sister off on a random street in Los Angeles, likely without receiving answers to any of the questions he clearly would have had by that time. She would not resurface until October 23rd, when she turned herself into police from her hiding place in a funeral home.
On 19 October, while Winnie was still on the run, the police entered the bungalow to begin their investigation. They noted that the mattresses from the two beds were missing, leading them to speculate that the two women had been murdered while they slept. However, it would appear that reporters, and the general public, were also permitted entry at this time. This compromised the crime scene, and didn’t necessarily make the disappearance of the mattresses all that surprising really. Souvenir takers can be quite resourceful when it comes to that epic find. One mattress was reportedly later found in a field miles away. The other was never located.
The landlord watched the procession of people going in and out of the building with great interest. The next day an advertisement appeared in the papers offering admission to the place for 10 cents a head. Because what’s the point of a double homicide if you can’t charge admission?
Trial and Conviction:
Winnie Ruth Judd’s trial began on 19 January, 1932. Authorities decided to try Winnie separately for each murder, so this proceeding only centred around Anne’s death. As such, due to Anne’s body being intact, the evidence regarding dissection was excluded from the proceedings.
The prosecution charged that Anne acted with premeditation, including shooting herself in the hand in order to claim self-defence. They stated that the girls’ friendship deteriorated due to their competition for Happy’s attention.
Winnie maintained her innocence, but while it was her defence team’s assertion that she was insane at the time of Anne’s murder, this defence was not entered into the record.
In fact, despite Winnie entering a not guilty plea, the defence focussed their attention almost exclusively on the question of sanity. Since arguments regarding this wouldn’t come into play until after guilt was established, Winnie’s lawyers played virtually no active part in the proceedings prior to her being found guilty.
Many seemingly obvious aspects of the story were not introduced. The jury never heard Winnie’s story because Winnie didn’t take the stand in her own defence. And Happy was never called to take the stand. This omission was one of the strangest, given his name was brought up ad nauseum throughout the trial.
Owing to this apparent silent agreement on both sides of the bar table that Winnie was guilty, it was hardly surprising when the jury returned with just such a verdict on 8 February 1932. And since there seemed nothing more to this crime than a woman flying into a jealous rage over a man, the court saw fit to sentence Winnie to be hanged. Her sentence was to be carried out on 17 February 1933.
And the tale might have ended here. However, one person who watched the trial closely was Sheriff John McFadden, the man who had been in charge of the jail when Winnie was arrested. He and his wife had counselled her for a long time while she was incarcerated pending trial so he was puzzled when the story he knew to be the truth was never brought up.
So McFadden took his considerable clout and arranged a further hearing at which Winnie was able to speak. This allowed people to finally hear an alternative story, and ultimately led to “Happy” Jack being brought to trial in order to account for his part in the murders. Winnie’s death sentence was still in place, but was stayed pending the outcome of this further trial.
Finally Winnie was able to give evidence. However, Happy’s presence in the room affected Winnie and she was often hysterical during her time on the stand. This led Happy’s legal team to venture that there was no case to answer for, since this insane rambling woman was saying she killed the women in self defence. The court agreed, and Happy walked out a free man.
Meanwhile, Winnie still faced a death sentence, for a crime this same court had also just now agreed was self defence.
While the case against Happy was thrown out, it did highlight the problems in Winnie’s original trial. Public sentiment grew towards her and the parole board bowed to pressure in commuting her sentence to life imprisonment. The police decided not to pursue charges against Winnie on Sammy’s murder. Also, a ten-day competency hearing was held, in which it was determined that while on death row Winnie’s mental state had deteriorated to the point that she was no longer considered well enough to be put to death. A bittersweet victory really.
Winnie was placed in the care of the Arizona State Mental Hospital, where she was expected to stay until she died, or until she became well enough for the state to kill her.
Not that Winnie did stay within the grounds of the hospital. She absconded from there no less than seven times, the longest of these escapes lasting an impressive six and a half years. It later turned out she had been able to escape so often because she had been given a key to the front door by a nurse who believed in her innocence. Winnie spent the majority of the 1960s on the lam, living in Oakland California as a maidservant called Marian Lane. She was only caught after the police traced her through her driver’s licence records.
Despite his win in court, Happy did not live happily after the trial. He was ostracised both socially and professionally, as it was believed that his involvement had threatened to expose the private lives of those around him. He melted into obscurity, though he still had a social life. This apparently consisted mainly of attending dances at the mental hospital where Winnie resided, just so he could eyeball her. Eventually he was banned from even attending those, because of the obvious disruptiveness this would cause. And also presumably because he was a genuinely terrible person.
Rumours also swirled for years afterwards that Happy didn’t just mastermind Winnie’s flight after the murders, but that he was involved in the murders himself and had Winnie take the fall. If this is true, it might explain his need to periodically re-enter Winnie’s life. Keeping friends close and enemies closer was likely routine for the businessman.
It took many appeals to the parole board, but in 1971 the board modified her sentence. And upon her being judged legally sane, Winnie was finally allowed to leave via the front door. She returned to the pseudonym of Marian Lane, dying at the age of 93 of natural causes on October 23 1998, the 67th anniversary of her arrest.
This episode of the Ladies Handbook has been brought to you by Arm and Hammer baking soda, the deodorizer that cuts through even the toughest odours.
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“Ruthless: A Long-Lost Confession Letter May Finally Tell the Real Story of Winnie Ruth Judd.” Phoenix New Times. 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.
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“Winnie Ruth Judd | Murderpedia, the Encyclopedia of Murderers.” Winnie Ruth Judd | Murderpedia, the Encyclopedia of Murderers. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.