Winnie Ruth Judd (January 29, 1905 – October 23, 1998) was a Phoenix, Arizona medical secretary found guilty of murdering and dismembering two of her friends and stuffing them into travel trunks. Newspaper coverage and suspicious circumstances; the sentence she received raised debate over capital punishment.
Born Winnie Ruth, while employed at the Grunow Medical Clinic in Phoenix, Judd met Agnes Anne LeRoi, an X-Ray Technician who worked at the clinic, and her roommate, Hedvig Samuelson. LeRoi and Samuelson had become close friends while living in Alaska and then moved together to Phoenix for its drier climate after Samuelson contracted tuberculosis.
In August 1931, Dr. Judd left Phoenix to start a practice in Los Angeles, leaving his wife in Phoenix. At this time, Judd moved in with LeRoi and Samuelson, but in early October, she moved out in order to be nearer to the Grunow Clinic where she was employed. At the time of the murders Judd was 26 years old, LeRoi 32, and Samuelson, 24.
According to police, on the night of October 16, 1931, LeRoi and Samuelson were murdered by Judd after an alleged fight among the three women over a conflict of interest—reportedly, all three were interested in the same man, prominent Phoenix businessman John J. “Happy Jack” Halloran. Halloran, 44, was a married local businessman and a friend of all three women. The prosecution at Judd’s murder trial would suggest that quarrels over men and the relationship between LeRoi and Samuelson broke up the friendship of the three women, and that jealousy was the motive for the killings.
The two victims were killed with a .25 caliber handgun in their rented bungalow located at 2929 (now 2947) N. 2nd Street. According to prosecutors, after the two women were murdered, Judd and an accomplice dismembered the body of Samuelson and stuffed the head, torso, and lower legs into a black shipping trunk, with the upper legs being placed in a beige valise and hatbox. LeRoi’s body was stuffed intact into a second black shipping trunk.
Two days after the murders, on Sunday, October 18, Judd boarded the Golden State Limited passenger train from Phoenix’s Union Station with the trunks containing the bodies; with her left hand bandaged from a gunshot wound, she traveled overnight to Los Angeles. Upon arrival at 7:45 the next morning, the trunks were immediately under suspicion because of the foul odor detected by station personnel as well as fluids escaping from the trunks. Thinking at first the trunks contained contraband such as a dead deer, the baggage agent, Arthur V. Anderson, wanted the trunks opened and tagged them to be held. He asked Judd for the key, but she stated she didn’t have it with her.
Burton McKinnell, Judd’s brother and a junior at the University of Southern California, picked Judd up from the train station unaware of the crime or the bodies. At around 4:30 that afternoon, Anderson called the Los Angeles Police Department to report the suspicious trunks. After picking the locks of each trunk, the police discovered the bodies. Meanwhile, Judd’s brother had dropped his sister off somewhere in Los Angeles where she proceeded to disappear. Judd hid out until she surrendered to police in a funeral home the following Friday, October 23, 1931.
The murder was reported in headlines across the country and Judd came to be referred to in the press as “Tiger Woman” and “The Blonde Butcher”. Eventually, the case itself came to be known in the media as “The Trunk Murders”.
Trial and conviction
On Monday evening, October 19, the Phoenix police entered the bungalow where LeRoi and Samuelson resided for the first time; neighbors and reporters were also allowed in and subsequently destroyed the original integrity of the crime scene. The following day the bungalow’s landlord took out ads to be placed in The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Evening Gazette newspapers informing the public that tours of the home were available for ten cents per person. In the next three weeks, hundreds of curiosity seekers toured the three room bungalow. During the trial, Judd’s defense protested by stating, “By the advertisements in the newspapers, the entire population of Maricopa County visited that place.”
The police maintained the two women were shot while asleep in their beds. The two mattresses were missing the night the police entered. Although one mattress was later found with no blood stains on it miles away in a vacant lot, the other remained missing. No explanation was ever offered as to why one was found so far away nor what ever became of the other mattress.
The trial began January 19, 1932, three months after the bodies had been discovered in the trunks. The state argued that Judd acted with pre-meditation, that the relations between the three women had deteriorated over some weeks, and that they had argued over the affections of Jack Halloran. According to the prosecution, all of this culminated with the murders. They maintained that Judd had self-inflicted the gunshot wound to her left hand to try to bolster her self-defense explanation. Judd’s defense took the stance that she was innocent because she was insane, but did not introduce the “self-defense” argument for the record. None of the dismembering aspect of the double slaying was addressed in court because Judd was tried only of the murder of Mrs. LeRoi, whose body was not dismembered. Judd did not take the stand in her own defense.
The jury found her guilty of first-degree murder on February 8, 1932. An appeal was unsuccessful. Judd was sentenced to be hanged February 17, 1933, and sent to Arizona State Prison in Florence, Arizona. The death sentence was repealed after a ten-day hearing found her mentally incompetent; she was then sent to Arizona State Asylum for the Insane on April 24, 1933.
Judd was Paroled and released on December 22, 1971. Died on October 23, 1998.