Friday, March 2, 2012

Winnie Ruth Judd

Winnie Ruth McKinnell Judd (January 29, 1905 – October 23, 1998) was a Phoenix, Arizona medical secretary found guilty of murdering one of her two former roommates and later sentenced to death. Known in the press as "The Trunk Murderess", her trial was marked by sensationalized newspaper coverage and suspicious circumstances; the sentence she received raised debate over capital punishment.

According to police, on the night of October 16th, 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.

On Monday evening, October 19th, 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.

After her death sentence was repealed, Judd was committed to the state's only mental institution, Arizona State Hospital in Phoenix. From 1933 to 1963 Judd escaped from the institution six times, in one instance walking all the way to Yuma, Arizona, along the old Southern Pacific railroad tracks. She escaped for the final time on October 8, 1963, using a key to the front door of the hospital a friend had given her. Judd ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area where she became a live-in maid for a wealthy family living in a mansion overlooking the bay, using the name Marian Lane. Her freedom lasted six and a half years. Her identity in California was eventually discovered and she was taken back to Arizona on August 18, 1969. After hiring famed San Francisco defense attorney Melvin Belli, Judd was paroled and released on December 22, 1971 after two years of legal wrangling. Following the trial, Judd moved to Stockton, California. In 1983 the state of Arizona issued her an "absolute discharge," meaning she was no longer a parolee. She died 23 October 1998 at the age of ninety-three; by coincidence, this was the same date she had surrendered to Los Angeles police after the killings in 1931.

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