Winnie Ruth Judd

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Winnie Ruth Judd
Winnie Ruth Judd at her 1932 trial.jpg
Born Winnie Ruth McKinnell
(1905-01-29)January 29, 1905
Oxford, Indiana, United States
Died October 23, 1998(1998-10-23) (aged 93)
Phoenix, Arizona
Nationality American
Other names "The Trunk Murderess",
"The Tiger Woman",
"The Blonde Butcher"
Occupation Medical Secretary
Criminal penalty Death; later commuted to incarceration
Spouse(s) Dr. William C. Judd
(m. Apr 1924 - Oct 1945)
Parent(s) Rev. HJ McKinnell and Carrie McKinnell
Conviction(s) Murder

Winnie Ruth Judd (born Winnie Ruth McKinnell, Oxford, Indiana, January 29, 1905 – October 23, 1998) was a Phoenix, Arizona medical secretary accused of murdering her friends Agnes Anne LeRoi and Hedvig Samuelson in October 1931, allegedly over the affections of Jack Halloran, a prominent Phoenix businessman. The murders were discovered when Judd transported the victims' bodies, one of which had been dismembered, from Phoenix to Los Angeles by train in trunks and other luggage, causing the press to name the case the "Trunk Murders". She was tried for LeRoi's murder, found guilty, and sentenced to death, but the sentence was later repealed after she was found mentally incompetent, and she was committed to the Arizona State Asylum for the Insane (later renamed the Arizona State Hospital). Over the next three decades, she escaped from the asylum six times, the final time during the 1960s when she remained at large for over six years and worked under an assumed name for a wealthy family. She was ultimately paroled in 1971 and discharged from parole in 1983.

Judd's murder investigation and trial were marked by sensationalized newspaper coverage and suspicious circumstances suggesting that at least one other person might have been involved in the murders and/or the disposal of the bodies. Judd's sentence also raised debate about capital punishment.[1]


Winnie Ruth McKinnell was born on January 29, 1905 to a Methodist minister and his wife in Indiana. At age 17, she married Dr. William C. Judd, a World War I veteran more than twenty years her senior, and moved to Mexico with him, taking his last name of Judd. The doctor was reportedly a morphine addict as a result of war injuries and had difficulty keeping a job, forcing the couple to move frequently and live on an uncertain income. The marriage was further strained by problems in having children and by Winnie Ruth Judd's health problems.

The Grunow Medical Clinic

By 1930, the couple were living separately for the most part, although they remained in constant communication. Winnie Ruth Judd, called by her middle name of "Ruth", moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where she worked as governess to a wealthy family. During this time she met John J. "Happy Jack" Halloran, a 44-year-old well-to-do Phoenix businessman who was active in the city's political and social circles. Although married, Halloran was a known playboy and philanderer. Judd and Halloran became friendly and eventually had an extramarital affair.

After a few months, Judd obtained a better job as a secretary at the Grunow Medical Clinic in Phoenix. There, she met Agnes Anne LeRoi, an X-ray technician who worked at the clinic, and her roommate, Hedvig Samuelson. LeRoi and Samuelson had previously lived in Alaska, where they became close friends and then moved together to Phoenix for its drier climate after Samuelson contracted tuberculosis. LeRoi and Samuelson were also friendly with Halloran. Judd became friends with LeRoi and Samuelson, and even moved in with them for a couple of months in 1931, but differences developed between Judd and the other two women, and Judd soon returned to her own apartment, located a short distance away from the bungalow shared by LeRoi and Samuelson.[2] At the time of the murders Judd was 26 years old, LeRoi 32, and Samuelson, 24.

The murders[edit]

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 Halloran's affections.[3] 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.[4]

The two victims were killed with a .25 caliber handgun in their rented bungalow, located at 2929 (now 2947) N. 2nd Street.[5] According to prosecutors, Judd and an accomplice then dismembered the body of Samuelson and put the head, torso, and lower legs into a black shipping trunk, placing the upper legs in a beige valise and hatbox. LeRoi's body was stuffed intact into a second black shipping trunk.[3]

Flight to Los Angeles[edit]

2010 photo of Phoenix's Union Station where Judd departed with the trunks for Los Angeles

Two days after the murders, on Sunday, October 18, 1931, Judd, with her left hand bandaged from a gunshot wound, boarded the Golden State Limited passenger train from Phoenix's Union Station, along with the trunks and luggage containing the bodies. Judd traveled overnight to Los Angeles. Upon her arrival at 7:45 am the next morning, the trunks immediately came 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. Judd departed with her brother, leaving her trunks behind. At around 4:30 pm 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 for several days until she surrendered to police in a funeral home the following Friday, October 23, 1931.[6]

The murder became headline news across the country, with the press calling Judd "Tiger Woman" and "The Blonde Butcher". Eventually, the case came to be known in the media as the "Trunk Murders" and Judd as the "Trunk Murderess".

Original police investigation[edit]

2010 photo of the bungalow where Samuelson and LeRoi were killed

On the evening of Monday, October 19, 1931, the Phoenix police first entered the bungalow where LeRoi and Samuelson had resided; neighbors and reporters were also allowed in and destroyed the original integrity of the crime scene. The following day, the bungalow's landlord placed newspaper ads in The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Evening Gazette informing the public that tours of the home were available for ten cents per person. Over the next three weeks, hundreds of curiosity seekers toured the three-room bungalow. During the trial, Judd's defense protested, stating, "By the advertisements in the newspapers, the entire population of Maricopa County visited that place."[6]

The police maintained that the two women were shot while asleep in their beds. The mattresses from the two beds were missing the night the police entered. 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 became of the other mattress.[6]

Trial and conviction[edit]

The old Maricopa County Courthouse, where Judd was imprisoned and her trial held. The historical structure, which was built in 1928, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Judd's trial, in the Maricopa County Courthouse, before Judge Howard C. Speakman,[7] began January 19, 1932, three months after the bodies were discovered in the trunks. The dismemberment aspect of the double slaying was never addressed in court because Judd was tried only for the murder of LeRoi, whose body was not dismembered, and Judd was never tried for the murder of Samuelson. The state argued that Judd acted with premeditation, that the relations between the three women had deteriorated over some weeks, and that they had argued over the affections of Halloran, all of which culminated in the murders. The prosecution maintained that Judd had herself inflicted the gunshot wound to her left hand to try to bolster her claim of self-defense. Judd's defense contended that she was innocent because she was insane, but did not introduce the self-defense argument for the record. Judd did not take the stand in her own defense.

The jury found Judd guilty of the first-degree murder of LeRoi on February 8, 1932. An appeal was unsuccessful. Judd was sentenced by Judge Speakman to be hanged February 17, 1933, and sent to Arizona State Prison in Florence, Arizona. However, her death sentence was overturned after a ten-day hearing found her mentally incompetent. She was then sent to Arizona State Asylum for the Insane [8] on April 24, 1933.

Jack Halloran[edit]

When it was discovered during the course of the trial that Halloran and Judd had been involved in an illicit affair, Halloran also came under suspicion of complicity in the killings. Halloran was indicted by a grand jury as an accomplice to murder on December 30, 1932 following new testimony from Judd. Judd referred to this testimony as "the whole truth".[9]

A preliminary hearing on the charge against Halloran was held in mid-January 1933; Judd was the star witness. In testimony that lasted almost three days, an emotional Judd told her story, saying

"I am going to be hanged for something Jack Halloran is responsible for ... I was convicted of murder, but I shot in self-defense. Jack Halloran removed every bit of evidence. He is responsible for me going through all this. He is guilty of anything I am guilty of."[6]

J.J. "Jack" Halloran's home as seen in 2010

Judd testified she had gone to LeRoi and Samuelson's bungalow on an invitation to play bridge, and a fourth woman who had also been invited had already left. She testified that there was an argument about Judd's introduction of Halloran to another woman, and that she killed LeRoi and Samuelson in self-defense after they physically attacked her.[10]

According to Judd, she met up with Halloran shortly after the killings and returned with him to the bungalow. After seeing the bodies, he went out to the garage, returned with a "great, heavy trunk" and told her not to tell anyone.[11] Under cross-examination, Judd admitted repacking Samuelson's dismembered body in a trunk and other luggage two days after the murders.[12]

Halloran did not take the stand in his own defense. His attorney told the court that Judd's story was nothing more "than the story of an insane person" and argued that since Judd had testified that the two women were killed in self-defense, there was, in fact, no crime committed; therefore Halloran could not be tried for anything. Halloran's attorney then asked for the charges against his client to be dismissed.[6] On January 25, 1933 the judge freed Halloran, saying that the state's case was inconsistent, and that trying him would be "an idle gesture".[13]

Although officially exonerated by the law, Halloran eventually fell out of favor with the local Phoenix population, losing his valuable business associates and social status. He died in Tucson, Arizona in 1939.[14]

Escapes and parole[edit]

The Arizona State Hospital Building is where Judd was committed. It is located at 2500 E. Van Buren St. The hospital was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 15, 2009, reference #09000510.

After her death sentence was overturned, Judd was committed to the state's only mental institution, the Arizona State Asylum for the Insane (later renamed the Arizona State Hospital), located in Phoenix. Judd escaped from the institution six times between[15] 1933 and 1963, 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 that a friend had given her.[6] 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 years. Her identity in California was eventually discovered and she was taken back to Arizona on August 18, 1969.

Judd hired famed San Francisco defense attorney Melvin Belli. Belli needed an Arizona-licensed attorney to help him, so he hired Larry Debus.[16] Arizona Governor Jack Williams agreed to sign for Judd's release as long as the meeting was kept "hush, hush". However, in the following days, Belli called a press conference calling for the immediate release of Judd, forcing Debus to fire Belli to prevent him from getting in the way of Judd's release. Judd was paroled and released on December 22, 1971 after two years of legal wrangling.

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 October 23, 1998 at the age of ninety-three, 67 years to the day from her surrender to Los Angeles police in 1931.

Subsequent investigations[edit]

Doll made by Winnie Ruth Judd while imprisoned in the Arizona State Prison. It is on display in the Pinal County Historic Society & Museum located at 715 S. Main St. in Florence, Az. On February 20, 2014, the doll and the story of Judd’s crime were featured in an episode of Mysteries at the Museum TV show titled the “Blonde Butcher”.[17]

Jana Bommersbach investigation[edit]

Investigative journalist Jana Bommersbach re-examined Judd's case for a series of articles in the Phoenix New Times and a later book, The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd (Simon & Schuster, 1992). As part of her investigation, Bommersbach interviewed Judd herself. Bommersbach concluded that the police and prosecution were biased against Judd. Bommersbach's conclusions, and her objectivity about Judd in view of the personal relationship they formed during the interviews, have been questioned by others who have studied the case, including the son of one of Judd's defense attorneys and an Arizona Historical Society staff member who uncovered new information about Judd after Bommersbach had published her book.[18]

According to Bommersbach, due to Phoenix's small population in 1931, members of the Phoenix police knew Jack Halloran well, and were aware of his associates, friends, and girlfriends. Some police officers also knew the victims. Some even believed that Judd hadn't killed anyone, even in self-defense, but was only covering up for the misdeeds of Halloran and possibly others. Halloran's release was considered by some to be a miscarriage of justice, and his exoneration a political cover-up, since his gray Packard had been spotted at the crime scene the night of the murders and again the next day, suggesting that he might have been an accomplice.

External video
You can watch and listen to a 2007 documentary about Winnie Ruth Judd titled Winnie Ruth Judd - Arizona Stories Full Version featuring Jana Bommersbach here

According to Bommersbach, there were indications that Judd was not capable of dismembering Samuelson's body — a task that, according to autopsy photos,[19] was performed with surgical skills that Judd did not possess — and that Judd was not even physically capable of lifting the bodies. Bommersbach also suggested that a second gun might have been involved, based on early newspaper reports that LeRoi was shot with a larger caliber bullet.

Addressing the possibility that a person who possessed surgical skills dissected Samuelson's body, Bommersbach wrote about a nurse named Ann Miller whom she interviewed for her book. Miller said that while she was working at the Arizona State Hospital in 1936 and had become friends with Judd, Judd had confided to her that a Dr. Brown had come to see her while she was in prison and told her he was going to confess everything. Later, after Miller told a Phoenix attorney of Judd's story, he stated, "I'm sure she told you that. Dr. Brown came up to my office and wanted to tell the whole story. He made an appointment for the next week, but he died the day before the appointment." Dr. Brown died in June 1932 of heart disease at the age of forty-four.[20] According to Bommersbach, some speculate he might have been contemplating suicide. Bommersbach writes, "As the New York Mirror reported the day Halloran's indictment was announced:

"A second man would probably have been indicted, according to widespread rumor, if death had not intervened. Mrs. Judd's story included the declaration that a physician, who has since committed suicide, was summoned to the murder bungalow to aid in the disposal of the bodies."

1933 "confession letter"[edit]

The 2014 discovery of a so-called "confession letter", written in Judd's own hand in April 1933 to her attorney H.G. Richardson and anonymously donated to the Arizona state archives in 2002, raised new questions about her case. In the letter, which Judd called her "first and only confession," Judd stated that she alone planned and carried out the murder of LeRoi, with whom she was allegedly competing for Halloran's affections. She further stated that she had not planned to kill Samuelson, but did so after Samuelson, alerted by the gunshot that killed LeRoi, walked in on the murder scene and began fighting with Judd. Judd wrote that she also acted alone in dealing with the bodies, including dismembering Samuelson's body herself and placing both bodies in the luggage for transport. According to a Phoenix New Times article by Robrt Pela, attorney Richardson suppressed the letter after receiving it because it contradicted the substance of an appeal he had just filed in her case. After Richardson's death, Judd wrote to his widow repeatedly asking for return of the letter, for fear it would jeopardize hearings on her sanity and potential release from Arizona State Hospital, but Richardson's widow did not return it. A few years after Judd's death, the letter was anonymously donated to the Arizona state archives.[18]

Those who have studied or been involved in the Judd case differ in their interpretation of the letter. While some believe it is a true confession, it has also been interpreted as an attempt by Judd to bolster her insanity defense, clear Halloran, or even incriminate Halloran by admitting to a crime to which he could then be named an accessory — a strategy not possible if Judd contended that she had killed in self-defense. J. Dwight Dobkins, the co-author of the first book written about the Judd case (J. Dwight Dobkins and Robert J. Hendricks, Winnie Ruth Judd: The Trunk Murders (Grosset & Dunlap, 1973)), dismissed the letter as "just another of her many confessions, the one attempt to have Halloran named as an accomplice."[18]

In popular culture[edit]

In 2007, a feature-length film about the Judd case, entitled Murderess: The Winnie Ruth Judd Story, was released. It was written and directed by Los Angeles filmmaker Scott Coblio, and featured an all-marionette cast.[21] Since its debut, the film has played annually at The Trunk Space theater in Phoenix, Arizona, on October 16, the date of the original crime. While there are a number of fictitious films and books in existence which model themselves loosely upon the story of Winnie Ruth Judd, "Murderess" remains to date the only feature-length film to tell Judd's actual story in a non-fiction framework.

The Trunk Murders were featured in a 2009 episode of the true crime television series Deadly Women entitled "Hearts of Darkness" (Season 3, Episode 6).

The 2015 art installation “Tiger Lady” by Darren Clark and Gary Patch is a shadow cast kinetic projection on permanent display at the Valley Bar in Phoenix. It features select milestones from the Judd saga.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Goldstein, Richard (October 27, 1998). "Winnie R. Judd, 93, Infamous As 1930's 'Trunk Murderess'". The New York Times. Retrieved January 12, 2010. Winnie Ruth Judd, who spent three decades in an Arizona state mental hospital as the notorious trunk murderess in one of the most sensational criminal cases of 1930s, died in Phoenix on Friday. She was 93. 
  2. ^ Sharp, Harold S., Footnotes To American History. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen, NJ. 1977 ISBN 9780810809949
  3. ^ a b Geringer, Joseph. "Winnie Ruth Judd: 'The Trunk Murderess' In Perspective". Women Who Kill. truTV. Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  4. ^ "Ruth Judd Is Declared Sane: Reveal Love and Jealousy Over Friend of Trunk Murder Victims". The Gettysburg Times. February 5, 1932. Retrieved June 30, 2010. Mrs. Judd, the witness said, named Jack Halloran, Phoenix lumber dealer and sportsman, as a man 'I love with all my heart and soul more passionately than I ever loved my husband.' 
  5. ^ Correct location of where the murders occurred
  6. ^ a b c d e f Bommersbach, Jana (1992). The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd (2003 (Poisoned Pen Press) ed.). Poisoned Pen Press. ISBN 978-1-59058-064-6. Retrieved June 27, 2010. 
  7. ^ Winnie Ruth Judd Sentenced to Hang, Lewiston Daily Sun, February 25, 1932, retrieved September 8, 2016
  8. ^ Arizona State Hospital History
  9. ^ "Business Man of Phoenix Indicted in Ruth Judd Case". Ellensburg Daily Record. December 30, 1932. Retrieved June 29, 2010. 
  10. ^ Winnie Ruth Judd Sobs As Witness in Halloran Trial, Associated Press
  11. ^ Mrs. Ruth Judd Accuses Halloran in Trunk Murders, Gettysburg Times, Jan 18, 1933
  12. ^ MURDER TRUNK SHIFT ADMITTED, Los Angeles Times
  13. ^ Halloran Is Freed Of Charges Made By Mrs. Ruth Judd, Ludington Gaily News, Jan 22, 1933
  14. ^ LDs family Search record
  15. ^ "Winnie Judd Near Collapse After Capture". Harrisburg Telegraph. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 31 Oct 1939. p. 3 – via 
  16. ^ Jana Bommersbach. "Mr. Big-Shot Attorney". 
  17. ^ TV Guide; Mysteries at the Museum.
  18. ^ a b c Pela, Robrt (2014-09-24). "Ruthless: A Long-Lost Confession Letter May Finally Tell the Real Story of Winnie Ruth Judd". 
  19. ^ "Hedvig Samuelson autopsy photos". Retrieved 2010-07-05. 
  20. ^ Bommersbach, Jana (2006). The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd. Poisoned Pen Press. ISBN 978-1-59058-064-6.
  21. ^ IMDB article Murderess

External links[edit]