Winnie Ruth Judd
DescriptionIn 1932, Winnie Ruth Judd was convicted and sentenced to death for murder. But she spent most of her life at 24th and Van Buren, the Phoenix mental hospital. She escaped six times. This is her extraordinary rollercoaster life from murder to trial to escape.
TranscriptNarrator: On this episode of Arizona Stories, murder, trial, and escape: the extraordinary life of Winnie Ruth Judd... Sedona: cattle, apples, and grapes to an international tourist destination... and a family of political giants from a small Arizona town. Arizona Stories is made possible by our program partners, viewers like you who provide additional gifts for programs about the Arizona experience.
Narrator: A large trunk in the L.A. train station smells like death. Dark blood seeps from the seam. But when the trunk is opened, a surprise.
Jerry Lewkowitz: The testimony is, "what did you do next?" "I lifted the lid of the trunk." "And then what did you do?" "I saw what -- a blood-soaked comforter." "And then what did you do?" "I lifted the comforter." "And what did you see?" "I saw what I thought to be a woman's head."
Narrator: Winnie Ruth Judd went on trial for murder in Phoenix in January 1932. She was accused of killing two women, Anne LeRoi, whose complete body had been stuffed into a trunk, taken as Judd's luggage to L.A. She was never tried for the second woman, Hedwig Samuelson, known as Sammy, who had been cut into pieces and stuffed into the trunks. At her trial, her attorney was Paul Schenk of Los Angeles, with local attorneys Herman Lewkowitz and Joe Zaversack. The prosecution was led by Lloyd "Dogie" Andrews. The titillated Phoenix crowd crammed into the courtroom, fascinated by this woman who could butcher a friend.
Jana Bommersbach: This was the biggest thing that had ever happened in Phoenix to that point. This case was internationally famous, and around the nation, people could not get enough of it. They were doing radio broadcasts at night from here that were broadcast back East where people could hear reenactments of the trial. People -- every magazine was writing about it, every newspaper was writing about it, everybody wanted to know what in the world had happened. This was an unbelievable case.
Narrator: After authorities found the trunks, Winnie Ruth Judd had escaped in L.A. with the help of her brother, Burton McKinnell. She hid out for a couple of days and was eventually found at an L.A. funeral home, where she gave herself up. But on everybody's mind was one question: did she act alone? Winnie Ruth Judd had been having an affair with a married man. Jack Halloran was a successful businessman. Her husband, Dr. William Judd, was addicted to narcotics. He traveled a lot and was at this time in Los Angeles. Judd worked at the Grunow Clinic with Anne LeRoi, who was the x-ray technician. LeRoi had come to Arizona with Sammy from Alaska.
Sunny Worel: Sammy discovered she had T.B. When she came back from her summer away, so Anne LeRoi and her left. Anne LeRoi got some x-rays when she was in Portland, and she discovered that she had T.B. as well. They didn't have much money. I know that Sammy had taken some loans to be here and she needed to -- some medical care, so she had some bills.
Narrator: And for some time, the three lived together in the same house. The prosecution claimed Judd killed the two women while they slept in bed, but not much evidence supported it. Judd never spoke in her own defense. Her lawyers said she was insane.
Jerry Lewkowitz: Maybe had she taken the stand, she might have been able to say something about individuals that might have assisted her or participated or whatever, but she didn't take the stand.
Narrator: In those days, the defense didn't have access to what the prosecution had gathered. They didn't know what the state's case was. They had to investigate on their own. Judd had told them she had fought off the two girls in self-defense. Her hand was bandaged from a bullet wound. And she had photographs to show the bruises on her body. The prosecution claimed her wounds were self-inflicted.
Jerry Lewkowitz: People have said, "Wait a minute, you know, why didn't your dad interview this person or this witness or that one," or, "The preparation wasn't what" -- well, you didn't have the rules and the discovery that lawyers have today.
Narrator: The jurors said they wanted her to talk, so they convicted her of premeditated murder and sentenced her to hang.
Jana Bommersbach: She was railroaded by the prosecution. They presented only the evidence that said she was the only person involved in this crime and that she had killed them in cold-blooded premeditated murder when all the evidence that you can look at objectively says that at the worst, this was a crime of passion and it was a crime of self-defense.
Narrator: At this time, Maricopa Sheriff John McFadden got Winnie Ruth Judd to tell her story. Judd said out of jealousy one night, Sammy attacked her with a gun.
Sunny Worel: I think it's debatable whether Sammy came out with a gun. I find it difficult to believe that someone who's been in bed for an entire year could overpower someone in some sort of fight on the ground for a gun.
Winnie Ruth Judd: So then I grabbed her hand like this and kept -- pushed back, and we both had our hands on the gun. And one shot went through her little finger -- one of her fingers, I don't know which one, and into her chest just through here. Then one bullet jammed and caught me here in the top of the gun. I had gun grease -- a cut here. And we fought -- Anne came from behind, she got the ironing board from behind the water heater...
Jana Bommersbach: And by that time, Anne was braining her with an ironing board, trying to get her off Sammy, and she reached out and shot at Anne. And when she woke up, she was lying between two bodies. Ruth Judd said that she called Halloran, screamed that what had happened and he needed to help, and he came to help and he was drunk, and he said, "Oh, I'll take care of this," and that he's the one who brought the trunks in from the garage and he's the one who lifted Anne's body and put it in the trunk and he's the one who was in charge of everything that happened afterwards. He said he had a doctor friend that could take care of things and she should get a train ticket and go to L.A. to her husband and take the trunks, and he'd have someone meet her and dispose of the bodies over there.
Narrator: After a grand jury investigation, some authorities doubted her guilt. They believed mercy was warranted. Judd was given an insanity hearing and was found to be insane. This saved her from the death penalty. Judd was sent to the state mental hospital, where she lived over the next 30 years. She escaped six times, and authorities never realized she had the key to the front door. She was paroled in 1971, and in 1998, she died in Arizona.
Jana Bommersbach: You know, for many, many years this was Phoenix's dirty secret. This was the story they never wanted told. This was the legacy that they wanted buried, and I'm very glad that that did not stay untold or did not stay buried. And in the end, Winnie Ruth Judd was the one survivor. She outlived every other person involved in this entire case.