The LA Trunk Murders
The year was 1931. It was an October morning at the Los Angeles station and a train from Phoenix had just pulled in. As the luggage was being loaded off the locomotive and onto the platform, baggage agent, Arthur Anderson noticed that two particular trunks were giving off a strange odor. Suspecting contraband of some kind, Anderson asked the young owner for a key so he could look inside. She replied that she didn’t have it with her, so Anderson tagged the trunks and told her that she could come back and pick them up – with the key – but they would be held until he could inspect them properly. With that, the pretty young owner simply nodded and disappeared into the crowd.
By 4:30pm the same day, Anderson was certain something was gravely wrong. The trunks stunk to high heaven and one of them appeared to be oozing a strange fluid out onto the floor. Anderson called the police.
When LAPD arrived, they promptly picked the locks on the luggage. Inside one black steamer trunk they found the intact body of a woman in her early 30s. The body was doubled over and just fit inside. In the second trunk they found the severed head, torso (with arms), and lower legs of another woman who appeared to be in her mid-20s.
Meanwhile, a vivacious 26-year-old medical secretary was enjoying her stay with her younger brother and cavorting around Los Angeles…until she turned herself in to the authorities five days later.
Winnie Ruth McKinnell was born in January of 1905 to a Methodist minister and his wife in Oxford, Indiana. Little is known about her younger years, but by the age of 17, Winnie – who went by her middle name, Ruth – was married to William Judd. He was a doctor and World War I veteran that was more than twenty years Ruth’s senior. Together the unlikely couple moved to Mexico where the doctor became even more addicted to morphine. This strained the relationship to it’s breaking point and Ruth struck out on her own (though she and William Judd remained in constant contact).
Ruth Judd eventually moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where she worked as a nanny for a wealthy family. It was during this time that she met “Happy Jack” Halloran, a 44-year-old businessman and politician. Even though Jack was long married, he was known for having many affairs, and the much younger Judd certainly caught his (wandering) eye. It wasn’t long before the two fell into bed together.
It’s unknown if the affair is what caused the job change, but Judd shifted from childcare to working as a medical secretary while she was involved with Jack. She met many friends there, including X-ray tech, Anne LeRoi and her roommate Hedvig “Heddie” Samuelson. The three women became close and Judd even moved in for a time. But petty arguments drove them apart and Judd moved out on her own again shortly thereafter.
Then, suddenly, on the evening of October 16th, 1931, Anne LeRoi and Heddie Samuelson were shot dead in their apartment with a .25 caliber handgun. The killer was their ex-roommate, Ruth Judd.
After the murders, Ruth supposedly stuffed LeRoi into a steamer trunk and tried to do the same with Samuelson, but Heddie’s body wouldn’t fit. So then Judd dismembered her, putting her back into the selected trunk – in pieces. Then Judd called a car, had the trunks loaded, and went to the train station where she got an overnight ticket to Los Angeles.
As if the events weren’t sensational on their own, as soon as the press caught wind of it, the “trunk murders” became front-page news across the United States. Judd was dubbed “The Blonde Butcher” and “The Tiger Woman.” She – and her affair with Halloran – were suddenly infamous from California to New York.
By the time of the trial in January of 1932, there was an absolute feeding frenzy for details of Judd’s life, Halloran’s dalliances, and every detail surrounding the events of the crime. Tours were given of the “murder apartment” by the landlord for ten cents apiece and newspapers couldn’t be kept on the stands. The prosecution was claiming 1st degree premeditated murder and Judd’s defense was that she was legally insane. But the drama didn’t stop there. Halloran was also indicted due to Judd naming him as her accomplice! From the stand she said:
“I am going to be hanged for something Jack Halloran is responsible for…Jack Halloran removed every bit of evidence. He is responsible for me going through this. He is guilty of anything I am guilty of.”
By February of 1933, the jury had done it’s job and Judd was found guilty of the 1st degree murder of Anne LeRoi (she was never tried on Samuelson’s murder). The judge sentenced her to death by hanging. But within 10 days the sentence was overturned in favor of commitment to the state insane asylum instead (after some mean legal wrangling by Judd’s dedicated attorney who defended her until his death).
Of course, in what was now typical for Judd, the drama didn’t end there. She escaped from the hospital SIX TIMES between 1933 and 1963, the final time being when she was 58 years old. She made it to San Francisco where she got work as a live-in maid for a wealthy family with a mansion overlooking the bay. She worked for them until she was 64. She was then recaptured and taken back to what was now renamed Arizona State Hospital.
In 1971, Judd was paroled and released from the hospital after hiring a famed bay area attorney. In 1983, her parole was discharged and she was a free woman. She lived the rest of her life in Stockton, California, where she died sixty-seven years to the day that she surrendered to police in L.A.
At this point it’s probably obvious that Judd benefitted greatly from the time period she was born into. It’s doubtful that any woman would be granted parole after not only murdering two people, but then absconding from captivity SIX TIMES these days. It just wouldn’t happen. So it’s clear that Judd had our antiquated views of female criminals on her side.
It’s also abundantly clear that Judd was crazy…like a fox. I’m not seeing any evidence whatsoever of confusion, disorientation, lack of rationale, or other signs of mental illness in her. In fact, I see just the opposite. She planned her crimes, attempted to meticulously cover for them, and then lied about what she did after the fact (multiple times and multiple ways, actually). Then, when she was finally forced to do time, she kept running away, hinting at her belief that she didn’t deserve to be punished, and a very sharp mind capable of plotting escapes from a locked facility.
When it comes down to all the other stories that have been told about her, like that Halloran helped her (he was essentially acquitted), that she had an accomplice “with medical knowledge to do the dismembering” that committed suicide before his arrest, and that she shot “in self-defense” because the two victims attacked her, I’m just not buying it. Ruth Judd was as wily as they come, and she showed no remorse – only regret that she got caught. In my mind, it was the one thing that was consistent about Judd throughout her life: lying. She did it all the time, including to the family that hired her in San Francisco, to the jury, to the attorneys, to the people who worked at the state hospital… So I’ve little doubt in my mind that she lied to biographers later in her life, and to journalists who sought her out to get her story. In fact, I’m guessing Judd was so proficient at lying that she scarcely knew the truth herself anymore.
Luckily Anne and Heddie won’t have to hear about it in heaven. My guess is that Ruth ended up having to get a room “elsewhere.”