Winnie Ruth Judd: 'The Trunk Murderess' In Perspective
Winnie Ruth Judd
Winnie, who most people called Ruthie or Ruth, was the daughter of Reverend and Mrs. McKinnell from Darlington, Indiana, plunked deep within the rural Methodist wheatbelt. She was 26 years old in 1931, seven years married to a doctor whose practice had waned with his drug habit. It wasn't Dr. William C. Judd's fault, Winnie would protest, defending him, for he had become addicted through morphine he received to treat a wound during the world war of 1918.
Nevertheless, their marriage had been a disappointment. She needed a break.
Life with Dr. Judd, her senior by 22 years, had never delivered its early expectations. At the time she met him, he practiced at a psychiatric hospital where she typed and filed; he was smitten with the cute, fragile, hundred-pound dishwater blonde who, in return, was overcome with his brainpower. While dating, he spoke of adventure, of how he would love to travel the world, practicing his profession, she at his side. After they married in April, 1924, they wound up in northern Mexico where her dreams of having a baby broke the monotony. Twice she became joyously pregnant, twice she miscarried. Her frail, weakened form soon contracted a slight form of tuberculosis. Her husband placed her in a sanatorium in California.
After this first attempt to recover her health, she tried several times to rejoin her husband in Mexico, following him from one indigent town to another. Tending to Mexico's poor spoke well of his principles, but this practice did not support a young wife who was neither accustomed to living in poverty nor, more practically, was she physically strong enough to endure these conditions because of health problems. In 1930, she traveled back to the U.S. He remained in Mexico. Their communication was constant, but Ruth found she required more than Xs on a letter.
In 1930, she moved to Phoenix, Arizona, known for its tubercular relief.
She cut her long hair and sported the fashionable "bob" cut of the day.
And she fell in love with smiling, debonair, bedroom-eyed and saucy Jack Halloran.
Her first job was as governess to the wealthy Leigh Ford family, a position she loved. Halloran, the Ford's next-door neighbor, proved to be a side benefit. Their over-the-fence chats developed into much more and every chance they had she would steal from the Ford homestead, and he from his wife and three children, for a rendezvous under the desert skies of Phoenix.
"Halloran was 44 years old and one of the town's success stories," reads Jana Bommersbach's heavily researched The Trunk Murderess. "When anyone in Phoenix named the movers and shakers, Jack Halloran's name was on the list... If you wanted a political favor, Jack Halloran knew who to ask. People remember him as a take-charge kind of guy whose laugh could fill a room."
He probably emanated a charm that the complacent William Judd never could, and exploded sexuality totally foreign to the good doctor.
Phoenix in the early Thirties, despite its jabs at modernity and a large population of good people just trying to live and let live, was in many ways still a Wild West personality, full of modern-day desperadoes. It uniquely bore the raw and rough- and-tumble-ahead, carefree rapport with life that was slowly disappearing in other, older cities behind a somber, more prayerful and conscientious hope for industry thrust upon them by a national Depression.
Phoenix's boardwalks were full of the regular john does who sought the most peaceful life possible; they had heard that Arizona, the newest state in the Union, offered that. Miles of desert between itself and other metropolises seemed to have cut, at least escaped from, a reality of past problems.
But, the desperadoes straddled the same boardwalks, and they were everywhere. They didn't come this time with a snarl, waving guns and staging shootouts at high noon. They smiled now, and wore pinstriped suits and stole the advantage of the town rather than the money from its banks outright. They were rustlers, like Jack Halloran, who enjoyed running Phoenix like a Saturday night hootenanny and shooting from the hip with swagger and verbosity; the meter of their caliber was lethal: political savvy and an assured grin. They were the roustabouts, boasting a clutch on the throttle of the town administration, scuffing their path with invisible spurs, even up the sacred aisles of Municipal Hall to address the civic committees to promise their support for a more God-Fearing and Better Phoenix.
Because Phoenix had grown basically out of the desert ether, that is from a hitching-post town to one with an emerging art deco skyline, it was able to creep up ungoverned while the rest of the country was unaware of it. The reformers were watching Chicago, as was New York and Kansas City and St. Paul. But, Phoenix was viewed as a blossoming cactus of the Southwest, its needles albeit unobserved. On the surface, it wore a strict code of family morals and wedded loyalty and most of the 50,000 residents practiced what they preached but there was the element who found the motto, "a city of homes, churches and schools" a convenient mask to camouflage their lifestyles.
There was a league of Jack Hallorans there, big biters and big takers and big kickers. Suddenly rich on the pastel Sonora Desert, they ran Phoenix for the pleasure of their own pocketbook and libido. Americans didn't think of Phoenix as a Gomorrah, and that was its greatest power.
Jack Halloran was part owner of one of the largest lumberyards in this modern-day garden of sin. And owning a lumberyard in a burgeoning garden-turned-metropolis is a virtue that speaks for itself. A member of the Phoenix Country Club, he rubbed shoulders with the denizens of smoke-filled political backrooms, mayor on down, as well as patrons of business who, because they hoped to maintain an industry there, became very adept at psalming, "Yes, sir, mayor!" with an efficient nod of the head. Jack probably started out as a yes-man, too, but now he was one of the rich and favored.
Winnie Ruth Judd didn't realize the dangerous company she was giving herself to in the back seat of Model Citizen Jack's luxury sedan. She may have had misgivings she continued to pour out her love to Dr. Judd in ink and, in fact, wrote him that she hoped he would come to Phoenix but in the interim she obviously was feeling the freedom of the new girl in town. Attracting male stares made her feel like a woman, not just a preacher's daughter. Sensing the space and experimenting with what a woman can find in that space, she was having the time of her unconventional life.
After a few months with the Ford family, Winnie sought a financial step up as a medical secretary at the private Grunow Clinic. Her salary of $75 was quite good for the year 1931; it afforded her monthly rent for a small cottage at 1102 East Brill Street, food in the Kelvinator ice box, and a little left over to send her husband who had left Mexico for California where he had admitted himself into a hospital for drug cure.
Ruth's best friends were Anne LeRoi, a 32-year-old Oregonian divorcee who was an X-ray technician at Grunow, and 24-year-old Hedvig (or "Sammy") Samuelson from North Dakota who, because she was suffering from TB, had taken a hiatus from a teaching career. Before coming to Phoenix in early February of 1931, both these professional women worked in Alaska. It was there that they met and where they decided to move together down south because of Sammy's worsening health.
After their deaths, certain newspapers would hint at Anne's "mannishness" and term their friendship as a "queer love," a derogatory term for lesbianism in the first decades of the 20th Century. That they were bisexual might be true, for their relationship does seem to have extended to that. But, simultaneously, they also openly exhibited an interest in certain men, especially Ruth's male companion, who they called "Happy Jack".
They lived at 2929 North Second Street, in a small studio-type duplex, "a trolley ride away," according to Bommersbach, from Ruth's Brill Street place. There, they often threw small parties for Ruth and Halloran and the latter's married business buddies whom he brought along for revel.
He also brought crates of bootlegged booze. The men wined and dined the girls throughout the evening while their wives figured hubby was at the office working hard. Rather, hubby was hardly working. Because these knights of big business and big city dealings tended to leave behind them a wad of money for the girls' hospitality, one might conclude without so skeptical a mind that the hospitality may have included more than a tray of pastrami sandwiches and a leisurely bowl of popcorn.
Ruth knew that Jack tended to visit the two girls on his own and would, many times, begift them rolls of greenery and bundles of presents, but according to what is known she never balked. Still, author Bommersbach hints in her book The Trunk Murderess that beneath the amiability and, in fact, secret-sharing relationship the three girlfriends had, there was indeed a semblance of kinetic rivalry.
If she had been a fool, Ruth might have totally overlooked Jack's generosity to her female friends, but she was not a fool. Jack, she determined, was not a benefactor Santa Claus. Anne was a tall, well-built, stunning brunette with chiseled features, and blonde, dimpled Sammy did not exactly leave men cold. Both were charismatic, fun loving and, what Jack liked best, adventurous.
In autumn, 1931, the three girls attempted space sharing in the small quarters on North Second Street. Living under one roof produced problems, though. They began arguing daily, mostly over differences in housekeeping. Ruth was casual in her habits; the other two were obsessively neat. To placate, Ruth returned to her old digs at Brill Street.
But, a feeling of animosity was developing nevertheless, and not over tidiness. The bond between Anne and Sammy had always been impenetrable; they were sisters in one thought for so long and, whether sexual or spiritual, they doted on each other, protecting each other to no extent; Anne was the breadwinner and Sammy the homemaker. They were a family of two. Winnie, in a manner of speaking, was an outsider who, probably because she felt that way, had chosen to give them the freedom they needed to once again live the way they required.
Not that she wished to penetrate their circle she was independently happy and lost in the throes of romance with her Jack and fighting conscience over her betrayal of Dr. Judd -- but, no doubt, the interplay that existed between her and Jack, and Jack and her friends, almost certainly caused a sensation of distrust among all parties.
This negative underplay came to a combustive and startling and deadly head on Friday, October 16, 1931. Trouble began to twitch the evening before, on Thursday. During the week, Ruth learned that Jack and his crones had been planning a deer-hunting party in the White Mountains of northern Arizona. She offered to introduce Jack to a fellow employee at Grunow Clinic, a pretty, young nurse named Lucille Moore, who had come from that part of the country and was familiar with its wildlife. Jack agreed to meet Miss Moore and on Thursday he first picked up Ruth, then Moore, and headed back to Ruth's house where she had dinner in the oven.
On their way back, Jack remembered that he had promised to stop at Anne and Sammy's house to see a couple friends who were visiting there. Ruth felt uncomfortable because she had earlier turned down a dinner invitation telling Anne that she had business that night; she hadn't wanted to go into the history of the planned hunting excursion and Lucille Moore's involvement. While her reasons are unclear, they strongly and strangely suggest that she might have sensed a jealousy that would have raged had the girls known that she was introducing Jack to another good-looking woman. Later presumptions conclude that Ruth knew, or strongly suspected, that she had been sharing Jack's bed with Anne and, possibly, Sammy, too.
Jack went into the house to see his buddies, and Ruth's friends came out to say hello to Ruth and Miss Moore (whom Anne slightly knew from the clinic). Ruth observed no resentment in their actions; they were highly cordial even asked them to stay for dinner, which Ruth had to turn down because of her dinner waiting at home. It would not be until the following night that Ruth realized her initial suspicions had been correct.
Anne LeRoi and Sammy Samuelson hadn't liked the idea of pretty, young Lucille Moore one bit.