The Trunk Murderess - Winnie Ruth Judd
Why hello there Creeps!!! And welcome to another episode of Madames and Murderes! I’m your host Malia Miglino, and on todays episode we will be talking about how effective steamer trunks are for transporting dismembered bodies. Hot tip - maybe don’t eat while listening to this one.
Every murderer is faced with the same daunting task after having committed said murder, what do I do with the body? Drive out into the desert, plop it in a barrel, bury it, call it good? Weight the body down and sink em in the river? Put them in a vat of acid and watch the meat melt from the bones? Or perhaps, cut em up, stick em' in a steamer trunk and then load em on a train to Los Angeles.
Creeps, it’s time to tell the tale of Trunk Murderess, Winnie Ruth Judd.
Darlington Indiana is one of those American towns where nothing much happens. A quick google search of the place and you’ll find that their most notable attribute is that their ratio of sex offenders to the general public is quite low. Yet if you dig deeper, you’ll discover that Darlington was once the backdrop of a childhood of a woman soon to be known around the country.
Winnie’s upbringing is shrouded by a multitude of gossip, theory and perhaps outright lies. When first beginning my research on her, this tale seemed pretty cut and dry but as my research progressed, I realized there seemed to be a lot of inconsistencies in her story, details that varied depending on the source. I say this because during the course of this tale I will be sharing two different versions of the same part of the story, the first being her childhood. According to some sources, her childhood was spent very sheltered, her entire life revolving around the Methodist church and community in which her father led. The image these sources paint are that of a quiet and nervous girl. Then you have a whole different reality according to other sources. The one consistent link is the heavy involvement in the Methodist church but according to some people, Winnie was a rather unstable little girl. Allegedly at age 7, she started showing an obsession with babies, claiming her mother was pregnant when she wasn’t and then later on as a teenager, claiming to be pregnant herself, despite allegedly never having had sex with her boyfriend. Her parents took her to the doctor to try and prove to her that she was indeed, not pregnant which led her to act out in way of running away. This story gets even more bugnuts when they claim that when she returned, she insisted she’d been kidnapped, impregnated and then had the baby. Yet there was no baby to show for it.
Due to a shit ton of circumstances that we will get into in just a bit, it is very hard to decipher which of these childhoods is the truth. You could argue it doesn’t matter, her actions later in life may have had nothing to do with her childhood. I would argue as we’ve seen presented in previous episodes, a person’s childhood often has everything to do with their actions later in life. But since we don’t know the truth it’s time to get back on board the Winnie life train and stop off at another confusing as hell life moment.
I’m gonna preface this part of the tale with a big ass neon sign PSA letting y'all know this gets murky so bear with me, take a sip of whatever you’re drinking and just prepare for confusion.
There is a multitude of stories of how she met her husband, became a medical secretary and how she got to Phoenix, Arizona. Firstly, some people say she was 17, others say she was 19 when she met her future husband Dr. William Judd who was a Veteran of WWI and apparently addicted to morphine after suffering wounds in the war. Those are facts most people agree on. However, thats where the agreeing stops. Dr. Judd was apparently 26 years her senior and they supposedly got married in New Orleans and then moved to Mexico where he took a job as a doctor for a mining company. Some versions of this story however, don’t have them in Mexico at all but straight to Los Angeles. Yea, I told y'all it was murky. If we want to follow the Mexico story line, Dr. Judd apparently couldn’t keep a job, sold off their car for drugs and all the while was denying Winnie the one thing she wanted, kids. I do need to mention that there are versions of this story that say Winnie COULDN’T have kids, and that it strained her marriage because Dr. Judd wanted them. Jesus. Anyways, after he sold their car for drugs she apparently fled Mexico, went to Phoenix and got a job as a governess to a wealthy family. Some say. Others say she immediately got a job at Gunrow Clinic as a medical secretary where she apparently made enough money or had the resources to send for her husband in Mexico to have him committed to a veterans hospital in Phoenix. Then at some point he takes a job in Los Angeles where he will stay.
Let’s fact check this with what we know as fact - FACT, Winnie did in fact work as a medical secretary at Gunrow Clinic at some point. It is possible she may have worked as a governess for a time. FACT, Dr. Judd would take work and residence in Los Angeles. All the rest of the in-between bits? Could be fucking fairytales folks. Theres also a whole other element of this web following the LA line and not the Mexico line, that says Winnie had tuberculosis and went to Phoenix for the dry air. And of course, the TB storyline is ALSO up for debate. Thankfully things get a weeeee bit more clear from this moment on.
So Winnie’s in Phoenix, however the hell she got there, she’s working at this clinic and she makes a couple girlfriends, two chicks from either Alaska, Oregon or North Dakota who some say THEY had TB and moved to Phoenix for the dry air, who the fuck knows, so these two possibly TB sufferers are X-ray technician Agnes Anne LeRoi aged 32 and her roomie Hedvig Sammy Samuelson age 24.
The three girls are thick as thieves for a hot second, Winnie even lives with them for a while until tensions start rising and she moves back to her own little apartment. Why were tensions rising you ask? In order to tell that part of the tale we’ll need to take the train to adultery town because what fun is a murder story if there isn’t also an affair?
Enter 44 year old Phoenix business man and playboy John “Happy Jack” Halloran who was also married however according to his reputation, that didn’t much matter. He’s basically the greatest example of a wealthy philandering 1930s asshole. Jack and Winnie supposedly met when she was working as a governess to a wealthy family, I’m assuming it’s because he was also wealthy and perhaps through some social circle function met. I have read that they met through the clinic but that doesn’t seem as likely to me. Upshot is? They start screwin' and he’s apparently a good time. He’s well connected which means he has access to bootleg liquor, he throws parties, brings the party, IS the party and this causes some internal turmoil for Winnie since she herself IS still married although her and her husband are living in different states but she also grew up very religious and what she was doing was sinful, but not sin enough to stop.
The problem is, Anne and Sammy also apparently liked Jack. Is it possible they were also sleeping with him? I tend to subscribe to the notion that if a person is cool cheating with one person, they’re probably cool cheating with multiple and considering they all hung out, there was access and it sounds like everyone was willing…..very likely Jack was putin' it to all of them.
This all leads us to the night we all came here for, October 16th, 1931. Winnie is at Anne and Sammies house. The story goes they got in a fight about who Jack really liked or more specifically, it is said that Winnie was getting jealous of shared affections which had caused a rift amongst the friends and she had come to their house to confront them. If you’re thinking this sounds very high school, you would be right except for some reason, someone brought a gun to this fight, or two but we’ll get to that. The story the courts went with was that during the argument, Sammy grabbed a gun and shot Winnie in the hand, they then struggled with the gun as Anne hit Winnie over the head with an ironing board, Winnie then shot Sammy dead and turned to shoot Anne. So now we have an injured Winnie and two dead women killed from .25 caliber bullets, or were they? On October 30th 1931, the Arizona Republic reported that a larger caliber gun was used to shoot Anne, however no autopsy reports ever included that information and no investigation into a second gun was ever pursued.
But back to the crime scene. I’m going to state the facts first, the FACT is the body of Sammy was hacked apart, and I mean messy - through the spine, decapitation, removing arms and limbs and then packed into steamer trunks and a hat box. Anne’s body for whatever reason, was not hacked but left intact and stuffed into a trunk, Maybe Sammy was bigger? Maybe Winnie was angrier at Sammy since she supposedly shot first? We’ll never know. Those trunks would be loaded on a LA bound train on October 18th, along with Winnie, who would be picked up by her brother Burton Mckinnel, a junior at USC who had no idea what his sister had just done.
Here’s just a little nasty fact, dead body parts? They smell bad, they leak and en route to LA, Winnie’s trunks caught the attention of baggage handler H. J. Mapes who noticed an awful smell emanating from the trunks. Thinking it was probably smuggled deer meat which for whatever the hell reason was a thing in the 30s, Mapes sent a message ahead to Arthur V. Anderson, the district baggage agent for LA. When the train arrived at Union Station, Anderson asked Winnie for the key to the trunks, she said she didn’t have it and left the station with her brother and without her trunks. By 4:30 that same day, Anderson finally called LAPD, these trunks fucking smelt bad and now they were oozing blood and this chick had just left them there. The police come, they pick the locks and tumbling out are the body parts of Anne and Sammy. OK maybe they didn’t tumble but it’s a good albeit disgusting visual.
Meanwhile, Winnie has abandoned her brother and she hides out for a few days but then this chick TURNS HERSELF IN on Oct 23rd, 1931. Why did she turn herself in? Perhaps it was her religious upbringing and guilt? Perhaps it was because as we’ll learn, she believed she killed in self defense therefore perhaps she thought it would be better to come clean in order to lessen the punishment? Whatever the reason, Winnie is now in police custody and was sent back to Phoenix to await trial.
Before we get into the trial, we need to go back in time to October 19th, the day after Winnie arrived in LA and the trunks were discovered. Once word got out that two Phoenix women had been murdered, the cops and macabre looky-loo’s absolutely trashed the crime scene. According to the cops, both mattresses were missing when they first arrived at the scene of the crime, an observation that led them to believe the killings happened in the bed while the two women were asleep, a theory they maintained the entire trial.
The murder trial began Jan 19th 1932 and this shit is wild. First of all, the media attention of this thing was insane, I mean there was even a sort of nursery rhyme created around it. But even crazier is not once was the dismembering mentioned in the trial, in fact, Winnie would only be tried for the murder of Anne who’s body was intact. I can not find a single reason why that is, especially since all the papers had already released the details of the gruesome scene so it’s not like they were shielding the public from something too graphic for print. The whole defense of Winnie was basically that she was crazy and acted out of self defense. Her brother, parents and husband all were there for her throughout the trial. Tons of their letters have survived where they essentially are begging her to come clean and answer to God. The Prosecution argued that the murders were a premeditated and that she had shot herself in the hand to bolster the self defense plea. Not once did Winnie take the stand in her own defense. However, on Dec 30th of 1932, she released a statement that said
"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”
This was sort of a bombshell moment for the trial and they actually indicted Jack for being an accomplice to murder but just like Winnie, Jack never took the stand. Instead, his defense was that these claims were that of, "a mad woman" and in 1933, Jack was released of all charges despite Winnie claiming he was there that night, despite his car being spotted outside the house the night of the murder, despite the power he had in the town and a letter from a doctor that came out and then disappeared stating Jack had forced him to come take care of these bodies. Despite there being SO MUCH that makes sense about Winnie having help and not having acted alone….Jack walked free. Winnie however would not. February 17th 1933, Winnie Ruth Judd was sentenced to death by hanging after the conviction of first degree murder. Four jurors would later claim they had only agreed to that sentencing after being pressured by the Mayor to do so, claiming it would be the only way to get her to divulge her accomplices. Appeals on the basis of misconduct were not approved.
Winnie would survive the noose though when a 10 day trial in April of the same year argued that she was mentally incompetent and her death sentence was overturned and she instead was committed to the Arizona State Asylum for the Insane. Heres where things get fucking nuts, or even more nuts. This chick escapes SIX freakin times, the last time in 1963 where she just unlocked the front door and walked out. They found her SIX YEARS LATER living in the Bay area working for a wealthy family under the alias Marian Kane. When she was found, she used the money she’d earned to hire a good attorney to argue for her release. After a series of events, trials and secret deals, December 22nd, 1971 Winnie Ruth was released on parole. 12 years later, Arizona would grant her an absolute discharge. Winnie then moved to Stockton, California, a great place to go if you never want to be found or bothered because it’s Stockton and it’s awful and she lived there until her death in 1998. Surprisingly, not a single reporter had ever interviewed her until a woman named Jana Bommersbach took an interest in her story and ended up writing a book on the trial from the information that Winnie had given her. Winnie maintained that she was acting in self defense and Jana, the only reporter to interview and sit with Winnie and truly listen to her side, firmly believes that Winnie was the fall girl for Jack.
Theres really no happy ending to this story. Whether Winnie killed in a cold blooded jealous rage or was framed by the man she thought she loved...it’s all just bad. According to Winnie, she’d arrived that night to play bridge with the girls so perhaps the biggest lesson here is, never bring a gun to a bridge game, especially if you are all in love with the same man.