Judd, Winnie Ruth (1905–1998)

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Judd, Winnie Ruth (1905–1998)

American known as the "trunk murderess." Name variations: Marian Lane. Born Winnie Ruth McKinnell on January 29, 1905, in Oxford, Indiana; died in Phoenix, Arizona, in October 1998; one of two children of a minister and a schoolteacher; married William C. Judd (a physician), on April 18, 1924; no children.

Winnie Ruth Judd was to Arizona what Lizzie Bordon was to Massachusetts. In one of the most notorious murder cases of the 1930s, the frail, sickly medical secretary, who had been born in Indiana but had moved to Phoenix for her health, was accused of killing two women, dismembering one of the bodies, and shipping all the remains (in two trunks and a suitcase) to Los Angeles via the Southern Pacific railroad. A baggage handler at Union Station noticed blood dripping from one of the trunks as Judd disembarked from the train on October 18, 1931. Asked to open the trunk, Judd instead climbed into the waiting automobile of her brother Burton McKinnell and fled. Apprehended by the police after several days on the run, Judd was indicted and went on trial in January 1932, with her husband at her side.

Through her lawyer (she never testified in her own defense), Judd alleged that she had argued with her former roommates, Hedvig "Sammy" Samuelson and Anne LeRoi , over Jack Halloran, a prominent Phoenix businessman with whom Judd was having an affair. As the argument grew bitter and escalated, Judd claimed that Samuelson had tried to shoot her, wounding her in the hand. Judd grabbed the gun, fired at Samuelson, then turned the weapon on LeRoi to fend off an attack with an ironing board. Judd further claimed that she was not present when Samuelson was dismembered and both bodies were placed in trunks, although she did admit to transporting them. Even at the time of her trial, many doubted that Judd could have acted alone; doctors reported that the hacked-up corpse had been dismembered with a surgical skill Judd did not possess. Even so, Judd was found guilty and sentenced to hang but was spared when her lawyer persuaded her to plead insanity.

Winnie Ruth Judd was committed to the Arizona State Hospital for the Insane in Phoenix from which she escaped seven times (once for a period of six years, 1962–68, during which she worked as a maid and companion for a wealthy blind woman in a mansion in Piedmont, California), only to be captured and returned again. In 1971, after 38 years, she was paroled by the state of Arizona and took up residence in California under the assumed name of Marian Lane, working for the same family that had previously employed her. She later lived in Stockton then moved back to Phoenix.

In her book, The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd, Phoenix-based journalist Jana Bommersbach revisited the case in depth, and even conducted a three-day interview with Judd, the first Judd had ever granted. Bommersbach's investigation revealed a massive cover-up, including suppression of evidence, an inept courtroom defense, and a biased juror. Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of the cover-up involved Jack Halloran, whose identity was kept out of the trial and the local papers because of his prominence, although he was indicted as an accessory to the crime. Evidence points to Halloran as having arranged to have Samuelson dismembered and then bullying Judd into transporting the bodies. "The whole criminal justice system was subverted to protect him," claims Howard Sauter, a private detective who has studied the evidence in the case. "The movers and shakers allowed all this to happen to her to protect the image, reputation, and marriage of Jack Halloran. Winnie was the sacrificial goat."


Bommersbach, Jana. The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

"Winnie R. Judd, 93, Infamous as 1930's 'Trunk Murderess,'" in The New York Times. October 27, 1998.

suggested reading:

Dobkins, J. Dwight, and Robert Hendricks. Winnie Ruth Judd: The Trunk Murders, 1973.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts