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Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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Furious, Ruth stood up to go. She took her drink cup to drop it off in the kitchen sink. When she got there — well, something happened. Something involving a kitchen knife, a Colt .25 automatic, and possibly another, larger-caliber pistol.
Whatever it was, it resulted in Sammy getting stabbed once and shot three times, in the shoulder, chest, and head; Annie shot at least once, in the head; and Ruth shot in the left hand. Ruth found herself alone, wounded, in the kitchen, with her two ex-friends dead on the floor.
RUTH MADE HER WAY back to her house. Her plan was to call her husband, Dr. William, in California; but when she arrived at her apartment, she found Happy Jack waiting for her. Jack didn’t believe her at first, but when she brought him back to the scene and showed him the aftermath, he quickly took charge. He assured her that he would take care of everything, and helped her clean up the mess. Then he sent her home to bed and called in a marker from a physician friend, who came over and dismembered the corpses so that they would fit into a heavy steamer trunk — probably the one that Annie and Sammy had used to ship their clothes when they moved to Phoenix. The plan was to take the trunk out into the desert and leave it there, far away from anything, hopefully never to be found.
The next day, Ruth was scheduled for a shift at work, and she didn’t want to draw attention to herself by not showing up. When she got home, she found that Jack had changed his mind about taking the trunk out and dumping it in the desert. Instead, he wanted her to check it as baggage on the train, ship it to Los Angeles, and dump it in the ocean. If anybody asked questions, she’d have a great reason for going — her brother and her husband both lived there.
But the trunk turned out to be too heavy to ship. By the time Ruth learned this, Happy Jack had left the house; so Ruth had to repack the corpses into smaller luggage. She did this, managing to fit Sammy in one and most of Annie in another. Annie’s lower torso went into a smaller suitcase by itself.
And then Ruth was off to the train station.
BUT BY THIS TIME, the bodies had been dead for a good 48 hours. Even in late autumn, Phoenix isn’t always cool enough to keep decomposition at bay that long. The trunks apparently smelled OK when they went on board, but by the time they arrived in L.A. they had a distinctive smell about them that drew the attention of the baggage crew. One of the trunks was also oozing something liquescent and awful from one corner.
So when Ruth arrived with her brother to pick them up, the baggage handlers refused to release them unless they were opened for inspection. Ruth told them she didn’t have the key, and would go get it, and they hurried away. The baggage handlers took another sniff, and called the L.A.P.D.
When the trunks were finally opened, the police thought they would find a deer carcass in them; destination hunters who traveled to Arizona to stalk deer and bear sometimes tried to ship their kills home in trunks. Instead, when they opened the first lid, they found the glassy, sightless eyes of Agnes Anne LeRoi staring up at them.
BY THIS TIME Winnie Ruth Judd had, of course, gone on the lam. After the scene at the train station, she knew it was a matter of hours before the cat would be fully out of the bag; so she had her brother pull over and let her out of the car, and she tried to disappear. It didn’t work, of course; it never does. She was captured a few days later trying to hide out at a funeral parlor.
When the story got into the papers, it held the entire country spellbound. Ruth became “The Trunk Murderess” and “The Blonde Butcher” in headlines nationwide, and probably even a few overseas.
In Phoenix, civic boosters quickly closed ranks. In the battle for reputation and growth, small on-the-make cities in the American West could not afford the kind of reputation for lawlessness, cronyism, and anarchy that this story painted their town with. This is probably why almost everyone in Phoenix seemed absolutely determined to see her as a stone-hearted femme fatale of the Bridgid O’Shaughnessy type.
In court, the prosecution’s claim was that she’d snuck into the house and shot both the other women in bed, then chopped them up to fit in the trunks, gone in to work a shift, come home, shot herself in the hand so she could claim self-defense, and then was out the door for Los Angeles.
As a story, this narrative barely held together, and it shouldn’t have lasted a minute in court under competent cross-examination. The mattresses on which the victims had been supposedly shot — which would be soaked with blood if the story were true — had vanished, allegedly hauled away and disposed of by the 120-pound tubercular defendant, either on foot or in an unmentioned accomplice’s car (she did not, of course, have one of her own). Also, the cops had allowed the house where the murders took place to be thrown open for visitors to tour for ten cents a head, so there was no untainted evidence there at all. And, as soon became clear, the bodies had been dismembered by someone with surgical tools and surgical skills — neither of which Ruth had.
But the jury bought it. Her trial was short and one-sided. They sentenced her to hang.
At the last minute, she was judged insane and remanded to the state asylum, where she remained for many years. Finally, in 1971, her sentence was commuted; she moved to California and lived out the remainder of her life there, finally dying in 1998 at the age of 93.
“Happy Jack” Halloran, although he did manage to stay out of prison, didn’t get off completely unscathed. His days as a V.I.P. in Phoenix were over; his business backers pulled out, forcing him to sell his lumber yard for whatever he could get; and he sort of slunk out of town and disappeared from the historical record shortly afterward. He died in Tucson in 1939, in his early 50s.
As for Dr. William Judd, he seems to have never given up on his wife. She was still married to him when, in October 1945, he died at the age of 62.