Cover Story

Baggage Claim: One Writes About Murderess Winnie Ruth Judd at One's Own Expense

One must wait, on humid days, for the file boxes at the Arizona State Archives to come to room temperature before handling their contents. The boxes are stored at 55 degrees to slow the aging of the fragile paper they contain. It's worth the wait, if what one is doing is looking objectively at an 83-year-old murder case that rocked the nation and put Phoenix on the map in a particularly terrible way. If one is there seeking clues that have been overlooked or deliberately concealed by previous reporters covering the case, the archives are a treasure trove of revelations, some of them blatantly obvious in their importance to this long-notorious case.

I've visited the archives many times before and since publishing a feature this past September about Winnie Ruth Judd, the notorious Phoenix "trunk murderess" who became internationally famous in 1931 after killing her two best friends, Anne LeRoi and Sammy Samuelson, dismembering one of them, shoving both bodies into several pieces of luggage, and taking them on the night train to L.A.

See also: Ruthless: A Long-Lost Confession Letter May Finally Tell the Real Story of Winnie Ruth Judd

Researching and writing the story changed what I thought I knew about the Judd case. After it was published, I heard from Judd scholars who wanted to talk about motives and from people who complained that I hadn't shared my own theory. Others wanted to share their theories: Ruth was part of a prostitution ring; she was out of town when the murders happened; she was covering for someone else who'd committed the crimes while she was at a party. This gruesome story, I discovered, hadn't lost its macabre luster.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela