Longform

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

Winnie Ruth Judd is the stuff of legend. She murdered her two best friends one night in 1931, the story goes, and then, perhaps with help from an accomplice, cut one of them into pieces, packed both bodies in a couple of trunks, and hopped the Sunday night train to Los Angeles, her gruesome luggage in tow.

Her case was as big in the early 1930s as O.J. Simpson's was in the mid-'90s. It became international news and, more than 80 years later, has never really left us. Sentenced to the state mental hospital in 1933, Ruth managed to make headlines for decades by escaping seven times. The last time she escaped, in 1962, she stayed gone for seven years, relocating to northern California and becoming Marian Lane.

After her parole in 1971, her story took on a second life as the subject of bestselling books, whodunit websites, even a motion picture in which all the characters were played by marionettes.

Three new books about the case are forthcoming.

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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