Apr 28, 2023 - News

Judd was famous as "Trunk Murderess," but there's more to the story

A window of a house with images of two women with candles in front of them on one side, and a woman with a mysterious man's silhouette behind her on the other side.

Window art depicts Agnes Anne LeRoi and Hedvig "Sammy" Samuelson on one side, and Winnie Ruth Judd with a shadowy figure behind her on the other. Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

Thursday's "Where in the Valley?" photo depicted a house at the corner of Second street and Catalina drive in central Phoenix. But it's not just any house. It's the house from the famous Winnie Ruth Judd murder case.

Catch up quick: Judd, aka "the Trunk Murderess," was at the center of what might still rank as Arizona's most infamous murder case.

  • She took a train in 1931 to Los Angeles with baggage including two trunks and suitcases that contained the remains of her friends and former roommates, Agnes Anne LeRoi and Hedvig "Sammy" Samuelson.
  • Judd claimed self-defense but was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
  • A judge declared her mentally ill shortly before her scheduled hanging and she was instead incarcerated at the state hospital, where her many escapes became the stuff of local lore. At one point, she was free and living under an assumed name in California for six years.

Yes, but: There was a lot more to the case than the sensationalist coverage of the day indicated, especially when it comes to evidence that Judd may have been railroaded to protect "Happy" Jack Halloran, a wealthy, influential and married lumberman with whom she'd been having an affair.

Between the lines: Longtime Arizona reporter Jana Bommersbach, who wrote the definitive book on the case and befriended Judd years after Gov. Jack Williams commuted her sentence in 1971, said her belief is that Judd killed Samuelson in self-defense and Halloran killed LeRoi.

  • Halloran had given money and gifts to LeRoi and Samuelson in exchange for using their home as a party house. They were upset that Judd introduced him to another woman whom they worried would take his attention and resources, Bommersbach explained to Axios Phoenix.
  • Judd recalled shooting Samuelson and LeRoi before LeRoi knocked her out with an ironing board, and she said she woke up next to the bodies.
  • Bommersbach believes LeRoi was still alive when Judd went home, and that Halloran went back to finish her off after Judd told him what happened.

What's next: Phoenix attorney Robert Warnicke bought the house in 2015, saving it from demolition, and tells Axios Phoenix he plans to convert it into his law office.

Of note: LeRoi and Samuelson's former home isn't the only remaining site in Phoenix with ties to Judd. She worked as a secretary at the Grunow Clinic — known as the Grunow Memorial Medical Center — at Ninth Street and McDowell Road.


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