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LAistory: Something Smells at the Train Station

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This story didn't happen at Union Station. It was about four years too early for that. But at least in reading the story, we can imagine that it happened there, as all good noir stories should.

It was 1931, and something fishy was going on. The train from Phoenix had pulled in on time, now all the luggage was gone, except two trunks -- that stank so badly, the porters wished it was fish.

It wasn't unusual for passengers to travel at the time with raw meat in their possession (mostly hunting trophies), the porter was made suspicious by the behavior of the young woman who claimed the trunks (after they had been sitting around for hours.) Winnie Ruth Judd stuttered some excuses and got out of there. The security guards opened the trunk to the lurid vision of a face looking up at them.

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The bodies of two women were in the trunk, her supposed best friends, Anne Le Roi and Hedvig "Sammy" Samuelson. The police picked her up days later, bedraggled and hungry, whereupon she was returned to Phoenix to face trial. In 1931, Ruth, as she was called, was 26. She had been married to a doctor with a drug habit, and after two failed pregnancies, she contracted a touch of tuberculosis and left her husband in Mexico to travel to Phoenix. She had a job as a nurse there. She got a bob and began living fast in a city which still had something of the wild west outpost about it.

Jack Halloran became involved with Ruth and her friends. There's little question that he had a relationship with Ruth, and he may have had some sort with Anne and Sammy as well (though some tales paint them as lesbians.) The way Ruth later told the story, Ruth introduced Jack to an attractive friend and Sammy and Anne became very jealous. There were threats -- the kind that could destroy lives and reputations. Then Sammy attacked her with a gun and they struggled. Ruth was shot in the hand. Anne beat Ruth with an ironing board, imploring Sammy to finish Ruth off. Ruth got the gun, and fired it wildly, killing Anne and Sammy.

Over the course of the night, she called Jack Halloran (who was rich and powerful) and he said he would help her cover up the crime. He arranged the trip to Los Angeles, put Anne in the trunk and ended up dismembering Sammy to make them both fit. He said he would arrange for her to be picked up in Los Angeles, and then they could dispose of the bodies in the desert there. But he didn't.

The papers painted a picture of Ruth Judd as a femme fatale, a murderess, and an adulteress. Some people were hard pressed to figure which was worse. At her trial, it was said that she killed her friends in cold blood (there was little evidence of premeditation, and she had obviously been beaten.) She was quickly convicted and sentenced to death. Jack Halloran was never even called to the stand.

As Ruth waited in prison to die, her cause was taken up by a number of people, and on the eve of her death, it was decided that she would be able to tell the grand jury her story. As a result, Jack Halloran was indicted but failed to be convicted -- Ruth fell apart on the stand testifying against him. It was thought that he bought his way out, though they claimed that it was only Ruth's spurious vendetta against him that had him in court at all.

The trial turned public sentiment in Ruth's favor. It was determined that she was not competent and she was institutionalized. Once there, she seemed most sane. She was kind, helpful and seemed more like one of the employees. There was just one problem. She kept escaping. She escaped seven times -- the last for seven years. She lived under an alias, working as a servant in California. After she returned, she was released. She died at 93 in her sleep in 1998.

Many claim they believe she was taking the rap for Halloran -- he bragged as much in some society parties. One thing can be sure. She had some good luck, but she didn't get a fair shake.

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Photos by Jacy for LAist

LAistory is our series that takes us on a journey to what came before to help us understand where we are today. So far we've been to Val Verde, Thelma Todd's Roadside Cafe, a house in Beverly Hills, Echo Park's Bonnie Brae House, Marineland of the Pacific, and Grand Central Air Terminal, Wrigley Field, the moment LA got its name, the wreck of the Dominator, 1925 "Hollywood Subway." the Pink Lady of Malibu, the Lions Drag Strip, to Disneyland (when it was cheap to get in!), what might be the ugliest building in the city, and Union Station--and back again to check out the Fred Harvey Room.

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