07 October 2006

My Dinner with a Murderer

In 1982, while I was still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was dating this really cute guy. He was a live-in worker on a doctor's estate in Danville. Sometime during the year we were together, he mentioned that a woman also lived on the estate and cared for this aging doctor.

"Do you know who Winnie Ruth Judd is?" he asked.

Of course I knew.

Back in 1932, in Phoenix, Judd (pictured) was tried and convicted of having murdered and cut up a couple people, stuffing their bodies in a trunk. My father had often told me stories about Judd, including that our family had a distant connection to the case: His mother worked at the state mental hospital while Judd was housed there (after she was declared insane). She was the stuff of Phoenix -- and family -- legend. (It is probable that she was innocent of the crimes, and had taken the fall for her boyfriend.)

I explained all this to my boyfriend, and asked why he asked. "I know her. She works on the estate." At this I nearly fell over. What a coincidence! He said she was using the name "Marian" and had invited us both over for dinner sometime.

There was no way I could refuse. A date was selected, and we went to her little apartment off the main house. Here was the nicest elderly woman I had ever met. She made us fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and peach pie. We sat and talked, and then said good night. I had been warned not to mention her past; so, despite the fact it was eating at me, I did not say a word. I always wondered whether this wonderful woman was really Judd -- or if my boyfriend was playing a joke on me.

About 10 years later, I heard that a journalism acquaintance of mine was writing a book about the case. I telephoned her, told her the story and asked: "Is it possible this Marian really was Winnie Ruth Judd?" She said not only was that the name Judd had been using, but that Judd was living in Danville in 1982.

I was stunned.

This telephone conversation occurred while Matt and I were still employed by our respective newspapers (me, the afternoon "Phoenix Gazette"; he, the morning "Arizona Republic") both owned by the same family. He suggested we go to the newspaper morgue and look at the official newspaper photographs of the case.

We did. We saw the coroner's photos of the chopped up bodies, photographs of the trunk, the official court photographs of Judd, everything. It was as if my father's tales had come full circle taking us right back to the time Phoenix was abuzz about the murders.

The story about Winnie Ruth Judd will be found here.

A recent newspaper article about an unofficial retrial for Judd is here.


Mass Bradley said...

You mentioned that she served you fried chicken.
You're certain that it WAS fried chicken, yes?

Christopher said...

Yes, it was chicken. I was, however, a little skittish going into the dinner thinking "Well, she hacked two people to death, why wouldn't she poison me -- just to do it?" But, the food was grand, and I survived to tell the tale.