The following is the first chapter from the book “True Crime Storytime Anthology: 84 Unforgettable & Twisted True Crime Cases Throughout History That Haunted People For Decades”

Chapter One

Ruth Snyder and Henry Judd Gray

A tale of two lovers so captivating it was turned into a film. Ruth Snyder is played by the alluring Barbara Stanwyck and the charming Fred MacMurray as Henry Judd Gray. Though the 1944 crime noir movie attracted audiences and won the acclaim of critics, the real-life scenario was nothing to be praised.

Nevertheless, the true affair and murder did consume the public’s thoughts and hold their interest for quite some time. A love so passionate the couple was willing to commit murder. It was scintillating.

Ruth and her lover would eventually meet the same fate, on the exact same day, death by electrocution. Their stories and lives are forever entangled. They would continue to capture the public’s attention even beyond death.

A stolen photo of Snyder’s last moments, taken by a camera hidden in the pant leg of a newspaperman, was run on the front page of the Daily News. The issue sold out in just fifteen minutes. The pair, which the movie Double Indemnity was based on, wanted anything but notoriety; however, they achieved it in spades.

Here is their sordid tale.

A Housewife From Queens

New York City in the Jazz Age. The setting of the Great Gatsby, home to gangsters and speakeasies, a playground for the rich and famous. Well, at least in the wealthier parts of the city.

The population of Queens nearly doubled in the 1920s. The subway system expanded, the automobile grew increasingly popular, and newly-built bridges made the borough much more accessible.

For some families, like the Snyder’s, an address in the Queens neighborhood was a move up in life. You were on your way, one step closer to the parties, the wealth, the celebrities. Unfortunately, Ruth Snyder didn’t share her husband’s sentiments and this was the beginning of the end. Mr. Snyder’s final scene would close with him being bludgeoned, suffocated with chloroform-soaked cotton, and strangled with picture frame wire.

Ruth Snyder was born Ruth Brown in 1895. Where she would eventually find herself living with her husband and daughter wasn’t too far from her place of birth, 125th Street, Manhattan. Her Scandinavian parents were average and of the working class. Like many immigrants of the time, they got by and that was enough.

But Ruth had higher aspirations. She completed the eighth grade and then left school; forsaking a formal education for a job with a telephone company. At night she took classes in both shorthand and typing. While she was a hard worker and one would believe she was determined to make a living for herself as a single woman, Ruth said she always “thought more of marriage than [of] a business career.”

Little did she know, her ticket to success was closer than she could have imagined. At nineteen, Motor Boating Magazine offered her a secretarial position. Ruth was dedicated but she was also spunky and lively, described as “gay” and “fun-loving.” A product of the 1920s, she possessed the energetic freedom and sometimes risky behaviors of her feminist peers, the flappers of the Jazz Age.

It is no surprise then that the magazine’s art editor, Albert Snyder, was intrigued by the company’s new sassy secretary. At thirty-two, he was thirteen years Ruth’s senior, but she didn’t mind his attention in the least.

She had far less experience than Albert in the romance department, a fact that may have contributed to the events to come. Albert was Ruth’s first true “gentleman friend,” and after courting for a few months they were engaged and shortly thereafter married.

At twenty years old, Ruth was now a housewife. It would be three more years before she was a model Queens housewife, the envy of her fellow secretaries.

Ruth’s aspirations of being a businesswoman slowly faded away. She was preoccupied with taking care of the home, then she became a mother. The couple named their daughter Lorraine and needing a bigger space, upgraded to a larger Bronx apartment.

Albert was successful at the magazine and was soon able to surprise his wife and child with an impressive eight-room home in Queens Village on Long Island. The Snyder family had finally arrived. Only, for Ruth, the ticket was to a lonely suburban life of cleaning, cooking, mending, and caring for her daughter.

Lonely and Looking for Love

Friends and acquaintances would eventually tell the papers that by 1925, Ruth possessed “everything that most women wish for.” Meaning, a house, an automobile, a radio, good furniture, money in the bank, protection, and an athlete for a husband. Albert was a good man and a faithful husband. He took pride in his wife, his child, and his home. He made little things to decorate the house and he was thrifty, but he also worked hard and late.

Sadly, friends and family failed to see that this model husband was also evil-tempered and pessimistic. Ruth’s mother got a glimpse behind the rosy curtain when she moved in with Ruth and Albert. Her daughter loved to go out, was cheerful, and sociable while her son-in-law was gloomy, a homebody, and generally uninterested in anything Ruth was.

What’s more, Albert never wanted children and the fact that their only offspring was a girl was a difficult blow. To say that Ruth and Albert were not well-suited would be an understatement.

Ruth’s mom would often overhear Albert telling Ruth how he wished she was more like his previous fiancée, Jessie Guischard, who passed away before they were to be married. If only Ruth could be more serious like her.

Ruth’s mother advised her to seek a divorce, instead, Ruth sought a lover.

A tall, blonde woman with a captivating personality, it wasn’t hard for Ruth to find a beau. She met a married, corset salesman named Henry Judd Gray at lunch one day. Another man her polar opposite, Henry was short, unremarkable, and quiet. Yet the pair got along fabulously and soon took up a passionate affair.

Albert worked at the magazine during the day and Lorraine, now nine, was in school. On the unfortunate occasions when Lorraine had a holiday, Ruth would leave her in a hotel lobby and sneak to a room upstairs with Henry. The couple was insatiable.

It is hard to say exactly when Ruth crossed from madly in love with another man to murderous. She was bored in her life, and she fought frequently with her husband. Maybe she was looking for excitement and a thrill. Maybe she saw a clear path out of a broken marriage, a plan too fail-proof to pass up. Whatever the case, she probably should’ve heeded her mother’s advice about legally ending her marriage before turning to murder.

Murder for Momsie?

Ruth and Henry had pet names for each other; he was called “Lover Boy” and she “Momsie.” When Ruth had made up her mind that her husband had to go, she began to work on warming Henry up to the idea of murder.

At first, she started with hints that Albert mistreated her, then she resorted to persistently nagging him and suggesting that he help her commit the crime. She slowly wore Henry down, though he was so adverse to the idea he took to drinking heavily.

When Ruth had resorted to begging, threatening, and finally demanding that Henry commit murder for Momsie, he gave in. The pair devised a plan.

Ruthless Ruth

Henry would take the train from Syracuse to New York, then he would hop a bus to Long Island and finally arrive in Queens. Henry’s old pal, Haddon Gray, agreed to assist with an alibi under the pretense that Henry was going to visit a girlfriend.

In order to dupe Henry’s wife, Haddon posted two letters to her in Henry’s name, mussed his hotel bed sheets, and hung a “Do Not Disturb” sign on his door. As far as anyone knew, Henry was still in Syracuse. However, he was up to something much more sinister than visiting a girlfriend a few towns over.

On Saturday, March 19, 1927, witnesses would recall that Henry seemingly wanted to be caught. He was spotted walking around Ruth’s neighborhood, drinking from a flask in broad daylight; begging for prohibition police to arrest him before he could carry out his lover’s dark deed.

But alas he wasn’t arrested, at least not yet. He quietly slipped into Ruth’s unoccupied home and waited in a spare room for the family to return from a party. Ruth had stocked the room with all the homicidal necessities: a window weight, rubber gloves, and chloroform.

When the family returned around two in the morning, Albert and the couple’s daughter quickly retired. Ruth went to visit “Lover Boy” for one last romp before they carried out their nefarious plan. After nearly an hour, the pair snuck into the master bedroom, Henry carrying the window sash weight.

When they arrived they found Albert sleeping deeply, his form completely covered by the blankets. Ruth stood on one side of the bed and Henry on the other. Henry raised the window weight, preparing to bring it down on the unsuspecting husband’s head.

Whether it was subconscious reluctance or lack of experience, the weight merely glanced off Albert’s skull. Enough to wake him but not do any real damage. He arose from the bed stunned but enraged, furiously trying to fight off his attacker.

Timid and terrified Henry shouted, “Momsie, Momsie, for God’s sake, help!” Ruth was unphased. She let out a grunt of disgust, realizing her lover was too weak to finish the deed and she would have to take matters into her own hands.

With steady fists she swiftly seized the weight and bludgeoned her husband’s skull, killing him almost instantly. But just to be sure, the pair shoved chloroform-soaked cotton balls up his nose and strangled him with picture frame wire.

That’s where the couple’s plan ended. What did they do now? With Ruth’s daughter Lorraine blissfully unaware of the recent events, she and Henry went downstairs for a nightcap and to discuss the missing details of their plan.

They decided to stage a robbery. They scattered some papers here, flipped over a few chairs there, and finally hid a few objects that Ruth would later claim as stolen. Henry then loosely bound Ruth’s hands and feet and slipped away into the night.

Lorraine was awoken by her mother, tied at the wrists and ankles, banging on her door. She ran to the neighbors to phone the police.

A Bad Breakup

The police were suspicious from the beginning, especially because the gruesomeness of Albert’s murder wasn’t consistent with typical break-ins. None of the signs pointed to robbery, and the most damning evidence was the fact that all of the items Ruth claimed were stolen, the police were able to locate in the Snyder residence. Her missing jewelry was recovered from under her very own mattress.

They turned up Ruth’s address book with the names of twenty-eight men, the window weight used to bludgeon Albert was found in the basement, and finally in the master bedroom a small pin. It was emblazoned with the initials J.G. for Jessie Guischard.

Albert was never without the token from his former fiancée, but police matched the J.G. to a name in the recovered address book — “Judd Gray.” A pin likely dropped by the murderer corresponding to a name in the vengeful wife’s address book? An unlikely coincidence.

When the police asked Ruth about Henry Judd Gray she asked, “Has he confessed?” Yes, he had the police told her. For reasons unknown, Ruth told the truth or at least a half-truth. She admitted to conspiring with Henry but claimed it was him who ultimately dealt the death blow.

Henry was found just a few short hours later, holed up in his hotel room. He put up a bit more of a front than Ruth, asserting his innocence and saying he was nowhere near the city. Until police presented the train ticket stub found in his hotel trash can. He confessed, blaming the whole messy murder on Ruth.

The final nail in the coffin for the pair was a double-indemnity insurance policy Ruth had taken out in Albert’s name for nearly one hundred thousand dollars in the event of his accidental death, just before his grisly murder.

The Dumbbell Murder Case

By the time the trial arrived for Henry and Ruth, the former lovers were more than spiteful. They each had separate lawyers proclaiming their innocence and declaring the guilt of the other. While sensational, the trial became known as the dumbbell murder case, for how dumb the whole poorly planned homicide was.

Henry claimed Ruth hypnotized and seduced him, convincing him to murder her abusive husband. Ruth stated that Albert “drove love out of the house” and that Henry assisted her in setting up the insurance policy to tempt her. In fact, Henry regularly took her to speakeasies, tried to convince her to smoke, and even once sent her poison to murder her husband. Henry was the bad influence while she was a pious homemaker, reading the Bible to her daughter and attending church on Sundays.

The media had a field day. Celebrities attended the trial, famous reporters worked overtime, and the authorities and medical coroners were running back and forth testifying in both ongoing trials. The ordeal became one of the top media events of the 1920s. The adultery and subsequent murder proclaimed a “cancer in the city” that was the epitome of many immoral behaviors taking place as of late.

The two former lovers would be made an example and authorities stated, they would “excise this social cancer and re-establish the old standards.” The tabloids took a different stance; detailing every forbidden touch, meeting, and behavior. This allowed the public to indulge in a buffet of voyeurism.

By the end of the trial, two things were apparent: the masses couldn’t get enough of the thought of sneaking away to a hotel for a mid-day hour of clandestine sex and respectable women did not smoke, drink, dye their hair, cross their legs, lunch out with strange men, or feel ingratitude toward their husbands.

Ruth and Henry may appear ordinary, but they were not, said the authorities. By the end of the trial, Ruth had been made out to be barely a human, much less a lady. She was referred to as “The Granite Woman,” “Vampire Wife,” or “Ruthless Ruth.”

This may have made it easier for the jury to deliver their verdict; Ruth was declared guilty and was sentenced to death by electrocution And Henry? He was just a “poor boob” duped by a woman and unable to stand up for his morals. He received a guilty verdict as well, receiving the same fate as his ex-lover.

Henry and Ruth were executed on the same day, January 12, 1928.

Henry was executed first. Witnesses said he was calm and of a clear conscience, having received a letter of forgiveness from his wife.

Ruth was electrocuted moments later. Her final thoughts making it clear she had learned the lesson the public so desperately wanted to teach her. She said, “If I were to live over again, I would be what I want my child to be—a good girl, really making the fear of God a guide to a straight life.”

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Written by : Sajjad A

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