Who Was Ruth Snyder?

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Who was Ruth Snyder?

Ruth SnyderWhen you realise that the image above shows the final moments of Ruth Snyder’s life, then it becomes evident that she was a murderer.

She was executed on January 12th, 1928 at Sing Sing. She was the first woman to be executed using the electric chair.

Her lover, Henry Judd Gray, suffered the same fate. Together, they had murdered Ruth’s husband.

The story had begun ten years before the executions. Albert Snyder was the lonely and balding art editor of Motor Boating magazine.

He found himself infatuated with a secretary who also worked there. She was thirteen years younger than he was – her name was Ruth Brown.

Although they were married within four months of their meeting each other, the marriage was doomed to failure. After just two days, Ruth told a friend that she actually didn’t like her husband.

Albert refused to remove a photograph that was displayed in their home of his former fiancee who had died. There were various mementoes of her throughout the house.

Albert wanted a quiet domestic life but Ruth hankered after bright lights and parties. Having a husband who wouldn’t accompany her – and who she didn’t really like anyway – she started to go out alone to socialise.

In 1925, she met her lover-to-be, Judd Gray. He was hardly an appealing prospect. He was a travelling salesman who worked  for the Bien Jolie Corset Company. He was a skinny little chap who wore thick lensed, studious glasses.

Mind you, Ruth was no oil painting herself, being rather dowdy and dumpy. But nevertheless, an affair began between the two.

Ruth’s first move was to make sure that her husband was adequately insured. This included a clause that payment would be forthcoming even if her husband was to die a violent death. The clause was called ‘double indemnity’ and yes, the film of that name was based on this story.

She then tried hard to make sure he died. She tried various poisons, these didn’t work. She tried gassing him, with no luck. Albert Snyder stubbornly stayed alive. Desperate now, she consulted her lover and together, they devised a scheme for the perfect murder.Or so they thought.

Judd Gray travelled to Syracuse by train and booked himself into the Onondaga Hotel there. He made sure that plenty of people saw him, thus creating an abili. Then he sneaked out of the hotel and returned to New York and to Ruth. Further establishing his alibi, he persuaded a friend to go into his hotel room and make the room look inhabited and the bed appear to be slept in. So far so good.

Late at night, he arrived at Ruth’s New York home. Ruth had placed a heavy weight on the bedroom dresser and it was Gray’s job to simply enter the room where Albert was sleeping and use the weight to smash his skull. However, the skinny little man only succeeded in awaking his victim with the tentative blows. Ruth took over. The pair then stuffed chloroform up the victims nose and garroted him with a length of picture wire that Ruth had thoughtfully provided.

Then they went through the room making it look ransacked, the idea being that Albert had disturbed a burglar. Despite their careful planning, they didn’t think to make Ruth’s bed look slept-in. Gray tied Ruth up to make it look as though the burglar had done so, and wishing to blame the murder on foreigners, left an Italian newspaper at the scene. He then got a taxi to the station and returned to Syracuse.

What he didn’t realise was that his pitiful tip to the taxi driver would cause him to be remembered. The paltry five cent tip ensured that the driver who had taken him to the station was remembered. The police had been instantly suspicious of Ruth’s story. Property which was supposedly stolen was found hidden in the house. They were baffled by her strange attitude. In a curious twist of fate, the police found a note in the house signed by JG. When asked about it, in her panic Ruth asked ‘what does Judd Gray have to do with this? He knows nothing.’ This was the first the police had heard of him but soon traced him and he confessed, blaming Ruth for the entire scheme.

When the police searched his hotel room, they even found his train ticket from New York, showing that he had been in the city at the time of the murder.

A scandalous and notorious court case ensued. The public were fascinated by the story. Newspapers reported every word and it was said that more column inches were devoted to the trials than had been to the sinking of the Titanic. But the result was the execution of the two murderers.

Remember that Albert refused to take down the photograph of his late fiancee? And that the police wouldn’t have known about Judd Gray had it not be for the note signed by JG?

The note had been one of Albert’s mementoes. Her name had been Jessie Guishard.





Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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  1. Good story, not so good an ending for the two lovers…..in the end truth will prevail….

  2. Oh my goodness. What a tale! And what dumb murderers! Lucky for society that CSI television shows hadn’t been born yet. I’ve seen a version of this on several cop shows over the years. Writers have trouble besting reality sometimes, don’t they?

  3. Now you just know this is the kind of story I relish! Especially the kicker at the end. Loved your way of putting it this way “length of picture wire that Ruth had thoughtfully provided.” Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive, huh?? They weren’t very smart in so many ways! Thanks for this Jackie, I really enjoyed the story.

    • Thanks for dropping by, Nancy. Truth can definitely be stranger than fiction, can’t it?

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