On Jan. 12, 1928 Ruth Snyder became the first woman to be executed in New York State in the 20th century. She and her lover, Judd Gray were convicted of murdering her husband, magazine editor Albert Snyder. The bumbling duo were so inept that the crime earned the dubious distinction as the "dumb-bell murder".
Judd Gray was described as a soft-spoken, courteous, and unassuming man. He was slightly built, with dark hair and wore thick glasses. He was born in 1882 and from the crib he was groomed to take over his father's jewelry business. He was an obedient and mindful child who usually conformed to his family's wishes. He had a very strong bond with his mother and was admittedly a mama's boy. He went to work for his father as planned but eventually left the business and obtained a job with the Bien Jolie Corset Company.
He married his childhood sweetheart, Isabel, and they had one child, a daughter. Even though they had been married for over ten years he was unhappy in his marriage. His wife was shy and self-effacing. She did not possess the strong character that he attributed to his mother. Yearning for an emotional connection and physical passion that was sorely lacking in his marriage made him ripe for the picking on that fateful day in June of 1925 when he caught the eye of Ruth Snyder.
n June of 1925 when Albert Snyder decided to take a vacation on his own with a few business associates, Ruth Snyder decided to go shopping in Manhattan with a friend of hers. They chose to dine at Henry's, a popular Swedish restaurant in mid-town. It was there through a mutual friend that Ruth was introduced to Judd Gray. They struck up a conversation that lasted for several hours in which they revealed intimate secrets to each other. Over the next few weeks they met frequently for lunch. Eventually their friendship blossomed into a romantic liaison. Their favorite trysting place became the Waldorf-Astoria where they would register as Mr. and Mrs. Gray. On several occasions Ruth was forced to bring her daughter along and she was left unattended in the lobby of the hotel while Ruth and Judd engaged in their afternoon bed-play.
Their insatiable desire for each other continued for nearly two years. From the very beginning Ruth was the dominant partner in the affair. As Gray's lawyer would later describe the relationship during his trial, "Ruth Snyder was a poisonous snake... who was abnormal, possessed of an all-absorbing sexual passion and animal lust which was never satisfied. Judd Gray was enslaved. Whatever she wanted, he did." The man might have just have had "sucker" stamped on his forehead. His willingness to blindly follow her lead allowed Ruth to lay down the groundwork that would ultimately lead to death of her husband.
All though they disagree on who broached the subject first, their conversation eventually turned towards Albert Snyder. Ruth wanted out of the marriage. She embellished upon her treatment at the hands of her husband casting her self as the victim of a brutal villain. Her stories were designed to rouse anger and hatred in Judd and to that end they eventually succeeded. When Ruth told Judd that Albert had threatened to kill her it was the final straw and the plan to kill him was set in motion.
Ruth had taken out several life insurance policies one of which was in the amount of $48,000 and had a double indemnity clause attached to it. Ruth needed an accomplice. On several occasions she had attempted to kill Albert herself, but she complained to Judd that he just wouldn't die.
Judd claimed that Ruth had admitted to him that she had tried to poison his food but it only made him sick. On another occasion she unhooked the gas line in the kitchen while he slept and left the house. When she returned instead of finding him dead he was outside on the front lawn complaining of a headache. Next she closed him inside the garage with the car's engine running and he still managed to survive. Apparently Ruth had never heard of the saying "quit while you're ahead." or behind as was in her case. On his part, it appears Albert never suspected that his wife was trying to kill him. He chalked the events up to a series of unfortunate accidents.
They agreed upon a plan as to how to commit the murder and set the date for March 7th. Judd spent the day drinking heavily to summon the courage. He even made it to the house but at the last minute was unable to go through with the killing. Ruth undeterred was eventually able to convince Judd to try again and this time she succeeded in obtaining her ultimate goal.
The date was set yet again, March 19th. Ruth, Albert and their daughter would be attending a party at their friend's house and they would be expected to be gone all evening. As the time grew near to set the plan in motion, Judd purchased chloroform, a large window sash weight, and picture wire. On Saturday, March 19th, the Snyders went to the party as planned. Before she left Ruth unlocked a back door and this time there would be no turning back.
On Saturday, March 19th, just as they had planned, Judd entered the Snyder's residence through the back door that Ruth had left unlocked. Again he had spent most of the day drinking in order to summon up the courage to go through with their plan. He hid in the spare bedroom when Ruth had left the instruments for murder he had purchased earlier. The family returned around 2 AM and Albert went directly to bed. Ruth put their daughter to bed and on the way to the bedroom she shared with her husband she checked to make sure that Judd was in the spare bedroom. After she was sure that her husband was sleeping Ruth led a drunken Judd to the master bedroom. Judd raised the sash weight and brought it down onto Albert's head. The pitiful blow merely grazed his skull, dazed but not incapacitated, Albert came out fighting. He was physically stronger than Judd and it was soon apparent that he would not be able to handle him by himself. Ruth jumped into the fray, picked up the sash weight and proceeded to crash it down on to her husband's skull. As Judd tied Albert's hands behind his back Ruth took a handkerchief laden-ed with chloroform and pressed it to Albert's nose and mouth. She then took the picture wire, tied it around Albert's neck and pulled hard. Albert finally lost consciousness and ceased all movement.
Once they were sure that her husband was dead, Ruth and Judd went to the basement. They removed their bloody clothes and threw them into the furnace. They then returned to the master bedroom where Ruth proceeded to give Judd one of her husbands shirts to put on.
Now it was time for them to stage the scene. Their plan was to make the killing look like a burglary. They emptied the contents of the dresser onto the floor and scattered some items about the room. Now here is where they get real brilliant. Ruth took her jewelry box, placed it in a bag and hid it under her mattress. Then she laid down on the floor and had Judd tie her hands and feet and put cheesecloth over her mouth. Judd left the house and walked to the nearest bus stop. Maybe it was because of the amount of liquor he had consumed, but for some strange reason Judd Gray did everything in his power to make himself as conspicuous as possible. First he struck up a conversation with an elderly gentleman who was also waiting for the bus. Next he spotted a policeman walking his beat and asked him when the next bus was due. And as if that wasn't enough when he got off of the bus at the Jamaica station he hailed a taxi and the cheapskate gave the driver a nickel tip.
Meanwhile back at the Snyder residence, Lorraine Snyder was wakened by the muffled, but unmistakable voice of her mother. Again without regard for her feelings, Ruth used her daughter as part of her plan. The child walked into the master bedroom and was exposed to the site of her father beaten and bloody on the bed and her mother tied up on the floor. The child went to a neighbor's house and the police were summoned to the scene. When they arrived it soon became apparent that something was fishy.
When the police arrived, the scene was utterly chaotic and a tad bit overdone. The place was trashed beyond what would be expected for a burglary. There were no signs of forced entry and the loaded pistol Albert kept under his pillow was never used. Surely Ruth knew it was there. And then, big surprise, the police somehow managed to find her carefully hidden jewels under the mattress. The police also found a handwritten phonebook belonging to Ruth with the name H. Judd Gray. They also found evidence of a check made out to Judd for $200. When questioned Ruth denied knowing him. A missing pillowcase was found in the hamper covered in blood. She couldn't come up with a good explanation for that one. Ruth claimed that she had been unconscious for several hours, however when examined by the medical examiner on the scene there was no evidence of bruising on her head.
Based on all the inconsistencies the police decided to take Ruth to the old Jamaica Town Hall for further questioning. During their interrogation the police decided to trick her. They told her that Gray was taken into custody and had confessed to murder. Ruth folded like a two-dollar fan. She gave the police her statement admitting to helping with the murder.
Meanwhile detectives were dispatched to Syracuse to bring Judd Gray in for questioning. Something happened to Judd during the train ride back to New York City. He opened his mouth and his confession started pouring out. He was brought to the office of the District of Attorney where he repeated his confession and signed a formal statement. Within four days of their arrest Ruth and Judd were indicted for First Degree Murder. Ruth would quickly recant her confession stating that she had been coerced into signing the confession after being treated brutally at the hands of the police. She should not have even wasted her breath. Ruth Snyder was portrayed in the press as a cold-blooded, sex-crazed manipulator with a mystical power over men. There was no sympathy to be found for her by the majority of wives and mothers.
On the other hand, Judd Gray was often portrayed as the victim, as a good man who's life had been shattered by a diabolical temptress. Give me a break! On April 25, 1927 they would go on trial together.