A loveless marriage, an illicit affair and a bungled murder…
On 20 March 1927, Albert Snyder was found murdered in his bed. His wife Ruth had been tied up, knocked out by burglars, the house ransacked.
Only, the police were immediately suspicious, and slapped Ruth in handcuffs. As one detective said, ‘It don’t look right…’
It was the Roaring Twenties, and the trial of the decade was about to begin in New York.
Ruth Snyder and Henry ‘Judd’ Gray stood accused of murdering her husband Albert for a hefty insurance payout.
Celebrities packed the public gallery. The country’s top journalists sat poised, notebooks in hand, ready to record every sordid detail.
It’d started back in 1925…
Long Island housewife and mother Ruth Snyder, 32, and married corset salesman Judd Gray, 34, were enjoying lunch at separate tables in a fashionable Manhattan cafe.
A mutual friend introduced them and attraction crackled.
Ruth was tall, blonde and of Scandinavian descent. Gray was fit, handsome and eager to please.
‘Mr Putty,’ the Press would later call him.
Bored with her 11-year marriage to Albert, 45, Art Editor of Motor Boating magazine, Ruth set her sights on Judd.
In no time, the couple had embarked on their illicit affair. Snatching moments at the Snyder home while Albert was at work and their daughter Lorraine was at school. Or they’d meet at the Waldorf Astoria hotel.
So often, in fact, that the bellhops knew their nicknames for each other. She was his ‘Momsie’, he was her ‘Bud’.
Only, by 1927, things had turned sinister.
Ruth changed from a sex- obsessed housewife to a woman with murder on her mind.
She tried to convince Judd that Albert mistreated her and needed to be killed.
Judd wasn’t keen, but Ruth kept on. She demanded he help her get rid of her husband.
She even took out a life-insurance policy on Albert, worth $48,000 (around £37,000).
Unsettled, Judd turned to strong Prohibition booze.
Finally, he gave in.
On Saturday 19 March 1927, Judd crept into the Snyder home through the back door, while the family were at a bridge party.
He hid in the spare room, where Ruth had laid out the tools he’d need: a 4lb window weight, rubber gloves, chloroform…
Once the Snyders returned, Judd ambushed Albert in bed, slugging him with the weight, as Ruth looked on.
But it quickly went wrong. The clumsy blow glanced off Albert’s skull, and he fought back.
‘Momsie, for God’s sake, help!’ he cried.
Disgusted, ruthless Ruth grabbed the weight and crashed it down on her husband’s skull, killing him.
Albert was then garroted with a picture wire, his nose stuffed with chloroform-soaked rags.
Next, the pair staged a robbery, loosely tying Ruth’s hands and feet.
After Judd had left, Ruth wriggled to Lorraine’s room.
She banged on her 9-year-old daughter’s door, and told her that burglars had knocked her out, tied her up.
The police were called, and New York’s finest were soon on the case.
They found Albert Snyder dead, the house ransacked.
Ruth claimed that jewellery was missing.
But the police weren’t fooled.Ruth was carted off and questioned for hours, told they knew the burglary was faked.
‘How can you tell?’ she gasped.
‘It don’t look right,’ a detective told her. ‘We see lots of burglaries. They aren’t done this way.’
The evidence stacked up.
Ruth said she’d been hit on the head by ‘a tall man with a dark moustache’ and knocked out for five hours.
Yet she had no bruise or lump. No doors or windows had been forced – the intruder had been let in.
The missing jewellery was found hidden under a mattress.
Then there was the life-insurance policy – and Ruth had paid extra for a bigger payout in the event of a violent death.
And, finally, the murder weapon… The weight had been stashed in the basement.
It didn’t take police long to find out about her lover, either.
The detective asked Ruth, simply, ‘What about Judd Gray?’
‘Has he confessed?’ Ruth gasped.
He hadn’t – but she may as well have.
Gray was found hiding in a hotel room 250 miles away. He claimed he’d not been in New York, but a train-ticket stub proved otherwise.
Rumbled, both killers quickly confessed, but each claimed the other was the brains behind the bungled murder.
The trial captured the public’s imagination.
By then, the two lovers were at each other’s throats, blaming one another.
The jury took 98 minutes to find them both guilty and they were sentenced to death.
Celebrated reporter Damon Runyon wrote that Snyder and Gray were ‘inept idiots’ and called it the Dumbbell Murder. Not because of the murder weapon, but ‘because it was so dumb’!
Another crime writer called it a ‘cheap crime involving cheap people’.
Snyder died in the electric chair in Sing Sing jail, on 12 January 1928. Gray followed minutes later.
A grisly end to a sorry tale.