In 1927, Ruth Snyder plotted with her lover, Judd Gray, to murder her husband for his insurance policy. This crime of passion and greed became a tabloid sensation that led to the first photo of an electrocution.
This simple story ignited passions at a time when everyone was thirsty for something. With a taste for flesh, blood and eyeballs, the tabloids ate it up. Damon Runyan had a field day with the murder and trial, and the NY Daily News swiped right into the annals of journalism with a shot that shocked the nation.
Housewife and Mother
HENRY “JUDD” GRAY
Something Under the Bed is Jewelry
After several sloppy attempts which included poisoning and strangulation, Ruth Snyder and her lover Judd Gray killed Albert Snyder. The inept adulterers used a 4-pound window sash weight and a picture frame wire to bludgeon him to death. They had hoped to cash in on Albert’s life insurance policy. When Sgt. Flattery arrived at the scene, it didn’t take long for the lovers to give each other up.
The Snyders met when Albert was an art editor and Ruth a secretary at Hearst-owned Motorboat magazine. When they married, Ruth left her position to become a full-time housewife and mother. After years of feeling bored and ignored, Ruth entered into an extramarital affair with Judd Gray, a corset salesman.
The morning after the murder, Ruth Snyder told police that “two giant Italian men” had broken into her Queens, New York home and knocked her out. They then proceeded to tie her up in the hallway, steal her jewelry and kill her husband. The couple’s daughter, eight year old Lorraine, found her parents the next morning. Her father was brutally bludgeoned and garroted. Her mother was hogtied, but not tongue tied.
Leafing through Ruth’s checkbook, the detective asked the woman a simple question: “What about Judd Gray?”
Snyder gasped, “Why? Has he confessed?”
He hadn’t. But Ruth might as well have. Her description of the attack and the cheap jewelry found under the mattress confirmed that her story was a little over the top. Further questioning led to quick confessions from both suspects – each blaming the other for the crime.
This real-life “Dumbbell Murder” is indemnified in Hollywood history. With a steamy plot of sex, money, greed and stupidity, it was the story of the century for reporters like Damon Runyon, James M. Cain and the dame who was Rudy Valentino’s widow. It was also the big case that led to a successful career for Detective Henry Flattery.
Cameramen line up outside the Queens County Courthouse in Long Island City where the murder trial for Ruth Snyder and Henry Judd Gray was held.
The subsequent trial, in which the conspirators turned on each other, brought with it a media frenzy. Both Ruth and Judd were found guilty and faced the electric chair on January 12, 1928.
Officials at Sing Sing made it clear that no photographers were to be present at the execution. But the public wanted to see, and the Daily News obliged.
The Daily News hired Tom Howard for the task. Tom wouldn’t be recognized; he was from the Chicago Tribune. He was able to get past the guards and into the execution chamber with a camera strapped to his leg.
Ruth Snyder’s execution made history by being “the first known image of a execution at Sing Sing and the first photograph of an electrocution;” the NY Daily News dubbed the now-iconic, secretly-obtained photo “the most famous sneak shot photo in tabloid history.”