Ruth Snyder wanted out of her marriage – by any means necessary.
The striking young blond from Queens, New York, hated her husband Albert, a stodgy magazine editor nearly 15 years her senior. He had never gotten over the untimely death of his first fiancé, Jessie Guishard. He insisted on hanging a portrait of his former flame in the living room, and even named his boat after her. She was, as Albert bluntly told his wife, the finest woman he had ever met.
So Ruth started seeing a new man on the sly – a skinny corset salesman named Henry “Judd” Gray – and it didn’t take long for their pillow talk to turn to murder.
Ruth persuaded old Albert into purchasing a new life insurance policy – complete with a double indemnity clause. Then the illicit paramours hatched a plan to kill him off.
The only problem? Ruth and Judd made terrible murderers.
On the night of March 20, 1927, Judd crept into the Snyder home and hid in a bedroom closet. When Albert crawled into bed, Judd leaped out and cracked the man on the head with a window sash weight.
But Albert fought back wildly, forcing Ruth to join in.
“Momsie, for God’s sakes, help!” Judd reportedly cried.
Ruth and Judd finally finished the deed with a chloroform-soaked rag to Albert’s mouth and thick picture wire around his throat.
Panicked, the killers ransacked the house to make it look like a robbery – Judd even bound Ruth with cheesecloth before fleeing the scene.
When police arrived, Ruth offered a flimsy story about two Italian intruders who beat Albert to death and stole all her jewelry.
Another problem: The cops immediately found Ruth’s valuables – stashed under her mattress.
Then one detective noticed the name “Judd Gray” written in an address book. He nonchalantly asked: “What about Judd Gray?”
Ruth bristled. “Has he confessed?”
And just like that, the star-crossed lovers were sunk.
The ensuing court case enthralled New Yorkers. Scandal-hungry newsmen covered every sordid detail. One journalist even dubbed the whole mess “the dumbbell murders,” as the killers were so clumsy.
During the trial, Judd and Ruth desperately tried to pin blame on the other – but it was all in vain. On May 13, 1927, they were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death by electric chair.
The couple was executed at Sing Sing prison on January 12, 1928, and Ruth was the first woman put to death there since 1899.
A group of journalists attended the executions, and as the electricity surged through Ruth’s body, one reporter lifted his pantleg to expose a hidden camera fastened to his ankle. The SUBSEQUENT SNAPSHOT of a convulsing Ruth Snyder strapped into Sing Sing’s “Old Sparky” made front-page news the following morning. It remains one of the most notorious news images of all time.
This article originally appeared in The Lineup.