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She Had To Die!
One of Ruth Snyder’s Crimes Was Murder
October/november 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 6
It was the detectives—all men—who first found Gray such a likable fellow and passed on to the public as fact his story that he had been bewitched and dominated. As it happened, in their initial confessions both Snyder and Gray lied, and with increasingly bitter recriminations each blamed the other for the actual killing, but the police believed Gray; and even when he later changed his story, neither he nor they gave up the theory that he had been the woman’s puppet. In court the jurors were still by law in New York all men; they were all at midlife, married, with children—men very much like the dead Albert Snyder, or Judd Gray. Women, for their part, judged Ruth Snyder no more generously; she repeatedly appealed for the sympathy of wives and mothers, and apparently received none. Women journalists found her “unfeminine” and unsympathetic, and the wife of one of the jurors publicly expressed her hope that her husband could not be swayed by such a “brazen woman.” Snyder thought that women jurors would see her “side of the case better than a crowd of men” because they would “know the complications and cross-currents of domestic life,” but an informal press jury made up of six female and six male reporters condemned her to death. Women, like men, accepted the officially sanctioned version of the case.
Snyder and Gray had to be judged differently because they were not weighed on the same scales of justice. Ruth Snyder was marked as a “bad woman” from the moment she met Gray. It was bad to send him a note, bad to visit his office for a “corset fitting,” bad to have sex with him. And as the Post noted, when Snyder took the stand to face the prosecutor, she seemed to be on trial “for adultery instead of murder.”
Judd Gray, on the other hand, until he participated in killing Albert Snyder, had done nothing wrong. Officially adultery was frowned upon for both sexes, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., touted a single sexual standard—including marital fidelity for all—in an editorial for the Mirror; but off the record, men knew better. That is why playwright and Post columnist W. E. Woodward could approve Gray’s assessment of himself—“I have always been a gentleman and I have always been on the level with everybody”—although “everybody” obviously did not include Gray’s wife.
Gray had established his alibi for the murder with the help of an old friend, Haddon Gray (no relation), who posted two letters to Judd’s wife, rumpled his bed in the hotel, and hung out a Do Not Disturb sign to make it appear that Judd was still in Syracuse when in fact, so far as Haddon knew, he was really visiting a girl friend. Haddon even lied to the police, maintaining his friend’s alibi, until he learned that Judd had confessed to murder. When Haddon Gray took the stand at the trial to tell the truth, he was described in the press as a loyal friend and a true gentleman who had bravely done what any man would do for a good pal: lie so the man could visit his girl friend without his wife’s knowledge. To some commentators even Judd Gray’s elaborate plans for the murder seemed a harmless amusement. Columnist Woodward speculated in the Post that “this mild corset salesman” probably was entertained on “his lonely trips” by the thought “of crushing a rival, of being a strong, brutal caveman.” And just before the murder Gray had wrapped the sash weight in paper so it wouldn’t hurt Snyder quite so much—a “humane” gesture that showed that Gray was a “kindhearted man at bottom.” Playwright Willard Mack echoed in the Mirror that Gray had “never been a murderer in his heart.” He was simply, to one courtroom observer, the admirable “kind of fellow who’d do anything in the world for somebody he liked.” Snyder and Gray, who had sinned together, could not be judged alike. If they had stopped short of murder, Ruth Snyder would still have been a “bad” woman while Judd Gray would have been merely a regular fellow. As it was, Gray seemed to be what the papers called him: a poor boob, “a bunch of dough that somebody forgot to knead,” a man who couldn’t “put up a croquet set without help.”
The Snyder case as media event was meant almost exclusively for the edification of women. Gray’s sister, Margaret Logan, touched upon the need for the lesson in her prepared statement to the press during the trial: “I never before realized how much tragedy is concealed in houses all around us. This is created by evil women. Most of their depredations upon happy domestic life don’t become public. Few come to such a dreadful pass as the catastrophe in our own family.” With woman cast as the source of evil, as Eve in league with Satan, all the old-fashioned notions of chivalry were turned inside out. Ruth Snyder became a fiend “unworthy of the chivalry, protection and consideration which right thinking men have always accorded decent womanhood.” So when one of Snyder’s attorneys, summing up her case, made a misguided plea for chivalry, he was answered by titters from the audience. As the Post reporter described it: “He was a knight fighting a battle of terrific odds for a golden damozel disguised as a blonde, fattish and ice-hard housewife.”