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She Had To Die!
One of Ruth Snyder’s Crimes Was Murder
October/november 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 6
True femininity in this case was represented by the loyal, grieving mothers of the defendants, Josephine Brown and Margaret Gray. Judd’s mother, in particular, was a woman so dignified in her relations with the press that rumors she had made Judd a mama’s boy quickly were squelched. She was not blamed for his crime but left to wonder aloud, “Wherein did I fail?” Little was said during the trial about Gray’s wife, Isabel, who had gone into seclusion, but when she visited the prison after his conviction to forgive him, she was praised for displaying the loyalty of a “good little wife.” The daughters, Lorraine Snyder and Jane Gray, were greatly pitied because both had been deprived of a father’s love.
If there was to be a hero of the drama, amid this chorus of weeping women, it could only be Judd Gray; and curiously enough, with the old chivalric code upended, he was able to fill that role not by protecting his ladylove but by ratting on her. In the final days of the trial, Gray took the stand to redeem his manliness by telling “the truth”: Ruth Snyder committed the murder. Judd was there, of course. He never denied that. But, he said, he had tried to talk her out of it, tried to leave the house; he was powerless against her. So, incited by Ruth and a bottle of whisky, he struck the first blow with the sash weight, only to have Albert wake up and fight back. Unable to carry on, Gray called out, “Help me, Momsie.” And Momsie finished the job. At the end of his testimony Gray broke into tears that swept all skepticism away. As the Mirror put it, Gray “emerged from the mire into which he slipped wearing a crown that few achieve—the crown of truth.” Even the district attorney, summing up the state’s case against Snyder and Gray, called Gray “a decent, red-blooded, upstanding American citizen.”
Ruth had her own story to tell, but no one wanted to hear it. In court the attorneys and the judge kept telling her to answer yes or no and stop trying to explain. One paper said she “lied like a dog to save her own cheap hide.” There were things she never got a chance to say, so later, on death row, she wrote out her story for the Mirror —an erratic jumble of painful remembering, rage, religious platitudes, and grief. She had been a respectable and faithful wife, she said, until she met Gray, a sweet-talking commercial traveler accustomed to “selling” women. She fell in love with him, though she knew he saw other women: Alice in Rochester and someone called “Snooks.” But he started asking her for money—$90 here, $100 there—and suggesting that he might have to speak to Albert if she didn’t come up with it. She did as he asked—even though she wanted to break off the affair—for fear that in a showdown with Albert she would lose her daughter. The insurance policies and the murder, she claimed, were Gray’s idea; he talked about it whenever he was “liquor-logged” as he was almost all the time, but Ruth thought she could talk him out of it as she had done before. On the night of the murder she set out the bottle of bootleg whisky he demanded, but Gray, instead of taking the bottle and leaving, as she expected him to do, drank it and stayed. He was still there hiding when she and Albert came home from the party. After Albert went to sleep, she tried to persuade Judd to leave; and just when she thought she had succeeded, he went upstairs while she was in the bathroom and murdered Albert. And ever since, the “lying, cringing jackal” had been hiding behind her skirts.
On the face of it, Ruth Snyder’s story was no less plausible than Judd Gray’s. And while witnesses established that Gray had bought the murder weapons and set up an alibi well in advance, the only evidence that Ruth Snyder had participated in the murder was the testimony of Gray himself. Still, no one believed any part of her story. Even when she converted to Catholicism in jail, most New Yorkers who spoke to the Mirror ’s inquiring reporter about it thought she had converted only in hopes of winning a commutation from Catholic governor Al Smith. Writing her final story, Ruth Snyder asked, “Don’t the ‘outside’ believe ANYTHING I tell?” But she already knew the answer.