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Ruth Snyder-Judd Gray Trial: 1927

"her Fault Is That She Has No Heart"

If the jury had much to ponder, so did the public. The tabloids were filled with colorful analyses of the characters of the defendants. The Mirror hired a well-known phrenologist (one who studies the conformation of the skull based on the belief that it is indicative of mental faculties and character) to study photos of Ruth Snyder. His conclusion: Her mouth was "as cold, hard, and unsympathetic as a crack in a dried lemon." Natacha Rambova, a reporter best known as Rudolph Valentino's widow, wrote, "There is lacking in her character that real thing, selflessness. She apparently doesn't possess it and never will. Her fault is that she has no heart."

In one hour and 40 minutes, the jury decided to accept Gray's version: He had struck the first blow with the sash weight, Albert Snyder had groaned and turned, and Ruth Snyder had finished him off with blows of her own, after which they together applied the strangling wire and added chloroform-soaked cotton for good measure. Both were found guilty and sentenced to death in the electric chair at Sing Sing prison.

Appeals were filed. One sought a stay of execution on the grounds that Ruth Snyder was a necessary witness in a civil suit to force three insurance companies to pay the benefits of Albert Snyder's life insurance to his daughter Lorraine. Another appeal sought a writ of habeas corpus (release from unlawful confinement) for Gray on the grounds that his constitutional rights had been violated by the joint trial rather than a trial of his own. Both appeals were dismissed.

Ruth Snyder went to the electric chair at 11:00 P.M. January 12, 1928. She was the eighth woman put to death for murder in New York State. As the power surged through her body, a Daily News photographer in the reporters' pool crossed his legs, thus triggering a forbidden concealed camera to take an unprecedented picture. When Judd Gray was executed six minutes later, no one took a snapshot.

Bernard Ryan, Jr.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Jones, Ann. "She Had to Die." American Heritage, (October/November 1980): 20-31.

Sann, Paul. The Lawless Decade. New York: Crown Publishers, 1957.

Sifakis, Carl. The Encyclopedia of American Crime. New York: Facts On File, 1982.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Ruth Snyder-Judd Gray Trial: 1927 - "it Don't Look Right", "what About Judd Gray?", While Lorraine Was In The Elevators