Weird History

The Chilling Story Behind The Housewife Murderer Sent To The Electric Chair  

Genevieve Carlton
3.2k views 14 items

In 1927, Ruth Snyder plotted with her lover, Judd Gray, to murder her husband for his insurance policy. The clumsy murderers were quickly caught when a police detective tricked Ruth into confessing. The housewife murderer became a tabloid sensation; the press covered all the grisly details of the crime, even inventing Ruth Snyder facts to tantalize the public. For instance, somehow the brunette woman became blonde in the press. And the firestorm only grew when Snyder was sentenced to death by electric chair at Sing Sing – she became the first woman to be executed in 30 years. 

Unlike other controversial death penalty executions, most people agreed that Snyder was guilty. But her electric chair execution transformed into the biggest tabloid story of the 1920s when a photographer smuggled a camera into her execution. The front-page image of a woman dying in an electric chair sparked the Ruth Snyder controversy, as well as heated debates on the death penalty. It also inspired the classic 1944 noir film Double Indemnity. Here's the true, chilling story of the housewife who plotted her husband's murder and ended up on the front page in the electric chair.

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Photo: Tom Howard/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
The Infamous Photo Was The First Ever Of An Electric Chair Execution

In 1928, Sing Sing sent a convicted murderer to the electric chair. But this execution was different – the woman, Ruth Synder, became the first victim of the electric chair ever photographed. A Chicago Tribune photographer named Tom Howard smuggled a camera into the execution hidden up his pants leg, and snapped the infamous photograph as Snyder was killed. The next morning, Snyder was front page news on the New York Daily News, under the headline "Dead!"

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Photo: Samuel Gottscho/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
The Lovers Met In Manhattan During The Roaring Twenties

Ruth Snyder was a 30-year-old housewife when she met Judd Gray in a Manhattan cafe in 1925. That chance meeting changed both of their lives. Soon after, the two snuck off to a room at the Waldorf-Astoria. Over the next two years, Snyder and Gray met secretly at the hotel, under the names Momsie and Bud. By 1927, they decided to get rid of Snyder's husband so the two could be together.

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Photo: Evening Star/Library of Congress/Public Domain
Snyder Took Out An Insurance Policy Before Helping Her Lover Kill Her Husband

Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray decided to murder Snyder's husband Albert Snyder. Rather than simply kill Albert to be with her lover, Snyder decided to profit from the crime: she took out a $48,000 life insurance policy on her soon-to-be dead husband. The pair decided that Gray would sneak into the house on the night of March 20, 1927 to beat Albert with a weight.

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Photo: Jack E. Boucher/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
The Crime Earned The Nickname "The Dumbbell Murder"

When Judd Gray burst into the Snyder bedroom, he came armed with a 4-pound window sash weight. The plan was to knock Albert Snyder unconscious, but Gray hadn't counted on the man fighting back. As the two struggled, Gray cried, "Momsie, for God's sake, help!" After bludgeoning Albert, the pair gave him a dose of chloroform and finally strangled him with a wire.

After committing the murder, Gray and Ruth Snyder tried to stage a robbery. Gray tied up Snyder, who told the police that Italians had murdered her husband. The incompetent coverup earned the nickname "the Dumbbell Murder."