Ruth Snyder

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Ruth Brown Snyder
Ruth Brown Snyder.jpg
Ruth Brown

March 27, 1895
DiedJanuary 12, 1928(1928-01-12) (aged 32)
Sing Sing Prison, Ossining, New York, U.S.
Criminal statusExecuted by electric chair
Spouse(s)Albert Snyder (died 1927)
Criminal chargeMurder
Mugshot for her transfer to Sing Sing Prison in 1927

Ruth Brown Snyder (March 27, 1895 – January 12, 1928) was an American murderer. Her execution in the electric chair at New York's Sing Sing Prison in 1928 for the murder of her husband, Albert Snyder, was recorded in a well-publicized photograph.


Ruth Brown Snyder was a homemaker from Queens who began an affair in 1925 with Henry Judd Gray, a married corset salesman. She began to plan the murder of her husband Albert, enlisting Gray's help, but he was reluctant. Some claim that Ruth's distaste for her husband apparently began when he insisted on hanging a picture of his late fiancée, Jessie Guischard, on the wall of their first home and named his boat after her. Guischard, whom Albert described to Ruth as "the finest woman I have ever met", had been dead for 10 years.[1] However, others have noted that Albert Snyder was emotionally and physically abusive, blaming Ruth for the birth of a daughter rather than a son, demanding a perfectly maintained home, and physically assaulting both her and their daughter Lorraine when his demands were not met.[2]

Ruth first persuaded Albert to purchase insurance, and with the assistance of an insurance agent (who was subsequently fired and sent to prison for forgery), "signed" a $48,000 life insurance policy that paid extra if an unexpected act of violence killed the victim. According to Gray, Ruth had made at least seven attempts to kill Albert, all of which he survived.[3][4] On March 20, 1927, the couple garrotted Albert and stuffed his nose full of chloroform-soaked rags, then staged his death as part of a burglary.[4] Detectives at the scene noted that the burglar left little evidence of breaking into the house. Moreover, Ruth's behavior was inconsistent with her story of a terrorized wife witnessing her husband being killed.[3]

Police discovered that the property Ruth had claimed had been stolen was still in the house, but hidden. A breakthrough came when a detective found a paper with the letters J.G. on it (it was a memento Albert had kept from former lover Guischard) and asked Ruth about it. A flustered Ruth's mind immediately turned to Gray, whose initials were also J.G., and she asked the detective what Gray had to do with the murder. It was the first time Gray had been mentioned, and the police instantly became suspicious. Gray was found in Syracuse, New York. He claimed he had been there all night, but it was found out a friend of his had set up Gray's room at a hotel to support his alibi. Gray proved far more forthcoming than Ruth about his actions. He was caught and returned to Queens and charged along with Ruth.[3][4] Dorothy Parker told Oscar Levant that Gray tried to escape the police by taking a taxi from Long Island to Manhattan, which Levant noted was "quite a long trip." According to Parker, in order "not to attract attention, he gave the driver a ten-cent tip."[5]

The trial[edit]

Ruth Snyder's mid-execution photo taken by Tom Howard and published the next day in the New York Daily News

Ruth and Gray turned on each other, contending the other was responsible for killing Albert; both were convicted and sentenced to death.[6]


Ruth was imprisoned at Sing Sing in Ossining, New York. On January 12, 1928, she became the first woman to be executed at Sing Sing since Martha Place in 1899. She went to the electric chair 10 minutes before Judd Gray, her former lover.[3][4] Her execution (by New York State Electrician Robert G. Elliott) was photographed at the moment electricity was running through her body with the aid of a miniature plate camera strapped to the ankle of Tom Howard, a Chicago Tribune photographer working in cooperation with the Tribune-owned Daily News.[7] Howard's camera later was owned by inventor Miller Reese Hutchison[8] and later became part of the collections of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.[7]

Ruth was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Her footstone reads "May R." and includes her date of death.[9]

Lorraine Snyder[edit]

Lorraine Snyder

Albert and Ruth had one child, a daughter named Lorraine, who was nine at the time of her father's murder. Following the pronouncement of the death sentence on her mother in May 1927, legal disputes arose between the relatives of both parents regarding the care of the child. Warren Schneider, brother of Albert, petitioned to be allowed to appoint a legal guardian who was not a member of Ruth's family. Josephine Brown, mother of Ruth, also petitioned for custody of the girl.[10] Lorraine had been in the care of Mrs. Brown since the murder.[11] Lorraine was formally placed by her maternal grandmother in the Catholic institution where she had been residing at the time of her mother's execution. Ruth requested that her daughter not be brought to the prison for a final visit.[12]

On September 7, 1927, Josephine Brown was awarded guardianship of the girl.[12][13][14] During this time, there were disputes with the insurance company Ruth had used to insure her husband's life. Although one policy, worth US$30,000, was paid without contest,[15] they filed suit to void two other policies, worth $45,000 and $5,000 (the three combined policies worth $1.25 million in 2021). By May 1928, the insurance company made available $4,000 for the maintenance of Lorraine. In November 1928 a ruling in the case was reached, with a court finding the policies could not be collected because they had been issued fraudulently.[16] At the time of the judgment, the lawyer acting on behalf of Ruth's family asked the court to allow them to appeal without a printed record on the basis that the family was destitute and unable to sell the house due to the notoriety of the case. By May 1930, it was ruled on appeal that the two policies were invalid.[17]

The grave of Ruth Brown Snyder in Woodlawn Cemetery

While incarcerated on death row, Ruth Snyder wrote a sealed letter which she requested be given to Lorraine "when she is old enough to understand".[18] One year after her mother's execution, Lorraine was apparently aware that her parents were both dead, but not of the manner of either of their deaths.[19]

Depiction in popular media[edit]

  • The drama Machinal (1928) by playwright Sophie Treadwell is based on Snyder's trial.
  • The movies Blessed Event (1932) and Picture Snatcher (1933) make references to Snyder's execution.[20]
  • A fictionalized version of the trial was the basis of scenes in State's Attorney (1932) with John Barrymore as the prosecutor.
  • In the movie The Penguin Pool Murder (1932), the characters suspect their case is similar to the Snyder-Gray case. There is also a reference to a woman being recently executed.
  • The case was the inspiration for the novella Double Indemnity (1936) by James M. Cain,[21] which was adapted for the screen (1944) by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler.
  • Cain mentioned that his book The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) took inspiration from the crime.[22]
  • Raymond Chandler's 1949 novel The Little Sister alludes to the Ruth Snyder photograph in Chapter 16.
  • Near the end of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World, a reporter named Scotty mentions that Snyder's execution was the first he ever covered. When another character asks Scotty if he was able to get a picture, Scotty answers "No, they didn't allow cameras, but one guy..." The approach of "The Thing" interrupts him, but Scotty seemingly is referring to Howard's photo of Snyder in the electric chair.
  • In the 1954 novel The Bad Seed, author William March based his depiction of Bessie Denker's execution upon that of Ruth Snyder.
  • Guns N' Roses' 1991 album Use Your Illusion features, as part of the enclosed artwork, a photo of the band posing in front of an oversized reproduction of the Daily News headline/photograph announcing Ruth Snyder's execution.
  • The 2001 book Seeds of Evil: The Gray-Snyder Murder Case by Karl Schweizer is the most authoritative account of the case, and is based on actual court records interspersed with vivid dialogue.
  • The 2011 novel A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen is based on the murder case.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Snyder/Gray case details".
  2. ^ Blum, Deborah (2011). The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. New York: Penguin Group. p. 165.
  3. ^ a b c d Murchie, Guy, Jr. (December 29, 1935). "Snyder Murder". Chicago Tribune. pp. 9–10. Retrieved May 9, 2015.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b c d "Story of the Crime". Chicago Tribune. January 13, 1928. p. 2. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  5. ^ Levant, Oscar (1968). The Unimportance Of Being Oscar. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 90.
  6. ^ "Women Faint at Gray's Horror Story". Chicago Tribune. May 5, 1927. pp. 2, 4. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  7. ^ a b "HistoryWired: A Few of Our Favorite Things". National Museum of American History. 16 March 2012.
  8. ^ "Owner of camera that took death cell pictures a recent visitor here". Clipping from The Birmingham News. Birmingham Public Library. February 9, 1938. Retrieved 2010-04-20.
  9. ^ Ruth Snyder at Find a Grave
  10. ^ "To Seek Guardian for Lorraine Snyder". The Lewiston Daily Sun. May 12, 1927. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  11. ^ "Ruth Snyder's Family". The Evening Independent. January 10, 1928. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  12. ^ a b "To Rush Snyder Insurance Case". The Pittsburgh Press. January 13, 1928. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  13. ^ "Give Snyder Tot to Grandparent". The Pittsburgh Press. September 7, 1927. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  14. ^ "GRANDMOTHER GETS LORRAINE SNYDER; Court Awards Guardianship of Convicted Woman's Daughter to Mrs. Brown. SLAIN MAN'S FAMILY LOSE Mother, Who Renounced Her Rights to the Child, Is Pleased by the Outcome of the Contest". The New York Times. 1927-09-07. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  15. ^ "Dual Execution Makes Trio Ill". The Pittsburgh Press. January 14, 1928. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  16. ^ "Appeal Ruling Against Child". The Pittsburgh Press. November 11, 1928. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  17. ^ "Snyder Insurance Policies Not Valid". The Lewiston Daily Sun. June 21, 1930. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  18. ^ "Girls, Orphaned Year Ago by Chair, Happy". The Toledo News-Bee. January 12, 1929. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  19. ^ Murder Casebook ISBN 0-748-51462-7 p. 2212
  20. ^ Time, volume 19 (1932)
  21. ^ "truTV Official Website - TV Show Full Episodes and Funny Video Clips".
  22. ^ Zinsser, Interviewed by David (1978). "James M. Cain, The Art of Fiction No. 69". Vol. Spring-Summer 1978, no. 73. {{cite magazine}}: Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  23. ^ "Story of a Jazz Age Murder". The New York Times. June 17, 2011. Retrieved June 27, 2020.


  • Bryson, Bill. (2013). One Summer: America, 1927. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-767-91940-8.
  • MacKellar, Landis. (2006). The "Double Indemnity" Murder: Ruth Snyder, Judd Gray, & New York's Crime of the Century. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-0824-1.
  • Ramey, Jessie: "The Bloody Blonde and the Marble Woman: Gender and Power in the Case of Ruth Snyder", in: Journal of Social History Vol. 37, No. 3 (Spring, 2004), pp. 625–650
  • Karl W .Schweizer,Seeds of Evil(Author House,2001)

External links[edit]