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BULLEThistory archive
History Archive Photo
"Trunk Murderess" Winnie Ruth Judd (seated, left) was sentenced on February 9, 1932.

© Arizona State Archives


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Editor's Note:
In February 2012, Arizona will celebrate 100 years of statehood, and Arizona Highways will publish a special Centennial issue. Leading up to that milestone, we're presenting a 10-part history of the state. This is Part 3.
Arizona: 1932-1941
In Arizona's third decade of statehood, voters sent a woman to Congress for the first time, while another woman, Winnie Ruth Judd, made headlines as the brutal "Trunk Murderess."

By Jana Bommersbach

The 1930s were hard on America, and the situation in Arizona was no different. The Great Depression meant widespread unemployment, closed mines, falling farm prices, bread lines and a tourism industry that had all but disappeared — the only regular visitors were transients who were fleeing harsh winters elsewhere. Things were so bad that by the fall of 1932, the state teachers college in Flagstaff was bartering with students for rooms and books, accepting hay, potatoes and eggs in lieu of hard-to-find cash.

Eventually, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal put people back to work with the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps. Bridges, roads and hospitals were built, historical buildings were restored, arts and writing projects were financed, and camps for children were created in Yuma, Douglas, Tucson, Nogales, Phoenix and Prescott.

On December 26, 1933, Arizona Governor Benjamin B. Moeur sent a Yuletide telegram to FDR: "All Arizona is behind you; more power to your wonderful mind, your high courage and your humanitarian attitude toward mankind."

Arizona's progressive streak continued in 1933, when the state elected its first woman to Congress. Ironically, Isabella Greenway's fellow women in Arizona couldn't yet serve on juries — that wouldn't happen until 1936.

Although Arizona was garnering some national attention between 1932 and 1941, it wasn't the kind of publicity the state wanted. The infamous "trunk murderess" case of Winnie Ruth Judd became a national obsession. Judd was accused of killing her best friends on October 16, 1931, cutting up one of the bodies and stowing both corpses in the baggage she took on a train to Los Angeles.

On February 9, 1932, Judd was convicted and sentenced to death, but was instead remanded to the insane asylum in Phoenix, where she stayed in the headlines for decades, escaping seven times before she was paroled in 1972.

On a more positive note, Arizona's third decade of statehood saw architect Frank Lloyd Wright build Taliesin West, his Arizona home and school, on 800 acres in northeast Scottsdale. Wright purchased the land for a mere $3.50 an acre, and Taliesin West remains a school today, as well as one of the state's major tourist attractions. Another modern tourist hotspot, Old Tucson, was constructed by 1939. Since then, Hollywood has used the Wild West town in more than 300 films, including Arizona, which starred Jean Arthur and William Holden.

Although the clouds of war loomed as Arizona entered the 1940s, the nation's demands for Arizona cotton, copper and cattle led to the first economic relief in years. Of course, December 7, 1941, will forever be remembered as a "day that will live in infamy," but it had an even more personal effect on the nation's newest state. Its beloved namesake, the USS Arizona, sank in Pearl Harbor, carrying 1,177 officers and men to their deaths, including eight Arizonans. It remains at the bottom of the harbor today.

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