Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Passion wasn't all that surged

If the Casey Anthony trial has been the "trial of the year" so far, in 1927 that title certainly went to the Ruth Snyder/Judd Gray murder trial.  In the book A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion, author Ron Hansen takes a close (although somewhat fictionalized) look at the crime and aftermath of this sensational case.

Ruth Snyder was a fun-loving, attractive woman who was married to an older, somewhat boring man who was an editor at Motor Boating magazine.  She was flirty and had many male admirers, but when she met the mild mannered corset salesman Judd Gray, sparks really flew.  Gray was several inches shorter than Ruth, wore thick spectacles, and was also married.  Nothing could stand in the way of their passionate affair.

Since Gray travelled often in his corset selling job, he was able to arrange many illicit trysts with his lover.  The lovers were both stuck in dull, disappointing marriages, but Ruth soon began joking about how much easier their lives would be if her husband, Albert Snyder, were to suddenly die.  Before long, she claimed that she had tried on several occasions to kill him -- by shutting him in a garage with a running car, by turning on the gas and leaving the house with her husband sleeping, by knocking a ladder out from under him as he trimmed tree branches, etc.  Since none of these projects had been successful, she convinced Judd Gray that he had to help her kill her husband.  Gray, frantic at the thought of losing her, reluctantly went along.

Unfortunately for the lovers, after the murder, the police were quickly able to tear their carefully rehearsed stories to shreds.  It certainly didn't help matters when it was discovered that Ruth had taken out a hefty insurance policy on her husband (without his knowledge, of course) that paid double indemnity for an "accidental death."

Although Ruth protested her innocence in the murder scheme from the beginning (claiming she was knocked out and remained unconscious for four hours), neither the police or the jury at her trial believed her.  Judd Gray quickly confessed and implicated Ruth in the plot.  Both Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray penned books in jail which attempted to explain the events that landed them there.

While looking up information about the case online, I was interested to learn that the author James M. Cain based his books The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity on this case.  The case also became famous when a reporter snuck a hidden camera into the prison and was able to snap a blurry photo of Ruth Snyder at the moment of her execution. 

Although this book is a work of fiction, the author has relied on contemporary newspaper accounts of the events, as well as books that have been written about the case.  It certainly reads like a "true crime novel."  I had heard of the case before, but this book was a more in depth look at what must have been going through the minds of the main characters as they hatched their murder plot.

Final Verdict for A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion Four Gherkins, for being an evocative look at a roaring twenties murder case

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