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Stranger Than Fiction

September 19, 2016 • Los Angeles

Central Station in 1918Hadley Meares, writing in LA Weekly in August, laid out the true story of Winnie Ruth Judd, who arrived at Central Station from Phoenix in 1931 with two dismembered bodies in her luggage. She disappeared when officials wanted to look in her trunks, and her exploits before she was apprehended four days later make for a great read.

Central Station was Union Pacific’s terminal before it was replaced by Union Station in 1939. The land where it stood, at Fifth and Central Avenue, is fuggly and industrial today, but it’s surrounded by the tony Arts District. Unless the economy collapses yet again, watch this space for more “mixed-use” upscale housing.

To me the most compelling character in Winnie Ruth’s sad story was her brother Burton, a college student, whom she roped him into accompanying her to pick up the trunks at the station. Burton gradually figured out something was amiss, as the trunks were leaking blood. She refused to open them for inspection, so the baggage agents wouldn’t release them. She promised to come back with a key, and she and Burton drove away in a Ford roadster. He dropped his sister at the corner of Seventh and Broadway, giving her $5, which would have been a lot of dough for a student during the Depression, worth about $80 today, and telling her “I wish you all the luck in the world, kid.” Meares explains that Burton lived in a “bachelor shack” in Beverly Glen, which the police surveilled closely for the four days Winnie Ruth was on the run. What went through Burton’s mind that week? How easy was it to go back to classes when there was a statewide dragnet on for your sister? It’s an engaging tale that highlights how true stories can be stranger than fiction.

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