Ruby Dean – Revenge or Accident

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Beautiful Cabaret Singer Ruby Dean accused of murder
Ruby Dean

A story as old as the invention of guns.  There is a struggle, and someone winds up dead.  So is the story of Ruby Dean and Dr. Leon Quitman on September 8, 1917.

Ruby claims the shooting was accidental.  She struggled for the gun because she thought Leon was going to shoot himself.  She thought this because Ruby found out about his marriage and son from a private detective.  Leon on the other hand thought Ruby was going to commit suicide because of the end of their love affair.  Ruby was holding the gun behind her back when Leon grabbed her arm and wrenched it in front of her and Ruby heard a shot.  Leon had been shot.  She got him on the bed and ran to get a doctor.

Ruby is a divorcee, married when she was 16.  Before taking up singing and dancing she was a telephone operator in St. Louis.  She was also learning to play the pipe organ and often played and sang in churches on Sundays. Ruby met Leon at the Federal Inn in Chicago where she was performing, and he sent her a note from his table.  She didn’t know that he was married with a child, and he didn’t tell her.  She found that out several months later.

Ruby speaks to the press, “Everything is black to me.  But I’ll prove my innocence.  Rich St. Louis friends have promised to help me and have asserted their belief in me.  They know I didn’t kill the only man I have ever loved.  I haven’t a cent in the world and the story that I bled Dr. Quitman for his money and then killed him because he wouldn’t give me more is all a lie.  Oh, why do people say those things?  I’m down now and must fight the battle alone. 

“The doctor’s father said I took $900.  I didn’t.  But what if I did?  Didn’t I give everything for my love for that man.  Oh, I wish he could have lived a minute longer.  He’d have told them what sacrifices I made — and I haven’t told the great one yet — and he wouldn’t have let them persecute me.  They mustn’t anyway.  Doctor said just before he died that it was an accident, didn’t he?  Would a man die with a lie on his lips? 

“It was all an accident.  I had the revolver hidden under a chair pillow.  I don’t know why it was there.  He started to sit down, and I was afraid the pistol might discharge.  I snatched it from the chair.  He seized me and tried to tear it from my grasp.  Before I could let go or explain the pistol was discharged.  It was awful.  Maybe he thought at first, I had killed him.  But then he knew I didn’t, and he died telling the truth.”

Beautiful Ruby Dean at Inquest of lover's death
Ruby at inquest

The Inquest

At the inquest, William Schulke, Leon’s assistant, the first witness testified that Dr. Quitman and Ruby had spent three days at Fox Lake prior to the shooting.  “When he got back, he asked me if his wife suspected he had been with another woman.  I told him that she did and advised him to go home and make a clean breast of it, that she would forgive him.  But he said he had an appointment with Miss Dean.” 

He further testified that he waited near the apartments and an hour later Ruby came running out yelling, “I must get a doctor!  He’s been shot. It was an accident.”

Ruby told them that the shooting was accidental.  Dr. Quitman had asked Ruby for her gun, Ruby afraid that he was going to shoot her hid it.  Leon found the gun and as Ruby was trying to take it away from him, it went off shooting Leon.  

Ruby further testifies that she and Leon were planning on eloping to Texas as soon as Leon got his divorce.  Leon had married young.  His wife was like a sister to him.  He told Ruby that his wife didn’t care if he ran around on her and that someday he would take her home and introduce them. 

She testified, “When we got back from the trip to Fox Lake, there was an awful rumpus.  His wife was objecting, his father was objecting, the doctor didn’t know what to do. “

“He was afraid I was going to kill myself, I told him I was a girl that could stand disappointment.  He told me he knew I would not have accepted him if I had known about his wife and child before.”

Leon’s father, Dr. P. Quitman, testified that Leon had given Ruby $900 and she had asked for an additional $2,000.  The father said that he would have gladly paid Ruby off, but Leon didn’t tell his father about the situation. The coroner’s jury ruled that Ruby Dean was guilty of the murder and that she would be held over for trial.

Ruby’s father Robert H. Dean refuses to help Ruby.  Her mother goes to Chicago to support Ruby, even though Robert told her not to, to let Ruby fight her battle alone.   

January 23, 1918 was “Slayers Day” in Chicago.  There were 19 people charged with murder in some form on trial that day.  Ruby Dean was of course one of them.  Her trial though was postponed until February, and then again until April.

Ruby Dean’s Trial

Sketch of Ruby Dean in Trial
Sketch of Ruby Dean in Trial

April 24, 1918 – Trial Day!  Eight jurors have been accepted, twelve were dismissed because they said a pretty woman would influence them.  A check for 10,000 kisses plus several passionate love letters will be part of the defense.  The letters show that Dr. Leon Quitman was courting Ruby and said that he was a single man.  The defense contends that the shooting was accidental. 

Leon’s widow is the first to testify.  She testified that she only found out about Leon’s affair with Ruby after his shooting.  She had nothing more to say.

Thomas Mallay – the state’s star witness

Thomas Mallay, who lived across the hall from Ruby, took the stand.  He was the first person to enter the apartment after the shooting.  Thomas Mallay was a witness for the prosecution. 

Prosecutor Justin McCarthy asked Thomas what had happened.  Mallay testified that he had heard a shot and then footsteps running down the hall.  He heard a man yelling “Help! I’m shot!”  He went into Ruby’s apartment and found Leon lying on the bed, Ruby had gone for a doctor. 

Mallay asked Leon how he was shot, and he replied that it was an accident. 

William Schulke, Leon’s assistant dragged Ruby back into the apartment.  Leon told Schulke that Ruby had shot him on purpose.  Mallay heard that and asked Leon if he hadn’t just said that it was an accident, and Leon admitted that he had said that to shield Ruby. 

Mallay’s Cross examination

When Ruby’s attorney Charles Williams questioned Mallay on cross examination he admitted that both Leon and Ruby had said that it was an accident many times. 

Mallay continued testifying, “Schulke walked to the bed twice.  First, he said to Dr. Quitman ‘Didn’t I tell you she’d get you — and didn’t she?’ And Dr Quitman answered, ‘ Yes you were right: she got me.’

Fifteen minutes Schulke walked over to the bed again.  This time he said:  ‘She shot you, didn’t she?’  and Dr. Quitman answered, ‘Yes she shot me.’ ” 

Mallay also testified that a policeman Charles Mueller entered the apartment and said to Ruby, “Come, you might as well confess.  Somebody saw you through the window.  They saw you shoot this man.”  Ruby answered, “No, nobody saw me shoot Dr. Quitman.”

Edwin Olson, the first policeman to arrive on the scene testifies next.  “Miss Dean told me her finger was on the trigger of the revolver when Dr. Quitman was shot — she said they were struggling, and her finger pressed the trigger.” 

Dr. Edwin Quitman, Leon’s brother took the stand next.  When asked if his brother had told him that Ruby had shot him, Edwin answered, “Yes, it was 10:00 o’clock in the morning following the shooting.  I was sitting at his bedside in the hospital.  He came out of anesthetic and when he seemed clear brained, I asked: ‘Leon tell me, did that woman really shoot you?’  and he said, “Yes she did:  Ed, it’s a long story and I’ll tell you all about it when I get stronger.'”

Prosecution rests and it’s time for the defense. 

Beautiful Ruby Dean takes the stand

Ruby Dean takes the stand

Ruby testifies that she knew Leon as Dr. Joseph Springer, coroner’s physician.   A few days before the shooting a private detective that she had hired to look into his background told her the truth. 

“I met Dr. Quitman at the Federal Inn while I was singing there.  It was sometime in April.  He asked if he could call on me.  I told him he might if he met my mother — I always passed Mrs. Douglas, an aunt, off as my mother to strangers. 

“I saw him from 4-6 times a week until July, and from July on, every day.  He proposed marriage a few weeks after I met him, but I didn’t agree to marry him until the middle of July. 

“We left the cabaret after I was through singing on the night of July 26 and went to Crown Point to be married and got there early in the morning. 

“That day we were walking around the courthouse and then he told me he had ‘a case ‘with another woman — a Lillian Hammer.  He said she expected to become a mother.  Doc told me he was already married to her and if he married me, he would have to go to the penitentiary.  He asked me to wait awhile, he said he had a case in court to divorce her. 

One morning after she was through performing, she took Leon to sit by the lake.  “Doc, don’t you think it’s time you quit this little farce and be on the square with me?” she asked him. 

“I don’t know what you mean,” he answered. 

Ruby responded, “Oh, yes you know what I mean. “

Ruby then went on to explain everything that she had found out. 

“He told me that night he wouldn’t tell me any more lies and he would use his own name after that.  He told me he would go to a hotel when he left me and register under his own name and I called up to see if he kept his word, and he had.”  Ruby closes her testimony by reading several love letters that Leon had written, one of them included a cancelled check for 10,000 kisses written on one of Leon’s business checks.

Ruby’s cross examination

The courtroom is once again packed with spectators.  Prosecutor McCarthy cross examines Ruby for FIVE HOURS.  He brings up that in her job as a cabaret singer that she is friendly and flirty with lots of men.  Ruby agreed and insisted that Leon was the only man she loved.

Through the cross examination, we learn Ruby Dean had spent five years on the stage prior to moving to Chicago in 1917.  She travelled constantly around the country as a member of the vaudeville team Dunn and Dean.  Her partner was a man but his name was never mentioned.  She also was one of the Sunshine Girls. 

Ruby also told how on the trip to Fox Lake, Leon pretended to shoot himself.  Ruby heard the shot and rushed up to him sitting on the ground with his hands limply at his sides.  “‘Doc, you can’t fool me.  When a person shoots themself, they fall on the ground.’ 

Then he got up and said to me, ‘Are you game? Let me shoot you and I’ll shoot myself!'” 

She then said she took the gun away from him. 

The prosecution’s case was falling apart as the testimony from Thomas Mallay, their star witness, was ordered stricken from the record on the grounds that Ruby was not within earshot when the accusations purportedly made by Dr. Quitman were made, so it was just hearsay. 

Closing arguments

Justin McCarthy begins his closing arguments.  He began by asking the jury to convict Ruby of the murder of Leon Quitman.  Oddly enough, the widow Bertha Quitman sat behind Ruby during this part of the trial.  Ruby remained dry eyed during McCarthy’s summation.  McCarthy stated that Ruby’s love was mercenary, Leon owned a car, dressed well and was in comfortable circumstances. 

“This woman,” McCarthy began shouting, “was playing a game, a shrewd game from start to finish — from the beginning to the last scene, which was the death of Dr. Quitman in her apartment the night of September 6. 

“Men I ask you to use your common sense and judgement.  This girl testified that for at least six years before she ever met Dr. Leon Quitman, she was an actress both in vaudeville and legitimate. 

“Was this defense — was her action on the witness stand — the story she told you men here, a part played by an actress?  Was she acting cleverly to deceive you men and to escape responsibility?” 

McCarthy continued his rant, ridiculing Ruby’s testimony as a fanciful story.  He claimed that Dr. Quitman knew there was going to be gunplay back at Ruby’s apartment, be he went anyway confident he could get the gun away from her. 

Bertha Quitman, Leon’s widow, spoke to the press, “I feel that girl is guilty.  I think she is getting a fair trial, and I cannot believe a man so strong as my husband would have been accidentally shot in trying to take a revolver away from so frail a girl.  I saw my husband at the hospital on the day he died.  He asked me to forgive him, and I told him I would.  Then he said: ‘Now I still have something to live for.’  “We did not at any time speak of the shooting.  He told me nothing about it and I asked nothing of him.”

Beautiful Cabaret Singer Ruby Dean accused of murder
Ruby Dean

The Verdict

May 4, 1918, Ruby is free!  The jury was out only 13 minutes and acquitted her on the first polling. 

Ruby was the 27th woman acquitted of murder in Chicago.  Keep in mind, Beulah, Belva and the other women on Murderess Row didn’t happen until 1924.  Oddly enough though, 75% of women charged with theft or other misdemeanors were found guilty. 

State’s Attorney, Maclay Horne told the press in disgust, “Cook County juries will not convict a woman.  Maybe someday there will be a stopping point.”  Possibly when women are allowed to be jurors?  Or maybe if Prosecutor McCarthy knew what his witnesses were going to say before they testify?

That’s the end of the story. Ruby told the press that she was going to take up knitting and play the organ in church on Sundays. But, that didn’t happen. Ruby signed a contract to appear in Vaudeville for a great deal of money. She said, “I suppose I’ll be criticized. But I want it understood that it’s not because of the notoriety that came to me because of the death of — someone. I was in vaudeville five years before I was in cabarets. I think I am worth the sum I am to get.”

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