Contemporary politicians do their best to supply us with a steady stream of scandals. But the strange case of New Jersey State Senator—shot by his mistress, Ruth Jayne Cranmer, in 1931—would grab headlines even today. This was during Prohibition, of course, but it started with lots of gin.
Four bottles, to be exact, according to this report from the August 24, 1931 issue of Time magazine:
Roy T. Yates, 35-year-old New Jersey State Senator, married, father of three, sat down and started drinking gin with a Miss Ruth Jayne Cranmer, whom he was maintaining in a Manhattan apartment. After their fourth bottle of gin, they fell to quarreling about Miss Cranmer’s allowance and apartment rent which seemed too expensive to Senator Yates. Later still Senator Yates was shot in the abdomen.
There are quite a few juicy details contained in that paragraph, no? Once the public got a look at Miss Ruth Jayne Cranmer, a “fetchingly attired ... 27-year-old blonde” (some sources gave her age as 25), the scandal attracted even more interest as the facts of the shooting came to light. The volatile pair had been an item for five years prior to the incident; Yates had told his mistress that he was “estranged” from his wife, and had been paying for her rent and expenses. (In addition to being a State Senator, he was also a banker.)
But times were tough all over in 1933, and Yates had decided he was through with paying Cranmer’s lease; it’s unclear if he was trying to encourage her to move to a cheaper place, or if he was through with Cranmer, too. History doesn’t tell us, and it’s likely neither shooter nor victim recalled the argument’s finer points, anyway (again: four bottles of gin). It seems apparent that Cranmer may have shot her lover in self-defense, since she was found to have bruises on her neck when the ambulance arrived to take Yates away. Of course, she claimed she couldn’t actually recall pulling the trigger:
While being questioned at the police lineup, she stood jauntily in the glare of floodlights and said “I don’t know, I don’t remember,” when told she was charged with shooting the banker-senator.
Fortunately for Yates, Cranmer wasn’t a great shot. The gun, which was found in the courtyard after having apparently been flung from a window, had one empty shell in it; there were five casings on the floor and four bullets in the walls. One bullet found it way into Yates’ abdomen.
Fortunately for Cranmer, though Yates’ condition was first deemed “serious,” and it was thought he might not pull through, he made a full recovery, and explained the payments he’d been making to Cranmer as wages for “research work.”
Yates, chairman of the New Jersey pension survey commission, defended the employment of Miss Cranmer by that department. He said the $556 for which checks had been written in her behalf had been earned by her over a period of three or four months during which she did work at his direction.
As a result of those payments, Yates became the target of an investigation by the New Jersey State Senate Judiciary committee, and he resigned. And instead of murder, Cranmer was charged with “felonious assault” and later cleared.
And there’s an odd P.S. to this tale. Comely Miss Ruth Jayne Cranmer resurfaced in 1933 after she sued one Merle M. Hoover, a teacher at Columbia University, whom she insisted had agreed to fund her education at the school and find her a job after graduation. Hoover denied ever making such a promise, stating he’d only wanted to help counsel her through the psychological aftereffects of the shooting incident—but Crenmer insisted he made the vow if she would agree to “destroy certain letters.” The contents of those letters, alas, are unknown.
Images of Ruth Jayne Cranmer: AP Photo