WHEN IT COMES to escaping, James Earl Ray is an amateur compared to Winnie Ruth Judd, Arizona trunk murderer of the 1930s.

Convicted of killing two women, dismembering one body and shipping both to Los Angeles in a truck (blood seeping from the trunk led to the discovery of the bodies), Judd was sentenced to hang but was later found insane and sent to an Arizona mental institution for life. From there she escaped seven times - the last time for seven years.

When she was picked up in 1969 by Northern California police investigating another case, she was working as a housekeeper and occasional babysitter under an assumed name. Having been caught, she made a middle-of-the-night phone call from jail to lawyer Melvin Belli.

"You know who this is?" Belli recalls the voice saying. "Winnie."

"Winnie Churchill?"

"No. Winnie Ruth Judd."

Belli dispatched an associate to see her the next day and he reported back: "She looks like Mother C., everybody's grandmother, Barbara Fritchie and Florence Nightingale."

Then 65 years old, Judd was returned to Arizona, found sane and sent to prison. Two years later she was granted parole and returned to Northern California, where she lives with an elderly couple.

The woman with whom Judd lived said Judd declines interviews as part of the terms of her parole.But the women described Judd, now 72, as living a pleasant life housekeeping and gardening, completely accepted by the community.

During her time at large in the 1960s, Judd became a housekeeper for the woman's mother.

"Mother phoned the employment agency and they said, 'Well, we have just the woman for you. We'll send her up this afternoon.' She was a housekeeper and a companion.

"After mother died we asked her to stay on and house-sit until it was sold. Then she came with us. We're in the country; she likes the country. I always say I inherited her."

It came as no small shock when Winnie Ruth Judd's identity was revealed. But the couple wanted her back after her parole.

Though there were no complaints from neighbors, a few were "sort of fussy at first," the woman said. "Of course, by then, so many people knew her already and like her."

Judd lives in what was once a small bathhouse on the couple's property. "She walks back and forth to the house," the woman says, and dines with her and her husband. She's said to be adept at cooking Mexican dishes and "does anything that has to be done" around the house. She keeps gardens of vegetables and flowers, and is particularly proud of her roses.

"We have six dogs and three cats here," the woman said. "She has three dogs down with her, we have three with us, and the cats go back and forth. There's nothing particular happening. She's perfectly adjusted. Everybody likes her. It's a very simple life. We just live on like nothing ever happened."