How a 1950s Small Town Girl Unknowingly Became a Killer’s Captive on a Cross-Country Trip

By Trista

In her first interview she gave in Front Page Detective after her experience, Mary Ruth Rombalski called herself “a small-town girl with romantic notions about excitement and opportunity in the big city.” Like many girls her age, Mary was more interested in getting away from what she felt was a boring small-town life. Mary grew up in small towns between the states of Kentucky and Tennessee. However, by 18 years old, she was tired of that life. She wanted to be done with high school and everything she ever knew. Mary wanted more for herself.

Therefore, Mary decided to leave her boring small-town life behind and head for bigger things. First, Mary ended up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was here that she got a job working in a factory, where she met her husband. However, married life was far from what she thought it would be. In the interview, Mary states that her husband was the closest thing to romance she could find in her new town. On top of this, she felt he was nice, and they enjoyed going to shows and dances together. Therefore, Mary figured they could get married.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Honda City.

A Marriage Crumbles

In her Front Page Detective interview, Mary discusses how the marriage to her new husband was doomed from the beginning. She stated that they started arguing almost constantly and about nearly everything. In fact, it did not take them long to realize that they should not be married. Mary said of her marriage in her interview, “…he couldn’t stand me and I couldn’t stand him…I walked out. I think he was just as glad. I haven’t heard from him to this day.” Once Mary decided to leave her husband, she put whatever money she had toward a bus ticket.

On The Way To Her New Chapter

Leaving her marriage, Mary had the dreams to become a Hollywood actress. However, the farthest she could get at first was St. Louis. From the moment she entered St. Louis until about Christmas of 1954, Mary went from place to place looking for work as she tried to make her way to Hollywood. No matter what town Mary ended up in as she was heading west, she would get a job as a waitress. She would save up enough money until she could afford another bus ticket and head to the next town.

1950s waitress. Pinterest/Huf’s Hut.

This job and town hopping ended for Mary when she was working in Brady, Texas during December of 1954. Similar to the other towns she had previously worked in, Mary was working as a waitress when she met a man she felt was similar to many other men whom she had talked to about her mission to getting to Hollywood, Max “Red” Stapleton. Like with most people Mary waited on, she started talking to Red, who asked if she was new to the area. Mary, who was used to that conversation, said she was and explained what her plans were.