Femme Fatale: She may have had the looks of a Hollywood star but a cold heart beat in Barbara’s chest. Ultimately, it would lead her to murder.
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: When bodies start bobbing to the surface in Tampa Bay, the police fear that they have a serial killer on their hands. Will they catch him before he kills again?
The Ripper’s Wife: Convicted murderer Florence Maybrick may have done the world a great service. She may have killed Jack the Ripper.
Bad to the Bone: Willie’s grandfather had done time for murder, so too had his dad. Why break with family tradition?
Granny Ripper: She was 68 years old and she was a serial killer. Not only that but she hacked her victims apart and may have snacked on the corpses.
Kill, Keys, Money, Jewelry: Tired of her grandparents’ strict discipline, a teenager decides that there is only one way out – bloody murder.
Fatal Beauty: He was a man used to getting his own way and woe betide the woman who crossed him. Still, few could have predicted that he’d sink to such depravity.
Dead End Road: Call it teenage curiosity if you will. Gary desperately wants to know how it feels to kill someone. Today he’s going to find out.
Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of
Murder Most Vile Volume 20
The name Barbara Graham is all but unknown these days. But back in the 1950
s, when she was at the center of a
sensational murder case, Graham was every bit as famous as the Hollywood movie
stars some thought she resembled. To the public, she was ‘Bloody Babs,’ the
pitiless member of a criminal gang who had murdered an elderly woman during an
ill-fated robbery; to at least one tabloid journalist, she was ‘the most
beautiful victim ever claimed by the gas chamber’; and to those protesting the
immorality of the death penalty, she was a rallying cry for their cause.
In truth, Barbara Graham was all of these things and none of them. She was just a woman sent into the world with all of the cards stacked against her. In truth, the likelihood that Barbara Graham would come to a bad end had always figured high up on the agenda.
Barbara Graham was born in Oakland, California on June 26, 1923. Her mother, Hortense Wood was an unwed juvenile delinquent who was soon after dispatched to the Ventura State School for Girls, leaving Barbara in the care of relatives. She would remain there, passed from one household to another until Hortense was eventually paroled two years later. This was not necessarily a good thing for Barbara. The little girl would remain nominally under her mother’s “care” for the next nine years until a welfare worker from San Francisco offered to adopt her. Hortense, however, refused. A year later, she handed Barbara over to the juvenile authorities claiming she was “uncontrollable.” Barbara was then sent to the Ventura State School for Girls, the same reformatory where her mother had been incarcerated.
Life at the reformatory was hard but Barbara toughened up fast. Twice, she ran away, but was quickly handed over by her mother and returned to Ventura. She would remain there until her eventual release at age sixteen.
By now, Barbara had grown into a pretty young girl with a good intellect. But with her tarnished history finding a job was out of the question. And so she fell back on the one natural gift she had, her good looks. She began working as a juvenile prostitute, servicing sailors around the Oakland navy yard. But Barbara was, at least, smart enough to know that she didn't want to be a seagull (as the girls who served the fleet were known) forever. From the outset, she began saving some of the money she earned from her ‘dates.’ This allowed her to enroll in a business course, hoping to learn the skills needed to land an office job. It was while enrolled here that she met a young man named Harry Kielhammer, who she soon started dating. Before long, Barbara was pregnant and she and Kielhammer decided to marry.
For a time, the marriage went well. Kielhammer had a decent job as a shipping clerk and Barbara continued her studies while raising her son and also doing waitressing work. But after she fell pregnant a second time, things became more complicated. With another child in the house and Barbara unable to work, money was tight and things became tense between her and her husband. Then Harry learned about her past as a “seagull” and the marriage fell apart. Harry asked for custody of the two children and got it. Barbara’s brief shot at a normal life was over.
Barbara was thrown into a deep depression by her divorce. Before long, she was back on the streets, moving to San Diego where she worked for the next two years as a prostitute. In 1944, she married Aloyse Puechel, a sailor who was one of her regular johns. The marriage, however, lasted only four months. Thereafter, Barbara moved back north to San Francisco.
Barbara Graham was now 21 years old, twice married and the mother of two children. But the hardships she’d endured in her short life had done nothing to dull her good looks. In San Francisco, she found work in a brothel that served an upper-class clientele. The money was good and for a time things seemed to be on the up. But then Barbara made another of those mistakes that would litter her life. She agreed to provide a false alibi for a friend and was found convicted of perjury. The sentence of the court was five years, four of which were suspended.
Barbara emerged from prison in the summer of 1949. Jail time had given her the opportunity for self-reflection. She was twenty-five
still attractive but on a trajectory that was taking her nowhere. She needed a
change and she thought that she might find
it in the tiny Nevada town of Tonopah. But after living there for a time,
training as a nurse and marrying an auto parts salesman named Charles Newman,
she realized that this was not the life she wanted. She missed the bright
lights of the big city. One day, while her husband was at work, she packed a
bag and boarded a bus for L.A. Before long, she was back on the streets,
working the bars along Hollywood Boulevard. It was along that famous strip that
she met the man who would become her fourth husband, a burly bartender named
Henry Graham was the polar opposite of Charles Newman. He was a drug addict who hung around with shady underworld characters like Emmett Perkins, a jug-eared ex-con who ran an illegal gambling house. Soon after Barbara met Perkins, he hired her as a “shill,” tasked with picking up men and bringing them back to his grubby little fleapit in El Monte, where they’d be fleeced of their money in fixed card games. It paid better than hooking and so Barbara was happy to do it. She needed the money since she and Henry were now married and she was expecting his child.
Early in 1952, at the age of 28, Barbara gave birth to her third son who she named Thomas. By then, the child’s father had quit his bartending gig and was devoting much of his spare time to getting high on heroin. Soon he had gotten his wife hooked on the drug and their domestic life descended into a cycle of getting high and fighting over drugs and money. Eventually, Barbara left, abandoning her child and moving in with her employer, Emmett Perkins, at his El Monte hovel. Her life hadn’t hit rock bottom yet, but it was getting there in a hurry.
The crime that would eventually catapult Barbara Graham onto the front pages of the newspapers had its genesis in an ill-conceived robbery plot put together by a group of particularly inept criminals. The main player was a man named Jack Santo, a low-life with a voluminous police record. Santo, like most career criminals, was looking for his big score when he heard about a 62-year-old widow named Mabel Monahan. Mrs. Monahan lived in Burbank, California, in an attractive bungalow given to her by her daughter, Iris. Iris had received the house as part of a divorce settlement from her former husband, a Vegas high-roller named Luther Scherer. The word on the street was that Scherer still kept a safe at the Burbank residence
that it was stacked with cash. Santo planned to relieve him of that cash and
began assembling a team to help him do it.
The gang that Santo put together to pull off the Monahan heist included Baxter Shorter, an
accomplished L.A. afecracker ,
John True, a close associate of Santo’s who was an all-round tough guy but had
no criminal history , and
Emmett Perkins, general low-life and Barbara Graham’s current beau. Santo also
needed a woman to help the gang talk their way into the house. Perkins
suggested Graham and she was happy to go along. After
all, she had a drug habit to feed.
March 9, 1953 was the date that Santo had set for the robbery. That evening, the gang drove to Burbank and parked their car across the street from the Monahan residence. Santo, True, Perkins and Graham got out, while Shorter remained in the vehicle. The idea was that one of the gang would fetch him once they’d located the safe. First, however, they had to get inside.
While the men concealed themselves in the shadows, Graham went to the door and rang the bell. A short while later, the door opened a crack and Mabel Monahan peered out. Barbara greeted her with her most fetching smile. “I’m really sorry to bother you, ma’am, but my car broke down. I wonder if you could let me use your phone to call my husband. I’d be happy to pay for the call.”
Mabel Monahan was, by all accounts, a security conscious woman. But she was also a kindly soul and the thought of this well-dressed young lady stranded out here in the middle of the night
, bothered her. She hesitated for only
a moment before she smiled and said, “Of course.” Then she stepped back and
opened the door. That was when the gang rushed her.
The frail widow was forced back inside and thrown violently to the floor. The gang members then started demanding the location of the safe. Mrs. Monahan assured them that there was no safe on the property but her denials only served to infuriate them. The elderly woman was tied up, punched, slapped, and savagely pistol-whipped. Eventually, when they realized she wasn’t going to tell them anything, the gang pulled a pillow case over her head and suffocated her. Then they ransacked the house, turning over furniture, emptying closets, throwing the contents of drawers out on
floor. Finding nothing of value (and certainly no cash-stacked safe)
they fled empty-handed. Mrs. Monahan was found two days later by her gardener,
who immediately called the police.
This was a particularly savage murder and one that the LAPD was determined to solve. However, the early signs did not look good. Despite the haphazard nature of the crime scene, there was not one strand of forensic evidence, not a print, not a fiber, nothing. Neither was there anyone one to be found who had seen or heard anything. It was only after Mrs. Monahan’s daughter put up a $5,000 reward that the police caught their first break. An informant came forward and offered up two names – Jack Santo and Baxter Shorter.
Both of these men were, of course, well-known to the police. But since Baxter was the easier of the two to find, he was pulled in first. Initially, he denied any involvement in the crime but then he changed his mind, offering to testify in exchange for immunity. With nothing else to go on, the D.A. agreed. It was then that the police got to hear about the robbery plot gone wrong. According to Baxter, he’d been called into the house only after
Mrs. Monahan had already been
attacked. She’d been lying on the floor,
he said, with Barbara Graham leaning over her holding a gun in a
“pistol-whipping” position. This tied in with the autopsy report. Mrs. Monahan
had died of asphyxiation, but she had also suffered twelve fractures to her
skull, caused by beating with a pistol grip.
The race was now on to find Santo, Perkins and Graham. But before the police could do that, they had another murder on their hands. Shortly after giving his statement to police, Baxter Shorter was abducted from his home by a gun-wielding man who matched the description of Emmett Perkins. Shorter was never seen again, although it is believed that he was murdered by the gang in order to prevent him from testifying.
Santo, Perkins and Graham were eventually tracked down to a Los Angles flophouse on May 4, 1953. By then, the D.A. had struck a deal with John True, the fifth gang member. In exchange for immunity, True agreed to testify against the other three. At trial, he’d reveal that it had been Barbara Graham who had inflicted the savage pistol-whipping on Mrs. Monahan. Graham went overnight from being a figure who had garnered sympathy in some quarters to the most reviled woman in the nation. One newspaper dubbed her “Bloody Babs” and it stuck. There was widespread jubilation when the guilty verdict was announced.
But should Barbara Graham really have been found guilty? The case against her was based entirely on the testimony of John True. And True, according to more than one L.A. daily, had made an unconvincing witness. Moreover, True appeared to have an agenda. He downplayed the role of his buddy, Jack Santo, while talking up Perkins and Graham. And who is to say that it was not True himself who had killed Mabel Monahan? After all, he had been brought along as the “muscle.” Graham’s defense counsel might have raised these points at trial but didn’t. The result was inevitable.
Barbara Graham, Jack Santo and Emmett Perkins were sentenced to death, their executions scheduled for June 2, 1955. Graham went first but even in her final hours she’d be dogged by drama. As she was being led to the gas chamber a call came in from the governor, delaying the execution. On hearing the news, Graham collapsed and had to be carried back to the holding cell.
Twenty minutes later the phone rang again, authorizing the warder to resume. This time, Graham made it all the way into the execution chamber before there was another call and another return to the cells. “I can’t take this anymore,” the distraught woman sobbed. “Why are they torturing me like this?”
The reason, although Graham didn’t know it, was that her attorney was making a last desperate bid to save her life. That bid, ultimately, would fail. Her third walk to the execution chamber would be her last. Barbara’s Graham’s final words were: “Good people are always so sure they’re right.”
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