Barbara Graham – 1953

By | November 12, 2016

“Why do they torture me? I was ready to go at 10 o’clock”


Barbara Graham arrives at San Quentin the day before her walk to the gas chamber


Barbara Elaine Wood was born in Oakland, California on 26 June 1923. She had an unhappy childhood and ran way from home when she was just nine. In 1939 she married for the first time but was divorced in 1941. She was sexually promiscuous and it wasn’t long before she fell in love with a criminal element. A second marriage failed and in 1944 she was jailed for prostitution.

By 1947 she was a drug-addicted prostitute and joined a gang of villains in San Francisco. She married for the third time in 1951 and in 1953 she met and married Henry Graham, by whom she had Tommy, her third child. On 9 March 1953 she and gang members Jack Santo, John True and Emmett Perkins, with whom she was having an affair, went to the Burbank home of elderly widow Mable Monohan, believing that she kept a large amount of money and jewellery on the premises. It was Graham’s job to inveigle herself into Mrs Monohan’s confidence and get into the house.

This she did by claiming her car had broken down and two members of the gang burst in and tied up Mrs Monohan. When the old lady cried out, according to True, Graham hit her over the head with a gun butt and then suffocated her. The gang left without their booty, which was not to be found in the house. The police quickly arrested the quartet. True gave evidence for the prosecution and was granted immunity from prosecution. The rest were all charged with murder. Graham bribed a policewoman to give her an alibi, which did not help her case at the trial. She said, “Oh, have you ever been desperate? Do you know what it means not to know what to do?”


1718 Parkside Avenue, Burbank, California, USA


Monday 9 March 1953


On 3 June 1955 Graham was scheduled to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin at 10am, when there was a stay of execution until 10.45am. At 10.43am Graham was prepared for death only for another delay until 11.30am. Understandably, Graham was furious, “Why do they torture me? I was ready to go at 10 o’clock.” At 11.28am she was again prepared for death and asked for a blindfold so she would not have to look at the witnesses. The executioner Joe Feretti told her, “Now take a deep breath and it won’t bother you” to which she replied, “How in the hell would you know?” At 11.34am she spoke her last words just before she died. She was pronounced dead six minutes later. Santo and Perkins died in the gas chamber three hours later.


In 1958 Susan Hayward won an Oscar for playing Graham in the film I Want to Live!

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