By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Office of Public and Employee Communications
A yellowed, typed spreadsheet titled “Report of Inmates, Women’s Ward, San Quentin Prison, May 1922” gives some insight into the 48 women serving sentences at the time. In 1922, there were two state prisons – San Quentin and Folsom. Female inmates were housed at San Quentin before the original California Institution for Women was built.
The report lists name, sentence, crime, county, date received, age, nativity, race, occupation, religion, sentencing judge, district attorney, counsel, previous institution history, prison record, mental age, physical handicap, tuberculosis status and whether or not the inmate tested positive for venereal diseases.
Inside CDCR took a closer look at some of those names to give the report some context and explore their stories.
Trunk Murderess first woman to get death sentence
One name on the 1922 report stands out since she was the first woman sentenced to the death in the State of California – Emma LeDoux.
LeDoux was in her mid-30s when she was convicted of poisoning her husband in 1906. The press dubbed her the “Trunk Murderess.”
Her trial, which lasted 15 days, was headline news at the time. It took the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to bump her name off the front pages.
She was accused of convincing her estranged husband, A.N. McVicar, to meet her in Stockton for a rendezvous. Prosecutors allege LeDoux planned to do away with her husband since she had married another man and didn’t want her bigamy revealed.
According to prosecutors, LeDoux poisoned her husband and stuffed his body in a trunk. She tried to have the trunk shipped to her home in Amador County but the trunk wasn’t properly registered so it sat on the platform. Train station personnel noticed the smell and became suspicious.
LeDoux became the first woman in California sentenced to the death penalty. In 1907, rumors were circulating about her so Sheriff Sibley, with the county jail where she was being held while her case was on appeal, brought in newspaper reporters for an interview. She spoke of having hope for the appeal and complained of her infamy.
“It seems that it is not enough for people to crowd and block the streets to stare at me, as if I were some sort of a Fourth of July horrible; now they must start these rumors,” she said, according to the Evening Sentinel, Jan. 17, 1907. “In justice to myself, I’m glad you came.”
The state Supreme Court heard arguments and she was granted another trial.
On Jan. 26, 1910, feeling her health was failing, she changed her plea to guilty. She was sentenced to life in prison. She ended up serving 10 years and won parole from San Quentin in 1920, but she was back in prison in less than a year.
In 1925, she earned parole again but ran afoul of the law for running a bogus marriage scheme. Her crime landed her back in San Quentin in 1931. She was transferred to the newly opened California Institution for Women at Tehachapi in 1933.
On July 7, 1941, she died of ovarian cancer at the age of 69, still a prisoner of the State of California, according to the Haggin Museum.
The report lists her sentence as life, received out of San Joaquin County on Feb. 2, 1910, with a good prison record. Her occupation is listed as dressmaker. Her previous history is listed as “paroled and returned.”
Parents slay daughter’s husband
Chona Andrade and her husband Robert murdered Jesus Espinosa, their son-in-law, “in a lonely hut in the Livermore hills Sept. 10,” according to the Oakland Tribune, Oct. 31, 1916. “(She) is alleged to have seared Espinosa’s face with a hot iron and to have then saturated his clothing with oil and set it afire.”
Robert Andrade “is alleged to have held Espinosa down while the woman committed the atrocity,” according to the newspaper.
Both were given life sentences. He was sent Folsom Prison while she was sent San Quentin. She was received at the prison Nov. 6, 1916.
She died in 1930 in the prison hospital following surgery to remove a tumor.
Shuttle driver killed by passenger
“A possible solution of the murder mystery surrounding the slaying of Albert V. Marcus, the Beau Brummel jitneuer of Glendale, appeared today in Bakersfield when Trinity Dandia, a woman, confessed her implication there to an almost similar jitney bus murder in the valley city,” reported the Los Angeles Herald, July 28, 1917.
A jitney bus was the common term for a low-cost shuttle bus, or car, usually costing a nickel for a ride. A “jitneuer” was the owner or operator of the jitney bus.
“Marcus, known to have made frequent conquests among feminine hearts of Glendale, was killed early in February of this year by someone who accompanied him on a ride in his jitney bus several miles from Glendale. There was some evidence to indicate that the murder had been the work of a woman,” the paper reported.
Originally police were looking at a possible jealous husband to one of the victim’s “conquests.”
“With the arrest in Bakersfield of the Dandia woman, who, the officers say, confessed her part in a jitney murder there that was almost identical to the slaying of Marcus, the officers believed that they had at last found a clue that might lead to the solution of the Marcus mystery,” the paper reported. “The officers in Bakersfield believe that the Dandia woman participated in five jitney bus murders in California, one of them being the Marcus murder.”
She was convicted of the murder of James A. Hanlon, a young jitney driver killed April 1917. “The jury found for murder in the first degree and recommended a life term,” reported the Sausalito News, Dec. 1, 1917.
She was in her mid-20s when she was arrested and put on trial. She was 30 when the San Quentin Women’s Ward report was published.
In 1933, Dandia was one of the first inmates sent to the new California Institution for Women.
“Trinity Dandia, the second oldest prisoner at San Quentin, took her canary along Friday when she and 27 other women prisoners were transferred to the new women’s penal farm in the Tehachapi mountains. A curious crowed gathered to see the women entrain for their new ‘home.’ The inmates wore coats over their prison dresses when they boarded the barred prison car ‘Lordsburg’ at Richmond station,” reported the Healdsburg Tribune, Sept. 2, 1933.
She was paroled in 1949. Her name crept back into the newspapers briefly in 1963 when she was one of 55 issued a Christmas pardon by Governor Edmund G. Brown, Sr.
“The pardons reached back in time to embrace 73-year-old Trinity Dandia of Stockton, convicted of murder in San Joaquin County in 1917,” reported the Desert Sun, Dec. 26, 1963.
Tobacco embezzler sentenced to San Quentin
Bookkeeper and cashier Jean Fallon, 32, was a Finland native. She is listed as serving two one-to-10-year sentences out of Sacramento County for two counts of embezzlement.
Fallon was employed by the Glaser Brothers Tobacconists in Sacramento.
“Her employers believe that she accepted money in payment of bills and then failed to enter the payments in the books,” according to the Sacramento Star, Jan. 31, 1921.
On Feb. 2, 1921, she was arrested on four counts of embezzlement. According to authorities, over several years Fallon embezzled $4,400, or the equivalent of roughly $65,000 today.
On April 29, she was found guilty of two counts of embezzlement.
Housekeeper slays boss, cashes forged checks
A 1920 Los Angeles murder found Louise L. Peete in the county jail facing murder charges and newspapers reporting the details as front-page news.
“A small revolver, containing five discharged cartridges, was found … where it apparently had been hidden near the crypt in the basement of the residence of Jacob C. Denton, where his body was found two months ago,” reported the Sacramento Union, Nov. 23, 1920. “The Denton residence, where Mrs. Louise Peete, now in the county jail awaiting trial for the murder of Denton, was either a tenant or housekeeper, is now occupied by the sister of the dead mining promoter, Mrs. Thomas Merryman, of San Francisco, and her husband.”
According to the article, the Merrymans found the gun hidden between two pipes running from the furnace and was turned over to the district attorney.
“Officers stated Mrs. Merryman also found Denton’s check book. They said it had been located under a rug, just outside the room occupied by Mrs. Peete. The rug was tacked to the floor. The book, which was thin, was said to show no record of the checks totaling $750 which Mrs. Peete was alleged to have cashed after Denton’s disappearance,” the paper reported.
During her trial, the gardener testified Peete hired him to remove dirt from around rose bushes and store it in the basement for future use. Another witness testified Peete borrowed a shovel which was found several days later with dirt on it. The same witness said Peete gave him a bundle to burn that contained a table cloth, men’s collars and cancelled checks.
Peete’s young child was told her mother was in the hospital, according to newspaper reports at the time.
“Betty Peete, the pretty little 4-year-old daughter of Mrs. Louise Peete, … will be barred from the courtroom during her mother’s trial,” reported the Los Angeles Herald, Jan. 13, 1921. “The barring of Betty from the courtroom is considered a psychological handicap to the defense as her presence at the side of her mother undoubtedly would have had a sentimental effect on the jury.”
Mrs. Peete was found guilty and while walking a half-block to the jail along with the bailiff and her husband, “they faced a crowd of probably more than 1,000 persons,” reported the Sacramento Union, Feb. 6, 1921. The husband accompanied her to the jail “to try to give her comfort, but jailers said it was she who comforted him. He wept, they said, almost constantly, while she remained dry-eyed and, with an arm about his shoulder, endeavored to encourage him.”
Peete was received by San Quentin Dec. 7, 1921. At the time of the Women’s Ward report, she was 29.
A headline the following year declared, “Granted divorce from murderess.”
“Richard Peete was granted a divorce from Louise Peete, serving a life sentence in San Quentin for the murder of Jacob Denton of Los Angeles,” reported the Madera Tribune, Nov. 22, 1922.
Nearly two decades later, she was granted parole.
“Mrs. Louise L. Peete, who was convicted at one of Los Angeles’ most sensational murder trials 18 years ago of slaying Jacob C. Denton, wealthy Arizona mining man, was scheduled to begin a new life outside prison walls today,” reported the Madera Tribune on April 10, 1939.
Five years later, she was again facing murder charges.
“Mrs. Louise Peete, veteran of 18 years in prison for the 1920 murder of Jacob C. Denton, is again in custody charged with the murder of her employer, 60-year-old Mrs. Margaret Logan, whose body was found buried in the back yard of the Logan home at Pacific Palisades,” reported the Madera Tribune, Dec. 29, 1944.
In 1945, she was given the death penalty.
“Mrs. Louise Peete, twice-convicted murderess, was sentenced to die in the San Quentin gas chamber for her second murder, and said quietly, ‘I’m glad it’s all over with,’ but betrayed no emotion,” reported the Madera Tribune, June 1, 1945.
A news account in 1947 claims Louise Peete was responsible, directly or indirectly, for four deaths, not including her own execution. The list of bodies included Jacob Denton in 1920, the suicide of her first husband, Richard, and the slaying of Margaret Logan. Peete had Logan’s ailing husband, Arthur, committed to an asylum, where he later died. Mrs. Logan’s forged signatures on Peete’s monthly parole reports tipped off authorities, who found the woman’s body in a shallow grave in the backyard.
In 1947, she became the second woman executed in California, according to newspapers at the time.
By the time of the report, Catherine Wixson, 32, had already served seven years of a life sentence for first-degree murder. Her occupation was listed as “housewife” and she had no prior convictions.
In a jailhouse interview before her trial, Wixson expressed remorse.
“Never in this world would I have done as I did if I had considered what the result would be. In a moment of ignorance or weakness, the thing was done, and I know that the very best of my life, for I am young, must be spent in prison,” she told the Sacramento Star, April 15, 1915.
Reported by the Sacramento Union on June 29, 1915, Wixson and James Marvin were sentenced to life in prison after “they pleaded guilty to charges of murdering … rug peddler, Hadje Cussaid. Mrs. Wixson will serve her term at San Quentin and Marvin will go to Folsom Prison.”
The newspaper report described the crime.
“Mrs. Wixson and Marvin and two men known as ‘Billy’ and ‘Jack,’ planned the robbery of the rug peddler. Mrs. Wixson rented rooms with him at 1400 Seventh Street, where the men in the gang hid themselves. The rug peddler was overpowered by them, given ammonia and robbed. He died from the effects of the ammonia. It was alleged that ‘Jack’ and ‘Billy’ not only played the most important parts in the robbery, but they also escaped with most of the money taken from the rug peddler,” the paper reported.
Lover’s quarrel ends in gunshot
Clarence Hogan was killed Dec. 21, 1920, by a revolver held by 21-year-old Marie Bailey.
The 1921 trial grabbed front-page headlines, such as the May 25 issue of the Los Angeles Herald, “Girl to admit death shot in love slaying.”
Bailey was separated from her husband and was in the process of seeking a divorce, according to news reports.
According to Bailey, Hogan was in debt and hatched a plan to have her “go and meet some of the people that (he) knew,” according to the Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1921. “(He) said it was her fault that he was financially embarrassed. … She said further that he wanted to send her photographs to these people. This purported ulterior suggestion to a woman who loved him … apparently paralyzed the mind of Mrs. Bailey.”
Her father’s pistol had gone missing more than a week earlier but Bailey claims Hogan is the one who took it and hid it between the cushions in the front seat. “She said she found her father’s revolver in the automobile … and it felt cold and sinister to her touch. (After his suggestion to prostitute her), her hand touched the revolver. She drew it to her lap under a lap robe. She worked it around so that the weapon pointed at herself,” according to her testimony.
She claimed there was a sudden bang and she heard Mr. Hogan say “I am shot.”
She was convicted of voluntary manslaughter with a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Father of five killed in family bedroom
George Schwoerer was lying in his bed in the family bedroom, nursing a wounded shoulder. Only a few hours earlier, he had ridden a horse home from the hospital, where a doctor treated the wound. His five children were snuggled in their own beds. That’s when J.G. Silva and Schwoerer’s wife Stella bludgeoned him to death.
“The man’s children were awakened by the noise of the clubbing and they heard their father moaning … in his death struggle,” reported the Stockton Daily Evening Record, May 5, 1916. “(One child) told the officer that her mother told the children to keep still and go back to sleep.”
This wasn’t Silva’s first time trying to kill Mr. Schwoerer, at least according to Sheriff John Cosgrave’s hunch. The previous Friday, the murder victim had been shot in the shoulder at Melones.
“(The sheriff) had secured enough evidence of Silva’s motive and that the man was seen in Melones that night,” reported the newspaper. “(Sheriff Cosgrave) had hunted for the (suspect) all Sunday night, but Silva had dropped from sight.”
On a hill behind the Schwoerer cabin, Silva had been hiding since the shooting. Stella and a few of her children brought food to the man.
In her confession, she admitted to planning the murder. She had provided Silva was the gun to shoot her husband in his first failed attempt. A few hours before the husband’s death, she and Silva met to plan the second successful attempt. After the murder, she threw the murder weapon — a piece of iron pipe — down the well.
Judge Hancock sentenced housewife Stella Schwoerer to life imprisonment in San Quentin, according to the Los Angeles Herald, May 25, 1916.
Schwoerer pleaded guilty to charges of murdering her husband. She was 37 years old when the Women’s Ward report was published and was six years into her sentence.
Silva pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life at Folsom Prison.
May Gilman, 43, was serving five years for “abortion,” whether she received one or performed it is unclear but her occupation is listed as nurse. She hailed from England.
Russian housewife Hanna Ashkenazi, 38, was serving two to five years out of San Francisco County for violating penal code 274 (abortion, the original law dating back to 1850). Her occupation is listed as pharmacist.
Chinese native Wong Pong, a 35-year-old housewife, was serving up to five years for “violating poison law,” committed from Alameda County. She had two prior convictions but the offenses aren’t listed.
Italian native Rosina Salvino, 35, was serving a 10-years-to-life sentence for second-degree murder out of San Joaquin County. She was received in 1920.
Federal inmates at San Quentin
A half-dozen inmates are listed as “U.S. Prisoner,” all serving sentences of one year plus one day for violating the Harrison Act of 1914, an early anti-drug law that sought to combat opium addiction through licensing and taxation.
The six women serving sentences were Viola Harvson, 30-year-old housewife, sentenced out of the East District (ED) of Louisiana; Ray Houge, 24-year-old nurse, sentenced out of the West District (WD) of Texas; Maria Parejo, 49-year-old chambermaid, sentenced out of the WD of Texas; Gertrude Ruch, 32-year-old waitress, sentenced out of the ED of Louisiana; Ruth Spencer, 31-year-old housewife, sentenced out of the ED of Louisiana; and May Tyson, 30-year-old seamstress, sentenced out of the WD of Texas.
There were 10 women serving sentences for first- or second-degree murder, seven for manslaughter and others for various crimes ranging from forgery to receiving stolen property and burglary.
- See how mother-child bonds are encouraged at Folsom Women’s Facility.
- Explore how the suffrage movement expanded correctional job opportunities for women.
- See how a female offender has found success post-release.