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. Females were housed at San Quentin before the original California Institution for Women was built.
The report lists:
- name, crime, and sentence
- county of commitment and date received
- age, nativity, and race
- occupation and religion
- sentencing judge, district attorney, lawyer
- previous institution history
- prison record
- mental age and physical handicaps
- tuberculosis status and venereal disease test results.
The Women’s Ward had 10 serving sentences for first- or second-degree murder, seven for manslaughter and others for crimes such as forgery, receiving stolen property, and burglary.
Inside CDCR takes a closer look at some of those names to give the report some context and explore their stories.
Trunk Murderess is first woman to get death sentence
One name on the 1922 report stands out: Emma LeDoux, the first woman sentenced to the death in the California.
In her mid-30s when she was convicted of poisoning her husband in 1906, the press dubbed her the “Trunk Murderess.”
Her 15-day trial was front-page news, only bumped by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
She lured her estranged husband, A.N. McVicar, to Stockton for reconciliation. Prosecutors allege LeDoux planned to do away with McVicar because she married another man and didn’t want her bigamy revealed.
According to prosecutors, LeDoux poisoned her husband, stuffed his body in a trunk, and tried shipping it to her home in Amador County.
Without proper registration, the trunk sat on the platform. With the victim inside, the trunk sat on the platform until people became suspicious.
Appealing her conviction, the state Supreme Court granted another trial.
LeDoux changes plea to guilty
With her health failing, she changed her plea to guilty in January 1910, landing a life sentence.
In 1920, she paroled, but was back in prison less than year later. Paroling again in 1925, she wasn’t out long. A bogus marriage scheme landed her back in San Quentin in 1931.
LeDoux left San Quentin in 1933, transferring to the newly activated California Institution for Women (CIW) at Tehachapi.
Incarcerated at CIW for eight years, she passed away in 1941 from ovarian cancer at age 69.
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, but her sentence was cut short.
In 1930, Chona Andrade died in the San Quentin 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 Marcus, the jitneuer, appeared in Bakersfield. (That’s) when Trinity Dandia confessed to an almost similar jitney bus murder,” 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. The shuttle’s driver or owner was called a “jitneuer.”
“Marcus was killed by someone who accompanied him on a ride in his jitney bus several miles from Glendale,” the paper reported. Some of the evidence at the scene pointed to a female suspect.
Dandia was arrested in Bakersfield after confessing her part in another jitney murder.
“The officers in Bakersfield believe Dandia participated in five jitney bus murders in California, one of them being Marcus,” according to newspapers.
Convicted of murdering driver
She was convicted of the murder of James Hanlon, a young jitney driver killed April 1917.
In her mid-20s when she was arrested and put on trial, she was 30 by the time the San Quentin Women’s Ward report was issued.
In 1933, at 41 years old, Dandia was sent to the new California Institution for Women.
“Dandia 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 (board a train) for their new home,” reported the Healdsburg Tribune, Sept. 2, 1933.
Paroled in 1949, Dandia was pardoned by the Governor 14 years later.
“The pardons reached back in time to embrace 73-year-old Trinity Dandia, convicted of murder in 1917,” reported the Desert Sun, Dec. 26, 1963.
Tobacco embezzler sentenced to San Quentin Women’s Ward
Bookkeeper and cashier Jean Fallon, 32, was a Finland native.
She was serving two one-to-10-year sentences out of Sacramento County for two counts of embezzlement.
Employed by the Glaser Brothers Tobacconists in Sacramento, she intercepted payments and failed to log them, instead pocketing the cash.
According to authorities, Fallon embezzled $4,400. In today’s dollars, it’s the equivalent to $65,000. She was found guilty on April 29, 1921.
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 Denton, where his body was found two months ago,” reported the Sacramento Union, Nov. 23, 1920.
Peete was a housekeep for Denton. After his death, the victim’s sister and her husband began staying at the house to get his affairs in order.
“Officers (said they) also found Denton’s check book under a rug, just outside Peete’s room. The book showed no record of the checks Peete cashed after Denton’s disappearance,” the paper reported.
Gardener unwittingly helps cover up crime
During her trial, the gardener testified Peete hired him to remove dirt from around rose bushes, storing it in the basement for future use. Another witness testified Peete borrowed a shovel, found several days later with dirt on it. The same witness said Peete gave him a bundle to burn containing a table cloth, men’s collars and cancelled checks.
She was found guilty.
Peete enters Women’s Ward
She was received by San Quentin on Dec. 7, 1921. When the Women’s Ward report was compiled, Peete was 29.
Nearly two decades later, she was granted parole.
“Peete, convicted 18 years ago of slaying Denton 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.
“Peete is in custody charged with (murdering) her employer. Margaret Logan, 60, was found buried in the back yard (her home) at Pacific Palisades,” reported the Madera Tribune, Dec. 29, 1944.
Second woman executed by gas chamber
Peete was given the death penalty the following year.
“Peete, twice-convicted murderess, was sentenced to die in the San Quentin gas chamber for her second murder. She said quietly, ‘I’m glad it’s all over with,'” reported the Madera Tribune, June 1, 1945.
In April 1947, she became the second woman executed in California’s gas chamber.
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. Wixson will serve her term at San Quentin and Marvin will go to Folsom Prison.”
The newspaper report described the crime.
“Wixson and Marvin and two men known as ‘Billy’ and ‘Jack’ planned the rug-peddler robbery. (She) rented rooms with him, where the gang hid. The (victim) was overpowered, given ammonia and robbed, (then died). Allegedly, ‘Jack’ and ‘Billy’ played the most important parts in the robbery, escaping with most of the stolen money,” 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.
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.
According to Bailey, she found the gun and hid it under a robe on her lap. Claiming she pointed the weapon toward herself after Hogan said he wanted to prostitute her, it was followed by a loud band. Hogan uttered the words “I am shot.”
Bailey was convicted of voluntary manslaughter with a 10-year maximum sentence.
Father of five killed in family bedroom
George Schwoerer, who was treated for a gunshot wound in his shoulder, was lying in his bed in the family bedroom. Meanwhile, his five children were snuggled in their beds. That’s when J.G. Silva, along with George’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.
This wasn’t Silva’s first time trying to kill the man, according to Sheriff John Cosgrave. The previous Friday, the murder victim had been shot in the shoulder at Melones.
“(The sheriff) secured enough evidence of Silva’s motive. Also, the man was seen in Melones that night,” reported the newspaper.
Silva hid behind home
After the shooting, Silva hid on a hill behind the Schwoerer cabin. To keep him fed, Stella snuck him meals.
She confessed to planning the murder, even providing Silva with a gun. When the first attempt failed, the pair quickly hatched a new plan. Using a pipe, they bludgeoned the victim, then discarding the weapon down the well.
Pleading guilty, she was sentenced to life in San Quentin. When the Women’s Ward was published, she was 37 and already six years into her sentence.
Her accomplice was sentenced to life at Folsom.
More insights into Women’s Ward residents
May Gilman, 43, a nurse, was serving five years for “abortion.” 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 dated back to 1850. Her occupation is listed as pharmacist.
Chinese native Wong Pong, a 35-year-old housewife, was serving five years for “violating poison law.” Committed from Alameda County, she also had two prior convictions but those 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.
Women’s Ward also housed federal female prisoners
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.
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
- May Tyson, 30-year-old seamstress, sentenced out of the WD of Texas.
By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Office of Public and Employee Communications
- 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.