Unlocking History

Cemetery Tales: Twist of fate for two women

Mugshot of last of four women (Elizabeth Duncan, 3249) executed in California with the San Quentin cemetery in the background.
Elizabeth Ann Duncan, the last woman executed in California, was not buried in the San Quentin cemetery, despite online resources indicating otherwise.

The fates of two women, one serving time at San Quentin and the other executed in the gas chamber, are tied to the prison cemetery.

Mary Hill avoids being first woman buried in San Quentin

After serving a few months at San Quentin, Mary Hill was extremely ill, clinging to life in the prison hospital. Meant to serve a sentence for check forgery, failing health found her in the prison doctor’s care.

When she passed away in 1925, prison officials were unable to find any next-of-kin so preparations were made for her to be buried in the prison cemetery. A grave was dug but never used after Warden Frank Smith learned Hill would be the first woman buried there. To save her the “indignity” of a prison burial, he asked the prison directors for help.

Julian Alco, one of the directors, agreed with the warden. Reaching out to local women’s organizations, one of them offered to cover funeral expenses in an off-site cemetery. Hill was buried “in a casket piled high with flowers,” according to an Associated Press report published at the time.

Someone named Mary Hill, from the Hoopa Valley reservation, died at 24 years old in 1925. She was buried in Fresno. This is most likely the same Hill who served a few months in San Quentin.

Unfortunately, no prison records were located regarding Hill.

Mother’s jealousy leads to daughter-in-law’s murder

According to her son, Santa Barbara resident Elizabeth Ann Duncan was a doting mother. Unfortunately, when Frank married a young nurse named Olga, his mother became very jealous.

The situation grew worse when the happy couple announced her pregnancy. The news was too much for Elizabeth Duncan, who in 1958 hired two men to kill her daughter-in-law.

On Nov. 17, Augustine Baldonado and Luis Moya arrived at Olga’s home in the late evening. Baldonado said they lured the young woman out of the house “under a ruse,” saying her husband needed help.

As she walked out of her home, Moya beat her with a pistol until she lost consciousness. The pair then loaded her into a borrowed vehicle.

They headed to a secluded area, where Baldonado dug a shallow grave with his hands. Meanwhile, Olga woke up, but was again beat unconscious with the pistol wielded by Moya.

The grave dug, they planned to shoot her but the gun failed. In the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 18, they strangled Olga, dumping her body in the grave and covering it with a few inches of dirt. They then returned to Santa Barbara.

Police are tipped off by Duncan’s friend

Duncan’s housemate tipped off authorities about the murder-for-hire plot when the missing nurse’s story began circulating in newspapers and television.

Stringing together a series of leads, police caught up with Baldonado the following month. With evidence mounting, he confessed and led them to her body. During his interview, he also complained the woman who hired them still hadn’t paid the $6,000 she promised. So far, she’d only paid $360.

When the 54-year-old Duncan was arrested, she claimed innocence, saying Baldonado was attempting to blackmail her.

Witnesses were plenty. The owner of a diner said the trio met in her establishment four days before the murder. In fact, she arranged the meeting as a favor because attorney Frank Duncan, son of Elizabeth and husband to Olga, was representing her husband in court.

Another witness put Baldonado and Moya at the murder scene.

During their investigation, police discovered Duncan was so upset about the marriage, she posed as her daughter-in-law, enlisting another man to pose as the husband, to file an annulment. When that effort failed, she hired the two men.

Her son stood by her side throughout the trial and various appeals.

Final fate of Elizabeth Duncan and her co-conspirators

She was found guilty, along with her two conspirators, and all were sentenced to death.

Duncan, Baldonado and Moya were executed in the San Quentin gas chamber Aug. 8, 1962.

Baldonado was buried in Ivy Lawn Memorial Park in Ventura. Meanwhile, Moya chose to donate his body to Stanford University Medical School.

Elizabeth Ann Duncan, the last woman executed in California, is listed as being buried in the San Quentin Cemetery, at least on genealogical websites. Newspaper reports indicate her son claimed the body, sending her to a San Francisco funeral home. Also, she is not listed in San Quentin prison cemetery records. Her true final resting place is unknown.

Four women executed in California

  • Juanita Spinelli, 1941, buried in Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery, San Rafael.
  • Louise Peete, 1947, buried in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles.
  • Barbara Graham, 1955, buried in Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery, San Rafael.
  • Elizabeth Ann Duncan, 1962, burial location unknown.

Learn more about California prison history.

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