3 June 1955 – Barbara Graham

Barbara Graham‘Why waste good food on me? Give it to someone who can enjoy it,’ snarled Bloody Babs as she prepared to come face to face with her maker.

Drug-addicted prostitute Barbara Graham, born Barbara Elaine Wood had been convicted of murder in America. She got the gas chamber along with her two accomplices after they botched a robbery in an attempt to do a wealthy, elderly widow over. Graham and her two criminal partners, Jack Santo and Emmett Perkins had ended up killing Mabel Monahan in Burbank, California.

The trio were found guilty and during her two years on death row Babs suddenly found God.

Throughout her last night she apparently prayed and her piety looked as if it had paid off a couple of times. She’d been scheduled to die at 10am and came close to execution twice, but was granted slight stays of execution as there was a glimmer of hope that she’d be reprieved. But that in itself was excruciating for Babs who’d steeled herself for execution at 10am. So when the glimmer came to nothing, she sobbed ‘why do they torture me so?’

Clinging to life

She was strapped to a chair in the gas chamber just after 11:30am and hooked up to a stethescope. The doors closed in on her and the cyanide was released. Her head bowed in what appeared to be a quick and painless death. But it transpired that she was actually holding her breath in a desperate bid to clutch on to life. Of course, she couldn’t hold her breath for ever and her lungs eventually filled with the tearingly noxious fumes and she was declared dead at 11:42am just a few weeks short of her 32nd birthday. Her two partners followed roughly three hours later. And the deaths didn’t stop there.

Babs’ lives on

Before her death she cursed those who’d been instrumental in sending her down. Roughly a year after Bloody Babs expired that marked the onset of a spate of unexpected deaths. Her defence lawyer, who’d quit after her lies were exposed, had a heart attack just a year later. The following year, a trio of men were struck down comprising the prosecutor who got cancer, Monahan’s former son-in-law who suffered an attack of apoplexy and the chief warden whose heart gave out.

Bloody Babs, on the other hand, well, her story took off – she was posthumously immortalised in a couple of films. The first starred Susan Hayward, who won an Oscar for playing Graham in the 1958 film I Want To Live. The movie played on the theory that she was innocent. But, it was largely acknowledged to be a work of fiction. Bionic woman Lindsay Wagner went on to star in the 1983 remake.

Also on this day

3 June 2004 – Nam Cam

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65 Responses to “3 June 1955 – Barbara Graham”

  1. Just saw in the “most popular” list that you were wondering why Bloody Babs is so popular right now – I don’t know about everyone else or the last few weeks, but I myself googled Babs after watching I Want To Live on TCM today. Maybe that’s where the interest came from; they’ve probably shown it a lot or something.

  2. Old Sparky Says:

    Thanks Md. She had another massive day this week so I think your theory is probably spot on!

  3. sally Says:

    Too bad the I Want To Live film doesn’t cover any of her changing her heart to Christianity. Oh well.
    If she was, she’s been pretty happy for over 50 years.

    • kaye Says:

      I’ll think you’ll find she has just been dead for the last 50 years – Christian or not.

  4. I have seen this film so many times and it seems to get better each time and I always see something that I had missed. I thought Susan did a tremendous in this film. I was always amazed that nothing further was said about her jail mate that set her up with the detective. I thought there was a pretty good story not told.

    • ANTIETAM Says:

      Her statement about being present at the crime scene was not voluntary, as the cop extracted it on threat of no alabi. However, I heard that evidence I am not familiar with placed her at the crime scene.

  5. Christine Reigle Says:

    i would like to know if barbara Graham son is well and happy and he made out well?

    • Tasha Says:

      From what I read I believe Barbra had 3 children all boy’s,that’s as far as I’ve gotten so far.

      • All three changed their names one moved to europe the one you see in the movie became a doctor in nevada.And the youngest one is a retired baseball player. he played for minn. at one time.

      • Darnelle Says:

        Melissa, did you ever make any headway ? my mom passed from cancer on Halloween and going thru her stuff I found a letter that my dad (bill kielhamer ) wrote but never mailed to Harry regarding how crushed he was finding out when he was 40 that his parents were not his parents, that the person who raised him was not even a relative, and devastating it was to learn he was an orphan. I also found a small card in what i knew as my great grandmothers belongings, written and signed by Barbara asking about ‘Billy’ . I matched the signature to a letter I found online… Bill was Barbara first son from what I now know. I don’t know how to send a private message so please email me. Zebrastripes73@gmail.com
        Darnelle Kielhamer

  6. annie Says:

    I want to live was just on TCM today…….of course, it tends to portray her as innocent.
    I would like to know something about her children, all adults now…..but were they raised by relatives or the state?

  7. kathy Says:

    What is her son’s last name?

  8. I believe that she was set up.I think that Santos girl was that woman not Babs.John True lied about Babs to save his own skin.But he was killled in a car addient in 1958

  9. Ranald Says:


  10. No father or mother? Hardly necessary. We either have a conscience
    or we don’t. We choose our own paths, bear the consequences of our actions and stand alone in our own defense. Those who choose the
    lifestyle of a Barbara Graham are all con artists and the level of expertise
    at their chosen profession is reflected in the number of fools that rush to
    their defense, even long after their demise.

    • I disagree. One is influenced and becomes ones environment. Choices are possible when you are aware that there are choices. When one sees themselves as worthless they are not inclined to believe they deserve anything better or have any options.

    • I couldn’t have put it better myself. And when their life is made in to a movie a sympathetic actor/actress is chosen so that everybody will think that it’s the state that is the big bad wolf for executing them.

  11. I just saw “I Want To Live” . I’ve always heard that one is not guilty unless proven guilty. In the case of Barbara Graham. Seems she had a very hard life of growing up around pretty shady characters to begin with, including her own mother, so sad. But, everything I have read, seems to state there was no conclusive evidence that she was guilty. Had this happened in today’s world, she may have lived, perhaps been sent to jail for a short time, but without conclusive evidence, she may have walked. I researched this once before, and I am curious if the info I found about her son, Tommy is true. He became a renowed lawyer or politician, somewhere in California. I wonder if he remembers his Mom and what happened to him, who got custody of him. The movie does NOT go into those things, as I think it was geared more to tryin’ to say that women should not go to the gas chamber since Barbara was the first female that did. Were she guilty in our society, there is no difference between man or woman, but in her time, society seemed to have more empathy with women than men in a case of murder. I saw one site that had a picture of the ex professional ice skater, the murdered lady, of 63, it was a brutal murder.

    • disgusted Says:

      If all the “facts” you have were from the movie, you need to do some research. There is plenty of material on the internet. Aside from the court records and the material from one of the LA investigators who knew Perkins and met Babs and Perkins when they were on the run, there is also this minor detail–she confessed to the murder to the warden some time before her execution day. He told about her confession to two different people.

    • I just watched a show, on Investigation Discovery, called “Deadly Women.” They had one that was on Barbara Graham. On there they said she was the third woman to go to the Gas Chamber. Not sure who the other two were, but one of them was in the 1940s.

      I’ve seen the movie “I want to Live” several times…Great movie…Makes me cry, though. :o(

    • In today’s world DNA would seal her fate.

  12. My EX sister-in-law’s name is Barbara Graham. The ironic thing is, she too is addicted to a drug, she’s a lier, thief, scam artist, shoplifter and complete and utter trollop!! She’s never murdered anyone of course, but she has implied she would rather see my brother dead then alive. They are still married today. The reason she is my EX sister in law? She tried the ultimate act of theft…she TRIED to steal my husband!!!

    • Frankie Says:

      Your a “Freaking” idiot! What the H does any of your trailer trash crap have to do with this article?

    • Kayla Says:

      So says your husband…..and it’s spelled liar, not lier.

  13. Bill J. Says:

    lysander, try reading the book of “Proverbs.Parents are essentials in the training of a child.

    • kaye Says:

      A lot of people have been raised properly by a single parent and have turned out just fine. You can’t take the bible literally, as it is just the opinion of the writers from long ago.

  14. Hollywood frustrates me when they take these stories and change them. I want to know the true facts. I would also like to know the stories of her children. I do like watching the movie because it was so well made.

  15. I saw it today on tcm, too. Great, gripping movie.
    Read she was a nurse at one time, too – that’s quite a valant turnaround when you consider all of the schooling and the job at hand. Not much is said about that, which I read online. True, today she would never have had the same end result. Sad life, hers and Mrs.Mulligans.

  16. I worked in a prison for five years…everyone was innocent…but I have to say in all that time I met one inmate who I actually believe was truly innocent….I also believed Barbara Graham was innocent…

  17. is there a book out there about her.

    • There are several Books, out there, about her…Do a search on Amazon.com, for her. (or on Google)

  18. Kim Says:

    I just saw the movie again, tonight. It is an awesome movie and I think it portrays her as innocent, too. I haven’t made up my mind, yet, as to whether she is or not. It’s hard to know. All those involved died with her or shortly thereafter. If she did turn to God, and I hope she did, they sure didn’t portray that at all, other than her going to confession.

  19. Anna Says:

    Do any of you really know about her children and what they did with their lives? You are aware that family/friends stepped in to take care of the kids and shade them from the insanity of the press and trial. You can spend all your days reading garb online…you’ll never know what they really went thru or how their lives played out.

    • darnelle Says:

      I know one played out well, as he was my dad….he died,in 2001.

      • RoseAnn Says:

        Darnelle who was your dad? I am a granddaughter of one of her sons and I’m trying to get a better understanding of the family ansestery

      • Wood Says:

        My dad was your dad’s 1st cousin then. He has/had four 1st cousins on Barbara’s side.

      • darnelle Says:

        There must be such a larger portion of family I never got to know

  20. google Elizabeth Duncan Execution of the Day, one of her sons posted a comment there

  21. LUIGI 666 Says:


  22. Louie Izzy Says:

    Well 4 me I can say **** HER they should fried her instead of a gas chamber n instead 2 do her first they should let her see her partners n crime fried b4 her eyes so she could feel what that lady went thru knwing that she was gonna b murder,then she has the audacity 2 sob when they postponed her xecution twice y they torture me?***** u went thru nothing u got off easy,**** her movies Idon’t give a ****,the thing is ppl r so easy 2 blame,her mother or the way they r raise,I hear a lot of ****in crimes the worst done by other ****ers n their parents are very good ppl,ppl that help other ppl,even ****ers that their parents give them everything n what happened they get killed by their own oofspring so **** that stupid excuse of mother or the way they being raised,

    • Bill Says:

      Anger Management Buddy, you need it now
      Bab’s died over 60 years ago….

  23. I just saw the movie and the death penalty was instituted by God as a way to remove from society those who have no respect for human life, the death penalty was never intended to deter people from killing, so if anyone has a complaint about the DP, take it up with the Creator of the universe, I think he knows what’s best for us!

  24. gerry c Says:

    louie izzy i personally believe “baba”is innocent”if today’s technology applied she might live until the “creator”called her home

  25. Angelo Darden Says:

    Gene Blake(1920-1995) the crime reporter for the L.A. Times covered the trial of Barbara Graham and her 2 accomplices in the robbery/murder of Mabel Monahan. He revisited the case in an article written in 1958; mirrored on a website in 2008 here: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/thedailymirror/2008/11/barbara-graham.html

    Mr.Blake goes on to recount all of the major fallacies depicted in the movie “I Want To Live” starring Susan Heyward and concludes the following: “But I actually watched those three persons die that day. And I heard all of the evidence that put them in that green gas chamber. Nothing I have heard or seen to date-including the movie-has changed my mind”

  26. Walter Lindsay Says:

    With hours of unbiased research it has left me with no doubt that Barbara Graham was guilty of the crime she was accused of.
    However I need to question the horrific method & costs to carry out her gas chamber execution when a pill or injection would have been much less cruel & invasive. It appears to me that the real intent behind this archaic process was designed to satisfy the goulish hunger of the establishment in charge as was also witnessed in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. We are so self rightious & passionate when gaurding our own savagery & cruelty aren’t we?

    • Angelo Darden Says:

      The reason was poison gas was seen as less cruel than hanging and electrocution. The original idea was to pump poison gas in the cell of the unsuspecting person while they were asleep. You can probably guess the impracticality of that idea. Nevertheless, poison gas was chosen as the method of execution in Nevada (first used in 1921 on Gee Jon)and California. In Nazi Germany, however, until 1932, the axe was the preferred method. It was until Hitler saw the French guillotine, that the method was changed to beheading by guillotine. As to the concentration camps, it was a cost effective means of mass execution. A book you might want to research on the gas chamber is “The Last Face You’ll Ever See” by Ivan Solotaroff. It describes the science and technology behind the gas chamber as carried out in Parchman Farm, MS prison.

    • Costs? Compared to today’s interminable appeals processes and their costs? Babs was a bargain. Another one off the count. Too bad Manson was not sitting on her lap when she tried to hold her breath. Not much sympathy or empathy here… family member murdered by scum.

      • joseph puckett Says:

        barbara graham was not guilty, she was framed by the d a office in l.a. due to who the victem was at the time. the police just wanted to look good.get a quick conviction and hush the case up. it is still done many times today.the death sentence should be aboshed and stop killing people . some day all those judges will have to answer to some one much higher than them.

  27. Melissa keiningham Says:

    Please if anyone knows were Thomas Graham is he’s my cousin. My grandmother was holding him in the parking lot the day my Aunt Barbara was executed. My father who was also in the car & is a couple years older than him, I would like to find him again someday. Thanks n please I don’t want to have any rude comments to me. I am only now 31. I was not even born when my aunt went through this obviously. Thanks again. also there was a few other movies made that showed other true points of the story.

    • darnelle Says:

      Have you done an ancestry.com search? I have some ties to her as well, but it’s a, story that my dad took to his grave…

      • Melissa keiningham Says:

        Wow I’m so happy to meet you! I did not think to try ancestry. My Father is getting up there age wise. He told he would like to see his cousin again. I didn’t even tell him id try. I figure it wouldn’t go to far. I am also sorry your Father passed. I just lost my Mom a month ago to cancer. Also what had pushed me to try to find Tommy for my Dad. Thank u again for your response!

      • darnelle Says:

        Your welcome, good luck….its a,horrible situation…..

    • melissa keiningham, please contact, email me, I may be able to help you, I have a lot of information that is valid, john easton

      • darnelle Says:

        John, we’re you sending my dad letters in the 80’s?
        My dad was Bill and he was brought to WA to live, he was kept out of the movie story as well.

    • leo cox Says:

      Melissa, I remember you mentioned this to me and I just want you to know that I really do feel your pain regarding all your losses which I do know about because some information is available.
      I wish I was a better listener during those times. There is so much I wish I did differently. But thank you for being a thoughtful caring person and for becoming a permanent part of my heart.
      Leo leo112sjca@yahoo.com

  28. Evelyn Suree Says:

    I saw the movie when it originally was shown in Pomona CA. YES I AM OLD…The movie kept me awake at night. It made a big uproar in Southern CA at the time. The state, the police the prison and all concerned were very ticked off about the movie. So I would not believe anything an employee of the State said, after the fact. Also Barbara hated the law, the prison all all figures of authority so I can’t believe she would confess to any official. I did read somewhere back then that she confessed to the priest when she accepted the Lord. This sounds more truthful but who knows if it really happened.

  29. Yes I saw the movie when I was about 15, later I did some research and found the end of the picture was actually filmed in the San Quentin gas chamber, so Susan Hayward was probably the only person to sit in that chair and live to talk about it. Also this was a time when you got the death penalty, you got it. I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of the death penalty, but I do not think this would happen today.

  30. they say the executioner told her “when you hear the pellets drop take a deep breath and it won’t bother you” and Barbara said “how the hell do you know?!” not how do you know. she wore a beige or champagne colored wool skirt suit and brown high heel pumps and allowed to wear lipstick and requested to wear a mask over her eyes. Personally I think she was innocent and the evidence was circumstancial , and the one that said she beat the woman to death was probably lying to get out of the gas chamber, but got it anyway.


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