Bloody Babs!

Probably the best nickname ever.

This is a new one for me. I found Bloody Babs while I was researching another murder. The case of Bloody Babs (Barbara Graham) was highly sensationalized by the press, as many female murderers are. This was also because she was the third woman executed in the gas chambers in California. How could I not write about someone named Bloody Babs? This story is a classic, sensationalized murder filled with scandal, intrigue, and made the female perpetrator into a femme fatal in the media. It’s not surprising the story was put on film in the 1958 movie I Want To Live! The movie strongly implies Barbara was innocent, which we will soon learn she was anything but. Even after she was sentenced to death, many still believed she was innocent.

Barbara Graham was born Barbara Ford in Oakland, California on June 26, 1923 to a teenaged unwed mother (sadly, a hallmark trait of later offending). Her mother was sent to reform school and Barbara was raised by extended relatives. As a teen herself, Barbara was sent to the same reform school her mother had been in.

She was released from reform school in 1939 and married Henry Kielhamer, a member of the Coast Guard. She enrolled in business college in 1940 and had two sons by 1942, the same year she and Henry divorced and he was awarded custody of their sons. She was married two more times, both ending in divorce. For the next several years, Barbara became what was called a “seagull”, a prostitute who worked around naval bases. At age 22, she started working at a San Fransisco brothel. Here, she met various career criminals and was soon involved in drugs and gambling. She served five years in prison for perjury after providing a false alibi for two of her criminal friends.

After her prison sentence, Barbara moved to Nevada and worked in a hospital and as a waitress. She soon moved to Los Angeles, where she married a bartender, Henry Graham and had another son.

This is when things really get murdery for Babs…

Henry Graham was a career criminal and a drug addict. Sounds like a real catch. During her marriage, Barbara met Jack Santo and Emmett Perkins, Graham’s criminal buddies. As if this story couldn’t get any more sordid, Barbara and Emmett Perkins started having an affair. Perkins told Barbara about a supposedly wealthy widow he knew, Mabel Monohan. The three conspired a robbery.

On March 9, 1953, Barbara along with Santo, Perkins, and two of their “associates”, John True and Baxter Shorter carried out their plan. Barbara gained entrance into Monohan’s home by asking to use the phone. When the door was opened, the men burst in, demanding money and jewels. Mabel Monohan was a bad ass and refused to give them anything. Barbara then pistol whipped her and the rest of the gang suffocated her with a pillow. They got away empty-handed, but later learned they had missed $15,000 worth of jewels and cash.

They were soon arrested for the crime. John True testified against them in exchange for immunity. Baxter Shorter also confessed and named Barbara, Perkins, and Santo. On April 14, 1953, a month after the crime, Shorter was kidnapped and presumably murdered. Barbara insisted throughout the whole ordeal she was innocent, which True claimed she was not. It was during this time, the press coverage of the crime grew and Barbara earned the nickname “Bloody Babs”.

Her claim of innocence was soon proven false. While she was in jail awaiting trial, she offered $25,000 to a fellow inmate, Donna Prow for a friend to provide an alibi for her. Supposedly, Prow and Barbara had an intimate relationship while in prison. This was after Barbara had served prison time for the same crime. Unbeknownst to her, Prow was essentially working as an informant with an undercover cop in exchange for a shortened sentence of her own vehicular manslaughter charges. The inmate agreed. The undercover officer posed as the “friend” and initiated a conversation with Barbara in which she confessed to the crime. The officer recorded the conversation. Prow was released early for her cooperation.

Barbara, Santo, and Perkins were all sentenced to death for robbery and murder. Santo and Perkins were also found responsible for a 1952 quadruple murder in Pulmas County, California. All three appealed their sentences, and none were granted.Barbara was transferred from the California Institution for Women to death row at San Quentin. On June 3, 1953 Barbara was supposed to be executed at 10:00 a.m. The execution was stayed by the Governor of California until 11:30 a.m. Graham protested,”Why do they torture me? I was ready to go at ten o’clock.” Santo and Perkins were executed the same day.

In 1960, Barbara Graham’s execution inspired California lawmakers to vote on suspend death penalty in the state. The bill failed to pass and was introduced due to the stay on her execution. This case is also believed to have sparked the anti-death penalty movement. Executions of women are met with controversy, as many believe women are not capable of violent acts. If you’ve seen the news (or read this blog), you’ll know this is entirely not true. The Chivalry Thesis states female offenders are treated more leniently for violence than their male counterparts, yet are more deceitful in their crimes. Barbara Graham, as well as many others, proves this wrong.

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