‘Ma’ Duncan




1959_0320_mirror


Elizabeth_duncan__group_1958_1231_c
Photograph by John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

Defendants Augustine Baldonado, left, and Luis Moya stand during the arraignment of Elizabeth Ann Duncan, with attorney S. Ward Sullivan, in Ventura County.

By Catriona Lavery

Elizabeth_duncan_1958_1231_crop
Elizabeth
Ann Duncan hired two men to kill her pregnant daughter-in-law, jealous
that the young mother-to-be threatened her incestuous relationship with
her son Frank, 30. Duncan is one of four women executed in California’s
gas chamber.

Olga Kupczyk Duncan disappeared in November 1958.
She was seven months’ pregnant, 30 years old and newspapermen didn’t
hesitate to call her attractive.

Elizabeth Duncan first drew
suspicion when police discovered she had illegally obtained an
annulment for her son and his wife. Elizabeth Duncan and Ralph
Winterstein, 25, hired by Duncan, secured the separation by posing as
the young couple in court.

Nearly a month after the woman’s disappearance, investigators found her
body in the Casitas Pass
of Carpinteria, Calif., after Augustine Baldonado, 25, confessed that
he and Luis Moya, 22, had been offered $6,000 by the victim’s
mother-in-law. The two men beat the young woman with a pistol,
strangled her and buried her body in a shallow grave. Coroners
investigations found that she was still alive when buried.

Elizabeth Duncan’s bizarre past and penchant for dramatics made the trial a sensation. 

Inconsistencies abound

She had been married at least 11 times.

Elizabeth_duncan_1959_0312_crop
When
cross-examined, she admitted to 10 marriages and said, "there might
have been an 11th…. I’m afraid to count the others: they didn’t mean
that much to me." At one point, prosecutors alleged she married 16
times. Duncan conned young men into marrying by telling them she needed
a husband in order to inherit a great fortune, promising them a cut.

At
first, Duncan maintained she had two children — Frank and a daughter,
Patricia, who died at 15. However, Duncan later admitted she had four
other children — three daughters and a son. When Prosecutor Roy
Gustafson asked if she loved Frank more than the others, she said yes.

An unnatural love

Despite
being married, he still slept at his mother’s home. In his testimony,
Frank Duncan proudly admitted he had lived with his mother almost his
whole life. Their incestuous relationship and his mother’s subsequent
jealousy became the basis of motive in the case.

Newspapers at
the time approached the relationship cautiously. The Times only
mentions the mother’s "overwhelming love" for her son. The Mirror News
refers to an "unnatural love" between the two, but stopped short of
calling it incest.

Elizabeth Duncan also admitted to planning
to kidnap her son. "Frankie had just lost his mind over Olga," she
testified. "So I called my sister in Los Angeles and told her to rent
an apartment for me. I was going to tie him up and take him down there
to try to talk some sense into him. I didn’t want to lose Frankie. I
couldn’t stand life alone and I knew it."

The jury took just four hours and 51 minutes to find her guilty.

Elizabeth_duncan_1959_0114_crop_2

Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Frank Duncan and his mother, Elizabeth Ann.

Her
execution was delayed twice. Both times Duncan’s lawyers argued
"sensational publicity" and other circumstances prevented their client
from receiving a fair trial. In 1962, the court refused to hear another
appeal.

Frank Duncan, also a lawyer, fought for his mother until
the end. At the time of her execution, he was in San Francisco,
pleading her case before the U.S. Court of Appeals. The court refused
to take action, and she was executed on August 8, 1962.

Ladies

Elizabeth
Ann Duncan was the last of four women executed by gas chamber in
California. The others were "the Dutchess" Ethel Juanita Spinelli
(1941), Louise Peete (1947) and Barbara Graham (1955). Almost 200 men
have died in the same way.

Peete offered one reason for the
unrepresentative number. Just before her execution, Peete was convinced
she would not die. She said, "The governor is a gentlemen — and no
gentleman could sentence a lady to her death."

Look through the recent columns of Paul Coates and Matt Weinstock for more articles about Elizabeth Ann Duncan.


About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in #courts, Homicide. Bookmark the permalink.

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