Times on Spinelli Execution: ‘Good Riddance’

image Nov. 22, 1941: Here is Times reporter Tom Cameron’s description of the execution of Juanita “the Duchess” Spinelli:

Eight cyanide “eggs” under the chair dropped into a bucket of sulfuric acid and distilled water.

Nothing happened. The Duchess, her back still to her audience, was moving her lips in silent supplication.

The beads of perspiration began to stand out on reporters’ brows. Then the Duchess coughed. Through the heavy glass and steel it sounded like that of an asthmatic sufferer. The Duchess’ head dropped forward in a nod.

Then it jerked back, back until her long graying hair streamed down over the chair.

The Duchess coughed again; then blew out her breath with a sound like that a horse sometimes makes with his lips.

“Lemme outta here!” an elderly man whispered, “reminds me of my kid — he’s got asthma.” He forced his way through the spectators and went outside.

“That’s an old retired guard,” someone whispered. “He was saying a while ago the gallows was more decent than this.”

The Duchess was coughing more frequently now. Again, she blew invisible fumes from her lungs. Her head swung back over the chair, her eyes staring straight up at the low ceiling.

A large vein on the right side of her neck was still throbbing. Her mouth looked sunken, for they had taken away her false teeth. A gray, unhealthy pallor was spreading over her face. She was still alive, yet she had been in that little room, with every cranny of its 355.44 cubic feet of air space packed with the deadly gas, for what seemed a long time.

But it had been only five minutes — if my watch hadn’t stopped. A glance showed it hadn’t.

Another five minutes — the longest 300 seconds I’ve ever watched go into eternity — ticked off. The vein in the Duchess’ neck had long ceased pulsing.

Thirty seconds more. Then:

“That’s all, boys; the times were 10:14 1/2 and 10:25.” (Ten and one-half minutes from the time the cyanide was dropped until the stethoscope had indicated beyond doubt the Duchess’ heart — the heart that the law said was too evil to live, yet only Tuesday had thrilled over the sight of a baby — had stopped.)

Nov. 22, 1941, Spinelli Execution

Nov. 22, 1941, Spinelli Execution

Nov. 22, 1941, 1851 lynching

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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