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County helped stop Mountain Murder Mob

Although Nevada County has not had a death-penalty case in recent history, the county did play a pivotal role in the capture of three of the most notorious murderers in the state’s history.

Jack Santo, Emmett Perkins and Barbara Graham all were executed in the mid-1950s for the brutal murder of an elderly woman, Mabel Monahan, in Burbank.

Santo and Perkins were also convicted of other murders in the Sierra foothills, including the killing of Nevada City resident and gold miner Edmund G. Hansen – a case former Sheriff Wayne Brown was instrumental in solving.



The trio was part of a five-member gang known as the Mountain Murder Mob and the Santo Perkins Gang. The three invaded Monahan’s house after hearing rumors of the woman’s wealth.

A Grass Valley resident, John True, was a cohort in the burglary gone awry. He was given immunity from the police for giving testimony that led to the conviction of Auburn resident Santo, Perkins and Graham. A fifth gang member, Baxter Shorter, had also been offered immunity, but he was kidnapped before he could testify and was never heard from again.




The most famous of the three eventually executed was Graham, an attractive, 32-year-old mother of three. She died in San Quentin’s gas chamber on June 3, 1955, after being convicted of playing the key role in the murder, pounding the woman to near death with a pistol, urging cohort Perkins to continue, and then suffocating the woman with a pillow.

The story of Graham’s involvement in the murder of Monahan and her eventual execution not only grabbed the media spotlight, but also attracted the entertainment industry. Two movies were made about Graham, both called “I Want to Live,” with one starring Susan Hayward and the other starring Lindsey Wagner.

Sources: The Union archives, http://www.crimelibrary.com, local historian Max Roberts.


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