August 8, 1962
San Quentin, California
Elizabeth Duncan becomes the fourth and last woman to be executed in California
Duncan was executed for hiring two men to kill her pregnant daughter-in-law. Her son Frank had met nurse Olga Kupczyk while she cared for Elizabeth following an attempted suicide. The two married in secret; when Frank finally told his mother of the marriage, she became distraught and cried uncontrollably. In an attempt at compromise, Frank would visit his wife at her apartment every evening, only to return to sleep in the apartment he shared with his mother.
The compromise was not enough for Elizabeth, and after Olga became pregnant Elizabeth began threatening her, hoping to run her away. Olga brought the threats to the attention of her husband, though he didn’t believe her, believing his mother instead when Elizabeth claimed she did no such thing. Frank also refused to believe a carhop who informed him Elizabeth had offered her $1,500 to throw acid of Olga’s face and push her from a cliff. She also attempted to pose as Olga, hiring a man as a stand-in for Frank, to try to annul her son’s marriage, though she was unsuccessful.
Elizabeth eventually contracted Luis Moya and Augustine Baldonado to kill Olga for $3,000. The two abducted the 7-months-pregnant Olga from her apartment after convincing her Frank was drunk in the backseat of their car. They beat her with their gun — breaking the handle in the process — strangled her, and buried her in a shallow grave. To Frank, who later testified he had not spoken to his wife for ten days leading up to her murder, it seemed Olga had simply disappeared.
When the men were arrested on an unrelated charge a few weeks later, Elizabeth panicked, fearing they would confess to the Olga’s murder. She told Frank the men had been blackmailing her about the attempted annulment. Frank visited the police, hoping to add additional charges against the men. Instead, police grew suspicious of Olga’s disappearance and grilled the men who confessed to the murder, implicating Elizabeth as the orchestrator.
At trial, Elizabeth proclaimed she had nothing to do with Olga’s murder, with her son steadfastly believing her. The jury took less than five hours to convict her and sentence her to death. After three years of appeals, Elizabeth was executed in San Quentin’s gas chamber, with Frank trying up until the very moment of the execution to postpone or overturn her death sentence. Her last words were “Where’s Frank? I’m innocent.” Her hired hit men, who had pleaded guilty, were also sentenced to the gas chamber and executed three hours after Duncan.
The strange relationship shared between Frank and Elizabeth created a stir of gossip claiming the two had been involved in an incestuous relationship, though it is likely to be nothing more than rumors.
As of August 8, 2018, Duncan was the last woman executed in California. There are currently 22 women on California’s death row.