October 18, 1949
Eugene Leo Gambetta (46) is executed for the murder of his ex-wife
Gambetta and his ex-wife, Thelma Ribail (25) had been married for two years before they separated in March 1948 and finalized their divorce on June 25, 1948. On July 15, Gambetta reportedly waited in the bushes near Ribail’s Reno, Nevada apartment until she was dropped off by her date. Gambetta then approached Ribail and the pair argued. During the altercation, Gambetta struck Ribail between the eyes with his pistol, forced her into his car at gunpoint, and drove away.
Ribail attempted to jump from the speeding vehicle and Gambetta threatened, “If you jump I’ll shoot you.” As Ribail jumped from the car, Gambetta shot her in the back. He pulled his car over to check on Ribail, discovered she was dead, and put her back in the the vehicle before he started driving aimlessly, eventually making his way to San Francisco, California around 218 miles (350 km) away. Police found him the same day as Ribail’s murder. He was parked in his car watching the sunset over the ocean and comtemplating suicide.
“You’ll find my wife’s body in the trunk of the car,” Gambetta told the officers. Ribail had been shot twice with a .32-caliber pistol: once in her head and once in the back. When asked why he had killed her, Gambetta replied, “because I loved her.” He later elaborated to claim he had killed his ex-wife out of jealousy because she was dating other men.
Before she had been pushed into Gambetta’s vehicle, Ribail was able to throw her shoes, purse, and hat into the street. Gambetta had previously abducted Ribail on three separate occasions and Ribail had established a signal with her sister in the event he should attempt to kidnap her again, by throwing her purse and shoes to the ground at the location of her capture. It was largely based on this clue that directed police to look for Gambetta as the prime suspect in Ribail’s disappearance.
Gambetta was tried, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. His execution in the gas chamber was on October 18, 1949, around 15 months after the murder of his ex-wife.
“Wife Slayer Put to Death.” Reno Evening Gazette. October 18, 1949
State v. Gambetta. Supreme Court of Nevada. Aug 16, 1949. 208 P.2d 1059 (Nev. 1949). No. 3549. August 16, 1949 (archived: https://casetext.com/case/state-v-gambetta)
“Gambetta Held in SF Under Suicide Guard.” Salinas Californian. July 19, 1948
“Reno Divorcee Is Slain, Body Taken To S. F. In Car.” The Sacramento Bee. July 17, 1948
“Slain Wife Found Here in Car Trunk; Ex-Mate Confesses.” San Francisco Examiner. July 17, 1948