KTTV 70: The story and execution of Barbara Graham

"Bloody Babs" - that's what she was called by some!

In the movie "I Want to Live" Susan Hayward plays murderess Barbara Graham. She won an Oscar for the portrayal. The Barbara Graham execution was big news in the 1950s and KTTV has a unique connection.

"The victim was a Burbank woman named Mable Monahan. And, she had a nephew who worked the gambling tables in Vegas. And, Barbara Graham and the two meatheads she worked with... they decided that he was probably laundering ill-gotten gains with Mable Monahan," said Retired KTTV Investigative Reporter Pete Noyes "So, they broke into her house. They had a guy standing guard outside watching for the cops and they beat the hell out of Mable Monahan."

Noyes says they tore up the house but couldn't find any money. Monahan died 6 weeks later it might have just been another page in the archives had it not been for one compelling call to KTTV anchorman George Putnam. A call he spoke about so many years later.

Emotionally, Putnam said that "she called her attorney and told him 'can you get Putnam to come out to see me. And, I went up to Norco. 2 O'clock in the morning. She was brought to me. Got down on her knees and cried and pleaded and said 'you know the Governor. You've gotta save my life.' And, I said Barbara we know the whole story. I cannot lie."

Putnam wouldn't intervene, but others tried says Pete Noyes. He said, "A lot of important people called Governor Knight and asked that she not be executed."

And despite those efforts she was. Her executioner Joseph Boretti told KTTV, "We had her strapped in. She was given two stays. We had to open the door and unstrap her and take her back to her cell. She didn't go till 11:30. She was supposed to go at 10. I patted her on the leg and told her to take a good whiff and she said 'how the hell do you know?' She was right."

He would lower the lever that would cause the cyanide pellets to drop into a bowl of sulfuric acid under the chair. As a prison official would explain to KTTV, "Within 5 to 30 seconds the person will slip into unconsciousness"

Boretti adds, "They go about four or five times back and forth...finally their head comes down."

Noyes added, "She was quivering and shaking to her death."

Barbara Graham died within minutes of inhaling the gas.