Episode 26: The Duchess: Juanita Spinelli

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Juanita Spinelli ran a gang of embarrassingly awful Northern Californian crooks who could barely rob enough gas stations to stay afloat. And yet three years after forming her gang, she was walking toward the gas chamber, as citizens across the country clamored that it wasn’t right to execute a woman.


(Become a Patreon supporter for rewards and bonus content! And here’s the slideshow of California’s death row inmates that I mention at the end of the episode…)


“Murder Ring in State Broken,” Santa Maria Times, 16 April 1940

“Robbery-Gang Killing Explained,” The Los Angeles Times, 17 April 1940

All Juanita Spinelli coverage from The San Francisco Examiner, 1940-1941

“Woman Seized as Murder Ring Head,” Leader-Telegram, 17 April 1940

“Gang is Indicted in Sacramento For Slaying of Youth,” Reno Gazette-Journal, 23 April 1940

“Aided Slayers to Save Child,” Muncie Evening Press, 25 May 1940

“’Duchess’ Gang Aid Admits Throwing Victim Into River,” Oakland Tribune, 27 May 1940

“A Woman Condemned to Die,” Lincoln News Messenger, 13 Feb 1941

“‘The Duchess’ to Die for Gang Slaying,” The Press Democrat, 19 June 1941

“Murderess Snatched from Death’s Shadow,” The Press Democrat, 20 June 1941

“Death Awaits Mrs. Spinelli,” The Los Angeles Times, 20 Nov 1941

“‘The Duchess’ Dies in Gas Chamber,” The Roseville Press, 21 Nov 1941

“Many Pleas Made For Duchess’ Life,” Oakland Tribune, 21 Nov 1941

“‘Duchess’ Quite in Execution,” Santa Cruz Evening News, 21 Nov 1941

“Aides to ‘Duchess’ Executed; Laugh and Pray at Finish,” The Los Angeles Times, 29 Nov 1941

“These Interesting People,” Oakland Tribune, 4 Nov 1946

“Big Names from the Big House,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 17 Dec 2000

“The Death of a Duchess,” Daily News, 29 June 2003

“Timeline: Capital Punishment in California,” Southern California Public Radio

“California Death Penalty Suspended; 737 Inmates Get Stay of Execution,” New York Times, 12 March 2019

“The most notorious inmates on California's death row,” SF Gate, 13 March 2019

“These are the 737 inmates on California's death row,” LA Times, 13 March 2019


“Guilty” by Richard A. Whiting, Harry Akst, and Gus Kahn, sung by Anna Telfer.

“Me and the Blues,” sung by Mildred Bailey, from archive.org

Tori Telfer