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 Juanita Spinelli

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Juanita Spinelli

  • Birth 17 Oct 1889 Kentucky, USA
  • Death 21 Nov 1941 San Quentin, Marin County, California, USA
  • Burial San Rafael, Marin County, California, USA
  • Plot Section G, Row 30, Lot 18 (no grave marker)
  • Memorial ID 11660

First woman to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin Federal Prison. She was convicted of First Degree Murder (premeditated). Nicknamed “the Duchess” by her fellow gang members for her haughty demeanor, she and her common-law husband, Michael Simeone, along with two others, drugged and murdered another member of their gang, 19-year-old Robert Sherrard. Born October 17, 1889, as Eithel Leta Juanita Spinelli, in Kentucky. It would be brought out at her trial that she had once been a wrestler and had used her daughter, known to the gang as “the Gypsy” as a sex lure to recruit other gang members and robbery victims. In January 1940, she came to San Francisco, California, with her common-law husband, Michael Simeone, and their three children. Soon they had recruited a gang, consisting of Gordon Hawkins, Robert Sherrard, and Albert Ives. The five of them began by robbing a San Francisco barbeque stand, in which the proprietor was shot and killed. A couple of days later, on April 14, 1940, the gang met for a picnic on the banks of the Sacramento River in Sacramento, to discuss plans for later robberies. When Sherrard decided to go swimming in the river, the conversation soon turned to their concern about Sherrard, who had been observed “talking too much” about the robbery to his bar buddies in San Francisco. The four other gang members decided to kill Sherrard, so that he would not be a liability to the gang. Later that evening, at their hotel in Sacramento, Spinelli added chloral hydrate, commonly known as knockout drops, to a bottle of whisky and poured a drink, which she offered to Sherrard. When Sherrard became unconscious, Mike Simeone and Gordon Hawkins carried him to their car, and Hawkins and Albert Ives drove him to the Freeport Bridge in Sacramento, where they threw him into the river to drown. His body was found the next day. Spinelli had also concocted a plan to make the murder look like a suicide, and directed that Sherrard was to be clothed in his bathing suit, and his clothes neatly piled on the bank of the Sacramento River near the point where he entered the river, so that authorities would think he killed himself. Unfortunately for the gang, the authorities were not convinced, and the police soon tracked down the other gang members. When arrested, Spinelli had the pistol that had been used to murder the barbeque stand owner in her purse, with her fingerprints all over it, although witnesses would state it was Sherrard who killed the barbeque stand owner. Gang members Hawkins and Simeone were also tried and given the death sentence, while Albert Ives was found “innocent by reason of insanity” and was sentenced to an asylum for the criminally insane. Mike Simeone was executed in San Quentin on November 28, 1941, just a week after his wife. After her death, San Quentin Warden Clinton Duffy said of her, “She was the coldest, hardest character, male or female, that I had ever known, and was utterly lacking in feminine appeal. The Duchess was a hag, as evil as a witch. Horrible to look at, impossible to like, but she was still a woman, and I dreaded the thought of ordering her execution.” There is no record as to what happened to her three children.

Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 10 Aug 2000
  • Find A Grave Memorial 11660
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Juanita Spinelli (17 Oct 1889–21 Nov 1941), Find A Grave Memorial no. 11660, citing Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery, San Rafael, Marin County, California, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .