Dead Woman Walking: Barbara Graham, Part 1


Mabel Monohan

If Mabel Monohan’s former son-in-law Tutor Scherer hadn’t been a Las Vegas gambler, the sixty-four year old widow would never have been murdered.

Mabel Monohan’s daughter, Iris, had been married to Scherer and when they divorced she got to keep their house in Burbank. When Iris remarried and moved to New York, she gave the the place to Mabel. The house was, and still is, in a quiet residential neighborhood in Burbank, and it was ideal for Mabel and her pet Labrador retriever, Ziggy.

Mabel and Tutor had stayed friends, despite the fact that he and her daughter were no longer a couple. Their friendship was enough to cause speculation among L.A. and Vegas cons. The story that circulated was that Scherer trusted his former mother-in-law so much that she routinely kept $100 grand of his money hidden in a safe at home, just in case he needed it.

Monohan's house looks very much the same as it did in March 1953.

Monohan’s house looks very much the same as it did in March 1953.

Jailhouse gossip is a dangerous thing, especially if you’re greedy enough and dumb enough to believe it. Ex-cons Emmett Perkins and Jack Santos were just that gullible, and they were looking for an easy score. What could be easier than robbing a widow in sleepy Burbank?

Mabel and a friend of hers, Mrs. Merle Leslie, had been out together on the evening of March 8, 1953.  On that same night in a San Fernando Valley drive-in restaurant, Jack Santo, Emmett Perkins, John True, Baxter Shorter and Barbara Graham were having a quiet dinner meeting. The four thugs and the attractive redhead were planning to invade Monohan’s home the following night.


Baxter Shorter, safe cracker.

Baxter Shorter, the gang’s safe cracker, wasn’t keen on having a dame along for the job. But Emmett Perkins explained to him that old lady Monohan was a little paranoid about security and she spooked easily — they needed a woman to gain entrance to the house.

With their plan in place the conspirators arranged to meet the following night at a Burbank eatery, the Smoke House Restaurant — less than two miles from their final destination.  They’d eat, wait until it was well after dark, then take two cars to the Monohan home.

Initially, everything went according to plan. The gang met for dinner then, when they felt it was dark enough, they drove over to Monohan’s home. The anticipation was high — $100,000 was one hell of a lot of cash for four ex-cons and a junkie prostitute.

Barbara cleaned up well, and she was going to be the gang’s ticket to the big money. She went up to Mabel’s front door and rang the bell. As predicted, Mabel didn’t immediately open up. A few tense moments ticked by as the porch light came on and the murmur of a muted conversation drifted over to the men who were waiting in the dark.

Barbara had to have been very convincing to persuade Mabel to open her door to a stranger; but she sold the old lady on the story of a broken down car, and how grateful she’d be if she could just use a telephone to call for help. Mabel was reluctant but the young woman was alone, and the widow knew first-hand how scary it could be for a woman on her own at night.

Finally, the men in the cars watched as Mabel opened her door to Barbara.

All hell was about to break loose.

NEXT TIME: Mabel Monohan’s murder.