People v. Elizabeth Duncan

People v. Elizabeth Duncan (Murder)

A mother-in-law’s murder for hire scheme results in death penalty for all three participants

On December 21, 1958, Elizabeth “Ma” Duncan hired Lewis Estrada Moya and Augustine Baldonado to murder her daughter-in-law, Olga Duncan. Moya and Baldonado kidnapped and buried her alive in a shallow grave along Highway 150 in Ventura County. All three individual were subsequently apprehended, convicted of murder, and executed for this heinous crime. This was a spectacular trial which drew national attention and became known as “The Ma Duncan Case.” Elizabeth Duncan was the first female from Ventura County to be executed in the gas chamber.

Four decades before the O.J. Simpson trial, Ventura County had its own version of the Trial of the Century: The Duncan murder case.

Newsweek Magazine – in language that might have been used to review a Shakespearean play – said this about Elizabeth “Ma” Duncan hiring two men to murder her pregnant daughter-in-law:

The story out of Ventura, California was cast by the police in the true mold of classical tragedy – in modern dress. A story of the bitterest passion, of murder most foul, of the innocent slain. It was a triangle – but not the modern kind: Here was a mother, a son, and a brand-new bride.

What made the case unique? The hired killers testified against Mrs. Duncan without commitment the District Attorney would not seek the death penalty in exchange for their testimony.

In fact, all three received the death penalty and were executed. Of course, today’s appellate courts would likely reverse a case in which a defense attorney failed to seek sentencing concessions in exchange for testimony.

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