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Media Life: Auburn mass-murderer earns dubious 1958 Oscar credit

Santo story helped earn Hayward an Academy Award
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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When Susan Hayward made her Academy Award acceptance speech as Best Actress for 1958's "I Want To Live!" probably the last person she thought to thank was multiple murderer and all-around foothills bad boy Jack Santo. But the unfortunate truth is, without Santo, who holed up in Auburn during the late 1940s and early 1950s, there would have been no "I Want To Live!" and no Oscar hardware in her hands that glittering night almost 50 years ago. Hayward's role in the movie was Oscar material from the get-go. She played Barbara Graham, a serious low-life in real life. Hayward transformed the Graham character in a way she had with many other roles, turning her into the wronged but still, good-hearted woman. Oscar came pre-packaged. Graham, one of the few women to be executed in the 20th century in the United States, died in the gas chamber in June 1955. Santo and another henchman, Emmett Perkins, were executed the same month. They were sentenced to death for the 1953 murder of a Burbank woman in her home during an armed robbery. They'd left with nothing but had tied the 62-year-old woman to a chair and beaten her to death. A deep-sea diver from Sausalito, who said he had joined the party that night to see how a heist was carried off, testified to a grand jury that Graham had enthusiastically pistol-whipped Monahan in the head. A career criminal, Santo had played his lead role in a trail of real-life murders to the hilt. On the screen, Santo was played by journeyman actor Lou Krugman in "I Want To Live!" Around Auburn, "Big Jack" had a reputation as a lady's man and sometime bully. Few knew of a criminal record that stretched back to 1924 in Portland, Ore. (transporting a stolen car), included violence (a six-month term in 1932 for knifing a man in a fight during a poker game) and arrests on suspicion of kidnapping, robbery and burglary. Established in town, the brawny 6-footer with the pencil-thin moustache lived in a large, older house outside Auburn off Joeger Road. Santo cut enough of a figure in town to get some consideration in 1948 for the role in the Gold Rush centennial celebration parade as the notorious 19th century outlaw "Rattlesnake Dick" Barter. MOUNTAIN MURDER As the 1940s rolled into the 1950s, things began to get more violent. There was a Christmas home invasion and robbery of the owner of the fabled Last Chance Mine in Nevada County. Edmund Hansen was shot to death in front of his wife. The robbers wore masks. Santo was considered the triggerman. Then in early fall 1952 came a crime that shocked the Sierra region out of its somnambulance. It took place on the road outside of the northeastern California logging town of Chester. Supermarket owner Guard Young was returning with $7,000 in $20 bills on a Friday afternoon from a neighboring community's bank. The money was used to cash loggers' paychecks. He'd been warned about traveling the road and the possibility that he would be robbed. Searchers soon found Young's vehicle. Inside the trunk, they discovered his body as well as those of his 7- and 6-year-old daughters. There was also the body of a 4-year-old boy, who was a playmate of the boys. Miraculously, at the bottom of the pile, they found Young's 4-year-old daughter still alive. She described a big blue car and two men. All the victims had been bludgeoned. The trail eventually led to Santo but by this time, he was operating in the Los Angeles area and heard about a widow who might be holding a large stash of money for her former son-in-law, a well-known gambler. The woman was Mabel Monahan and Santo was soon behind bars. Along the way, an informant had been killed and all signs led again to Santo. His last words to his guards as he walked to his death were: "Don't you fellows do anything I wouldn't do." While "I Want To Live!" indicates that Graham was as much a victim as the people who died at the hands of a Santo-led cabal dubbed by the press at the time as the Mountain Murder Mob, Hayward accepted the award with her own secret. She said afterward that her take on the story was that Graham was guilty of the Monahan murder. OSCAR FAVORITES If you're warming up the microwave for this Sunday's popcorn-munching extravaganza and are looking for local favorites to root for, think "Juno" and "Michael Clayton." "Juno" is a relative no-brainer. Newcastle Elementary and Del Oro High School grad Gareth Smith, who grew up on the outskirts of Auburn, won't be a candidate for a trip to the stage but his opening credits are an important element in a film up for Best Picture. "Juno" could also take away Best Actress, Best Directing and Best Writing awards. "Michael Clayton"is more of a roundabout local favorite. Scottish actress with a capital "A," Tilda Swinton could sneak in for a Supporting Actress award. She carried the 2001 drama "The Deep End," which didn't pick up any Oscars but won an award for Best Cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival. "The Deep End" was filmed in and around Lake Tahoe's Placer County shoreline. SILVER STAR SHINES Auburn's Sean Stokes' posthumous Silver Star award earlier this month earned attention from both NBC and CBS evening news programs. NBC's Brian Williams used the end of his newscast to report on the ceremony on what would have been Stoke's 25th birthday, noting he was only the third buck private to receive the medal in the past 40 years, and the first since the Vietnam War. CBS Evening News gave up time for an extended story on Stokes, a Marine killed after stepping on a roadside bomb last July in Iraq on his third tour of duty. He'd been wounded several times before but insisted on returning to the fray. CURIOUS OVER PHOTO? A photo appearing on the Auburn Journal Photo Gallery after Tuesday's barn fire drew a question from reader Kathy Crosley of Oroville. Crosley said she saw a lady standing in the flames - a potentially disturbing image that the Journal would not have deliberately posted online out of respect for the fire's victim and her family. Journal Photo Editor Ben Furtado confirmed that the photo, which Crosley says appears to her to show a woman with blonde hair and boots within the burning Newcastle barn, was shot by Furtado after Carolyn Gallamore was taken away by ambulance. Crosley, whose daughter knew Gallamore, said she noticed the image right away. "It's really spooky," Crosley said. "It's almost like she came back to get something. A lot of people don't believe in that, but there's something there." The photo can be viewed at the Journal Website's Photo Gallery. The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com, or post a comment.