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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | CRIME WATCH

A Look Back at the Execution of Ma Duncan

August 07, 2000|HOLLY J. WOLOCTT

This week marks the anniversary of the culmination of a grim, infamous chapter in Ventura County history.

Thirty-eight years ago Tuesday, the state's last triple execution took place, in a local case that involved a mother-in-law who hired two thugs to knock off her son's pregnant wife.

Remember notorious Ma Duncan? It's hard to forget, because she's talked about regularly during historical tours, and pictures of the trial still hang at the Ventura County Government Center.

Elizabeth Ann "Ma" Duncan, along with Augustine Baldonado and Luis Moya, was executed at age 58 in a cyanide gas chamber Aug. 8, 1962. She is the last woman killed by the state.

A drifter most of her life, Duncan lived in Ventura and Oxnard, before moving to Santa Barbara in 1957 to be with her son, an attorney named Frank Duncan.

According to records, Ma Duncan became enraged when her son married her private nurse, Olga Kupczyk. Testimony at trial painted a grim picture of a bitter woman perversely obsessed with her son.

Baldonado and Moya told police they were paid $6,000 by Ma Duncan to kidnap, pistol-whip and strangle the pregnant nurse before dumping her body into a shallow grave near Ojai.

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A fatal mistake?

Authorities last week freed an Oxnard woman from jail, saying they haven't amassed enough evidence to prove she maliciously plunged a kitchen knife into her husband's gut.

The case concerning Charlotte Lueke, 47, may be a matter of self-defense, prosecutors say, although they haven't ruled out criminal charges. They have asked police to dig around some more.

"We are trying to do a thorough job in making a decision," said Richard Holmes, of the district attorney's office. "When there is an altercation between two people and one of them is dead . . . well, you have to be able to disprove self-defense."

Wayne Lueke, 55, died July 18 at a hospital, after being found outside the couple's motor home in the Channel Islands Harbor area. Neighbors reported hearing a loud, heated argument between the two.

From the beginning, Charlotte Lueke has refused to talk about what happened that night, and she hired a Los Angeles attorney after being arrested.

Holmes said authorities would re-create the crime scene and study the couple's history, including Wayne Lueke's 1996 conviction for beating his wife.

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He fought the law and the law won.

A Newbury Park man, described by authorities as a thorn in their side for four years, was convicted last week of trying to kill four cops and possessing drugs. He now faces four consecutive life terms in prison.

Bradley Raville had also been arrested in the fatal shooting of a tow-truck driver in 1996. He confessed to the killing, but was never charged, claiming self-defense.

"He's a proven violent person," said prosecutor Chris Harmon. "Not everybody shoots and kills someone, and not everybody tried to kill four cops, and he's also been making and selling drugs for a long time. He's the reason we have a lot of the laws on the books."

After a two-week trial and four days of deliberations, a jury convicted Raville, 46, of booby-trapping his methamphetamine lab in 1998 and possessing meth and cocaine at a motel room in 1996. The cases had been joined for prosecution.

On June, 11, 1998, four officers arrived to raid a lab Raville kept in a shed behind his parents' home. Sheriff's Deputy Joe Evans suggested that the officers open the door very slowly--a decision that saved their lives.

On a desk in the shed were two cans of flammable liquid tied to a wire attached to the door, and underneath the cans was a lit torch. The rig failed when the officers entered.

"He set it for those officers, because he knew they were coming," Harmon said.

Raville's operation included sophisticated surveillance gear.

Raville and his attorney claimed that the defendant had stopped making drugs a week before the search and that the officers had planted the booby-trap themselves, Harmon said.

Jurors believed the officers. Sentencing is set for Aug. 31.

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Holly J. Wolcott can be reached at 653-7581 or at holly.wolcott@latimes.com.

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