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Blog: Grandmother walks free in 1963 after attempting to kill great-grandchildren in Half Moon Bay

True Crime: Judge Rules Grandmother Insane at Time of Attempted Murder

It was a tragedy that made the front page headlines of the Redwood City Tribune and the San Mateo Times.

Both newspapers told the story of Susan Pascal, a 73-year-old woman babysitting her four great-grandchildren on the night of April 4, 1963, at the Half Moon Bay residence of her granddaughter Gail. Susan gave three of the children an overdose of sleeping pills, put a plastic bag over an infant's head, and then attempted to overdose on pills herself.

Gail had left the children in her grandmother’s care while she went down to fetch her husband from the Main Street restaurant where he worked. Gail returned to her home, an apartment above a blacksmith shop at Purissima and Myrtle Streets, and found her grandmother unconscious in the bathroom. The apartment had no phone, so Gail ran back to her husband’s workplace and called the police. The couple then returned to the apartment to await the arrival of the police. At first, they thought that the children were just sleeping but soon discovered that they couldn’t wake any of the children up.

Susan and the children were rushed to County General Hospital in San Mateo. Susan was in the ICU when the newspapers reported the story the following day, but the children were “hospitalized but were not considered in danger.”

One of Gail’s neighbors discovered three suicide notes in her mailbox, all written by Susan. One of them, addressed directly to Gail, attempted to give a motive: “I hope I am able to carry out what I have planned for a long time. I have seen that you have more children than you can care

for or love. I hope to put them to sleep tonight and do the same for my very tired and weary self.”

The Tribune reported that Susan had “fatal breast cancer” and requested that her body be donated to the University of California’s hospital for cancer research.

On April 30th, The Times reported that only three charges of attempted murder were filed against Susan. It could not be proven that one of the children had been drugged, so only the three remaining children were included in the legal action. Gail said the child in question “was always hard to rouse.”

The Times stated that Susan: “had given the twins four Seconal tablets each and had taken eight herself. She admitted tying the bag over the infant’s head...her reason for doing so was that she believed the children would have a miserable life and that they would be better off dead.”

In late May, Superior Court Judge James T. O’Keefe “found (Susan) not guilty of the charges of attempting murder by reason of her insanity at the time...and ordered her committed to the state mental hospital at Mendocino.”

Susan stayed in Mendocino until early December, when she was declared “in need of no further hospitalization” and returned to the San Mateo County jail. But on December 11th, the Redwood City Tribune reported: “A little white-haired grandmother who tried to kill her three great-grandchildren walked out of county jail today a free woman.” Susan told reporters that she felt she could “make it on my own” and was looking for a place to live. 

Her perception of the children's “miserable” lives may not have been entirely imaginary. The Tribune reported that Gail and her husband were once convicted of child neglect for leaving their children unattended in a parked car for nine hours. In May 1964, The Times reported that the police had been called to Gail’s apartment to investigate complaints of unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

What happened to Susan and Gail and the children was not reported in later newspapers.

Douglas MacGowan

About the Author: Douglas MacGowan

Doug MacGowan has authored seven books and countless articles, mainly about history and true crime. He has been a resident of Redwood City since 2000.
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