San Quentin’s Most Famous Inmates – Who Are They?
Published November 15, 2023
In this article, we’ll talk about San Quentin famous inmates. But before that, did you know that San Quentin State Prison, also known as SQ, is the oldest operating prison in California? It’s a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation state prison with a rich history dating back to 1852. If you’re wondering, “Where is San Quentin?” It’s situated in the unincorporated community of San Quentin in Marin County.
All California’s death row inmates are housed in San Quentin. Since 1996, all the executions have been done via lethal injection. However, the prison still has a gas chamber. Also, it had facilities for carrying out executions through hanging.
Despite its notoriety, no executions have taken place in San Quentin Prison since 2006. Be that as it may, you still wouldn’t want to end up there. After all, it’s home to many of the most violent criminals in the United States, making it a hazardous place to be.
Furthermore, gang life is prevalent and almost unavoidable to get into. So, if you’re lucky enough not to be on death row, then you still run the risk of being shanked. That said, this is unfortunately true for most jails and prisons across the United States.
Governor Gavin Newsom announced on March 17, 2023, that California will close San Quentin’s death row as part of a wider plan to improve prisons. The prison authorities will move death-sentence prisoners to other maximum security facilities.
Ready to know about San Quentin famous inmates? Let’s jump right into it!
San Quentin Famous Inmates
Charles Manson needs no introduction as one of the famous San Quentin inmates. After all, he’s one of the most notorious criminals in U.S. history. Back in 1967, he started a cult called the Manson Family, where he and his followers conducted a series of murders from July to August 1969.
While it’s contested if he ordered the murders himself, it’s known that Manson played a key role in their taking place. After all, he was the leader of the cult that committed the atrocities that are still well-remembered to this day. Charles Manson is one of the most famous and vilified criminals in history.
Few serial killers have garnered a reputation that’s as notorious as Richard Ramirez. Dubbed the “Night Stalker” and “Valley Intruder,” his crimes spanned from June 1984 to August 1985.
He terrorized victims in the Greater Los Angeles Area and later in the San Francisco Bay Area. He committed murders, assaults, and burglaries. Law enforcement apprehended Richard Ramirez on August 30, 1985. The court found him guilty of 13 counts of murder, 11 sexual assaults, 14 burglaries, and five attempted murders.
He was formally sentenced to death in the gas chamber on November 7, 1989. They sent him to San Quentin Prison for the rest of his life. He passed away in Marin General Hospital due to complications from B-cell lymphoma.
Sirhan Sirhan is the famous assassin of Robert F. Kennedy. He’s a Palestinian who shot the U.S. senator and then Democratic Party presidential candidate.
According to him, he killed Kennedy because he believed he was personally betrayed when Kennedy openly supported Israel during the Six-Day War.
At first, Sirhan Sirhan was sent to San Quentin State Prison in 1969 to be executed via the gas chamber. After only three years, his sentence was changed to life imprisonment because California’s Supreme Court said the death penalty was cruel and inhumane, no matter the crime.
San Quentin no longer houses Sirhan Sirhan. Ever since his incarceration, he’s been moved to various prisons. Today, he’s at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, California. He is serving a life sentence.
When you think of “tough guy” actors, Danny Trejo is probably one of the first to come to mind. But, did you know that before he succeeded in Hollywood, he was a juvenile delinquent? As a result, he ended up serving time in San Quentin Prison starting in 1967.
Fortunately, Danny Trejo was able to turn his life around. He began acting in the 1980s, slowly working up the industry. Now, he’s arguably the most noticeable face in Hollywood and that is why he’s on our list of San Quentin famous inmates.
Hans Reiser was a successful computer programmer and entrepreneur. He was best known for creating the ReiserFS computer file system.
Unfortunately, his life took a turn for the worse when the court found him guilty of first-degree murder. He killed his wife, Nina Reiser, following a heated argument over domestic matters.
The initial conviction of Hans Reiser was overturned following a plea deal. He now serves time for second-degree murder. On September 5, 2008, they took him to San Quentin State Prison to start his sentence. He won’t be a free man any time soon as he’s serving a 15-year to life sentence with a parole committee refusing him back in 2020.
William Bonin has the unique distinction of being the first criminal in California to be executed by lethal injection in 1996. Also known as the “Freeway Killer,” Bonin committed the rape, torture, and murder of 21 boys and young men. Besides that, he’s suspected of killing 15 more people.
Unlike the other San Quentin famous inmates on this list, William Bonin didn’t exclusively act alone. He had four known accomplices throughout his criminal career. All of which were apprehended by the authorities.
Bonin has become the face of death row inmates in California because he had many victims and was the first to be executed by lethal injection. To this day, he remains to be one of the United States’ most well-known murderers and sodomites.
Richard Chase, also called the “Vampire of Sacramento,” was an American serial killer who also committed acts of necrophilia and cannibalism. He murdered six people between 1977 and 1978.
Before committing his series of crimes, Richard Chase was already known to be mentally ill. He stayed in a mental facility for a short time and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In addition, during his time there, the staff called him “Dracula” due to his affinity for blood.
All in all, Richard Chase took the lives of 6 people. Because of that, he got the death sentence in 1979, which was to be carried out via a gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison. Unfortunately, that sentence was never acted upon because he took his own life on December 26, 1980, by overdosing on medications.
Charles Ng, a serial killer from Hong Kong, is believed to have tortured, raped, and killed 11 to 25 victims. He had an accomplice named Leonard Lake. Most of his crimes happened at Lake’s cabin, which is situated in Calaveras County. He was convicted in 1999 of eleven of the twelve homicides.
As of now, Charles Ng is on death row at San Quentin State Prison. If his sentence ever gets carried out, he’ll die by lethal injection. However, this seems unlikely given California’s unwillingness to carry out the death penalty due to the debate on its morality.
With that being said, the victims of Charles Ng and his accomplice weren’t singled out because of their age, sex, or gender. The two usually killed and tortured men and infants. However, they often enslaved the women. They would then sexually assault them, and finally, murder them.
It wouldn’t be right to leave Randy Kraft out of any conversation about serial killers. After all, he has got to be the most prolific one in U.S. history. From 1971 to 1983, he’s believed to have tortured, raped, and murdered around 16 to 67 people in California, Michigan, and Oregon.
Kraft is known as the “Scorecard Killer,” as when he was caught, a list with 61 entries containing cryptic references to his victims was found. Despite that, due to lack of evidence, Kraft was only charged with 15 murders, along with two counts of sodomy and one count of emasculation.
Kraft was convicted in May 1989 and given the death penalty. As of the time of writing, he’s still waiting for his sentence to be carried out. Once the day comes, he’ll be executed by lethal injection.
Like Danny Trejo, Merle Haggard was an inmate at San Quentin Prison before he could turn his life around for the better. Upon his release, he became a famous country singer, songwriter, guitarist, and fiddler. Across his music career, he’s won countless awards.
Merle Haggard was caught and arrested in 1957 for trying to rob a roadhouse. He was then put in Bakersfield Jail, where he attempted to escape. After getting caught, he was then transferred to San Quentin in 1958.
During his stint at the prison, Haggard began a brewing and gambling racket. After some time, he was caught and then sent to solitary confinement. However, despite that, he still didn’t turn into a model inmate. Luckily, he eventually changed for the better and was pardoned in 1960. He launched a successful country music career. During his three years behind the walls of San Quentin State Prison, it had a significant impact on both his life and the music he made.
The Bottom Line
The United States is a nation that’s home to the world’s largest prison population. As a result, it naturally has a plethora of notorious correctional facilities.
One of the most notorious of these facilities is San Quentin State Prison, which is California’s oldest operating prison. Moreover, it’s the only prison in the state to carry out capital punishment. Also, it has the largest death row population of any U.S. prison.
If anything, San Quentin Prison is the last place you’d want to end up in. Be that as it may, not all inmates there are destined for execution or a life of crime.
Some are good people who have committed mistakes that must be rehabilitated. Prime examples of such people include Danny Trejo as well as Merle Haggard.
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