On August 24, 1993, serial killer David Edwin Mason was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison in California.
Mason killed four elderly people in 1980 and his cellmate in 1982. He was also suspected of and was wanted for murdering his male lover while he was sleeping. Mason preyed on physically weak victims, sometimes strangling them with his bare hands after beating and robbing them.
The road to his execution was long and twisted, since many who followed the case believed that death and horror seemed to follow Mason his entire life. Mason had been subjected to severe physical, psychological, and verbal abuse by his strict fundamentalist Pentecostal Christian parents, who beat him and locked him in a room known as “the dungeon,” and forbade hugging and laughing. He was made a ward of the court at age 14 — and was later diagnosed with PTSD as a result of his childhood abuse.
His mother, Margie Mason, had never wanted him, and had attempted to induce a miscarriage when she discovered she was pregnant with him, by riding horses and lifting heavy furniture. One of eight children, his siblings report hearing Margie talk about how David was the unwanted child, and telling them all that she wished that he had never been born. Margie even tried to put him up for adoption, but her husband wouldn’t allow it.
As a child, Mason repeatedly tried to commit suicide by methods including choking himself, setting his clothes on fire, swallowing pills, cutting himself, and throwing himself down a set of stairs. Once he found looming over his baby brother’s crib, holding a knife. He managed to stay in school for a while, but finished with only a ninth grade education.
As he got older, his mind grew, and he was discovered to have an above-average IQ. His body, however, didn’t keep up. He was small with an immature body — his family humiliated him be calling him “Inchworm” due to his tiny penis.
When he was 14 years old, a prescient school counselor expressed concern about David, stating, “He is desperately in need of help if he is to straighten out, to develop emotional security and friendly feelings for his fellow man before it is too late.” Unfortunately for many, no one listened, and no one intervened.
His crime spree began when he was just 16, when he set a house on fire. Three years later, in 1977, when he robbed a store, stabbing the clerk with an icepick. He was sentenced to 36 months in prison.
In March 1980, he attempted another robbery, assaulting the victim in the process, hitting the person with a gun. In December 1980, Mason gained admittance to the home of an elderly couple, claiming to be selling and delivering firewood. He then handcuffed the victims to chairs and robbed them of $47,000 worth of jewelry and coins. He was convicted and sentenced in April 1982 to a total of 124 months in state prison for these crimes.
After that stint, he proceeded to escalate and killed four elderly people in a murder spree. In at least one of his targeting of elderly victims, Mason was a known and trusted odd-job man for the 73-year-old woman, Joan Pickard. He had known her since he was a child. He had been in her home, and she had familiarized him with her alarm system. In the case of a 72-year-old woman he murdered with a wrench, investigators also found cuts and bruises in her vaginal area.
During the same time period he was slaughtering the elderly, he moved in with his partner and lover, 55-year-old Robert Groff. Mason claimed that Groff admitted to deliberately infecting Mason with herpes — a transgression that Mason paid him back for by shooting him in the head while he was sleeping, and then looting his trailer. Mason was never convicted of killing Groff, despite admitting to the crime.
While incarcerated for these slayings, he, with the help of another inmate, attacked his cell mate, Boyd Wayne Johnson, and killed him with a towel used as a garotte. After being convicted of murdering five victims, Mason was sentenced to death on January 27, 1984. He then became the first inmate in California to abandon his legal appeals and go willingly to his execution.
“I know I’m going to die, and I don’t care,” Mason said in a taped “epitaph” he recorded before his arrest in 1981. “In a way, I’m looking forward to it.”
After spending several years in prison, Mason said that he had learned he had a capacity to love, and had developed empathy for the victims and their families. He said that thinking of his execution made him feel peaceful. He had also earned the forgiveness of at least one person — the daughter of one of his victims. Dolly Lundberg, whose family went to the same church that Mason’s did, would write letters to Mason in prison. She said, “It’s the strength of my faith that gives me no feeling of revenge for him. Frankly, David should be more concerned with his eternal situation than what society can do to him.”
As the execution date neared, Mason briefly appeared to change his mind. He tried to halt his execution, filing an appeal with the California Supreme Court alleging he did not get a fair trial. But after his request was denied, Mason’s attorney said his client was prepared to die and would file no more appeals.
Mason refused a final meal, requesting only ice water. His execution would be the last in California using the gas chamber.
Main photo: David Mason [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation]