Serial killers : the serial homicide case of the day

The Serial Homicide Case of the Day, from "Hunting Humans, the Encyclopedia of 20th Century Serial Killers" , by Michael Newton

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  Fernandez, Raymond Martinez and Beck, Martha

Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, the 'Lonely-Hearts Killers'.

Hawaiian-born Raymond Fernandez was a self-styled Latin lover, who married twice and fathered an unknown number of children before turning to life as a bigamist, gigolo, and professional swindler. His targets were elderly spinsters and widows, selected from newspaper "personal" ads and the listings of various "lonely-hearts" clubs. One such advertisement, answered during 1947, brought Fernandez face-to-face with Martha Beck, a registered nurse and matron of a home for crippled children in Pensacola, Florida. Five years his junior, tipping the scales at 280 pounds, Beck swept Fernandez off his feet, delighting Raymond with her absolute approval of his larcenous life-style. They devised a scheme where Beck would pose as Raymond's sister, standing by to help while he bilked other women of their savings, joining him for kinky sex between engagements. Over two years time, they swindled scores of victims , killing off at least a dozen (some say 20) when confronted with resistance.

One of those who got the treatment was a widow, Delphine Dowling, 28, of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Easily the youngest of Raymond's victims, Mrs. Dowling allowed Fernandez and his "sister" to occupy her home, but she stalled the wedding until she was "sure of Raymond's affections." The delay blocked access to her cash, while making Martha jealous in her ring-side seat, compelled to watch as Raymond wooed their pigeon. Neighbors were suspicious when Mrs. Dowling and her two-year-old daughter vanished in January 1949, and police were summoned to investigate. Fernandez and Beck were still in residence when detectives arrived, cheerfully granting permission for a search of the house. Excavating a patch of fresh cement in the basement, officers unearthed two corpses, quickly arresting Fernandez and his "sister" on suspicion of murder.

In custody, the lovers cracked, confessing to a score of homicides. Fernandez admitted feeding Mrs. Dowling an overdose of sleeping pills, shooting her in the head for good measure, after which Beck had drowned two-year-old Rainelle Dowling in the bathtub. Accustomed to four-figure payoffs, Fernandez was disappointed with the $500 he picked up from Delphine Dowling. The take was hardly worth his time, and as he told detectives, "I'm no average killer."

The confessions seemed to bear him out. Jane Thompson had accompanied Raymond on a honeymoon in Spain, but she had not returned. Fernandez sold her relatives the story of a fatal (nonexistent) train wreck, moving in with Thompson's mother several weeks before she disappeared. Another victim, Myrtle Young, had joined Fernandez in Chicago during August 1948, where she reportedly "croaked from overexertion" after a weekend of non-stop sex. Janet Fay, age 66, was swindled by the pair in Albany, New York, after which Martha Beck brained her with a hammer, Fernandez finishing the job by strangulation with a scarf. Authorities recovered Fay's remains from a suburban cottage and indictments were returned, the prisoners delivered to New York since Michigan had no provision for capital punishment .

At their trial, beginning in July of 1949, the killers pled not guilty by reason of insanity . Jurors rejected the ploy, and on August 22 the "lonely-hearts killers" were sentenced to death. The Supreme Court rejected their appeals on January 2, 1951, and the executions were carried out at Sing Sing prison, on March 8.

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