New “Lonely Hearts” movie with John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Jared Leto and James Gandolfini is a satisfying case study. The film interweaves a detective’s perspective to the story of the killer team.
The film adopts Karla’s point of view throughout, and if you believe the performance you’ll regard Karla as the prototypical battered wife and compliant accomplice. This can get annoying for anyone familiar with the facts, but in the end it’s made clear that her story is pretty much a self-serving “reorganization” of what happened: she never apologized to victims’ families, never expressed public remorse, and seemed as narcissistic upon her release as she’d ever been.
Along with prison-buddy psychopath Roy Norris, Bittaker constructed a van called the Murder Mack and collected pretty teenage girls to rape, torture and kill in the San Gabriel Mountains. In the isolated mountain areas, they went to work on their young victims with vice-grip pliers, urging them to scream into their tape recorder before they snuffed out their voices forever.
Yes, he’s on death row in California â€” a condition that stretches into decades â€” playing cards with other serial killers, filling frivolous lawsuits against the state and selling his fingernail clippings to murder groupies.
The Mansonesque type of killer is rare —the person who can persuade others to kill or harm others for him. According to three confessions, Gecht was exactly that type of person. While Manson’s brood was larger, the three men who followed Gecht were just as deadly, and it’s quite unusual to have four people involved in such an extensive string of sexually sadistic murders.
Recently, Australian courts have struggled with the constitutionality of real life imprisonment where particularly horrible killers are “never to be released.”
The “.22-caliber killings,” as they would later be dubbed by the media, began on December 10, 1977, with the murders of two women at Forkers Cafe in Newark, Ohio, some distance outside the city of Columbus. Joyce Vermilion and Karen Dodrill, had been shot multiple times as they walked out the rear door of the cafe, shortly after its closing at 2:30 a.m.
This and subsequent murders were distinguished by the amount of overkill — the bodies were literally bullet-ridden.
Finally, in 1978 suspicion focused on two truly weird middle-aged brothers, one very much under the influence of the other.
When McCafferty, called the Australian Charles Manson, was set to be released in 1997 after being imprisoned 23 years, the people of Australia were outraged. Since McCafferty was not an Australian citizen was exported back to his native Scotland, where he continued to be a problem.
She was also the person who shot John Hancock and left him for dead. The question for a jury was whether she had done so because she herself was psychologically disturbed or whether she had been forcibly subordinated to Alvin in such a manner that she would do whatever he wanted, even when he was not around. They had decided that she was aware of what she was doing and had not been under anyone else’s power.
There are four basic victim types and sometimes their stories lead to the grave and sometimes to freedom. The slave masters are also very diverse psychologically in the way they practice this deadly game of dominance and submission.
It was a long hot summer for LAPD. Bodies of young women were found mutilated, even headless, and dumped along the embankments around the freeway ramps.
Soon a call came into the station from a woman who implicated her boyfriend in the killings but who refused to offer details that could help to locate him. She could have been just a crank caller, but she was correct about how the murders had been done. She knew details that had not been released to the media. But the switchboard cut her off and she did not call back. If she had, some lives could have been saved and she might not have taken the path she did.
It was no crank call.
The Lonely Hearts Killers
The Lonely Hearts Killers
(1970) Poster for the cult film
about Raymond Fernandez
and Martha Beck directed by
“I’m no average killer!” Raymond Martinez Fernandez told Michigan cops on the day he was arrested. The slim, smartly dressed, balding man sat in the wooden chair between two detectives as he told a tawdry story of sex, lies and murder. He wiped his sweating forehead every few minutes with a white handkerchief supplied by his co-conspirator and obese sex slave, who looked on with wide-eyed admiration and love. For several hours he described their journey through a maze of deception and betrayal that ended with the deaths of as many as 17 women. “I have a way with women, a power over them,” he said. That power, he claimed, was achieved by the practice of voodoo.
Raymond Martinez Fernandez, 34, was born in Hawaii of Spanish parents. His rotund girlfriend, Martha Jule Beck, 29, who weighed well over 200 pounds, lovingly brushed his thinning hair back on his head as he told police how they killed their last victims in the town of Byron Center, Michigan on the night of February 28, 1949. Later, when the victim’s two-year-old daughter refused to stop crying over the loss of her mother, Martha drowned her in a tub of dirty water while Raymond looked on. After the murders, they decided to go to the movies where they munched on popcorn and drank a gallon of soda.
The day-by-day revelations about this bizarre couple had New York City’s press working overtime to keep up with the story that seemed too sleazy even by tabloid standards. Martha’s enormous size was the subject of never-ending speculation by the press who estimated her weight to be anywhere from 200 to over 300 pounds. This constant ridicule caused Martha to write a series of tearful, angry letters from prison to the media complaining of the unfair treatment she received from columnists like Walter Winchell and newspapers like The Daily News and the New York Mirror.
“I’m still a human, feeling every blow inside, even though I have the ability to hide my feelings and laugh,” she said, “But that doesn’t say my heart isn’t breaking from the insults and humiliation of being talked about as I am. O yes, I wear a cloak of laughter.”
Fernandez and Beck came to be known as the “lonely hearts killers” in the nation’s press. Their murder trial took place during the scorching hot summer of 1949 in Bronx Criminal Court where the salacious testimony of “abnormal sexual practices” caused a near riot among spectators. The Latino Lothario and the plump, love-sick girlfriend who killed lonely, sex-starved women was a story weirder and more intriguing than anything out of the trashiest pulp magazines of the 1940s.
She was born Martha Jule Seabrook in 1919 in the town of Milton in northwest Florida. As a small child, Martha developed a glandular condition that caused her to physically mature faster than most children. By the age of 10, she possessed a woman’s body and the sexual drive of an adult. Unfortunately, she was already obese by that age and suffered ridicule from not only her classmates but from her domineering mother as well. It was claimed at Martha’s murder trial in 1951 that her brother sexually assaulted her at an early age. When she told her mother about the incident, she blamed Martha and beat her. Wherever she went thereafter, her mother followed her. If a boy showed any interest in Martha, her mother was sure to chase the boy away with a barrage of insults and threats. Throughout her teenage years, Martha was the focus of cruel jokes and insults which drove her further within herself. She became reclusive, withdrawn and had virtually no friends her own age.
Later, Martha attended a nursing school in Pensacola where she graduated first in her class in 1942. But because of her appearance, she was unable to gain employment in the nursing field. She was forced to take a job working for a mortician in a local funeral home preparing female bodies for burial. It was a surreal environment for Martha who was already remote and lonely. Tending to the bodies of the dead at all hours of the day and night, she may have found a strange solace in the company of those who could not hurt her with criticism and ridicule. She lived with the dead.
In 1942, desperate to begin a new life, she moved to California. She soon got a job at an Army hospital working as a nurse. But at night, Martha would frequent the city’s bars where she would pick up soldiers on leave and at times, have sex with some of them. As a result of one of these encounters, she became pregnant. The father was a soldier who was uninterested in her. When he discovered Martha was pregnant he attempted to commit suicide by throwing himself into a nearby bay. Unable to convince the father to wed and deeply ashamed that a man would rather die than marry her, she returned to Florida depressed and alone.
In Milton, Martha soon realized that she had to explain the pregnancy. She made up a story that she met and married a Navy officer in California. She bought a wedding ring and wore it proudly around town. Her husband would soon return from the Pacific and then everyone would meet him. Of course, that day could never happen so she had to come up with a remedy. She arranged to have a telegram sent to herself announcing that her husband was killed in action. She went into hysterics when she received the “news.” The town mourned for her and the story even appeared in the local papers. Martha received a great deal of attention and sympathy for her “loss.” In the spring of 1944, she gave birth to a daughter, Willa Dean.
A New Direction
He bought passage on another ship headed for Alabama. When the boat arrived at the port of Mobile, Fernandez did a stupid thing. He stole a large quantity of clothing and items from the ship’s storeroom that were clearly marked. When he tried to pass through customs, he was immediately arrested. He had no explanation for his conduct and when he was asked why he committed the theft, he said, “I don’t know. I can’t think. I can’t say why I did it. I just saw other men putting a towel or two in their bags, so I thought I’d do the same. Only I just couldn’t seem to stop.” He was sentenced to one year in the federal penitentiary in Tallahassee, Florida. While he was in prison, Fernandez became cellmates with a Haitian man. This man, a follower of the ancient religion Vodun, introduced Raymond to the practice of voodoo and plunged him into the world of the occult.
He became convinced that he had a secret power over women that originated with voodoo. His sexual powers were at their peak, he believed, when they were enhanced by the energy of the Vodun. Erroneously described as an evil religion, it is a derivative of several African religions, mostly Nigerian, some of which go back over 5,000 years. Raymond fell into the dark side of voodoo and believed that he was a oungan(priest) who could obtain his mystical powers from the Loa (spirits). He read the notorious “Haiti or the Black Republic,” written in 1884 and the source of a great deal of misinformation about the Vodun religion. It contained lurid descriptions of human sacrifice and tortures, which later captured the imagination of Hollywood filmmakers who produced films that perpetuated that myth. Fernandez told friends that he could make love with women from great distances by placing voodoo powders inside the envelopes. In his letters, he asked his victims to send a lock of their hair, an earring, or some personal item that he could utilize in voodoo rituals to strengthen his supernatural control. Unsuspecting women, he believed, then fell at his feet, consumed by the erotic sexual persuasion of Raymond Fernandez, voodoo houngan.
In 1946, Raymond was released from prison and moved to Brooklyn to live with his sister. His relatives were upset with his appearance, which had changed dramatically since the accident. He was mostly bald where before he had an abundance of rich, dark hair. The scar from the accident was plainly visible on the top of his head. Raymond locked himself in his room for days at a time and complained of painful headaches. During this period, he began to write dozens of letters to “lonely hearts” clubs where, through the mails, he began to seduce gullible females who were looking for men. Once he gained their trust, he would steal money, jewelry, checks; whatever he could embezzle. Then, he would disappear forever. The victims, often too embarrassed to complain, rarely reported the episodes to the police.
Dead End in Florida
After Fernandez built up enough anticipation in Martha and he performed the necessary voodoo ritual, he decided that the time had come for the meeting. He arranged to take a train down to Florida and for Martha to meet him at the station. Of course, Martha, realizing that she was about to confront the lies she told about herself, was extremely nervous, but her curiosity and desire quickly overcame whatever fears she may have had. On December 28, 1947, he arrived in Pensacola, Florida.
At first, Fernandez must have been surprised at her size but outwardly he gave no signs of his disapproval. When she first saw Fernandez, Martha was thrilled. She couldn’t believe how lucky she was to have such a handsome man. He was everything she dreamed of, and more. She thought he strongly resembled her hero, Charles Boyer. They returned to her home where Martha introduced Raymond to her two children and prepared dinner. Once the children were put to bed, Raymond made his move. Martha, already thrilled that he would pay any attention to her whatsoever, quickly surrendered. For the first time in her life, she attained sexual fulfillment. It was a revelation.
Fernandez, though, was still thinking of his scheme to fleece the gullible Martha. He was anxious to learn of her assets in order to determine if she was worth the effort. They spent the next day and night together and had sex several times. Martha swore her undying love and wanted him to stay in Florida to marry her. But Fernandez did not want marriage; he wanted to continue his work. He suddenly told Martha that he had business in New York and really should return as soon as possible. Martha protested but Fernandez calmed her by saying he would soon be back or send money so she could join him in New York. Martha interpreted that as a sort of proposal.
After he boarded the train in Jacksonville, she went back to Milton and told everyone that she was about to be married again. A shower was prepared in her honor, she was happy like she had never been before. Then, on the day of the shower, she received a letter from Fernandez in which he said that she “misunderstood” his feelings for her and he would not be returning to Florida. She was devastated. After Martha attempted suicide, Fernandez relented and agreed to let her visit him in New York. She stayed for a glorious two weeks.
But when she returned to her job in Florida, she was fired without explanation. When she tried to find out why, her employer refused to elaborate. Martha felt it was because the town had learned about her scandalous affair with a Latin lover from New York. She picked up her last paycheck as Martha Fernandez and went home to pack. She got her two kids dressed, said goodbye to a few friends and got on the first bus to New York.
When Fernandez answered his door on the morning of January 18, 1948, much to his dismay, he found Martha and her two children standing there. This was a major stumbling block in his career of theft and deception. Fernandez, though, didn’t disapprove of having Martha around. There was something comforting about her, the way she catered to his every need, made his bed, cooked for him. But the kids had to go, he insisted. Martha reluctantly decided that giving up her children was the price she had to pay for Raymond. On January 25, 1948, she dropped off her kids at the Salvation Army and abandoned them. For the next three years, she had no contact with them whatsoever. Not until she was in Sing Sing prison in 1951, did she ever give them another thought.
Delphine and the Baby
Beck and Fernandez quickly left Valley Stream and headed west to Grand Rapids, Michigan where the next victim was waiting. For several weeks, Fernandez corresponded with a young widow named Delphine Downing, 41, who also had a two-year-old child, Rainelle. Delphine also knew Fernandez as “Charles Martin,” a successful businessman in the export trade who also had a special love for children. So when “Charles” wrote Delphine and told her that he was coming for a visit to Byron Center, a suburb of Grand Rapids, she was pleasantly surprised. She also didn’t mind when he said that he would be bringing his sister, Martha, along.
When they met, in late January 1949, Delphine was impressed with “Charles” and may have thought that she had a future with him. She liked his courteous manner and considerate attitude toward Rainelle. Before the month was out, he was having sex with Delphine, a development that had Martha quietly seething with rage. But Delphine’s happiness was short lived. One morning, she entered the bathroom and accidentally observed “Charles” without his toupee. She was shocked at his baldness and the ugly scar on the top of his head.
She accused Fernandez of fraud and deception. Fernandez turned on the charm to placate her, but nothing worked. Martha was still burning inside but remained quiet, hoping the situation would calm down. She convinced Delphine to take some sleeping pills. While the pills did their work, Rainelle began to cry, perhaps sensing that her mother was not acting normally. Martha, already furious with Delphine and Fernandez, suddenly grabbed the child and began to choke her into unconsciousness causing obvious bruises on her neck. Fernandez was angry.
“If she wakes up and sees Rainelle, she’ll go to the police!” he said.
“Do something, Ray!” Martha said. Fernandez went into the next room and retrieved a handgun that belonged to Delphine’s dead husband. He wrapped the pistol in a blanket and placed the muzzle against Delphine’s head. He pulled the trigger, sending a bullet into her brain, which killed her instantly. Rainelle watched the entire event from a few feet away. Then, they wrapped Delphine up in sheets and carried her into the basement. They dug a large hole and dumped the body in. Fernandez covered the grave with cement while Martha dutifully cleaned up the murder scene.
For the next two days, they made their plans to escape. They cashed in whatever checks that Delphine had and looted the house of all valuables. Meanwhile, Rainelle cried constantly and refused to eat. They talked over what should be done with the little girl but could not agree. Ultimately, Fernandez told Martha to get rid of her.
“I can’t do it, Ray, I can’t!” she pleaded. But Martha was already in too deep. She was accomplice to several murders and partner to dozens of frauds and thefts. She had no real home and had abandoned her own children to be with her Svengali lover. And now, after burying yet another body to hide their crimes, Fernandez wanted her to do the unthinkable. She may have tried to resist, but his power over her was complete. As Rainelle continued to sob, Beck and Fernandez transferred some of the water that had accumulated in the basement and filled an empty metal tub to the brim. Then, in an act of callous depravity, Martha picked up the child and held her under the water until she drowned. A few minutes later, Fernandez was digging another grave next to Delphine. Only this one was a lot smaller.
Although they were now free to leave town and move on, they chose not to. Instead, Martha and Raymond went to the movies. Later when they came back to the apartment, they began to pack their bags. There was a knock at the door and when Fernandez opened it, he found two stern-looking cops standing in front of him. Suspicious neighbors had called the police.
After they were arrested on February 28, 1949, Beck and Fernandez were brought to the Kent County D.A.’s office where they were questioned by the police and the District Attorney. Perhaps because they were already resigned to their fate, neither asked for an attorney nor did they attempt to avoid questioning. “I’m no average killer,” Fernandez said to investigators. Together they told a salacious story of sex, deception and murder to the police. They signed a 73-page confession in the presence of Kent County D.A. Roger O. McMahon who assured them they would never be turned over to the New York police. Fernandez and Beck were aware there was no death penalty in Michigan and were content to remain in Kent County rather than be extradited back to New York to face charges for the Fay killing.
“The electric chair scares me!” Martha said. With the promise that if they told the truth, Fernandez could be out of prison in six years with time off for good behavior, they cooperated fully with investigators.
The next day, the Lonely Hearts murder case was in the nation’s headlines. It was page one in every big city newspaper. The N.Y. Times wrote, “3 ‘Lonely Hearts’ Murders Trap Pair; Body Dug Up Here.” Wherever Beck and Fernandez went while in custody, the photographers followed, hoping to catch a photo of America’s most dysfunctional couple. And just as soon, the process of dehumanizing Martha Beck began.
The papers called her “fat,” “simpering,” “Big Martha,” “a 200 lb. figure of wrath,” “the giggling divorcee,” “unattractive,” “a weird woman,” and other humiliating terms. Each newspaper story published during that period included her weight, which was falsely reported in nearly every instance. (Her actual weight at the time of her arrest was 233 pounds.) Unfortunately, the New York press has a long and shameful history of such reporting, particularly in murder cases where the accused is a female. From the time of Ruth Snyder in 1927, a woman convicted of murdering her husband, right up until the modern era, the city’s tabloids often lose every sense of objectivity when it comes to reporting on criminal trials in which the defendant is a woman. Snyder, especially, was vilified by the press in a way that is seldom seen for any criminal defendant, male or female. Her case became the journalism benchmark on how a woman can be totally demonized by newspaper reporting.
Headlines such as “Reveal Lonely Hearts Blood Money Dealings,” “Hearts Killer Explodes at Attorney,” and “Fernandez Tells Strange Love Story” built an image in the public’s eye that the two defendants were already guilty and a trial was just a necessary formality. In a startling display of the media’s bias in this case, even just a cursory read of the press coverage before and during the murder trial reveals an expectation, even a demand, that Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez receive the death penalty. The pressure for them to die was building.
During the week of March 8, 1949, after several phone calls from New York Governor Thomas Dewey to the state of Michigan, a deal was cut with Kent County prosecutors. They would waive criminal charges for the Downing murders and permit New York to extradite the defendants to face charges in the Janet Fay murder.
The reason was simple: Michigan had no electric chair.
The Trial Circus
dle) and Raymond Fernandez
Amidst a stunning, deadly heat wave that gripped the nation that summer, the trial of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez opened on June 28, 1949. A young Manhattan attorney, Herbert E. Rosenberg, was chosen to represent Martha and Raymond. Of course, one attorney to represent both defendants was a violation of ethics and unfair to the accused, but the decision was allowed to stand. A change of venue from Nassau County, Long Island, where the Fay murder was committed, was granted and the trial moved to the more spacious, more accessible Bronx Supreme Court near baseball’s famous Yankee Stadium. But nothing could save the spectators from the oppressive heat. Over the July 4th weekend in 1949, at least 881 people died nationwide from heat and accidents, a record that still stands today.
Judge Ferdinand Pecora sat on the bench, a stern but fair jurist who had a reputation of moving things along in his trials. The prosecutor was Nassau County District Attorney Edward Robinson Jr. who was on the case since the very beginning and participated in the deal to extradite the defendants back from Michigan. The prosecution began its case with a barrage of witnesses including the medical examiner, friends of Janet Fay from Albany and the landlord from Janet’s apartment. Michigan investigators followed them to the stand and forensic detectives later explained the substantial physical evidence to the court.
Raymond Fernandez took the stand on July 11, 1949. He denied any role in the Fay killing and said that he only met Martha a short time before by writing to lonely hearts clubs. He admitted confessing to the Michigan authorities but wished to retract the entire statement because he said he confessed only to save his sweetheart, Martha. In a soft voice and often smiling over at Martha as she nodded approvingly during his testimony, Fernandez appeared the picture of the sophisticated Spanish gentleman.
“All my statements were made for the purpose of helping Martha,” he said softly, exposing his gold lined front teeth. “I love her. It couldn’t be anything else,” he added.
But prosecutor Edward Robinson jumped all over Fernandez’s story by bringing up Jane Thompson, Delphine Downing, Rainelle Downing and Myrtle Young, all dead after meeting with Raymond Fernandez. Robinson kept after him in a shouting, blistering examination.
“Mr. Fernandez is not deaf!” said Martha from her seat after one exchange. But Fernandez scored points also, especially when he described the Michigan interrogation.
“Everybody was permitted to question me, including the newspapermen,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was coming or going. And the D.A. said that whatever I said would not be used against me.” Fernandez regained his composure and continued on, sensing that this point was one to dwell on. “They would look upon me as a murderer in New York and let her go,” he said. “As a man, I could take it better than a woman. If I cooperated, they said I would do six years and be paroled. Then I could do what I liked. If I didn’t cooperate, I would go to jail for life.”
But the defendants had too much against them. The lengthy confession with all its gruesome detail came back to haunt them many times over. As the statement was read into the record, the courtroom gasped when they heard descriptions of the murders. “I can still hear it! The blood was dripping, dripping, dripping and the sound of it just sounded like it could be heard all the over the house!” Martha had told the Michigan investigators. While Fernandez was strangling Mrs. Fay, she said, her false teeth fell out. They had the presence of mind to dispose of them because “we realized in case her body was found, if the teeth were there, that would be a mode of identification.”
D.A. Robinson then asked Fernandez if he shot and killed Delphine Downing.
“That is true,” he said simply. But when asked if he killed Janet Fay, he denied it. At that point, Martha suddenly jumped out of her seat.
“I think at this time, your honor, I want to take the stand!” she shouted. Judge Pecora admonished her as her attorney pushed her down into the seat. Page after page of their confession, each one more damaging than the last, went on to describe their twisting journey through deception, sex, fraud and murder.
The testimony of Raymond Fernandez included descriptions of extensive sexual relations he had with his various victims. Much was made of a three-way strip poker game he played with Martha and Esther Henne, one of his victims. The last hand was played for who would have the pleasure of sleeping with Fernandez. Martha won. This type of testimony continued through the morning of July 21 and was so lurid that “unauthorized persons were not permitted to loiter outside the courtroom.” TheN.Y. Times said that “many of the would-be spectators, predominantly women, did without lunch in order not to lose their places.”