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My story is a love story. But only those tortured by love can know what I mean. I am not unfeeling, stupid or moronic. I am a woman who had a great love and always will have it. Imprisonment in the Death House has only strengthened my feeling for Raymond.
Beck

Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, a.k.a. The Lonely Hearts Killers, were a killer couple of con artists and serial killers who targeted the women members of a lonely hearts club.

Background

Raymond Fernandez

Fernandez was born in Hawaii in 1914. His parents were Spanish immigrants who later moved to Fairfield, Connecticut. His father, a handyman, always treated him harshly for unknown reasons; he refused to school Fernandez and would force him to do the most demeaning work. When he was sixteen, Fernandez and two other boys stole two chickens. The other boys' families paid bail, but Fernandez's father refused and he was imprisoned for two months. Afterward, the family moved to southern Spain, where his father became mayor of Órgiva, a small town in Granada province. At age twenty, Fernandez moved to Gibraltar, where he worked as an ice cream vendor, and he gathered intelligence for the British during World War II. At one point, he also married a Spanish woman, Encarnación, and had four children with her.

In December 1945, Fernandez boarded a ship to the U.S. without his family. While sailing near Curaçao, a steel hatch fell on him and he had a multiple skull fracture. The accident changed his personality dramatically and he became impulsive, erratic and addicted to sex. Shortly after his discharge from the hospital in 1946, he was arrested in Mobile, Alabama and charged with robbery for trying to pass stolen clothing through customs. Fernandez pled guilty to the charge, but claimed that he could not resist his actions and that he didn't know why he did them. He was sentenced to one year and was imprisoned in Tallahassee, Florida, where his cellmate converted him to a belief in Voodoo, hypnotism and black magic. In December 1946, he moved with relatives in New York City and joined a local lonely hearts club called the "Mother Dinene's Friendly Club". He wrote to women in the club with great success.

Martha Beck

Beck was born Martha Jule Seabrook in Milton, Florida in 1920. She was the youngest child of William Seabrook, a submissive man who abandoned his family when she was 10, and a dominant mother. As a child, she was shy and overweight, which was attributed to an unspecific glandular problem, and was bullied by other children. She developed sexually and became interested in boys when she was only nine-years-old. This made her mother paranoid about leaving her alone with men, which contributed to her loneliness and sexual desire. At her trial, Beck claimed that she was raped once by her brother, but that her mother had blamed her and beat her for it. She run away from home as a teenager, but returned later. In 1942, she graduated as a nurse in Pensacola but had trouble finding work due to her appearance. After working in a funeral home washing and preparing the bodies for burial, she became depressed and moved to California, where she was hired in a hospital. Meanwhile, she engaged in casual sex with men that she met at bus stops. When she became pregnant, she asked the father to marry her, but he refused and committed suicide. Beck suffered a nervous collapse and returned to Pensacola, where she claimed that she had married a serviceman who was killed in action in the Pacific. Beck was hired in the same Pensacola hospital where she gave birth to her first child, but she was fired for scandalous behavior on May 31, 1944. On December 13, she married a bus driver, Alfred Beck, but she filed for divorce after only six months and while being pregnant with a second child. On February 15, 1946 she began working at a residence for disabled children and was promoted to director in the Fall. Despite this professional success, she also became an alcoholic and a compulsive consumer of romantic novels and films. In November, an acquaintance played a prank on her by writing to the New York lonely hearts club in her name.

Murders and arrest

In 1947, Fernandez met Lucilla Thompson, a divorced cook who run a New York City boarding house with her mother. After becoming her tenant, the two started a relationship and left for a vacation in Spain in October. They visited Madrid, Granada, Malaga and La Línea de la Concepción, on the Gibraltar border, where Fernandez inexplicably introduced his lover to his wife and children. On November 7, Thompson argued with Fernandez and threatened to return to the U.S. alone. The next morning, she was found dead in her hotel room and the cause was identified as a heart attack triggered by gastroenteritis. Fernandez returned and showed Thompson's mother a forged will that named him as Thompson's only heir. Fernandez read Beck's letter to the lonely hearts club and wrote back, telling her that he intended to visit shortly before Christmas. After two days together, Fernandez realized that Beck was poorer than the letter claimed and returned to New York after making a excuse. Beck wrote several romantic letters to Fernandez, to which he replied that she had misinterpreted him and that they should not meet again. In response, Beck wrote Fernandez that she was going to kill herself with an oven. The letter had the desired effect, and Fernandez invited Beck to New York. Although the residence conceded Beck a two-week leave, she later found that she had been fired without explanation.

On January 18, 1948 Beck surprised Fernandez by ringing the boarding house's door with her two children. When Fernandez said he could not have children in the house, she sent them to her mother and threw Thompson's mother out. In a last attempt to make her leave, Fernandez confessed that he was a con artist and that his life was based on ripping off women from lonely hearts clubs. However, Beck chose to stay and become his accomplice. On February 28, Fernandez drove to Fairfax, Virginia, where he married retired school teacher Esther Henne and brought her to New York. Beck refused to leave Fernandez alone and accompanied him for the trip, forcing him to introduce her as his sister-in-law. Henne subsequently got in several arguments with Fernandez, who wanted her to write her insurance policies and retirement pension under his name. After hearing of Thompson's death from other tenants, she left the city and began proceedings to recover her car and $300 that Fernandez had taken from her. Simultaneously pressured by a paternity claim from a New York woman, Fernandez and Beck sold the house and traveled to Greene Forrest, Arkansas, where they met yet another member of the club, Myrtle Young. Fernandez and Young married in Cook County, Illinois on August 14 and the trio travelled to a modest rooming house in Chicago for the honeymoon. After three days, an argument erupted because of Fernandez's unwillingness to consumate, and Young threatened to leave if Fernandez's "in-law" didn't. Young ingested (or was forced to ingest) a jar of barbiturates, and was placed in a bus to Arkansas, after Fernandez and Beck took $4,000 from her. During the trip, Young suffered a brain hemorrhage and died at a hospital.

Around Christmas, Fernandez wrote to a pious widow from Albany, New York, Janet Fay, claiming that his name was "Charles Martin" and that he shared her religious beliefs. On January 1, Fernandez and Beck went to Fay's house, where he introduced Beck as his sister, and claimed they had lost their wallets. The next day, Fay accepted Fernandez's marriage proposal and withdrew $2,500 from her account. The three left for an apartment in Long Island and Fay was convinced to withdraw $3500 more. As they were still not married, Fay slept with Beck and asked her several questions about "Charles's" childhood, which she refused to answer. Fay became angry and told Beck that she would not live with the couple after the marriage. When Fay went to talk to her fiancé, Beck run after her and struck her fatally with a hammer. Afterward, they bought a large chest to put the body in and buried it in cement inside the basement of a rented house in Queens. The same day of the murder, Fernandez received a letter from Delphine Downing, a young widow from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who had a two-year-old daughter, Rainelle. This time, Beck was introduced again as Fernandez's sister-in-law and he slept several times with Downing, while Beck could barely hide her jealousy. On February 27, Beck offered Downing some pills that she claimed were abortifacients, but were actually sleeping pills. When she fell unconscious, they rolled a sheet around her head and Fernandez shot her with her ex-husband's revolver. Downing was then buried in cement inside the house's basement. Over the next two days, they considered different fates for Downing's daughter. Keeping her was not an option because she rejected them and refused to eat, and they thought that leaving her in an orphanage would rise suspicions. Finally, Fernandez told Beck to kill the child, and she drowned her in a basin. Afterward, they buried her with her mother. The same day, two concerned neighbors rang the door. Fernandez and Beck talked to them and then went to the movies. Upon their return, they were arrested by Police.

Trials, Executions, and Aftermath

Fernandez-beck-press.jpg

Fernandez and Beck made full confessions that differed in some details. The buried bodies were exhumed and the Spanish Police was alerted to reopen the 1947 case as a murder. Because Michigan had abolished the death penalty in the 19th century, the State pressed no charges and extradited the couple to New York, where each faced one charge of first degree murder for the death of Janet Fay. In June, they declared themselves not guilty by reason of insanity, but after a 44-days trial, they were found guilty and were sentenced to die in the electric chair. While in jail, Fernandez told the doctors that he had "sincere affection" and "a great consideration" for Beck, but he was unsure of loving her. The doctors told Beck that Fernandez never loved her and that he was infected with syphilis, which crushed Beck. However, two hours before their execution on March 8, 1951, Fernandez sent a message to her that read "I would like to yell to the world the love I feel for you". This contented Beck, who told a nurse that she was happy to die knowing that Fernandez loved her. While in custody, Beck also exhorted Police to clamp down on lonely hearts clubs, claiming that they were frauds. Coincidentally or not, the Mother Dinene's Friendly Club was closed under charges of fraud, but it reopened immediately with a different name and the same fee ($5). The case of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck inspired several later movies, like The Honeymoon Killers (1970), Deep Crimson (1996), Lonely Hearts (2006), and Alleluia (2014).

Modus Operandi

Fernandez targeted female clients of the Mother Dinene's Friendly Club. He would write them, claiming they had much in common, and spread a "magic powder" over the letter that he bought at a Jamaican-run shop. Afterward, he burnt incense and made an unspecified ritual to "hypnotize" the woman who opened the letter. He would arrange a date at the victims's home and sometimes invite her to a second date in New York or other location away from her surroundings. Sometimes, he would propose them (despite already being married), and convince them to give him money and properties. When Beck accompanied him, he introduced her as his sister-in-law, except in Janet Fay's case, where he introduced her as his biological sister, likely because of her religious beliefs. After killing the victims with a variety of methods, he disposed of the bodies (by burying them in cement inside a basement, in the three last cases), leave town, and repeat the process.

Profile

According to a 1949 medical assesment, Fernandez suffered the most damage in the frontal part of the brain. As a result, “[h]e may have suffered an alteration of personality to the point of damaging his moral judgement. Therefore, although legally sane, and his reason was not damaged, he may have turned into a monster." Beck also had a personality disorder derived from her premature sexual development. “Physically, she was a woman who wanted to be loved like any other but without having completely matured yet and without having the slightest notion about sex."

Known Victims

In reading order: Thompson, Henne, Young, Fay, Delphine and Rainelle Downing

  • November 8, 1947, La Línea de la Concepción, Spain: Jane Lucilla Wilson Thompson (poisoned with digoxin by Fernandez)
  • 1948:
    • February 28, Fairfax, Virginia: Esther Henne (intended by both, escaped)
    • August 18, Chicago, Illinois: Myrtle Young (poisoned with barbiturates and abandoned in a bus to Arkansas)
  • 1949:
    • January 3, Long Island, New York: Janet Fay, 66 (struck with a hammer by Beck, strangled with a scarf, and buried in cement post-mortem)
    • February 27, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Delphine Downing, 41 (narcotized by Beck, shot by Fernandez, and buried in cement)
    • March 1, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Rainelle Downing, 2 (drowned in a basin by Beck and buried with her mother)

On Criminal Minds

  • Season Ten
    • "Scream" - Fernandez (but not Beck) was mentioned as an example of Lonely Hearts Killer who contacted his victims through newspaper ads, seduced and robbed the women who answered them.

Sources

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