The Lonely Hearts Killers By Denise Noe
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The Honeymoon Killers - Criterion Collection
Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) is sullen, overweight and heartbreakingly alone. Desperate for affection, she joins Aunt Carries Friendship Club and strikes up a correspondence with Ray Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco), a suave, charismatic smooth talker who could be the man of her dreamsor a wicked con artist bound for trouble. Based on a true story and filmed in documentary-style black and white, a stark portrayal of the desperate lengths a lonely heart will go to find true love, from brutally immoral killings to a passion that transcends all bounds.

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Mistreated Boy

Raymond Fernandez was born in Hawaii of Spanish immigrant parents in 1914. When Ray was three, his family moved to Connecticut. There his father ran into job discrimination because of his broken English and dark complexion. He worked intermittently at a series of low paid jobs. He saw another disappointment in his son who was often sickly and always frail. Young Ray lacked the "macho" his father wanted in a male child. Frustrated, financially struggling, and disappointed, the "head of the household" drank heavily. He was a mean drunk who used excessive corporal punishment on Ray. The punishments escalated into beatings.

Like many mistreated children, Ray developed a deep ambivalence toward his abuser. He feared his father's wrath yet admired the way he ruled as the undisputed king of his outwardly humble castle.

If only Ray could be strong enough, masculine enough to make his father proud! But alas, the boy was stuck in a small-framed, non-muscular body.

The boy was self-conscious about many things, including his looks and his family's material deprivation. As an adolescent, he tried to assuage the sense of gnawing emptiness by stealing. Jailed at 15, the teenager decided to reverse the general movement of immigration: he would leave America for Spain, the land of his forebears, and make a fresh start there. Upon his release, he did exactly that. Relatives in the old country were willing to take Ray in and he settled down and grew to adulthood in Spain.

The Great Depression hit the United States and Ray's father believed he had had enough of life in the supposed land of opportunity. He wanted to re-establish a relationship with his son so he wrote to Ray and told him of his desires. His mother and father joined him in Spain.

They found that their son had become well-liked young man. He had a calm, genial manner that easily won him friends, especially women. The thin lanky physique that his father had often frowned upon brought a smile to many a feminine mouth.

When Fernandez was about twenty years old, he married Encarnación Robles and fathered a child with her. The financially troubled couple argued frequently and Fernandez solved his marital problems as he previously had solved his legal ones, by leaving the country. Almost as soon as he got back to America, Encarnación wrote to him that their young son was very sick. Alarmed, Fernandez took the first boat back to Spain.

There he found a country ripped apart by Civil War. He enlisted in Franco's army. After Franco's victory, Fernandez drifted from job to job. He was never a good breadwinner for his wife and son but did the best he could. He was a gardener and a garbage collector and did other tasks both manual and menial.

When World War II started, Fernandez saw an opportunity. In 1939, he traveled to Gibraltar and set up as an ice-cream vendor, selling this goodie to British military personnel and tourists.

One day a British man asked to speak privately with the ice-cream seller. Perhaps he recognized that the extroverted man who easily made friends could be of special use. He explained that he was from British Intelligence and said, "We can use you provided you are capable of obeying orders and being discreet."

Fernandez assured the questioner he was and he became a low-level spy for the Allies. Precisely what he did remains obscure but Fernandez appears to have demonstrated intelligence and courage to his spymasters. In an article published in Killer Couples, Bruce Sander, quotes glowing testimonial that British Intelligence presented to the spy, "Raymond Fernandez was entirely loyal to the Allied cause and carried out his duties, which were sometimes difficult and dangerous, extremely well."

After the war, the ex-spy did not want to return to his life as a humdrum laborer and family man. He signed on with a ship, for a life of high-spirited adventure. Instead, he had an accident that would drastically alter his life. A hatch cover slammed across his head, cracking his skull. The accident sheared off much of the thick, black hair he had been so proud and left gruesome scars in its place. After this misfortune, Fernandez suffered severe headaches and a personality change. Acquaintances believed his general demeanor and conduct worsened. Where he had previously been calm and controlled, he became grumpy and sullen, flying into a rage at the slightest provocation. Perhaps the worst damage done was to his ego. Insecure as a child, he found comfort in knowing that women found him attractive and he knew that his abundant dark hair was part of his appeal. Being partially bald and scarred must have reawakened the insecurities of his childhood.

The ship he boarded sailed for the United States of America but Fernandez first re-visited the nation of his childhood from a jail cell because he had stolen some items from the vessel. After a year behind bars, Fernandez went to Brooklyn to look up his sister. The kind-hearted woman gave her brother shelter and he gave her a hard time. Unable to find employment, he was generally in a bad temper and often verbally lashed out at her.

During this period, Fernandez practiced voodoo. His sister was disconcerted by the odor of incense that frequently wafted from his room as well as the indecipherable chantings he uttered as he knelt before his makeshift altar.

According to Sander, Fernandez told his sister "a fantastic story about learning Voodoo spells and rites from a prisoner in Tallahassee with whom he had become friendly." He also claimed he learned to "hypnotize folks from a distance" and "make women do what I want by thought concentration."

Fernandez's sister scoffed at his bragging. But Fernandez was to show that he did have a certain baffling power over some members of the female gender.

He wrote to several members of various lonely-hearts clubs. In 1947, he began writing to Jane Thompson.

Thompson's marriage had recently collapsed. Bespectacled and plain-faced, she was not sure she would be able to find another husband and a life of solitude frightened her. The letters from Fernandez impressed her with their tone of gentle caring. She was excited by his romantic approach: he asked for a lock of her hair! She was delighted to send it to him. She did not know that the hair was for a voodoo spell that Fernandez believed would put a woman completely under his power. Soon they arranged a meeting.

Wearing a toupee of thick, black hair, Fernandez was gratified to find Thompson falling under his "spell." While Fernandez attributed his success with women to voodoo, it is more likely his firm belief in it helped him radiate the confidence many women found appealing. Fernandez had a gut-level understanding of female needs and knew how to make a woman feel that he desired her. He gazed at each woman as if he were utterly enthralled by her and his piercing dark eyes seemed to turn into mirrors that reflected an image of youth and beauty to women who were often insecure, aging, and homely. He knew not to give the impression he was out after sex but appeared to care about her as a person.

The couple traveled to Spain on her nickel pretending to be married. Strangely, Fernandez took Thompson to meet his real wife - after he convinced Mrs. Fernandez to be introduced as an old friend named "Senora Robles." Why would Encarnación participate in such a bizarre deception, especially when it was so demeaning to her? Fernandez had a knack for convincing women he was madly in love with them and a appeared sincere when spouting outrageous lies. It is a common practice among con artists to play on the larcenous spirit in their victims. Perhaps he told his wife he needed to get money from Thompson so he could support her and their young son. If he pulled this off, he would settle down with the woman he deeply loved and had pined for, Encarnación. The odd trio went out to restaurants, theaters, and bullfights without Thompson ever suspecting his old friend was really his wife and the mother of his child. However, one day Fernandez and Thompson had a loud, raucous argument in a hotel room. Thompson was found dead the next morning of digitalis poisoning. Police suspected her "husband" but could not question him because Fernandez took the first boat back to America before his lover's corpse was cold.

In the US, he scammed Jane Thompson's mother. After several hours, he was able to draw a good facsimile of Thompson's signature affixed to a document purporting to be her last will and testament, leaving everything to Ray Fernandez. He sought out her mother, Mrs. Wilson, and waved the document in her face. His appearance of sincerity and conviction gulled her into believing it genuine.

The document scared Mrs. Wilson. It said that the home she shared with her daughter belonged to him. He assured her he was not going to make her leave - after all, she was the mother of a woman who had been so dear to him. The two of them could share the home. "I shall see that you are not disturbed," he said. "Things for you will continue just as before." The older woman was grateful to the man who seemed so caring and considerate. Her daughter must have been lucky to be loved by such a kind, generous person.

While living there, Fernandez continued writing to lonely-hearts club members stealing dollars, checks, jewelry, and whatever of value he could grab. His victims were not wealthy so his takes were never high but he was able to make a living through the sheer number of swindles. The women he conned were single when unmarried women were still being called "spinsters" with no sense of irony. They yearned for passion, which Fernandez seemed to bring, and marriage that he routinely promised. When they realized that they had been taken, they were too ashamed to go to the police. They would have had to reveal themselves as fools and, perhaps even worse, to tell the police they shared physical intimacies with a man to whom they were not married.

On one of these swindling sorties, he encountered a woman who was to change his life, a very lonely, sensuous, dark-haired, 300-pound nurse named Martha Beck.

Sad Martha

Born Martha Seabrook in Milton, Florida on May 6, 1920, she came into the world with a glandular problem that caused her to be morbidly obese, and she was endlessly teased and jeered by her schoolmates. Her father deserted the family while she was a toddler. To compound her problems, her brother sexually assaulted her when she was thirteen years old.

Martha she was accepted by a school of nursing. She graduated first in her class in 1942. Martha Seabrook was going to succeed. However, she had difficulty getting employment despite her qualifications. She attributed this to her weight. Finally, an undertaker hired her to prepare corpses. The job was a bitter disappointment. Seabrook had honed her skills in nursing school and knew that she could give good care to patients. Yet, she could only get a job working with those no longer able to benefit from her care.

The lonely woman escaped the disappointment and failure of her life by reading true romance magazines. She also frequented theaters to watch movies like The Garden of Allah and Gaslight that starred her favorite actor, Charles Boyer.

After eight months of working for the mortician, Seabrook heard there was a nurse shortage in California and decided to take her chances. Shortly after her arrival in the sunshine state, she got a job at a hospital.

Seabrook started to partially live out the fantasies of romance she had nurtured for so long. She had an affair with a bus driver. Soon the twenty-something nurse found herself pregnant and demanded her boyfriend marry her. He put her off, and then attempted suicide by throwing himself into the Pacific Ocean. Rescuers pulled him out but he made a hurried and complete exit from Seabrook's life.

Seabrook was unable to track him down when her mind snapped under the stress of an unwed pregnancy in an era when it was a disgrace. She was hospitalized for psychiatric reasons.

She appeared to recover after a few days. Then she behaved sensibly, moving to Pensacola, Florida so she could put on a ring and pretend to be the wife of a soldier away in the war. Around the time of her baby's birth, she sent herself a phony telegram saying her husband had been killed in action.

The new mother and ersatz war widow found herself a genuine beau by the name of Alfred Beck. Oddly, like the father of her child, he was a bus driver. The two soon married but Beck divorced Martha within a year, when she was pregnant with her second child.

Although her personal life was again bleak, Martha's career took a turn for the better. The Pensacola Crippled Children's Home hired her. She did so well she was promoted to superintendent. She was making something of herself as a nurse.

Perhaps her on-the-job success encouraged Beck to take another chance on love. She joined Mother Dinene's Family Club for Lonely Hearts and received a letter from Ray Fernandez. She took a liking to the man whose epistles were so courtly and charming.

Unbridled Passion

After corresponding regularly for a while, they agreed to meet in Florida. When Beck saw the thin, black-haired gentleman who had written her such flowery letters, she fell head over heels. She thought he resembled her idol, Charles Boyer.

Surprisingly, Fernandez, accustomed to deceiving women only to bilk them out of bucks, was smitten as well. Most articles about the case say that Fernandez was attracted to Beck "despite" her weight. However, it seems equally possible that he was attracted to her because of it. At any rate, the couple spent many steamy hours in hotel rooms gratifying their mutual passion.

Fernandez soon realized Beck had no money and no property. After two days of sensual bliss, he wanted to return to women who would gratify his greed instead of his lust. He made an excuse to Beck and headed back to New York. From the Big Apple, he wrote his lover a "Dear Johnette" letter. The epistle devastated Beck but it was only the beginning of her troubles.

Word about Beck's hotel trysts got back to the board of the Pensacola Crippled Children's Home. The era was one in which "moral turpitude" was grounds for firing and Beck got the axe. Unemployed and bereft of her love, saddled with the care and support of two little children, the frightened and angry woman determined that wily little Ray Fernandez would be her salvation whether he liked it or not.

The unemployed single mother packed her bags, took her kids, and headed for Fernandez's home. Fernandez's reaction to these uninvited and unannounced visitors was to take them in. What could those reasons have been? Fernandez was used to loving and leaving women - after fleecing them. They were suckers but not this woman. She wanted to impose on him. That was a switch. The demanding, take-no-nonsense Beck had a will as strong as his. Her portly size may have inflamed his erotic passion while her brashness aroused deeper emotions, perhaps even a kind of respect.

Fernandez soon concluded the apartment they shared with Jane Thompson's mother was too crowded. He told her, if she were going to stay with him, the kids would have to go. Beck did not want to be a out of work single mother. Even more, she did not want to lose Fernandez for with him she was living the love she had read about in romance magazines. He was her Charles Boyer, just as handsome and charming and a thousand times more precious because he could hold her in his arms. The kids were packed off to Beck's relatives in Florida. Not long thereafter, Mrs. Wilson also vacated. Beck may have given her the creeps and, if so, Wilson can be credited with astute judgement.

To Fernandez's surprise, Beck was not upset when he told her he had been a swindling woman through lonely-hearts clubs. Instead, she wanted to join him in the fleecing. Sanders' analysis was probably right on target when he wrote that "She had suddenly seen an opportunity for hitting back at her own sex, for squaring the long overdue account for all the humiliation and misery she had suffered from the years of tender girlhood." The pigeons represented every skinny girl who had taunted her, every slender woman who had a husband while she had only True Romance, and all the women hired over her who were favored because they were at an acceptable weight. She would be deceiving women into thinking they had this wonderful, entrancing man while she would know he was really hers. Beck would pose as Fernandez's sister when they met victims.

Their first mutual mark was a Pennsylvania schoolteacher named Esther Henne. This "unclaimed blessing" exchanged several letters with Fernandez and was impressed by the eloquence, interest, and concern his epistles radiated. The woman was convinced that she had found true love and connubial bliss would follow. The skinny suitor visited his amour with his full-figured sister in tow.

Fernandez proposed marriage and the teacher accepted. She found herself on a strange honeymoon, however. Each night, her groom retired to his own bedroom while the bride shared sleeping quarters with her supposed sister-in-law. When the wife objected to this bizarre arrangement, Beck became intimidating which was not hard given that there was a considerable size difference between the two women. The three returned to New York. The wife discovered that her finances had been bled dry but was too frightened to confront Fernandez and Beck. Instead, she just left.

Sanders wrote, "For two years these confidence tricksters worked at their cruel and unrelenting racket, duping the gullible into mock marriages with the alleged brother, and then extracting their personal wealth and making life so generally intolerable that the dupes were glad to decamp."

In 1948, they found a pigeon too feisty to do as she was told and then get out of the way. Middle-aged widow Myrtle Young of Greene Forrest, Arkansas hoped life was not passing her by when she started exchanging letters with the dashing, romantic Fernandez, she had a new lease on life. His marriage proposal was eagerly accepted. In August, she traveled to Cook County, Illinois where she and her thick-haired Latin Romeo wed.

Young was outraged when her ostensible sister-in-law insisted on sharing her honeymoon bed. Beck forced the woman to take a heavy dosage of barbiturates. Then she and Fernandez put the semi-conscious woman on a bus headed for Little Rock, Arkansas. When the bus pulled into the depot, those around her realized Young was not in an ordinary sleep and rushed her to the hospital where she died shortly after her arrival. She was unable to share with police the story of her strange honeymoon and coerced doping.

Did Beck and Fernandez intend to kill Young? That cannot be answered although they were willing to risk it when they forced barbiturates on her. They would commit quite deliberate murders soon after this crime.

Although nothing was proven about the death of Jane Thompson, it is possible Fernandez murdered before he met Beck. There are no reports of Beck's being violent before her association with Fernandez. By herself, she was pitiful; with him, she was murderous. Beck falls into the pattern of a previously non-criminal woman whose sociopathic tendencies are unleashed through her relationship with a dominant, homicidal man. Bonnie Parker may be the prime example of this sort of female criminality. Caril Fugate, who followed boyfriend Charlie Starkweather into spree killing and Myra Hindley, who became a child killer at lover Ian Brady's behest, are other examples.

In no case should it be assumed the women were previously "normal" or that going along with murder was simply a matter of the submission to the man's wishes. Women with strong moral codes would give a firm "no" to a murderous partner. Rather, these women had destructive desires that might have remained untapped had they not met the men that they did.

Why did Beck and Fernandez prey on women? Beck had a grudge against other women. Females often feel they in competition for males and Beck had been unfairly passed over for slimmer women in work and love.

Fernandez, abused as a child by a man, had feelings toward his domineering father that included admiration, envy, a desire to impress, fear and loathing. It is probable he was contemptuous of his weak, ineffectual mother who watched her son being bullied and beaten but did nothing to protect him. His mother put up with alcoholism and child abuse rather than risk losing her husband. His victims wanted marriage so badly they believed his lies. "Fools deserve whatever they get," is the con artist's classic creed. Fernandez expanded it to cover those whose lives he took.

Fernandez and Beck continued pulling cons.

Using the alias "Charles Martin," he began writing to a 66-year-old widow in Albany named Janet Fay. Fay knew that she was long past the age when women are usually regarded as being attractive but she still hoped for someone with whom to share her life. She lived in a large apartment; it was too big for one person and reinforced her sense of loneliness. A deeply religious Roman Catholic who faithfully attended mass, Fay was pleased to find that this eloquent and refined Charles Martin shared her beliefs. His letters were filled with references to God, Jesus Christ, and the church. She was thrilled when he asked for a lock of her hair. They arranged to meet in December 1948. Fernandez altered his appearance to make himself look older. He put white streaks in his hair and make-up to deepen lines around his eyes. In late December, Martin and his "sister" traveled to Albany to meet Fay. The courtly gentleman showed up on Fay's doorstep carrying a bouquet of flowers. They spent much of their time sharing their similar religious convictions.

As the New Year of 1949 rolled around Fay found herself entranced by this smooth-talking, and deeply Christian man. So smitten she agreed to give all her cash, bonds, and jewelry to the man she thought of as her husband-to-be. Martin's helpful sister packed it in the trunk had been the property of the late Myrtle Young. Fay probably anticipated a romantic elopement when she set off with her fiancé and future sister-in-law for the small town of Valley Stream. The trio rented a little apartment. Settling into her new digs, Fay spoke of writing to her stepdaughter. Beck reacted sourly to the idea and harsh words were exchanged. Suddenly the 300-pound nurse grabbed a hammer and slammed Fay's head with it. The elderly woman's skull cracked but she did not die instantly. As blood flowed from her head, Fernandez strangled her. False teeth plopped out of her mouth as she died. Nonplussed, Beck shoved the corpse into a cupboard and got rid of the dentures. Beck and Fernandez sat around discussing ways to get rid of the body. Fernandez mentioned his sister in Astoria lived in a home with a big basement. Myrtle Young's trunk was not big enough to hold Janet Fay so they bought a new one, and then headed for his sister's house. Could they leave the trunk in her cellar for a little while they asked? Certainly, his sister replied. The January weather was freezing so Beck figured the body would keep for a few days before giving off a telltale odor. Fernandez and Beck rented a house in Queens that had a cellar then fetched the trunk from his sister's home. They buried Fay in a hole in the basement they filled over with cement. When the cement hardened after a few days, the couple went to the real estate agent to say they did not want the house after all.

Beck wanted Fay's property from American Express but knew it might set off alarms if they did it themselves. She believed she could persuade Janet's stepdaughter to help them. Thus, she typed the following letter and mailed it to that stepdaughter, Mary Spencer.

Dear Mary,
I am all excited and having the time of my life. I never felt so happy before. I soon will be Mrs. Martin, and go to Florida. Mary, I am about to ask you a great favour. I would like you to call on the American Express Agency and have them ship my trunks and boxes that I have there to me. The address is on the various stickers I am enclosing in the letter.
I would like to sort out many things before I leave for Florida. I am so happy and contented, for Charles is so good and nice to me and also his family. They have done everything to make me feel comfortable and at home. I will close with my best wishes for you both and love and kisses for the children. I really do miss you all, but I am sure that my prayers are granted to me by sending me this wonderful man.
God bless you all.
Janet J. Fay

Spencer immediately spotted this letter for a phony. She knew her stepmother could not type and the formal signature jarred. She went to the police with her suspicions.

In the meantime, Fernandez and Beck traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan so he could meet 41-year-old Delphine Downing, a widow he was courting through a lonely-hearts club. Downing had lost her husband in the recent war. She wanted to remarry but feared that eligible men would not be interested in a ready-made family and would run when they learned of Rainelle. She was pleased Fernandez had not lost interest when she told him she was the mother of a toddler. Delphine introduced the pair to her almost 2-year-old daughter Rainelle and allowed "brother and sister" to stay in her home so she and Fernandez could become better acquainted. Fernandez entranced by little Rainelle spent time playing with her. The debonair Latin who courted her in such a thoughtful, romantic manner equally entranced the child's mother.

One evening at Delphine's home, Fernandez was relaxing and reading the newspaper. He had kicked off his shoes and removed his toupee. Suddenly the door opened. A stunned Delphine Downing exclaimed, "You're bald!" Upset by the look of disappointment on her face, Fernandez said, "Look, honey, you don't have to act this way because I cover a bald patch. Heck, it's no crime, Delphie." She had thought he was suave, handsome, and young. She shrank from his approach. "Don't touch me, you imposter!" she cried. "Why, you're old. Old!" He tried to sweet talk her but she ordered both he and his "sister" to leave immediately. Fernandez grabbed but she struggled out of his grasp and ran into 300-pound Beck, attracted by the commotion. Accounts differ as to what transpired next. One of those versions holds that Fernandez took a pistol out of his jacket pocket, and shot Delphine Dowling in the head.

She slid to the floor as Fernandez watched her last breath, his mind was not on her death, but on the disgust, she had recently hurled his way. "Martha," he said plaintively, "she saw me without the toupee and said I was old. She didn't want me. She said we had to leave tonight. Martha, you don't think I'm old - not too old?" She took him in her arms, held his long lean head against her well-endowed chest, and gave him the reassurance he craved. Of course, he was still attractive, still youthful, she told him.

A baby's cry disturbed this loving scene.

Beck told Fernandez they should take care of this the way they had Janet Fay. He should dig a hole in the cellar big enough for mother and child. The former nurse and mother of two filled a bathtub with water to drown little Rainelle Dowling. After breaking through the thin layer of cement in the basement with his shovel, Fernandez dug out a little pit. Delphine was shoved inside it along with her dead baby and it was covered over.

Another version of the Downing murders maintains they were stretched out over a couple of days. When Delphine ran into Beck, the "sister" tried to soothe her and convinced her to take sleeping pills. Rainelle saw her mother in an unnatural sleep and started crying. A frazzled Beck choked the girl into unconsciousness but not death. Fernandez believed they had to kill Delphine. "If she wakes up and sees Rainelle," he pointed out, "she'll go to the police." Then he grabbed the gun that belonged to Delphine's late husband, put it against her head, and pulled the trigger. Rainelle regained consciousness and saw her mother being slaughtered. Fernandez and Beck carried the mother's body into the basement and buried it. For two days, they took care of little Rainelle as the confused and terrified little girl cried and could not eat. Finally, Fernandez decided that their only course was to kill the baby too. He ordered Beck to murder Rainelle. "I can't do it, Ray!" Beck said. "I can't." Fernandez told her she would. Reluctantly, she complied, drowning the child, then helping Fernandez bury her beside her mother in the cellar.

Although accounts differ about the Downing killings, there is not dispute about what Fernandez and Beck did after killing Rainelle. The deadly duo capped the night off with a trip to a theater to take in a movie where they enjoyed sodas and popcorn along with the show. They returned home tired and eager to sleep. Fernandez and Beck did not have time to settle into bed before they heard a knock on the door. Fernandez answered. Police officers on the porch invited themselves in. What were they there for? Fernandez wondered. They could not possibly know what had happened to Delphine and Rainelle Dowling - could they? "You Raymond Fernandez?" a policeman asked. "You ever know a Mrs. Janet Fay?" Fernandez was too scared to answer. Beck saw the police and said, "Leave him alone. Don't you goddamn cops touch Ray or I'll -" She made threats but was not able to act on them before being clapped into handcuffs. Police found the bodies of mother and infant buried in the cellar.

The story of the Lonely Hearts Killers made headlines across the nation. While only these three murders would be officially established as theirs, there were persistent rumors that they had done away with other pigeons. Some estimates say they killed as many as twelve people.

Both murderers seemed less concerned with the possible death sentence than their reputations. Fernandez told investigators, "I'm no average killer! I have a way with women, a power over them." Beck was distraught by terms like "Obese Ogress" with which she was tagged by the newspapers. "I'm still a human being," she protested, "feeling every blow inside, even though I have the ability to hide my feelings and laugh. But that doesn't say my heart isn't breaking from the insults and humiliation of being talked about as I am."

When they were in custody, a dispute arose between Michigan and New York as to which state would try them. Michigan had no death penalty while New York had a busy electric chair. Roger McMahon, district attorney of Michigan's Kent County, used their fear of New York's death penalty to persuade them to sing a 73-page confession. He promised that they would not be extradited to New York if they did. McMahon lied. Michigan allowed them to be extradited to New York so they would face the ultimate penalty for the murder of Janet Fay.

They went on trial in the middle of 1949's simmering heat wave. The weather did not keep intrigued spectators from crowding into the courtroom where they sat, cheek by jowl, wiping sweat off their foreheads and fanning themselves while listening to testimony about sex and deception, mayhem and murder. Judge Ferdinand Pecora heard the case. He was reputed to be a no-nonsense jurist who did not allow a case to be bogged down in irrelevant details. Nassau County District Attorney Edward Robinson, Jr. (not the famous actor) prosecuted them. He put a variety of witnesses on the stand, including the medical examiner who autopsied Janet Fay, detectives and forensic experts, relatives, and friends of the victim.

Herbert Rosenberg defended both Beck and Fernandez. He called Fernandez to the stand July 11, 1949. He said he had had nothing to do with Fay's death. He admitted confessing to it when questioned by the police in Michigan but claimed he was only being chivalrous, taking the blame so his ladylove could go free. "All my statements were made for the purpose of helping Martha," he testified. Apparently, the prospect of electrocution had led him to discard his wish to shield the woman he loved.

Robinson tore into the defendant on cross-examination. He questioned him about Jane Thompson, Myrtle Young, Delphine Downing, and her daughter Rainelle. He grew louder and louder in his outrage until Ray's co-defendant shouted, "Mr. Fernandez is not deaf!"

The witness admitted he had shot and killed Delphine Downing but denied murdering Janet Fay. That led to another outburst from an agitated Beck. "I think at this time," she told Judge Pecora as she rose to her feet, "I want to take the stand!

The judge admonished her not to talk out of turn. Rosenberg called her as a witness early in the morning of July 25, 1945. Wearing a gray and white polka dot dress and a double-strand pearl necklace, the "Obese Ogress" took the stand. Her lawyer took her through her background as a teased youngster and her adulthood of disappointments. He led her to her relationship with Fernandez and her agreement to become his criminal confederate. Finally, her testimony turned to the murder of Janet Fay. Beck remembered Fernandez telling her to keep the woman quiet. Then she was amnesiac. The next thing she recalled, she was standing over a dead Fay and Fernandez was shaking her shoulders, asking, "My God, Martha, what have you done?" If Beck had killed Janet Fay, it was due to her deep love for Fernandez. When the prosecutor questioned her, she said, "We loved each other and I consider it absolutely sacred." Later she stated, "a request from Mr. Fernandez to me is a command. I loved him enough to do anything he asked me to."

The Lonely-Hearts case went to the jury on August 18, 1949. They began deliberating at 9:45 p.m. and had a verdict by 8:30 a.m. the next morning. Both defendants were convicted of first-degree murder. The jury did not recommend mercy. On August 22, Judge Pecora sentenced Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck to death in the electric chair. It would be almost two years before the sentence was carried out.

While awaiting execution, Martha wrote poetry.

Memo to Ray

Remember, sweetheart, the night that you and I
Side by side were sitting.
Watching o'er the moonlit sky
Fleecy clouds were flitting,
How close our hands were linked then,
When, my darling, when will they be linked again?
What to me the starlight still
Or the moonbeam's splendour,
If I do not feel the thrill
Of your fingers tender?

The poem was shown to Ray who was moved to tears. He took pencil to paper and scrawled a note for her. "I would like to shout my love for you to the world."

The bizarre couple was executed at Sing Sing on March 8, 1951.

On the last day of her life, Martha Beck set a goal for herself and, pitifully, failed to keep it. She was tired of hearing people ridicule her as a glutton so she would deliberately show them possessed self-control by not overdoing her last meal. Then she changed her mind and asked for a double order of everything, wolfing down heaping helpings of salads, fried potatoes, and chicken. Unlike Fernandez, she showed a certain amount of courage since she walked to the electric chair on her own. Fernandez collapsed on the death day. In keeping with the tradition of executing the more distraught prisoner first, guards carried him into the death chamber before Martha.

The Martha Beck/Raymond Fernandez affair was the basis of a film called The Honeymoon Killers, made in the 1970s. Starring Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco and written and directed by Leonard Kastle, it stuck pretty close to the facts and became a cult classic for its daring (by contemporary standards) depictions of sex and violence. The couple was again cinematically portrayed in 1996 when acclaimed Mexican director Arturo Ripstein came out with Deep Crimson.

There have been other homicidal couples but none as unlikely as Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck. Their union was distinguished by their viciousness toward other people and, paradoxically, their devotion to each other. Fiction can imitate and dramatize but not outdo the singular passion and perversity of the Lonely-Hearts Killers.


Buck, Paul, The Honeymoon Killers, Universal-Award House, Inc, New York, NY, 1970. Serial Killers.

Everitt, David, Human Monsters, Contemporary Books, Chicago, IL, 1993.

Jones, Richard Glyn, Killer Couples, Berkley Books, New York, NY 1987.

Newton, Michael, Bad Girls Do It! Loompanics Unlimited, Port Townsend, WA 1993.

©Denise Noe

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Copyright Kari Sable 1994-2006

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Investigative Reports: Copycat Crimes
-- A focus on the current investigation of the "Honeymoon Killers" - a young couple who collaborated on the seduction and marriage of lonely singles, then killed them to collect the insurance payoff. The couple confessed to basing their plot on a 1970s horror flick directed by Martin Scorsese. The program investigates other crimes inspired by popular cinema. Loxley will interview criminals and the FBI agents who specialize in cracking these Hollywood inspired copy-cat cases.
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