Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Female of the Species Part 3: His Killer Half

We've covered the typical and not-so-typical female serial killer.  Now it's time to look at a female serial killer in a serial killer couple.  Because there are so many of these women who claim to simply be a victim it's hard to figure out which were, in fact, abused loves who were dragged along for the ride and which were active participants in the crimes them and their significant other committed.  There are, however, certain women who not only active participants but the actual killers of some of the couples' victims themselves - they were not women too scared to run, they were women too in love (with the kill) to run.  It will be one of those that we'll look at here.

"Lonely Hearts" Lady

Martha Beck was part of a killer duo that murdered at least 3 (and as many as 20 individuals if rumors held true) in 1949.  Her, along with her lover, Raymond Fernandez, would become known as "The Lonely Hearts Killers" for their tendency to prey upon women using the "Lonely Hearts" ads in newspapers.  On her own Martha was little more than a sad story of an unfortunate childhood that seemed to lead her to make unfortunate choices.  She was born Martha Jule Seabrook in 1920 in and, due to a glandular problem, was overweight and experienced puberty at a very young age which lead to her being a continual outcast and early promiscuity.

When she grew up Martha became a nurse though, to start, because of her looks, she had to take a job as an undertaker's assistant in her home state of Florida.  Eventually she grew unhappy with this and moved out to California in 1942 to be an army nurse.  (Unlike the Angels of Death we've covered in the past Marth was recorded as being a good nurse without any suspicious deaths of those in her care who took her job helping people seriously.)  Her promiscuity caught up with her when she became pregnant by a man who refused to marry her and, so upset over this, she returned to Florida.  In order to explain the illegitimate pregnancy she created a rather elaborate charade to explain the situation - she claimed that she was married to a naval officer (even bought herself a ring to wear) and, when the time came, she had a telegram sent to herself saying he'd died in action.  Not long after Martha became pregnant again, this time from bus driver Alfred Beck, who married her, although the two divorced six months after.

For the next two years Martha, unemployed and single mother of two, slipped into a rich fantasy life of romance novels and afternoon movies.  She dreamed of a Prince Charming to whisk her away into his loving arms.  In 1946 she got a job as a nurse once more and put out a "Lonely Hearts" ad in the paper...and it was through this ad that she met Ray Fernandez who answered it.  By the end of 1947 the two met face-to-face and, by 1948, Martha was abandoning her two children at the Salvation Army in order to keep Ray in her life permanently (she would not have contact with them again in in prison in 1951).  She had her Prince Charming; nothing would get between her and him now.

Now previous to their meeting neither Beck nor Fernandez were recorded as having killed anyone (though one of Fernandez's former lovers died under suspicious circumstances) and neither were shown to have any tendency towards violence.  That being said once they met things began to change rapidly for both of them.  Martha grew to have a wicked jealous streak which led to their first murder in January 1949 when, after seeing Fernandez in bed with their (they now pulled cons together, Beck playing his sister to add respectability and lower women's guards farther) latest mark, Janet Fay, Martha lost control.  She bludgeoned the woman with a ball-peen hammer and then, to finish the job, Fernandez strangled her using a scarf.  The couple then wrapped the body up and stuffed it into the closet before getting some sleep.  The next morning they got a large trunk, stuck the woman's body inside, and eventually buried it in a rented house.

From the murder in Long Island the killer couple quickly moved on to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they would meet their next two victims.  Again using the "Lonely Hearts" ads as a victim pool Fernandez began to correspond with a 41-year-old widow, Delphine Downing, who was the mother of a two-year-old daughter, Rainelle.  For some time things went relatively smoothly; though Beck's jealous rage began to creep up once more the woman seemed able to keep it in check.  But when Downing discovered that Fernandez was not the man he claimed to be (thanks to witnessing him without his customary toupee) things grew ugly quickly.  Downing refused to be charmed by Fernandez any farther and accused him of deception and fraud.  Hoping to calm the woman Beck convinced her to take some sleeping pills...but, while the pills did their job, Downing's little girl began to cry.  An already frustrated Beck snapped once more.  She grabbed the child and choked her into unconsciousness, leaving clear bruises on the tot's neck as she did.  When Fernandez saw what Beck has done they both panicked realizing, when Downing woke, she'd see the bruises her daughter.  So they did the only thing they could think of - using Downing's late husband's gun (and a towel as a form of silencer) Fernandez shot the woman pointblank in the head, killing her.  Over the next two days they made plans to skip town before realizing they also had to kill the little girl, Rainelle.  Filling a tub with water Martha drowned the small child and then buried the girl with her mother in the basement of the house.  Then, oddly, rather than leave town, they went to the movies.  When they returned to continue packing they were stopped by a knock at the door...neighbors, suspecting something, had called the cops and "The Lonely Hearts Killers" murders came to an end.

The two depraved lovebirds would not stand trial for the murders of Delphine and Rainelle Downing for one reason...they would stand trial for Janet Fay instead, thus opening up the possibility for the death penalty.  Both of them would end up being convicted of the murder and, in the end, both receive the punishment of death by electric chair.  Until the end they would both loudly, proudly, and continually proclaim love for one another.

...It's unlikely that, if they'd never met one another, neither Ray Fernandez nor (especially) Martha Beck would've ever committed multiple murders.  It's the most interesting and bizarre part of killer couples like them.  Alone they were both troubled individuals who simply would've continued on their own pathetic paths; but in getting together, in becoming a couple, they became a true danger to virtually anyone they preyed upon. Any morals they might've had were set aside for one another and killing became an acceptable act for both of them.  And, in this specific case, it was the woman who not only participated in the violence, but began them on the terrible road that ended in death row.

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