Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (May 2009)|
December 17, 1914|
|Died||March 8, 1951
Sing Sing prison, Ossining, New York
|Death by electric chair|
|Children||4 (previous marriage)|
|Born||Martha Jule Seabrook
May 6, 1920
|Died||March 8, 1951
Sing Sing prison, Ossining, New York
|Death by electric chair|
Raymond Martinez Fernandez (December 17, 1914 – March 8, 1951) and Martha Jule Beck (May 6, 1920 – March 8, 1951) were an American serial killer couple. They are believed to have killed as many as 20 women during their murderous spree between 1947 and 1949. After their arrest and trial for serial murder in 1949, they became known as "The Lonely Hearts Killers" for meeting their unsuspecting victims through lonely hearts ads. A number of films and television shows are based on this case.
Prior to the murders
Fernandez was born on December 17, 1914 in Hawaii to Spanish parents. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Connecticut. As an adult, he moved to Spain, married, and had four children, all of whom he abandoned later on in life.
After serving in Spain's Merchant Marine and then British Intelligence during World War II, Fernandez decided to seek work. Shortly after boarding a ship bound for America, a steel hatch fell on top of him, fracturing his skull and injuring his frontal lobe. The damage left by this injury may well have affected his social and sexual behavior. Upon his release from a hospital, Fernandez stole some clothing and was thus imprisoned for a year, during which time his cellmate taught him voodoo and black magic. He later claimed black magic gave him irresistible power and charm over women. After serving his sentence, Fernandez moved to New York City and began answering personal ads posted by lonely women. He would wine and dine them, then steal their money and possessions. Most were too embarrassed to report the crimes. In one case, he traveled with a woman to Spain, where he visited his wife and introduced the two women. His female traveling companion then died under suspicious circumstances, and he took possession of her property with a forged will.
In 1947, he answered a personal ad placed by Martha Beck.
Martha Beck was born Martha Jule Seabrook on May 6, 1920 in Milton, Florida. Allegedly due to a glandular problem (then a common explanation for obesity), she was overweight and underwent puberty prematurely. At her trial, she claimed to have been sexually assaulted by her brother. When she told her mother what happened, her mother beat her, claiming Martha was responsible. As a teen, Beck ran away from home with her across the street neighbour: Truman Capote, who was years younger. (Capote spoke of the incident in a Paris Review interview in 1957.)
After Martha finished school, she studied nursing but had trouble finding a job due to her weight. She initially became an undertaker's assistant and prepared female bodies for burial. She then quit that job and moved to California, where she worked in an Army hospital as a nurse. She engaged in sexually promiscuous behavior and eventually became pregnant. She tried to convince the father to marry her, but he refused. Single and pregnant, she returned to Florida.
Martha told people the father was a serviceman she had married, later claiming he had been killed in the Pacific Campaign. The town mourned her loss, and the story was published in the local newspaper. Shortly after her daughter was born, she became pregnant again by a Pensacola bus driver named Alfred Beck. They married quickly and divorced six months thereafter, and she gave birth to a son.
Unemployed and the single mother of two young children, Beck escaped into a fantasy world, buying romance magazines and novels, and watching romantic movies. In 1946, she found employment at the Pensacola Hospital for Children. She placed a lonely hearts ad in 1947, which Raymond Fernandez answered.
Fernandez visited Beck and stayed for a short time; she told everyone they were to be married. He returned to New York while she made preparations in Milton, Florida, where she lived. When she was abruptly fired from her job, likely because of rumors about her and Fernandez,[clarification needed] she packed up and arrived on his doorstep in New York. Fernandez enjoyed the way she catered to his every whim, and he confessed his criminal enterprises. Beck quickly became a willing participant and sent her children to the Salvation Army. She posed as Fernandez's sister, giving him an air of respectability. Their victims often stayed with them or with her. She was extremely jealous and would go to great lengths to make sure he and his "intended" never consummated their relationship. When he did have sex with a woman, Beck subjected both to her violent temper.
In 1949, the pair committed the three murders for which they would later be convicted. Janet Fay, 66, became engaged to Fernandez and went to stay at his Long Island apartment. When Beck saw her and Fernandez in bed together, she smashed Fay's head in with a hammer in a murderous rage, and Fernandez then throttled Fay. Soon, Fay's family became suspicious.
Beck and Fernandez traveled to Byron Center Road in Wyoming Township, Michigan, a suburb of Grand Rapids, where they met and stayed with Delphine Downing, a young widow with a two-year-old daughter. On February 28, Downing became agitated, and Fernandez gave her sleeping pills to calm her. The daughter witnessed Downing's resulting stupor and began to cry, which enraged Beck. Panicked, Beck strangled the child but didn't kill her. Fernandez thought Downing would become suspicious if she saw her bruised daughter, so he shot the unconscious woman. The couple then stayed for several days in Downing's house. Again enraged by the daughter's crying, Beck drowned her in a basin of water. They buried the bodies in the basement, but suspicious neighbors reported the Downings' disappearances, leading the police arrive at the door on March 1, 1949 and arrest Beck and Fernandez.
Trial and executions
Fernandez quickly confessed, with the understanding that they would not be extradited to New York; Michigan had no death penalty, but New York did. They were, nonetheless, extradited. The pair vehemently denied committing 17 murders that were attributed to them, and Fernandez tried to retract his confession, saying he only made it to protect Beck.
Their trial was sensationalized, with lurid tales of sexual perversity. Newspaper reporters described Beck's appearance with derision, and she wrote protesting letters to the editors.
Despite their tumultuous arguments and relationship problems, they often professed their love to each other, as demonstrated by their official last words:
"I wanna shout it out; I love Martha! What do the public know about love?" - Raymond Fernandez.
"My story is a love story. But only those tortured by love can know what I mean [...] Imprisonment in the Death House has only strengthened my feeling for Raymond...." - Martha Beck.
In popular culture
A number of films and television shows are based on this case, such as:
- The Honeymoon Killers (1969 film)
- Deep Crimson (1996 film)
- Lonely Hearts (2006 film)
- Alleluia (2014 film)
- "Lonely Hearts" (Cold Case) (original airdate November 19, 2006), season 4, episode 9 of the television series Cold Case
- "Raymond Fernandez". Bio.com. Retrieved February 1, 2009.
- The Lonely Hearts Killers. Trutv.com. p. 4.
- Levin et al. (1987). "Magnetic resonance imaging and computerized tomography in relation to the neurobehavioral sequelae of mild and moderate head injuries". Journal of Neurosurgery 66: 706–713.
- "Serial Killers Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez". Francesfarmersrevenge.com. March 8, 1951. Retrieved 2010-09-28.
- The Lonely Hearts Killers. trutv.com. Page 1 http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/partners/fernandez/1.html The Lonely Hearts Killers. trutv.com. Page 1]]. Missing or empty
- "Martha Jule Seabrook Beck". Find-a-Grave. Retrieved February 1, 2009.
- The Lonely Hearts Killers. Trutv.com. p. 2.
- The Lonely Hearts Killers. Trutv.com. p. 3.
- Gado, Mark (2007). Death Row Women: Murder, Justice, and the New York Press. Praeger. p. 157. ISBN 0275993612.
- Fuchs, Christian (1996). Bad Blood. Creation Books. p. 42. ISBN 1-84068-025-3.
- Lane, Brian and Gregg, Wilfred . The Encyclopedia Of Serial Killers. Berkley Books.
- Fuchs, Christian  (2002). Bad Blood. Creation Books.