Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck
December 17, 1914|
March 8, 1951 (aged 36)|
Sing Sing prison, Ossining, New York
|Criminal penalty||Death by electric chair|
|Children||4 (previous marriage)|
Martha Jule Seabrook|
May 6, 1920
Milton, Florida, U.S.
March 8, 1951 (aged 30)|
Sing Sing prison, Ossining, New York
|Criminal penalty||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
Raymond Martinez 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 the United States, a steel hatch fell on top of him, fracturing his skull and injuring his frontal lobe. The damage caused by this injury may well have affected his social and sexual behavior. Upon his release from a hospital, Fernandez stole some clothing and was subsequently imprisoned for a year, during which time his cellmate converted him to a belief in voodoo and black magic. He later claimed black magic gave him irresistible power and charm over women.
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 raped 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.
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 City while she made preparations in Milton, Florida, where she lived. When she was abruptly fired from her job, she packed up and arrived on his doorstep in New York. Fernandez enjoyed the way she catered to his every whim, and when he learned she had left her children for him, he thought it was a sign of an unconditional love. He confessed his criminal enterprises to Beck, who quickly sent her children to the Salvation Army in order to assist Fernandez without hindrances. She posed as Fernandez's sister, giving him an air of respectability. Their victims, feeling more secure knowing there was another woman in the house, often agreed to stay with the pair. Beck also convinced some victims that she lived alone and that her "brother" was only a guest. Beck was extremely jealous and would go to great lengths to make sure Fernandez 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 caught her in bed with Fernandez, she smashed Fay's head in with a hammer in a murderous rage. Fernandez then strangled Fay. Fay's family became suspicious when she disappeared, and Fernandez and Beck fled.
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 choked 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 to 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 made it only 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. Fernandez and Beck were convicted of Janet Fay's murder—the only one for which they were tried—and sentenced to death. On March 8, 1951, both were executed by Joseph Francel in the electric chair.
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. 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." - Martha Beck.
- Lonely hearts killer
- Lonely hearts scam
- The Honeymoon Killers, 1970 American cult classic about the same events
- Deep Crimson, 1996 Mexican film about the same events
- Lonely Hearts, 2006 American film about the same events
- Alleluia, 2014 Belgian-French film inspired by the same events
- 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 (5): 706–713. doi:10.3171/jns.1987.66.5.0706. PMID 3572497.
- "Serial Killers Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez". Francesfarmersrevenge.com. March 8, 1951. Archived from the original on September 17, 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-28.
- "The Lonely Hearts Killers". Trutv.com. p. 1.
- "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.
- Murderpedia: Raymond Fernandez
- Murderpedia: Martha Beck
- Fuchs, Christian (1996). Bad Blood. Creation Books. p. 42. ISBN 1-84068-025-3.
- Nash, Jay Robert (1986): Look for the Woman. Rowman & Littlefied, 408 pages.
- Lane, Brian and Gregg, Wilfred . The Encyclopedia Of Serial Killers. Berkley Books.
- Fuchs, Christian  (2002). Bad Blood. Creation Books.