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The Lonely Hearts Killers Preyed on Women Looking For Love

In the 1940s, Martha Beck and Raymond Martinez Fernandez posed as a brother and sister and conned women they found through personal ads

By Jennifer GeerPublished 10 months ago 5 min read
22
photo by pxfuel.com

Imagine a widow with a young child thinking she had found love again, only to discover she’d been the victim of a con for her money. And the people she thought were her lover and his sister were not brother and sister at all.

In reality, they were a man and woman who were romantically involved with each other, using her for her money.

Delphine Downing and her daughter, Rainelle

That is the sad story of 41-year-old Delphine Downing. Downing and her two-year-old daughter, Rainelle, lived in Michigan, where they met Fernandez through a “Lonely Hearts” ad he had placed in a magazine.

There was no Tinder back then. A person searching for a date in the 1940s could simply hope to meet the right person one day. Or they could take it into their own hands by placing or answering personal ads in the newspaper.

Lonely Hearts Ad/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Downing was a widow living with her two-year-old daughter, and she became so enamored with Fernandez that she invited him to live with her.

Downing knew him as Charles Martin, and he brought along his “sister” with him when he moved into Downing’s house. What Downing didn’t know was that his sister was not his sister at all. Instead, she was his lover and accomplice in crime, Martha Beck.

It didn’t take long for Downing to become suspicious of the supposed brother and sister team. She wouldn’t sign her money over to Fernandez or agree to marry him as he had hoped.

As Downing expressed more and more suspicion of Fernandez and his “sister,” Beck decided to feed Downing sleeping pills. With her mother unconscious, Rainelle began to cry.

Beck tried strangling the child to silence her. She didn’t kill the little girl, but she did leave bruises and red marks on her neck.

It became a macabre cycle of death as Fernandez then shot Downing in fear she would see the marks on her daughter’s neck and call the police.

For some reason, the couple let Rainelle live for two more days, finally drowning her in the bathtub and burying both mother and daughter in the basement.

Suspicious neighbors

Downing’s neighbors grew suspicious of Fernandez and Beck, and the absence of Downing and her daughter. The police were called to perform a welfare check.

During the check, police found the recent grave of the mother and daughter in the basement. Beck and Fernandez were arrested for the murder of Downing and her daughter.

The truth came out

After the couple was caught they seemed more than happy to tell the police their story.

According to Fernandez, “I have a way with women, a power over them.” He and Beck believed that he could seduce women with the power of voodoo that he had learned from a Haitian man while in prison for theft.

Fernandez had met Beck, ironically enough, through a “Lonely Hearts” ad, originally intending to con her, as he had so many others. Instead, he fell in love and confessed to Beck his plans to steal from women through the personals.

Rather than being horrified at the revelations, she was on board with his plans.

Beck had been through hard times in her life. She had been abused as a child and was ridiculed throughout her life for being overweight. She was a divorced woman with two children at a time when society frowned upon divorce.

When Beck and Fernandez met, they each seemed to fulfill a need the other had. Fernandez accepted Beck for who she was and promised to stay with her. And Beck fell so in love with Fernandez that she dropped her two children off at the Salvation Army never to see them again. Instead, she followed him around the country in his quest to steal money from hapless women.

A string of cons

They moved throughout the U.S., placing “Lonely Hearts” ads, and tricking women out of their money. They didn’t murder everyone they stole from, but took their money and left them behind.

With Beck posing as Fernandez’s sister he was able to quickly gain the trust of a string of women.

Myrtle Young

The first murder that we have evidence of was Myrtle Young of Arkansas. Young married Fernandez and gave him access to all of her money. But she quickly grew suspicious of Beck’s constant presence.

Fernandez gave Young a heavy dose of sleeping pills and put her unconscious body on a bus to Little Rock. Once arriving, still unconscious from the pills, she was carried off the bus by police and admitted to a hospital, where she died the next day.

Janet Fay

The woman they were eventually tried, convicted, and executed for murdering was Janet Fay. Fay was a 66-year-old woman living in New York. Although Beck encouraged Fernandez to meet women and steal their money, she had one rule: never sleep with the victims.

But Fernandez must not have always stuck to this rule because Beck found him in bed with Fay. In a jealous rage, Beck hit Fay in the head with a hammer. This didn’t kill her. But Fernandez did when he strangled her with a scarf.

They buried the body in Fernandez’s sister’s basement and went on to spend all of Fay’s money. It’s when the money ran out that they went after Downing.

Extradited to New York

When the couple first began their confessions, it seemed they thought they were safe from the death penalty in Michigan.

But when Fay’s body was found, the couple was extradited to New York, where they were tried, convicted, and executed for her murder.

Nobody knows how many women they killed

Authorities found evidence of the four murders, although, at one time, Fernandez had confessed to 17 murders, which he later retracted.

Their last words professed their love for each other

Before her death, Beck sent a note to Fernandez expressing her love for him. His response to the letter was,

“The news brought to me that Martha loves me is the best I’ve had in years. Now I’m ready to die! So tonight I’ll die like a man!”

And Beck’s last statement before she was executed was,

“What does it matter who is to blame? My story is a love story, but only those tortured with love can understand what I mean. I was pictured as a fat unfeeling woman…I am not unfeeling, stupid, or moronic…in the history of the world how many crimes have been attributed to love?”

He was a conman with one goal in mind. Seduce lonely women and take their money. And Beck, either from a deep need for acceptance or out of love for her man, was more than happy to go along with it.

*****

Sources: 1) Crime Junkie Podcast: The “Lonely Hearts” Killers, 2) History.com: The Lonely Hearts Killers are executed, 3) Ranker.com: 12 Morbidly Fascinating Details About the Lonely Hearts Killers 4) Murderpedia.org: Raymond Martinez Fernandez and Martha Beck

*****

This story was originally published on Medium.

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About the Creator

Jennifer Geer

Writing my life away. Runner/mama/wife/eternal optimist/coffee enthusiast. Masters degree in Psychology.

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