Love You to Death: The Original Lonely Hearts Killers
Love and relationships are tricky, and certain times of the year can make some crave a hand to hold especially Valentine’s Day. While the holiday can be seen as overrated, there is something nice about the idea of a paramour going above and beyond to show you how they feel. But what happens when your love takes till death do us part, to the grave?
Raymond Fernandez & Martha Beck: The OG Lonely Hearts Killers
Whatever your feelings on dating apps, the concept behind them has been around for a little over a hundred years. The predecessor to dating apps like Bumble and Tinder were lonely hearts ads; advertisements people could place in newspapers and magazines to find love and companionship. During the 1940s, lonely hearts ads were uber popular with widows who had lost their husbands in the war. For better or worse, it brought people together.
Raymond Fernandez was born to Spanish parents in Hawaii and left for Spain to work for his uncle. From there, Ray married a Spanish woman and had four children with her. Fernandez was an ordinary, uninteresting man until he suffered a head injury that affected his frontal lobe, which would have changed his social and deviant behavior. After the head injury, he started a life of crime, first starting out with petty stealing. After being locked up for stealing off a vessel while serving in the war, his cellmate at the time taught him about voodoo and black magic. From there, Fernandez started to believe that he possessed a magical pull over women. His criminal behavior did not truly begin until after his head injury, and the injury to his frontal lobe is more than likely what caused what is known today as an antisocial personality disorder.
After this injury and after returning to the States, Fernandez began responding to lonely hearts ads, joining Mother Dinene’s Friendly Club. He would reach out to widows under the guise of wanting to find love and woo them out of most, if not all their money. While mailing letters to women, he would ask for locks of their hair and other personal items. Fernandez would use these items in voodoo rituals to make the women fall in love with him.
One of these women was Lucilla Thompson. Fernandez took Lucilla on a trip to Europe, even stopping in Spain so that he could meet his wife and children, who he was still married to at the time. During this trip, Thompson and Fernandez got into an argument where Lucilla threatened to return to the States early without Fernandez. The next morning Thompson was found dead in the hotel room, and the death was ruled to have been caused by a heart attack. Upon returning stateside, Fernandez presented Thompson’s mother with a forged will that claimed he was Thompson’s only heir.
Raymond Fernandez had a number of victims, not all of them he killed. He had the same pattern where he would wine and dine them before stealing from them. Many of the women he tricked wouldn’t report Fernandez to the police out of embarrassment.
Martha Beck was a woman who led a life of hardship. From a young age, she was a big girl due to a medical condition, which made her an easy target for bullying. Martha was raped by her elder brother, and after learning about this, their mother would scorn Martha for her lude behavior and make her miscarry by drinking a mixture of sugar, gunpowder, and sweet milk. After the sexual assault, Martha’s mother never blamed her brother for it. Even though Martha graduated top of her class in nursing, because of her weight and appearance, she had a difficult time finding jobs and love. Martha was an alcoholic who was obsessed with romantic novels and films, trying in any way she could to fill the void and lack of affection she felt in her own life. By the time Martha met Raymond, she had two children, one out of wedlock and another by a man who later divorced her. Martha would have done anything for a chance at love, which made her the perfect partner in crime for Fernandez.
Raymond visited Martha and stayed with her for a while before returning to New York. Fernandez was not impressed with Martha, her children, or her lack of funds. Once Fernandez returned home, he tried to let Martha down gently about not wanting to see her again. Martha responded to this reason by trying to kill herself and her children. Thankfully a neighbor stopped her, but this would not be the only time Martha would attempt self-harm as a response to bad news. When Raymond initially attempted to stop their relationship, she threatened him with suicide, blackmailing the man into feeling sorry for her. Not wanting her to harm herself or her children on his behalf, he invited her to visit him in New York out of pity.
Even though Raymond exploited Martha for her willingness to obey his every whim, Martha was very manipulative herself. Anytime Martha felted Raymond was getting too close to their marks she would threaten him with blackmail and threats of suicide. While much of Raymond’s bad behavior could be connected to his head injury, constant rejection likely spurred Martha’s attitude and attempts at self-harm when upset.
Shortly after Raymond’s return to New York, Martha lost her job at the hospital. With nothing else to lose, Martha packed up and surprised Raymond at his doorstep. Ray was less than thrilled to see her, trying in vain to get her out of his life. He even admitted to Martha that he was a con man who was scamming the women he met from the lonely hearts ads, but nothing would deter Martha from being with her new man. Sensing that he could use Martha, he allowed her to stay but had the children sent away to the Salvation Army. Martha had no trouble being separated from her children, and after dropping them off she never saw them again.
Martha had no qualms about involving herself in Raymond’s life of crimes. The pair would pose as brother and sister, putting the women Ray would con at ease about having another woman around. Things would go smoothly with Raymond acting as prince charming until Martha’s jealousy got in the way. Whenever Raymond and his lover of the week would meet up, Martha would lose her temper, and violence would follow. It’s unclear how many total victims the killer couple had as there are too many conflicting stories about their crimes.
After becoming his accomplice, it seems that their first con victim as a duo was Esther Henne, a school teacher. In February, Raymond traveled to Virginia to marry Esther, Taking Martha along to pose as her sister. Martha’s jealousy wouldn’t allow Raymond to travel to meet women without her. Raymond then pressured Henne to write her insurance policies and retirement pension under his name. How Raymond married women without ever divorcing his wife in Spain is not clear. Shortly after, Esther Marta and Raymond preyed on Myrtle Young. They got married in August and Martha and Raymond moved in with her. The short-lived marriage was very rocky, with Myrtle being upset Raymond wouldn’t consummate their marriage, and Myrtle threatening to leave Raymond if Martha didn’t move out. It’s not seen how, but Myrtle somehow ate a jar of barbiturates and was placed on a bus to Arkansas. Because of the barbiturates Myrtle suffered a brain hemorrhage and died shortly after. For the callous way Myrtle passed, Raymond and Martha could only get about $1,000 from her (about $20,200 in today’s money).
Around Christmas time of the same year (Ray was a BUSY man), the couple set their sights on Janet Fey as their next victim. Raymond introduced himself as Charles Martin, and after she accepted his marriage proposal, Janet moved in with the duo. After accepting his proposal, Janet initially withdrew $2,500 from the bank, then Fey withdrew an additional $3,500 after arriving in Long Island. Since Martha was posing as Raymond’s sister, Janet would try asking Martha questions about “Charles” and his childhood, which Martha refused to answer. It could be that because she was such a jealous and possessive person, she couldn’t even bother with coming up with lies or cover stories to tell Fey. To fuel the fire, Fey told Martha that she wouldn’t be able to live with her and Charles after they were married. Once Fey tried talking to Raymond about this arrangement, and after Martha caught them in bed, Martha snapped. She took a hammer and beat Janet with it, after which Raymond finished the job by strangling Fey, finally killing her. Once Fey was dead Raymond and Martha purchased a chest to hide the body and buried Fey in the cement basement of their rented home in Queens. When Fey’s family came after Raymond and Martha asked where Janet was, the couple fled to Michigan to escape the heat.
The last known victim of the killer couple was Delpine Downing and her two-year-old daughter. Delpine was different from the rest of the women Raymond and Martha preyed upon since the rest of the women they conned were older, unattractive, and overweight.
It is unclear what happened to lead Raymond and Martha to kill Delpine. One story is that one night Delpine became upset and to calm her down Raymond gave her some sleeping pills. While Delpine was asleep, her young daughter would not stop crying and in order to shut her up Martha choked her. Raymond was not pleased with Martha about this, as he did not want Delpine to see the bruises and report them to the police, so while Delpine slept, he shot her. After Delpine was dead, her daughter still wouldn’t stop crying, so to stop her once and for all Martha drowned her in a water basin.
The second story was Delpine and Raymond had slept together several times, and to get back at her, Martha gave her what she said were abortifacients but were actually sleeping pills. While Delpine was asleep, Raymond shot her in the head, and worried that sending the child to an orphanage would be too suspicious, Martha drowned the kid in a water basin. Regardless of which story is the truth, the couple buried Downing and her toddler in the basement of Delpine’s home and brushed off concerned neighbors when they came looking for the mother and child.
After going to the movies, Raymond and Martha returned to the home to find the police waiting for them. Once they were arrested, the couple admitted to the murders of Downing, her daughter, and many others. It’s said that Raymond confessed to around seventeen murders around the country, but it’s not clear how many women fell victim to him and Martha. Raymond and Martha were not worried about confessing to all the murders because, at the time, Michigan did not have the death penalty, so they saw no problem with boasting about their crimes. They were not expecting to be extradited back to New York to be tried for Janet Fey’s murder. Needless to say, Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck were found guilty of the murder of Fey and sentenced to death via the electric chair.
It’s reported that Raymond and Martha spent the last two hours of their lives confessing their undying love for each other. It is quoted that one of Martha’s final words is as follows: “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 great love and always will have it. Imprisonment in the Death House has only strengthened my feelings for Raymond.” Raymond’s final message to Martha read, “I would like to yell to the world the love I feel for you.” Raymond never truly claimed to love Martha until this final message.
Their story is one where truth far surpasses fiction. The lonely hearts killers have inspired numerous works of fiction, including The Honeymoon Killers (1970), Deep Crimson (1996), Lonely Hearts (2006), and Alleluia (2014).
While Valentine’s Day may bring about feelings of loneliness and isolation for those in the single category, it’s better to remember it’s better to be happy and alone than in a relationship that revolves around crimes and murder.