As long as people have been looking for love, there have been unscrupulous people willing to take advantage of them. The 1940s saw a couple prey on such vulnerable individuals, beginning in 1947. In this edition of True Crime Corner, who were the Lonely Hearts Killers?
Several decades before the lovelorn worried about being cat fished or swiping left or right to find their match, there were personal ads, or lonely hearts ads, in newspapers. Back then people corresponded by letter if they were interested in meeting.
Raymond Fernandez was born in Hawaii to Spanish parents. He moved to Spain as a young man and married a girl with whom he would have a few children. He was a veteran of World War II, having served for Spain. He sustained a serious head injury on a vessel taking him to America. As a result, he was hospitalized for months. Later he was imprisoned for theft where he claimed that he was introduced to the black arts from another inmate. He believed such newfound skills gave him mastery over women and after his release, he hatched a plan to meet females through lonely hearts ads, with the intention of robbing them of whatever they had of value. Meanwhile, he still had a wife back in Spain when he started his new venture.
One of his earliest victims was a woman he met in New York. He took a trip to Spain with this lady, and even introduced her to his wife. However, there was trouble in paradise. Fernandez’s companion was found dead in a hotel room, and he ran out on both her and his spouse. He returned to New York with forged documents, enabling him to make the deceased’s home his own.
Martha Beck was a teenage runaway who claimed to have suffered abuse by her family. She bore two illegitimate children by two different fathers, with the second man marrying her. Their union was brief, lasting only months before they divorced. Beck met her match in Fernandez when he answered her lonely hearts ad. The pair would have an eventual love connection. Beck was so enamored with Fernandez that she abandoned her two children at a Salvation Army rather than have them impede her budding romance. He came to trust the former nurse and he revealed his dark secret—that he answered personal ads with the intention of relieving women of their money and valuables. Instead of being repulsed by her beau’s unsavory enterprise, she decided to join him in his con game. Beck often posed as his sister when they visited Fernandez’s potential victims.
I thought it seemed odd that Beck would tag along on her boyfriend’s “dates,” but perhaps the presence of another woman put the intended targets more at ease. While she enjoyed the money charmed away from unsuspecting women by her lothario, Beck was the jealous type. One Illinois woman was killed with a drug overdose when she was found intimate with Fernandez. Beck flew into a rage and attacked another woman they were swindling with a hammer when she found her in bed with her man. The blows were not fatal, but Fernandez finished what his lover started, the body buried in the basement of a New York home. It was for this murder that they would later be convicted.
The pair made their way to Michigan, to another unsuspecting woman. This time a child was involved, as the victim had a toddler daughter. The threesome lived together for a time before the new woman started having doubts about Fernandez’s intentions. Her suitor killed her and buried her in the basement. Beck drowned the little girl and the child joined her mother in the basement.
The couple left the house for a while, but they returned to police presence. Fernandez confessed to the murders of the mother, child, and other victims (the exact number is unknown), believing he and Beck were safe in Michigan, which did not have the death penalty. However, they didn’t expect to be extradited to New York, a state where capital punishment was a distinct possibility.
The pair had quite a love story. Even while in custody they couldn’t hide their affection for each other; they were seen embracing while handcuffed. The couple were executed on March 8, 1951, at a New York prison. Fernandez was first to the electric chair, followed by Beck. They remained devoted to each other until the end, his last words thought to be, “I want to shout it out. I love Martha! What do the public know about love?” As for Beck, it’s believed she said, “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?”
There’s a 2006 movie based on Fernandez and Beck. Lonely Hearts boasts an all-star cast, so I decided to watch it. With all the big names I thought it might be a good movie, and I was right. I really enjoyed it. Jared Leto stars as Fernandez, opposite Salma Hayek as Beck. John Travolta and the late James Gandolfini are 1940s gumshoes on the hunt for the Lonely Hearts Killers. Travolta’s Detective Robinson is a widower that can’t come to terms with his wife’s death, while Laura Dern’s character is a coworker who may possibly fill Robinson’s lonely heart.
This movie has a film noir feel to it. If you want to check it out, I was able to stream it through Amazon, but I tracked down the DVD to add to my true crime collection.