Raymond Martinez Fernandez was arrested in 1949 along with his common law wife, Martha Beck. Shortly thereafter they were brought to trial for the New York murder of Janet Fey, committed in early January 1949, and the Michigan murders of Delphine Downing and her daughter Rainelle, committed in late January 1949. This was just the tip of the iceberg, however, as the notorious pair is believed to have killed up to twenty women during the two year period before their arrest.
Their method was always the same and comprised manipulating, taking advantage of and finally murdering poor lonely women in a spree that would become known as the Lonely Hearts Killings. They met after Fernandez – a modern day HH Holmes or Desire Landru – replied to an advertisement that the pathetic and overweight Beck had placed in Mother Dinene’s Family Club for Lonely Hearts in 1947. Beck had placed the advertisement as she was tired of living her lonely life starved of love and with only her two small children from different relationships for company. As a child she had had a glandular disorder that had lead to obesity and premature puberty, and she had also been sexually abused, but then, Fernandez had not had it that much better. He had, however, been more of a predator than a victim, and his various adventures included such incidents as imprisonment for theft and swindling several women out of their life’s savings.
Fernandez had been a law abiding and upstanding citizen prior to his suffering a debilitating – and apparently life altering – head injury during late 1945. But the changed Fernandez had met his match with the adoring Beck and he realized that it would be more to his advantage to join forces with her than to swindle her. After leaving her children with the Salvation Army, Beck took off with Fernandez and they travelled across the country in an epic adventure of manipulation, mayhem and murder.
Their modus operandi was simple: Fernandez would answer advertisements placed in Lonely Hearts’ columns in romance magazines and would then arrange to meet with the women he corresponded with. He never once doubted the amorous effect that he would have on his intended victims as he believed the mysterious Voodoo powers he had accumulated while in prison would overcome any misgivings the women may have. When the time was right, he would propose to them and they would accept. He would then arrange for them to sign over all of their property and bank accounts to him and Beck (who had masqueraded as his sister while he had gone courting). After they signed on the dotted line, it was a simple matter for Fernandez and Beck to dispose of each victim, to liquidate their property and to spend the money.
Their system worked well until the Downing killings in Grand Rapids, Michigan where neighbors alerted the police to the disappearance of Delphine and her daughter while Fernandez and Beck were still in town. They were arrested and soon confessed to murdering the Downings as they knew they had little to fear: there was no death penalty in Michigan. They also knew that, if they co-operated with the police, they could expect to be paroled about six years after going to jail. A nasty surprise awaited them, however, when the trail was extradited to New York – where there was a death penalty – so that they could also be held accountable for the murder of the elderly Janet Fey.
After a sensational and lurid trial in the Bronx Criminal Court during the sweltering summer of 1949, both Fernandez and Beck were convicted of Janet Fey’s murder and both were executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing on March 8th, 1951. To the end, Martha had professed that she had committed the crimes out of love for Fernandez. And given her sorry background for which she was arguably not to blame, perhaps she had…
Their star-crossed love story has since been immortalized in the films Lonely Hearts (2006) and The Honeymoon Killers (1970).
Jones, Richard G. Editor. Women Who Kill. Edison: Castle Books (2004)
Raymond Fernandez Wikipedia
Mark Gado The Lonely Hearts Killers TruTV Crime Library
Wilson, Colin. The History of Murder. Edison: Castle Books (2004)