The Lonely Hearts Killers Exploit Vulnerable Women

In my last blog, we saw how romantic difficulties drove an upright woman to murder. This week, meet a couple the press dubbed “The Lonely Hearts Killers.” Raymond Fernandez and Marth Beck met through personal ads and together murdered as many as seventeen women.

The Lonely Hears Killers Before They Met

Raymond Fernandez was born in Hawaii to Spanish parents in 1914, although the family soon moved to Connecticut. He served in the Spanish Merchant Marine and worked with British Intelligence during World War II. Sailing to the United States after the war, a steel hatch fell on him and fractured his skull. Whether this affected his subsequent behavior or not is unclear.

The Lonely Hearts Killers, Raymond Fernandez (L) and Martha Beck (R)
The Lonely Hearts Killers, Raymond Fernandez (L) and Martha Beck (R)

Fernandez later ended up in prison where he claimed a cellmate taught him voodoo and black magic. Black magic, he believed, gave him a mystical, irresistible power over women. He began to use this “power”—and lonely-hearts newspaper ads—to find potential love interests so he could rob them.

Martha Beck (born Martha Seabrook in 1920) came from Milton, Florida. As an adult she was overweight and not particularly attractive. She claimed at trial that her brother had raped her when she was a teenager. But when she told her mother, she beat Martha, claiming she was responsible. No one knows if that claim was true.

As a teen, Beck ran away from home and joined a traveling circus. Moving to California during the war, she worked there as an Army nurse. She returned home to Florida after becoming pregnant. She claimed (falsely) that she was married, and that her husband had died in the Pacific Campaign. Becoming pregnant again, she quickly married and almost as quickly divorced Pensacola bus driver Alfred Beck.

The Lonely Hearts Killers Connect

Unemployed and a single mother, Beck frequently escaped into a fantasy world. She bought romance magazines, read romance novels, and saw romantic movies. In 1947, she placed a lonely-hearts ad. Raymond Fernandez answered it.

The Lonely Hearts Killers posing as Mr. & Mrs. Charles Martin
The Lonely Hearts Killers posing as Mr. & Mrs. Charles Martin

Instead of victimizing Beck, Fernandez decided to team up with her. Beck visited and stayed with Fernandez for a while, telling people they were married. After Fernandez returned to New York, Beck followed, now posing as Fernandez’s sister.

Undone by Murder

In 1949, the Lonely Hearts Killers committed the three murders that led to their downfall. The first victim was Janet Fay, age 66. She and Fernandez became engaged, and she moved into his Queens apartment. When Beck caught Beck in bed with Fernandez, she flew into a rage and attacked the woman with a hammer. Fernandez finished the job by strangling her. When Fay’s family became suspicious, the Lonely Hearts Killers fled the state.

Fernandez and Beck hid the body of victim Janet Fay in the basement of this house in Queens, New York
Fernandez and Beck hid the body of victim Janet Fay in the basement of this house in Queens, New York

Fernandez and Beck next showed up in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming Township, Michigan. There they met and stayed with Deliphine downing. Deliphine was 31 and a widow with a two-year-old daughter, Rainelle. Eventually, though Deliphine became suspicious, and the couple gave her sleeping pills to calm her down. Now Rainelle was upset and began crying uncontrollably. Enraged by the child’s crying, Beck choked her but did not kill her. Concerned that Deliphine would call the police after seeing the bruising on Rainelle’s neck, Fernandez shot her.

Victim Deliphine Downing and her daughter, Rainelle
Victim Deliphine Downing and her daughter, Rainelle

For two days, the Lonely Hearts killers stayed in Deliphine’s house, trying to decide their next move. Ultimately, Beck held the child’s head under water until she drowned. She and Fernandez then buried both bodies in the basement and went to the movies. Not long after they got back, the police were at their door.

Trial and Execution

The couple was arrested for the murder of Janet Fay as well as killing Deliphine and Rainelle Downing. Their trial would be for Fay’s murder in New York, since New York had the death penalty and Michigan didn’t.

Fernandez quickly confessed. He recanted, though, claiming he made the confession only to protect Beck. They denied committing any of the seventeen murders attributed to them.

Naturally, the trial was a sensation, receiving great coverage in the press. When the papers printed derisive descriptions of Beck, she wrote them in protest. In what was almost a foregone conclusion, Fernandez and Beck were convicted of Fay’s murder and sentenced to death.

On March 8, 1951, the Lonely Hearts Killers died in the electric chair at New York’s Sing Sing prison, still declaring their love for each other.

The New York Daily Mirror announces the execution of the Lonely Hearts Killers
The New York Daily Mirror announces the execution of the Lonely Hearts Killers

In 2020, true crime writer Tobin T. Buhk published a book about the Fernandez-Beck case, The Lonely Hearts Killers: The Bloody Passions of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez.

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