The Horrific Crimes Of The Lonely Hearts Killers

Serial killers will typically work alone, but there have been some fairly notable exceptions to this rule. Not all of these morally depraved folks are loners who have never assimilated into society, either (per FBI). When going down any true crime rabbit hole, you don't need to dive in too deep to find married couples, lovers, and sometimes even family members who elect to slay together — whether it's for financial gain or to fulfill dysfunctional sexual desires.

Whether it's Britain's Fred and Rose West or Canada's Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, you can be sure that killer couples will work hard to help fulfill their partner's bloodlust. It could be argued that killers that work together can be even more dangerous, as one can always help the other lure in unsuspecting prey. In the late 1940s, one such killer couple aided each other in various financial schemes that resulted in the deaths of at least three people, though they were suspected to have killed and disposed of at least 17 more. For two years, Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck used their potential marks' loneliness to lure them into financial traps that led to death.

Fernandez and West met through a personal ad

Raymond Fernandez was serving prison time for theft when he was introduced to the world of voodoo by a fellow inmate. TIME reports that Fernandez became convinced that, using his new occult powers, he had a newly-found irresistible charm over women. When he was released from prison, he plotted to defraud single women out of money by putting multiple ads in "lonely hearts" sections of local newspapers. He developed a system where he would meet these poor souls and work to quickly gain their trust. Once he had it, Fernandez would rob them and then disappear.

Martha Beck placed a personal ad that Fernandez responded to. All That's Interesting tells of how Beck was a single mother of two children but was able to somehow woo Fernandez after she voluntarily abandoned her young children to the Salvation Army. The two might have seemed like an unlikely pair, but Beck waited on Fernandez hand and foot, and the two began to bond. At one point, he confessed his secrets to Beck, letting her in on how he was seducing and robbing single, lonely women he met from personal ads. Instead of doing the sensible thing and ditching the fellow, Beck decided to become a part of his ruses. This was the beginning of the Lonely Hearts Killers. In a short amount of time, the pair went to work duping unsuspecting women out of money and claimed the lives of at least two women and one 2-year-old girl.

The couple's first known murder victim was the result of Beck's jealousy

The scheme was to have Martha Beck pose as Raymond Fernandez's sister. The couple felt this made him seem more trusting, especially when their marks would discover that the man they were about to move in with was living with an adult sibling. In many ways, it might have made him seem more harmless. All That's Interesting tells of how Beck was all about the two of them bilking these women out of their money but drew a firm line about her beau having any sexual relations with them. The first known murder committed by the couple stemmed from a jealous rage that Beck flew into when she discovered that their latest victim, Janet Fay, was in bed with Fernandez. She attacked Fay with a hammer, but it was Fernandez who ultimately killed the woman by strangling her to death. 

They put Fay's body in a trunk, which they transported to the home of Fernandez's sister in Queens. The Lineup reports that they buried the trunk in the basement, covering the makeshift grave with layers of cement. Fearing that they would get caught, Fernandez and Beck fled their Long Island home and went halfway across the U.S. to Michigan. But their departure from the Empire State did nothing to halt their crimes. This next go-round, their scheme led not only to another woman's death but also the death of her young daughter.

A single mother became the final target of the Lonely Hearts Killers

Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck soon found themselves housed by Delphine Downing in a small community outside of Grand Rapids. Downing was a recent widow who was making a home with her 2-year-old daughter, Rainell (via All That's Interesting). One afternoon, Downing became angry with Fernandez and accused him of trying to defraud her of money. The Lineup reports that Beck came to his rescue and talked the woman into taking some pills to calm her down. While Downing was knocked cold, her toddler began to cry. This made Beck lose her temper, and she attacked the child, choking her into unconsciousness. 

Fernandez noticed bruises on Rainell's neck and feared that when Downing woke up, there'd be hell to pay. So he shot her dead. He and Beck stayed in the house for several days after, perhaps trying to figure out their next moves. But Rainell, probably missing her mother, spent a lot of that time crying and raised the ire of Beck once more. To silence the child forever, Beck drowned her in a bathtub. By now, neighbors were growing concerned that they had not seen Downing for days. Before they could flee, the Downing home was paid a visit by local police, cementing the beginning of the end for the Lonely Hearts Killers.

Fernandez and Beck ended up facing the executioner

Officials in New York were able to get the newly arrested couple successfully extradited to New York for the murder of Janet Fay (via Historic True Crime). Raymond Fernandez believed that if he confessed to killings in Michigan, it would be enough to keep him there and be tried in a state that no longer had the death penalty (per All That's Interesting). He confessed to 17 murders to police, though he would later recant these admissions and claim that he lied about them to protect Martha Beck.

Had Fernandez and Beck committed their heinous crimes in the modern era, no doubt they would languish on death row for years, perhaps being taken by natural causes before they were ever forced to walk the long mile to the execution chamber. But justice worked differently in their era. Shortly after being found guilty by a New York court, they were both sentenced to death. They both sat in the electric chair on the same day, taking any secrets of other possible victims with them to their graves on March 8, 1951 (per History).

The twisted love that Beck and Fernandez shared was there to the very end of their lives. Beck's final words were (via All That's Interesting), "My story was a love story and only those that have been in love as I have know what I mean. I am not unfeeling, stupid, or moronic. I am a woman who had a great love and always will have it. Imprisonment in the Death House has only strengthened my feelings for Raymond."

Fernandez and Beck's crimes were made into various films

Though the exploits of the Lonely Hearts Killers left a trail of blood and tragedy behind them, their murderous journey does make for an interesting bit of true crime history. Several books have been penned about the couple, including "The Lonely Hearts Killers: The Blood and Passions of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez," authored in 2020 by Tobin T. Buhk (per the author's website).

The graphic crimes of Fernandez and Beck have also become the subject of at least three feature films over the years. The first, released in 1970, was the Leonard Kastle pic "The Honeymoon Killers." It stars Tony Lo Bianco as Fernandez and Shirley Stoler as his accomplice (per IMDb). Famed director Martin Scorsese was brought on to direct the film but only served one week in that role during production. In 2006, Todd Robinson directed a more mainstream adaptation of the killers. "Lonely Hearts" features two detectives (played by James Gandolfini and John Travolta) who use their skills to track down the killer couple (per IMDb). It stars Jared Leto as Fernandez and Salma Hayek as Beck.

The most critically acclaimed film based on the case was the Mexican feature "Deep Crimson." Released in 1996, this movie would go on to multiple awards at various indy film festivals from 1996-1998, including Sundance, the Venice Film Festival, and Mexico's Ariel Awards (via IMDb).