Between 1947 and 1949 — just two short years — Martha Beck and Raymond Martinez Fernandez committed at least 17, and perhaps as many as 20 murders, by meeting lovelorn victims through personal ads.
The couple’s modus operandi inspired the nickname by which they remain notorious: “The Lonely Hearts Killers.”
After meeting through a personal ad themselves, Beck, an obese obsessive romantic, and Fernandez, a con artist who practiced voodoo, became a criminal match made somewhere other than in Heaven.
Initially, Fernandez scanned “lonely hearts club” newsletters to scam cash, and Beck started working with him, posing as his sister. But when she caught him in bed with Janet Fay, 66, she exploded in homicidal rage. That taste of murder ignited the couple’s lethal inclinations. One by one, then, Fernandez reeled in romantic hopefuls, whereupon he and Beck — still posing as brother and sister — would steal their money and take their lives.
The duo’s spree finally ended in March 1949 after Beck shot young widow Delphine Downing, and Fernandez drowned Rainell Downing, her victim’s two-year-old daughter. Neighbors noticed the mother and toddler missing and alerted authorities. The “Lonely Hearts Killers” got busted.
Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez both died in electric-chair executions on March 1, 1951. Each used their last words to profess eternal love for the other.
The horrifically twisted romance of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez caused a media sensation at the time, and has inspired numerous artistic examinations in the ensuing decades. Among them are the following four films.
Director: Fabrice Du Welz
Cast: Lola Dueñas, Laurent Lucas, Helena Noguerra
More Info: Music Box Films
The Belgian-made Alleluia updates the saga of “Lonely Hearts Killers” to our contemporary age of Tinder, Match.com, and other romantic hook-up social-media outlets. Lola Dueñas and Laurent Lucas star as Solange and Michel, a killer couple who trawl the internet for affection-starved marks.
The film sticks close to some factual details of the real-life Beck-and-Fernandez case (Martha abandoning her own children; Raymond believing he had black-magic powers), but focuses on just four murders.
Alleluia is a bruising experience, palpably conveying the madness of the murderer’s obsession, as well as the heartless evil of the violence it drove them to perpetrate.
DEEP CRIMSON (1996)
Director: Arturo Ripstein
Cast: Regina Orozco, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Giovanni Florido
With Deep Crimson (originally Profundo Carmesi), highly esteemed Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein puts a sardonic and nastily witty spin on the “Lonely Hearts Killers” tale.
This time, the lethal lovers are called Coral (Regina Orozco) and Nicolas (Daniel Giménez Cacho), but their crimes echo that of Beck and Fernandez — up to the particularly horrific final murder of a child.
The film’s devastating technique goes for “sick” humor throughout en route to delivering the final blow that hammers home: Remember, this gruesomely titillating love story exacted tragic and undeniably real human consequences.
THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (1969)
Director: Leonard Kastle
Cast: Shirley Stoler, Tony Lo Bianco, Doris Roberts
More Info: The Criterion Collection
A gritty, gripping, and instantly indelible masterwork, The Honeymoon Killers initially made little impact as a grindhouse potboiler, but it steadily developed a cult among midnight-movie audiences and New York City art scenesters. Within a few years, the film boasted high-end admirers worldwide, with French cinema maestro Francois Truffaut even deeming it “my favorite American film.”
Shot guerilla-style in black-and-white and scored with classical music, Killers more or less straightforwardly details the Beck-Fernandez crime spree by way of electrifying performances from leads Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco, Manhattan stage actors each appearing onscreen for the first time.
The Honeymoon Killers is genuinely shocking, blackly comedic, and astonishingly loaded with ideas and aesthetics that would bear wild fruit in the decade ahead by way of both ’70s exploitation movies and incendiary arthouse filmmakers on the order of John Waters and David Lynch.
Writer-director Leonard Kastle, who is best known as a composer, debuted with Killers and then never made another movie. His work, apparently, was done here.
LONELY HEARTS (2006)
Director: Todd Robinson
Cast: John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Salma Hayek
As 21st-century Hollywood’s attempt at the Beck-Fernandez case, Lonely Hearts delivers what’s expected: big-name stars, slick production values, and a whole lot of nothing interesting to note.
The movie focuses on John Travolta and James Gandolfini as homicide detectives tracking the deadly progress of Salma Hayek and Jared Leto as Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez. That casting — especially international sexbomb Hayek as the decidedly unglamorous Beck — says quite a bit, and none of it is good.
Main Image: The Honeymoon Killers [Criterion Collection Blu-ray box cover/promotional image]