In the case of notorious serial murderers Raymond Martinez Fernandez and Martha Beck, it would appear that the couple who slays together, stays together.
Fernandez and Beck, who were nicknamed the “Lonely Hearts Killers” due to the fact that they would meet their unsuspecting victims through personal ads, are believed to have murdered as many as 20 women between 1947 and 1949.
But even before the star-crossed lovers met an embarked on a killing spree, both had dark pasts.
Fernandez served in both Spain’s Merchant Marine and British Intelligence during World War II, and later suffered frontal-lobe damage while he was on a ship and a steel hatch fell on him. Shortly after leaving the military, he served a year in prison for theft. During this time, he claimed that his cellmate taught him black magic and voodoo that gave him a power over women that they could not resist.
So Fernandez, who by now was a deadbeat dad and an ex con, decided that he had found his calling: Attracting women by putting “lonely hearts” ads in the papers, and then robbing them.
Martha grew up in Florida, where she experienced a rough adolescence due to her obesity, which her parents blamed on a glandular problem. She is also said to have gone through puberty early. After finishing school, she studied nursing, but had trouble finding a job due to her weight.
As an adult, she was unlucky in love. After a stint as an undertaker’s assistant, she was working as an Army hospital nurse in California when she got pregnant, but the father of her baby refused to marry her.
Martha, already demonstrating a penchant for escapism and fantasy, simply moved to Florida and claimed that her daughter’s absent father had been a military man who was tragically killed during the Pacific Campaign. She soon fell pregnant again by a bus driver named Alfred Beck, and they married — only to divorce six months later before she even gave birth to her son.
By 1947, 27-year-old Beck was an overweight and sometimes unemployed single mother of two, whose only outlet was the fantasy world of romance novels and movies. The following year, she placed a lonely hearts ad, and Raymond Fernandez, 33, answered.
A MATCH IS MADE
Fernandez visited Beck, and she was immediately smitten and catered to his every need. He confessed his criminal past, but Beck wasn’t deterred. After being fired from her job, she sent her children away to the Salvation Army and moved to New York so that she could help Fernandez with his many cons. Fernandez liked that fact that she’d given up her children to be with him, taking it as a sign of her commitment to him.
One of their victims, 66-year-old Janet Fay, became engaged to Fernandez. When Beck, who had been posing as her lover’s sister, caught the couple in bed together at Fernandez’s apartment, she smashed Fay’s head in with a hammer in a jealous rage — and then he strangled the victim.
The deadly duo then traveled to Michigan, where they met and stayed with Delphine Downing, a young widow with a two-year-old daughter. On February 28, Downing became agitated, and Fernandez gave her sleeping pills to calm her. The daughter began to cry, and Beck choked her, although not to death, before Fernandez shot Downing.
The couple then stayed for several days in Downing’s house. After becoming angered by the daughter’s crying, Beck drowned her in a tub of water.
They buried the bodies in the basement, but their disappearances were noticed by neighbors, who called police. Beck and Fernandez were arrested on March 1, 1949 — by which time 17 murders were attributed to them, which they denied committing.
THEY MEET THEIR END
Since Michigan did not have the death penalty, the pair were extradited to New York to be tried for the murder of Janet Fay. The trial became a media sensation with lurid accounts of the duo’s sexual perversity making headlines.
Fernandez and Beck were convicted of Janet Fay’s murder. The lovers were both executed on the same day in the electric chair — March 8, 1951.
Despite their tumultuous arguments and relationship problems, they often professed their love to each other, as demonstrated by their official last words. “I wanna shout it out; I love Martha! What do the public know about love?” Fernandez said.
For her part, Beck insisted: “My story is a love story. But only those tortured by love can 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 feeling for Raymond.”
For more on the Lonely Hearts Killers, watch the “Crush Me” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Dark Temptations on ID GO now!
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Main photos: Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck [mug shots/Wikipedia]