Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck were an American serial killing couple. Known as “The Lonely Hearts Killers”, it’s believed they killed as many as twenty women during their spree between 1947 and 1949.
Raymond Martinez Fernandez was born to Spanish parents on December 17th, 1914 in Hawaii. Shortly after his birth, him and his family moved to Connecticut. When he was an adult, he moved to Spain, got married, and had four children, all of whom he ended up abandoning later on in his life. He served in Spain’s Merchant Marine and in British Intelligence during World War II. He ended up boarding a ship that was heading to the United States, but a steel hatch fell on top of him which caused his skull to fracture and injured his frontal lobe. His social and sexual behavior might have been affected by this injury. As soon as he was released from the hospital he stole some clothes and was put into prison for a year, and during this time his cellmate got him into voodoo and black magic. Fernandez later would claim that black magic gave him “irresistible power and charm over women”.
Onto the second half of this killer couple, Martha Jule Beck, who was born as Martha Jule Seabrook on May 6th, 1920 in Milton, Florida. Due to a supposed glandular problem she was overweight and underwent puberty prematurely. As a teenager she ran away from home, and later at her trial her claimed she was raped by her brother and when she told her mother, she was beaten and told she was responsible. After Beck finished school, she went to study nursing but had trouble finding a job because of her weight. At first she became an undertaker’s assistant and helped prepare female bodies for burial. She eventually quit and moved to California, where she ended working in an Army hospital as a nurse. She began engaging in sexually promiscuous behavior and eventually became pregnant. She tried to get the father of the child to marry her, but he refused to. She returned to Florida shortly after. She told people that the father of her child was a serviceman she had married, but he had been killed in the Pacific Campaign. The town all together mourned her loss, and her story was even published in the local paper. Shortly after her daughter was born, she became pregnant again by a Pensacola bus driver named Alfred Beck. They got married but quickly divorced after six months, and she gave birth to a son. At this point Beck was unemployed and a single mother of two children, and so she escaped into a fantasy world. She would buy romance novels and magazines, and movies. In 1946, she found employment at the Pensacola Hospital for Children. In 1947, she placed a lonely hearts ad in the paper, and Fernandez answered.
Fernandez went to visit Beck for a short time, and she immediately told everyone they were going to be married. He returned to New York City where he was staying at the time while she made arrangements in Florida. She was abruptly fired from her job and she packed all her stuff up and showed up onto his doorstep. He loved how dedicated she was to him, she even left her children for him, and he saw this as a sign of unconditional love. He confessed his criminal activities to her, and that’s when things started exploding between them. As an act to make their victims feel more comfortable, Beck would pose as Fernandez’s sister, or even saying that she lived alone and that her “brother” was just staying for a bit. She was extremely jealous, however, and would go to extreme lengths to make sure Fernandez never consummated his relationships with the various women he brought into their home. When he did have sex with a woman, Beck subjected both to her extremely violent temper.
In 1949, the couple committed the three murders that they would later be convicted of. The first woman was Janet Fay, a 66-year-old woman who became engaged to Fernandez and went to live with him in his apartment. Beck caught her in bed with Fernandez, and she proceeded to smash Fay’s head in with a hammer in a murderous rage. Fernandez then strangled her. Fay’s family was suspicious when she disappeared and the couple fled.
The couple eventually traveled to Byron Center Road in Wyoming Township, Michigan (a suburb of Grand Rapids) and they met and stayed with Delphine Downing and her two-year-old daughter. On February 28th, Downing became agitated and Fernandez gave her sleeping pills to calm her down. The daughter saw this and began crying, which enraged Beck. She choked the child but didn’t kill her. Fernandez thought that Downing would become suspicious if she saw the bruises around her daughter’s neck, so he shot her. The couple stayed in the house for a few days, and Beck became enraged again with the child’s crying and drowned her in a basin of water. They buried the bodies in the basement, but neighbors became suspicious when they didn’t see the mother and daughter around and called the police. This led to Fernandez and Beck being arrested on March 1st, 1949.
After their arrest, Fernandez quickly confessed to the murders under the impression they would not be extradited to New York since New York had the death penalty, but Michigan didn’t. They were extradited nonetheless and they both denied the 17 murders that were attributed to them. Fernandez tried to retract his confession and claimed he was only doing it to protect Beck. The trail was extremely sensationalized, full of lurid tales of sexual perversity. Newspaper reporters would describe Beck’s appearance with mockery, and she wrote many protesting letters to the editors. Both were convicted of Janet Fay’s murder (the only one that they were tried for) and both were sentenced to death. On March 8th, 1951 they were both executed. Despite the many fights and relationship problems they had, Fernandez and Beck often professed their love for each other even on the day of their execution.