Martha Beck

This one is a bit late (sorry, uni is hard work) but I hope you enjoy the second installment of the Zodiac Killers Series.

Warning: This article contains descriptions of rape and sexual assault.

Martha Beck was not a lone killer, in fact, had her life gone down a different path she may have never killed at all. She falls into a special type of killer, in a category all of her own. She was the accomplice to her lover, Raymond Fernandez, and together they were a deadly duo. This is the story of the Lonely Hearts Killers.

Milton, Florida, United States. May 6, 1920.

Born Martha Jule Seabrook, Martha Beck’s childhood was less than idyllic. During her childhood, she was overweight due to a glandular problem (which was a common diagnosis for obesity during that time), because of this she went through puberty early. So yes, casting Salma Hayek as Martha in the Lonely Hearts Killers movie was very generous. By age 10, Martha had the body and sex drive of an adult woman. She claimed that her brother raped her, and when she told her mother about the assault, her mother beat her, blaming Martha for being raped.

julia-seabrook
Martha Beck’s mother, Julia Seabrook. Image: Murderpedia

Martha’s mother Julia Seabrook was a controlling, domineering woman who ridiculed Martha for her weight. Julia would follow Martha around, throwing insults at any boy who tried to get close to her daughter. Despite running away as a teen, Martha graduated high school and went on to study nursing. Unfortunately, she was still overweight and therefore struggled to find a job. She eventually managed to land a job as a mortician’s assistant. It was her role to prepare the female bodies for burial. Already lonely, adding the dead bodies into the mix seemed like a bad idea. However, Martha found a quiet happiness in the bodies. They could not question her, they could not criticise her.

Eventually, Martha left the corpses and scored a job as a nurse at an Army Hospital in California. By day she worked at the hospital, but when night feel Martha would frequent bars, looking for soldiers to pick up and take home. After one encounter she fell pregnant. Unfortunately for Martha, the father wasn’t too interested in her in regards to anything but sex. When Martha told him she was pregnant, he attempted to kill himself by throwing himself into the bay. As you can imagine, Martha was a bit upset about having someone rather kill themselves than be with her, so she returned to Florida deeply upset and alone.

Soon after returning home to Milton, Martha knew she had to explain the pregnancy somehow, so she took herself ring shopping. She proudly sported a wedding ring and told her neighbours she had met and married a navy man, who was deployed overseas at the time. You might think that her secret would be found out once no husband returned from war but Martha had a backup. She organised a telegraph to herself, informing her that the imaginary Navy man she had married, was dead. The town was heartbroken for the pregnant Martha. Her story even appeared in the local newspaper. After the birth of her daughter, Martha fell pregnant once again by a man named Alfred Beck. Alfred was a Pensacola Bus Driver who married Martha soon after she fell pregnant. But the marriage was short-lived, just 6 months after they wed, they divorced. Martha then gave birth to her son.

In 1946, Martha found a job at Pensacola Children’s Hospital but she was still depressed and lonely. The single mother of two immersed herself in a dream world of romance novels and movies, becoming obsessed with finding love.

In 1947, Martha placed an ad in the Lonely Hearts section of her local paper. A gentleman by the name of Raymond Fernandez answered.

Hawaii, United States. December 17, 1914.

Raymond Fernandez was born to Spanish parents in Hawaii, but they soon moved to Connecticut. Because this article is about Martha and not Raymond, I’ll make his bio brief.

As an adult, he moved to Spain, married, had four children, then abandoned them all.

He suffered a head injury from a fall steel hatch whilst on a ship to America. The hatch fractured his skull and damaged his frontal lobe. Once released from the hospital, he stole some clothes and was then arrested. Whilst in jail his cellmate introduced him to black magic and voodoo.

Fernandez then moved to New York City, where he took up answering lonely hearts ads in the paper with the goal of conning women and stealing their belongings.

fernandez-and-beck-8
Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck. Image: Murderpedia

Milton, Florida, United States. 1947.

Fernandez began visiting Martha, most likely with the intent to steal from her, but Martha’s loneliness led her to begin telling people they were going to be married. It also led to her accepting any form of affection he gave her (apparently she “reached sexual fulfilment” for the first time in her life with him, so it’s not all bad). Fernandez frequently travelled from New York to Florida, learning more and more about Martha. The main thing he learnt about her was that her desperate loneliness made her very willing to please. When Martha was fired from her job, she gathered her things in Milton and left, rocking up on Fernandez’s doorstep. Fernandez soon confessed his criminal enterprises to Martha. She was 100% on board. Even going as far as sending her children to the Salvation Army in order to free herself to help. Martha saw it as her duty to help him. She was all in. He was hers and she was his, no turning back now.

I now pronounce you, Con-man and wife. 1948.

After Martha and Fernandez searched through the lonely hears ad’s looking for the next victim, a one miss Miss Esther Henne from southern Pennsylvania. February 28 saw Henne marry Fernandez at County Clerk’s Office in Fairfax, Virginia, after less than a week of knowing each other. Martha Beck posed as Fernandez’s sister (or sister-in-law, each article says something different). The three returned to an apartment on West 139th Street, and Fernandez soon began pressuring his bride to sign over her insurances and teachers pension to him. And by pressuring, I mean he was becoming highly aggressive and agitated. Within a few weeks, Mrs Esther Fernandez fled the marriage, without her car and some money her new husband stole.

On August 14, 1948, Fernandez married once again, this time Martha posed as his sister. The blushing bride was Myrtle Young of Greene Forest, Arkansas. Martha was sure to avoid the new couple consummating their marriage, even going to the effort of sleeping in the same bed as Myrtle. After a few days, Myrtle grew sick of this and expressed her protest. Fernandez had none of it. He and Martha overdosed Myrtle with a heavy cocktail of drugs, picked her up and put her on a bus to Little Rock, Arkansas. The police dragged the heavily intoxicated Myrtle off the bus, but not before Fernandez and Martha had robbed her of four thousand dollars. She died in hospital the next day.

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Myrtle Young. Image: Murderpedia

The Murders. 1949. 

Myrtle Young may have died indirectly at the hands of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, but it was the next major target, Janet Faye, who would be the first to fall victim to a murderous rage.

Janet Faye was a 66-year-old widow who placed an ad in the Lonely Hearts section of her local paper. After a short correspondence between Faye and Fernandez, both Fernandez and Martha visited the widow at her home. They arrived with a bouquet of flowers with Martha posing as Fernandez’s sister. They spent the day strolling around Albany, speaking about religious matters and getting to know one another. Soon came the proposal, which Faye readily accepted. Fernandez convinced his bride-to-be to leave Albany in favour of Long Island, where Martha had already organised a rented apartment for the three of them to move in. But soon the newlyweds were too much for Martha to bear.

One day, Martha walked in on Fernandez and Faye in bed together. Faye was naked with her arm around Fernandez. Martha Beck claims to not know what happened next as she “blacked out”, but it was clear that in a jealous rage Martha had bludgeoned Janet Faye to death with a hammer. Martha and Fernandez then cleaned up the mess, wrapped Faye in sheets and towels, and placed her body in the closet. The couple then drifted off to sleep. They then put the body in a trunk and stored it at Fernandez’s sister’s house, collected the trunk again a few days later, then buried it in a cellar of a rented home. The couple then cashed in all of Janet Faye’s cheques and wrote typewriter letters to her family exclaiming that she was having the time of her life and was due to be married to a new man. But Janet Faye didn’t own a typewriter, and she definitely couldn’t type. So her family notified the police immediately.

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Janet Faye. Image: Murderpedia

Delphine Downing was a 41-year-old widow with a 2-year-old daughter named Rainelle. Downing had been corresponding with Fernandez for many weeks, so after the murder of Janet Faye, Martha and Fernandez made a beeline for Grand Rapids, Michigan. Downing was charmed by Fernandez, whom she knew as Charles Martin, and likely believed she had found the perfect man for her. Not long after arriving, Fernandez began having sexual relations with Downing, something that enraged the jealous Martha.

The fantasy for Downing, however, was soon coming to an end after she saw her new lover in the bathroom without his toupee, sporting a large scar on his head. Downing became upset, claiming he had deceived her. Her anger was building, accusing Fernandez of fraud. Fernandez convinced Downing to take some sleeping pills to calm herself down. At the sight of Downing acting strange and falling asleep, her daughter Rainelle began to cry. The cries infuriated Martha, who promptly choked the child unconscious, leaving bruises on her neck. The couple became worried about what Downing would do when she woke to see her daughter with bruises on her neck, so Fernandez decided to shoot her. He took Downing’s dead husbands gun and held it to the unconscious woman’s head, firing once. Rainelle witnessed her mothers murder from mere metres away.

Martha and Fernandez wrapped the body in sheets and carried it down into the basement of Downing’s own home, burying her under cement. After Martha had cleaned up the crime scene, they decided to stay in Downing’s house until they knew their next point of action but not before they sold any of Downing’s valuables and cashed all her cheques. Downing’s daughter Rainelle was distraught from what she had seen and cried endlessly. After two days, they came to the decision on what to do with the toddler. Martha held the crying child’s head underwater until she drowned. The next grave Fernandez dug was much smaller than the last. The girl was buried next to her mother in the basement.

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Delphine and Rainelle Downing. Image: Murderpedia

The couple decided not to leave town straight away, instead, they treated themselves to a date at the movies, returning to Downing’s home after to retrieve their things. As they were packing up, there was a knock on the door. The neighbours had grown suspicious and called the police.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States. March 1, 1949.

Raymond Fernandez and Marth Beck were arrested for murder. The two confessed to all their crimes in a 73-page confession.It was believed that the lonely hearts killers had committed 17 different murders, but both Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez denied this. They were both under the impression that they would be tried only in Michigan, a state without the death penalty, and that they wouldn’t be extradited to New York if they co-operated with police. This was a lie. The prosecutors decided to waive the charges of Downing’s murder in order to pursue charges for the murder of Janet Faye. Their reasoning being that New York still had an electric chair.

New York, United States. March 8, 1951.

Both Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez are executed by electric chair. Neither faulted in their love for one another in their final moments. Their last official words were:

“I wanna shout it out; I love Martha! What do the public know about love?” – Raymond Fernandez.

“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.” – Martha Beck.

martha-beck-press-2
Image: Murderpedia

SOURCES

http://murderpedia.org/female.B/b/beck-martha.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Fernandez_and_Martha_Beck

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