THE LONELY HEARTS KILLERS, THE SEDUCTIVE SPELL OF RAYMOND FERNANDEZ
‘I’m no average killer!’ Raymond Fernandez had told the officers who arrested him. ‘I have a way with women, a power over them, he continued
The thirty-five-year-old, who was thin, well-dressed, and slightly bald, believed that he possessed an uncanny power over women through the use of Voodoo. After the Second World War, he was sent to prison and shared a cell with a Haitian man who taught him some of the mysteries of the ancient West African religion, Vodun.
He seduced lonely women over great distances by sending them envelopes containing magical Voodoo powder or obtaining a lock of their hair, after he was released from prison. These women were desperate for love and companionship and subscribed to lonely hearts clubs, and Fernandez provided that until he had emptied their bank accounts and vanished into thin air. Rarely reporting their experience to the police due to embarrassment and humiliation, the women were left helpless in the wake of Fernandez’s menacing advances, as he indifferently moved on to his next target.
Born in Hawaii in 1914, to parents of Spanish descent, he was three years old when the family moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut. When he was 18 in 1932, being a perpetually unhealthy child, and being a disappointment to his father, he decided to venture off to his uncle’s farm near Orgiva in Southern Spain to make something of himself. It was a wise choice, as two years later he had become a strong, attractive young man, falling in love and marrying a woman from the area, Encarnacion Robles.
At the start of the Second World War, Spain announced its intent to remain neutral; however, Fernandez still chose to be a part of Spain’s merchant navy. Later, he started to act as a secret agent for the British government. Although there is not much known about Fernandez’s actions during this period, the Defence Security Office in Gibraltar said that he was devoted to the Allied cause and did his duty, regardless of how difficult or risky it might have been, exceedingly well.
After the war had concluded, Fernandez made his way back to the United States in order to find employment and secure passage for his wife and two children. He boarded a freighter destined for Curacao in the Dutch West Indies; however, this journey was to be one of extreme misfortune. As he was stepping out of his cabin, a thick steel hatch toppled towards his head, fracturing the skull and leaving him unconscious. On arrival in Curacao, Fernandez was immediately brought to hospital, where he recovered until March 1946. The injury had a lasting effect on him and upon his release, Fernandez was more sullen, distant and irritable, in stark contrast to the congenial person who had departed Spain.
BECOMING A VOODOO PRIEST IN PRISON
During a voyage from Curacao to Mobile in Alabama, he stole items such as clothing from the vessel’s storeroom. As he tried to go through customs, the stolen supplies were detected to be from the same ship and he was arrested. Consequently, he was jailed for a year, which was when he was introduced to Vodun. Convinced of his status of an oungan, or priest, who gained his supernatural abilities from the loathing spirits, he researched every piece of information available regarding the Vodun religion, including literature containing references to sacrifice and torture, although these were not practiced in the Vodun doctrine.
Upon being released from prison, he relocated to Brooklyn to live with his sister, causing his family to be filled with concern. Since the accident, his hair had drastically thinned, and a horrific scar adorned the top of his head. He was also suffering from relentless headaches, often retreating to his room for days on end. This is when he began writing in response to lonely hearts letters.
THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB
One such lonely heart was Jane Thompson, who had recently gone through a divorce with her husband when she met Raymond. He convinced her to purchase tickets for a cruise to Spain, departing in October 1947. The two boarded the cruise ship, traveling together as a married couple.
While in Spain, Fernandez took Jane to meet his wife and children, and to everyone’s surprise, they got along very well and went out to dinner in a nearby town. On the night of November 7, Fernandez was spotted running out of their hotel room. The following morning, Jane Thompson was found dead. The Spanish authorities quickly buried her body without conducting an autopsy. In response, Fernandez quickly escaped Spain via a ship to America. Once he arrived in New York City, he went directly to Jane Thompson’s residence and took control of it using a forged will, completely disregarding Jane’s elderly mother still lived there.
He stayed in communication with members of the Lonely Hearts Club, and one of them he had written exchanges with was Martha Seabrook Beck. Beck was an ample-sized woman who worked as a nurse at a pediatric hospital in Pensacola, Florida.
Martha was born in Milton, Florida, in 1919 and had always been bigger than her peers due to a glandular condition. She was the target of severe bullying due to her size while she attended school, and later stated that she was sexually abused by her brother in her own home. Her adolescent years were passed in depths of depression and solitude.
In 1942, at age twenty-two she was the valedictorian of her nursing school class. Sadly, her large stature made it hard for her to find employment as a nurse, forcing her to work in a funeral home where she prepped bodies for burials. After relocating to California, she was employed as a nurse at a US Army hospital. There, she went to the town’s bars and began dating soldiers, eventually becoming pregnant. In response, the baby’s father was so disturbed that he attempted to take his life. Consequently, she took flight back to Florida.
In spring, 1944, she pretended to have been married and that her husband had been killed in action when she returned home. Later in the year, she had a baby girl. Because of this pregnancy, the baby’s father reluctantly married her, but it was not meant to last. The marriage ended only six months later. As a result, she got a job at a children’s hospital and, feeling deserted and lonely, put an ad in Mother Dinene’s Family Club for Lonely Hearts.
Raymond Fernandez encountered this advertisement. He wrote a letter to her and, as usual, requested a strand of her hair, with the conviction that performing a Voodoo ritual would make him desirable to her. Finally, on December 28th, he disembarked from a train in Pensacola, and was astonished to find a severely overweight woman waiting for him – she had failed to mention her size in the advert.
Soon the two were sharing a bed. When he told her that he would come back for her and that he would send money to have her and her children come live with him in New York, she was overjoyed, taking it as a proposal of marriage. When he realized that she was telling people she was getting married again, he wrote to her explaining that she had misunderstood him. Martha responded by threatening suicide and he capitulated, writing back to invite her to come and visit him in New York.
When she came in January 1948, he rejected her children and instructed her to abandon them at a Salvation Army shelter, which she did. It would be two years before she saw them again, after receiving a death sentence in the electric chair. Soon, he was explaining to her how he made his money and the two decided to become a partnership. From that point on, America’s widows, spinsters and divorcees were no longer safe.
LONELY HEARTS CLUB MEMBERS WERE NO LONGER SAFE.
After Fernandez had been in contact with Esther Henne for an unspecified period, she became their initial target. Martha assumed the identity of Fernandez’s sister-in-law and travelled to Pennsylvania with him. Not long after, Fernandez and Esther Henne tied the knot. While residing in New York, Fernandez attempted to get his newly-wed spouse to concede her insurance and pension to him. But, Henne had become aware of the suspicious death of Jane Thompson and hurriedly returned to Pennsylvania. The subsequent victim would not be as fortunate.
In 1948, he tied the knot with Myrtle Young in Arkansas, yet it wasn’t long before he became disenchanted with their marriage. He drugged her, put her on a bus, and sent her back to Arkansas to be rid of her. By the time the bus arrived at its destination, she was in a comatose state and sadly, she died in the hospital the next day.
Janet Fay, a sixty-six-year-old widow and wealthy resident of Albany, New York, married Raymond Fernandez in January 1949. The couple moved into an apartment on Long Island, with Martha pretending to be Raymond’s sister. On the first night, Martha was infuriated when she saw Raymond in bed with his new wife. She recalled experiencing a blackout moment, during which she bludgeoned Janet. To further this fatal act, Raymond strangled Janet with a scarf. With the body in the room, they tidied up the mess, shoved her into a closet and went to bed.
The next day, they placed the corpse into a trunk, gave it to Raymond’s sister before eventually burying it in the cellar of a house they rented.. To maintain the charade that all was well, how-ever, Fernandez posted typed letters to Janet’s family. They became suspicious, realizing that Janet had never typed or owned a typewriter in her life. They alerted the police.
Martha and Fernandez were long gone, however, eventually making it to Grand Rapids in Michigan. There, they took up residence with 41-year-old widow, Delphine Downing, and her two-year-old daughter, Rainelle. Delphine had been unaware that Fernandez was bald; when she discovered this during her morning walk-in on him in the bathroom, she became enraged, believing she had been tricked.
To soothe her anger, Martha encouraged Delphine to take some sleeping pills, all the while Fernandez secured a gun that had belonged to Delphine’s husband. With Delphine drifting off to sleep, Fernandez applied the gun, which was wrapped in a towel to dampen the sound, to her temple and pulled the trigger. During the act, Delphine’s daughter Rainelle witnessed the entire event, and thus presented the following dilemma.
Fernandez, in a frenzy, scrambled around the house searching for any valuable items. The sounds of Rainelle’s hysterical crying became increasingly unbearable, raising the fear that someone would come to investigate what was occurring. Desperate, he commanded Martha to put an end to the screaming by eliminating the girl. Martha initially denied, but eventually filled the bathtub with water and drowned Rainelle. The two buried the corpses of mother and daughter together in the home’s basement.
BUSTED AFTER GOING ON A “POST MURDER MOVIE DATE
Martha and Fernandez, instead of quickly leaving town, decided to do something unusual: go to the movies. After returning to their house, they started packing their belongings, when suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Opening it, they were surprised to find the police had been called by their suspicious neighbours.
The trial of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez in the humid summer of 1949 was widely covered by reporters, who went into great detail about their relationship. The alias “Big Martha” was hung on Martha Beck, evoking derision from her deprived upbringing. On August 18th, the onlookers heard the guilty verdict from the jury, sentencing the pair to be executed in the electric chair in Sing Sing prison, New York, on October 10th.
“I WANT TO SHOUT IT OUT! I LOVE MARTHA! WHAT DO THE PUBLIC KNOW ABOUT LOVE?”
On the day of his execution, Raymond was the first to be put to death. Although their relationship had been alternately described in the press as love and hate over the past two months, Martha had sent him a note at the last minute telling him that she loved him. Upon receiving it, he exclaimed, “Now I am ready to die! Tonight I will die like a man!”
His last words were, “I want to shout it out! I love Martha! What do the public know about love?” But as he approached the chair, the blind courage of “Big Martha’s” love deserted him as swiftly as had Martha’s past lovers and he had to be dragged to the electric chair, struggling to his death.
Martha could barely fit her absentmindedly large body into the chair as she prepared for her turn. The nurse and doctor watched without a tinge of sorrow as Martha calmly mouthed her final goodbye, “So long…” and her life ended at 11:42 pm. Her weight was the least of anyone’s worries; the feeling in the room was not one of sorrow, but of justice being served. It was a moment that everyone had to witness, without remorse.