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Martha Beck Trial: 1949

Partnership Thrives

Time and again, lonely women naively handed their bankbooks, their jewelry, and ultimately their lives to the charming romantic who answered their lonely-hearts ads and turned up with his helpful "sister." Late in 1948, 66-year-old widow Janet Fay of Albany, New York, welcomed them, following an emotional and hopeful correspondence. By early January, she had turned over $4,000 in savings and cash, as well as jewelry and bonds, to Fernandez. Beck then skillfully packed the widow's possessions into a large trunk stolen from the most recent victim, and the three moved into a rented apartment in Valley Stream on Long Island. There Beck bashed Fay's skull with a hammer.

The murderers rented another house, buried the body in the cellar, covered it with a fresh cement floor, waited four days for the cement to harden, and departed for Grand Rapids, Michigan, and their next victim, who had already swallowed Fernandez's romance-by-mail bait and was on the hook. Soon the brother-sister act was ensconced in the home of Delphine Downing, a 41-year-old widow with a 2-year-old daughter. Wedding plans were made. But Delphine inadvertently came upon Fernandez without his toupee. Disillusioned, she rebelled: "Why, you're bald!" He shot her. Beck drowned the child in the bathtub. In the cellar, Fernandez dug a hole large enough for both bodies and poured fresh concrete.

The cement had not cured before the police, called by suspicious neighbors when they had not seen the mother and daughter for a couple of days, were at the door. Almost simultaneously, Fay's stepdaughter, unable to find her, had alerted New York police, who found the grave under the new cement floor and traced Fernandez and Beck to Michigan and the Downing home. A search of Fernandez revealed a notebook with the names of some 20 missing women.

As the couple confessed both the Fay and Downing murders, America, titillated by the image of the torrid Latin and the super-passionate fat lady, devoured the bizarre story. Spine-chilling news reports depicted the horror not only of the murders but of Martha Beck's tough, take-charge command of the weird operation.

Because New York had the death penalty for murder while Michigan did not, the two were extradited and tried for the murder of Fay.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953Martha Beck Trial: 1949 - Partnership Thrives, The Kiss In The Courtroom, Suggestions For Further Reading