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Martha Beck Trial: 1949

Partnership Thrives, The Kiss In The Courtroom, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendants: Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: John H. Minton and Herbert E. Rosenberg
Chief Prosecutors: Edward F. Breslin, James W. Gehrig, and Edward Robinson, Jr.
Judge: Ferdinand Pecora
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trial: June 9-August 18, 1949
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death by electrocution

SIGNIFICANCE: This notorious "lonely hearts murders" case, in which the bizarre defendants were tried for just one of some 20 murders committed over only two years, found the defendants pleading insanity. The jury, however, proved that it clearly understood the difference between the abnormal and the insane.

At 26, Martha Beck weighed 300 pounds. She had been married and divorced twice. A registered nurse, she had become superintendent of the Pensacola Crippled Children's Home in Florida. In 1947, answering an advertisement in a true-romance magazine, she spent five dollars to buy, through the mail, a membership in Mother Dinene's Friendly Club for Lonely Hearts.

A romantic letter came from one Raymond Fernandez of New York. She replied. Letters flew. Soon Fernandez stepped off a bus in Pensacola into Beck's arms and the couple began a two-day orgy. He was the Latin lover of her dreams.

After two days, however, Raymond had learned what was to him the most important fact about Beck: she had no money. He headed back to New York, where he wrote a "Dear Martha" letter that told her he just didn't love her after all.

Meantime, the overseers of the Crippled Children's Home fired Beck. She went straight to Fernandez's New York apartment and moved in. She soon discovered the nature of his business: he answered lonely-hearts ads, seduced well-to-do widows and spinsters, fleeced them of their savings, and disappeared. Undaunted, Beck proposed a partnership. She would play the role of his sister, helping to build the confidence of intended victims, but with a more sinister result than Fernandez had practiced. Rather than disappearing themselves, they would make their victims disappear.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953