When you think of the couple that kills, you might first think of the notorious Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, Ottis Toole and Henry Lee Lucas, or Rosemary and Fred West, but few may consider the couple dubbed as "The Honeymoon Killers."
In what Gary Giddins has lauded as "a weirdly timeless love story with a body count" we can see the depths of madness that one can be driven to by passion and greed.
This is the Honeymoon Killers True Story.
The Childhood of R. Fernandez
Our story starts in Hakalau, Hawai'i, where our truly vile main character, Raymond Martinez Fernandez, was born on December 17, 1914- a Sagittarius, who would've guessed1.
Fernandez was raised in Bridgeport, CT and by the age of 16, had already spent time in jail for theft; as a result, the Fernandez family returned to Spain in 1932. By 1934, Raymond Fernandez had secured work as a ranch hand on his uncle's farm, married his first wife, Encarnacion Robles, and become a father to at least one child, all before the age of 20.
The Beginning of the End
World War II found Fernandez a role in Spain's Merchant Marine Corp, where he was able to transition into a career with British Intelligence2--these careers offered him a taste of life as an unattached bachelor and ultimately led to his return to the United States and the abandoning of his wife and their four children.
His journey to return to the United States began with finding a charter on a ship that was heading to Mobile, AL; not long after boarding the ship, a steel hatch fell, striking him, and fracturing his skull, causing significant damage to his frontal lobe.
Like many prolific serial killers (see examples such as Ed Gein (childhood abuse), Richard Ramirez (crushed by a dresser at two and knocked out by a swing at 5), Albert Fish (fell from a cherry tree), etc.)3 this head injury could very well be the reason for Fernandez's sexual and moral deviancy.4
An Introduction to Voodoo
After a year-long recovery period in the ship's infirmary, he managed to steal a fair amount of clothing from the ship's marked storeroom and was arrested when he attempted to pass through customs which resulted in a sentence at the Federal Penitentiary in Tallahassee, FL.
His cellmate, an inmate of Haitian descent, introduced him to the spiritual practices of Voodoo, through which Fernandez's confidence blossomed, and he believed himself to be "irresistible" and able to seduce any woman he set his sights upon.5
Armed with his newfound beliefs, he took to trolling the personal ads for single older women, where he met his murderous counterpart, Martha Beck, and began his dark journey to infamy.
The Ruination of Martha Seabrook Beck
Martha Jule Beck (born Martha Jule Seabrook) came into the world on May 6, 1919, in Milton, FL (Florida, why is it always you?) Her weight quickly became a topic of discussion, from her classmates to her overbearing and demeaning mother, she was constantly berated for her appearance starting at an early age.
Due to a glandular disorder, she developed much faster than the average child and was reported to have "the body and sexual drive of a grown woman."6
Unfortunately, by age 10, she had been sexually assaulted by her brother and when she informed her mother, she was beaten and blamed for the assault; her mother continued to cause strife in Martha's life by running off any boys that ever showed interest in Martha with insults and threats.7Read Next: The Most Famous Serial Killers In The World
A Life Steeped in Darkness
As she aged, Martha continued to withdraw into herself, preferring solitude to the company of others while her weight continued to have adverse effects on her life.
After attending nursing school and graduating first in her class, she was unable to find employment due to her physical appearance, which lead to her being forced to accept a job as an undertakers assistant, where she helped to prepare female bodies for burial. Pretty convenient pre-requisite for a future serial killer, I'd say.8
California, Show Your Teeth.
In her desperation to begin life anew, Martha found herself in California working as an Army nurse. She spent her nights in bars, occasionally picking up soldiers and taking them home (as one does).
These behaviors ultimately led to her first pregnancy and upon informing the father of her condition, he attempted to end his own life; distraught and ashamed, Martha fled back to Milton where she gave birth to her daughter, Willa Dean, in 1944.
In an attempt to explain her out-of-wedlock pregnancy to the town residents, she fabricated the story that she had gotten married to a Navy soldier who was away on deployment and managed to have a telegram sent to herself informing her that he had perished in the line of duty. The town mourned her loss and the story made headlines in the local paper.9
Martha Seabrook becomes Martha Beck
Not long after the birth of Willa Dean, Martha met Pensacola bus driver, Alfred Beck, and found herself pregnant, married with a newborn son whom she named Alfred, and then divorced, all within a six-month time frame.
This ushered in a deep depression where she coped by throwing herself headfirst into her nursing work, which eventually granted her a promotion to Nurse Superintendent at a Pensacola Hospital, but she still found herself lacking the relationships that she so craved.
A practical joke pulled by a coworker led to her receiving an ad for "Mother Dinene's Family Club for Lonely Hearts", but in a shocking act of defiance, she listed an ad for herself and took the first steps on her path to the end.10
The Dark Side of Personal Ads
In the dark days before dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and Farmersonly.com, our grandparents used to publicize their loneliness by taking out "Lonely Hearts Ads" in the hopes of finding their perfect match--unfortunately for some, these ads ultimately led to an untimely demise.
How Raymond Fernandez Met Martha Beck
In the winter of 1947, Martha would receive her first and only reply to her ad in "Mother Dinene's."
Raymond Fernandez had come across the listing and reached out, painting himself as a successful businessman in trading; his letters detailed his loneliness and desire to share his life with another, woo-ing Martha with his way with words and seemingly similar search for love.
Weeks of being pen-pals led to one failed visit in Florida which led to a vintage "he broke up with me through a text" letter which then lead to a very reluctant invitation from Raymond inviting Martha (and the children) to visit him in New York.11
The Fate of the Children
On January 25, 1948, Martha Beck dropped her kids off at the Salvation Army of New York after deciding that the best and only way to keep her new man would be to abandon her offspring.
It wasn't until 1951, when she found herself in Sing-Sing Prison-a mere three years after releasing them from her care- that she would reach out to her children via letter. It is unknown how their relationship progressed, but it's obvious that she won the Mother of the Year Award.12
The Honeymoon Killer's M.O.
After finding themself childless and fancy-free, Raymond told Martha everything about the dozens of women he had robbed through Lonely Hearts ads; as she had already committed her heart to him, she felt that it was her duty to assist him in his endeavors.
Over the next three years, Raymond would go on to marry dozens of women across several states in the hopes of gaining access to their money and assets. Martha would pose as his sister or sister-in-law, depending on the situation, to ensure the victims felt comfortable with their new love interest.13
Unfortunately for Martha, Raymond showed no signs of wishing to commit himself to her and she sat idly by while the object of her affections would sleep, with-and swindle-countless other women. As the saying goes, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
The Honemoon Killer's Victims
Murder was not a part of the Lonely Hearts Scam until 1949 when, in a fit of jealousy, Martha murdered 66-year-old Janet Fay. Miss Fay was the couple's latest victim and had come to live with Fernandez in his Long Island apartment and upon finding the couple in bed together, Beck fatally injured Janet by taking a ball-peen hammer to her skull; realizing that Miss Fay had not been killed by Martha's attack, Fernandez ended her life via strangulation. They later buried her body in the basement of the Queens, NY home of Fernandez's sister. This would be the only crime that the couple was tried and convicted for.14
Delphine and Rainelle Downing
Following the Fay murder, Martha and Raymond made their way to Byron Center Road, a suburb of Grand Rapids, MI. There they met Mrs. Delphine Downing, 41, and her two-year-old daughter Rainell; Mrs. Downing was recently widowed and more than happy to host the couple during their stay in town.
On the night of February 28th, Downing became agitated upon seeing Fernandez without his hairpiece and Martha was able to convince her to ingest sleeping pills as a means to calm down; Rainelle, perhaps sensing that something was wrong with her mother, began to cry.
Beck, enraged by the sounds of a crying child, strangled Rainell until she was unconscious, and after an argument with Raymond, they decided that to avoid Delphine reporting her daughter's abuse to the authorities, the only way out was to shoot her while she was unconscious.
After murdering her mother, Beck ultimately ended up drowning Rainell. The couple was arrested by the police after Delphine Downing and her daughter were reported missing.15
Jane Thompson & Myrtle Young
Some of the earliest victims of Raymond Fernandez are Jane Thompson and Myrtle Young. In 1947, Fernandez married Miss Thompson and brought her to La Linea, Spain, where his first wife, Encarnacion Robles, was living with his children.
He introduced the two women and the three were often seen out on the town, unfortunately, there was an altercation between the two women and Mr. Fernandez was seen fleeing from the hotel room-Jane Thompson's body was discovered the next morning, but her cause of death was listed as a heart attack.16
Miss Young, a Greene Forest, AR native, was married to Fernandez in August of 1948; Beck and Fernandez stole a total of $4,000 from her before sending her back to Arkansas, where she died of a brain hemorrhage after an overdose of sleeping pills administered by Beck.17
The Unconfirmed Victims
There are anywhere from 17 to 20 women suspected to have been targeted by Martha and Raymond, but no one has ever been able to confirm their connections to these cases.
Although they had been arrested for both the murders of Janet Fay and the Downing Family, they were only being charged for Miss Fay's death as the State of New York had the death penalty whereas Michigan did not.
After a whirlwind jury trial, they were sentenced to death by electric chair. On March 8, 1951, in Ossining, New York, Fernandez and Beck breathed their last breaths. Martha Beck was 31 at the time of her execution. Raymond Fernandez was 36.
Famous Last Words
Martha Beck's last words were a statement of undying love, wherein she proclaimed her passion for her partner. "My story was a love story, and only those that have been in love as I have 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 feelings for Raymond." In a similar, but much simpler fashion, Raymond Fernandez's last words were as follows: "I wanna shout it out, that I love Martha. What does the public know about love?18"
Crime Makes for Great TV: A Legacy in Media
This story of the heinous crimes carried out by this couple has inspired several films, most notably, the 1970s cult classic "The Honeymoon Killers" directed by Leonard Kastle, starring Mary Jane Higby as Janet Fay, Shirley Stoler as Martha Beck, and Tony lo Bianco as Raymond Fernandez; the 1996 Mexican Film, Deep Crimson, starring Regina Orozco and Daniel Gimenez Cacho; the 2006 film, Lonely Hearts, starring Salma Hayek and Jared Leto; the 2014 Belgian-French film, Alleluia, starring Lola Duenas and Laurent Lucas.
In 2006, the popular show Cold Case aired an episode entitled "Lonely Hearts" with fictionalized killers Martha Puck and Ramon Delgado.19 In 1960, Dateline released an episode titled "Lonely Hearts Killers" detailing the life and crime of Fernandez and Beck. This episode was later released on DVD in 2019.