A kindly case of murder

The question has often been asked: Does art imitate life, or vice-versa?

This week in Los Angeles, two elderly women were sentenced to life in prison without parole for murdering two indigent men to collect insurance policies taken out on their lives. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Wesley sentenced 77-year-old Helen Golay and 75-year-old Olga Rutterschmidt to two consecutive life terms each. The women were convicted of a scheme in which they befriended homeless men, took out insurance policies on them and then killed them in murders staged to look like hit-and-run auto accidents.

Prosecutors say the women collected $2.8 million before the scheme was uncovered. Both women were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to murder for financial gain in the death of Paul Vados, 73, and Kenneth McDavid, 50. Both victims were run over by cars in dark alleys after the women allowed a period of time to elapse after the policies were taken out on them.


The case reminds me of the classic movie, Arsenic and Old Lace, about a pair of elderly sisters who had an unusual method of ending the presumed suffering of "lonely old bachelors;" they poisoned them and buried them in the basement. Cary Grant, who played their shocked and bewildered nephew, Mortimer, gave a zany performance as he tried to cover up for the seemingly kind and gracious, but deadly, duo. The movie gave audiences a light-hearted look at murder by employing a series of comical scenes in which the dead bodies were moved from place to place to stay ahead of the police. Of course, there's nothing comical about murder, but humor has often been used to take some of the horror out of homicide.

In the Los Angeles case, the attorney for the black widows denied that his clients had been involved in a murder conspiracy. Rather, he said their idea was to insure old, sick homeless people and then, believing that they wouldn't last long, merely wait for them to die in order to collect. The fact that 2 of them happened to get flattened by vehicles that left the scene in the middle of the night was nothing more than a coincidence. Also, the fact that the women took the men into their home, provided food and shelter, while filling out applications for insurance on the them, didn't mean they were getting them ready to be a profit center for the septuagenarian females, according to their lawyer.

When sentencing the murderous matrons to two consecutive life terms, the judge said the unfortunate victims had been sacrificed on the altar of greed by a kindly-looking couple of elderly women who no one would have ever suspected of having such evil intent.

Part of the evidence that convicted them was a secretly recorded videotape of the defendants in a lockup after their arrests. The 75 year-old was criticizing the 77 year-old for taking out 23 insurance policies over a period of a few years. She told her accomplice that it was the large amount of policies that raised a red flag when the investigation into the deaths began.

"It's your fault," Rutterschmidt admonished Golay. "You can't have that many insurances. You were greedy. That's the problem." Not once did the licentious ladies show any signs that they understood the gravity of the crimes they committed. On the contrary, they talked about it in cold business terms, as though the murders were just dollar signs on a ledger sheet that they had added up incorrectly.

It causes me to wonder if the defense of insanity was proposed during the legal proceedings before trial. After all, if they believe that avarice was their only failing, it would appear that they have no conscience about taking human life. I also wonder how they were able to collect almost $3 million from insurance companies who have some of the best detectives in the world to keep their employers from having to shell out for fraudulent claims. This should have been a ground ball for gumshoes to uncover.

Yet, two old ladies with a malevolent view of humanity and no compunction about how to live prosperously in their declining years were able to pull off a multi-million dollar scam. And many people believe that old age leads to diminished physical and mental capacity. There's no indication that these two senior citizens were any less cerebral or cold-hearted than criminally-minded counterparts half their age. I'll never look at grandmothers the same way again.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.
The question has often been asked: Does art imitate life, or vice-versa?

This week in Los Angeles, two elderly women were sentenced to life in prison without parole for murdering two indigent men to collect insurance policies taken out on their lives. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Wesley sentenced 77-year-old Helen Golay and 75-year-old Olga Rutterschmidt to two consecutive life terms each. The women were convicted of a scheme in which they befriended homeless men, took out insurance policies on them and then killed them in murders staged to look like hit-and-run auto accidents.

Prosecutors say the women collected $2.8 million before the scheme was uncovered. Both women were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to murder for financial gain in the death of Paul Vados, 73, and Kenneth McDavid, 50. Both victims were run over by cars in dark alleys after the women allowed a period of time to elapse after the policies were taken out on them.


The case reminds me of the classic movie, Arsenic and Old Lace, about a pair of elderly sisters who had an unusual method of ending the presumed suffering of "lonely old bachelors;" they poisoned them and buried them in the basement. Cary Grant, who played their shocked and bewildered nephew, Mortimer, gave a zany performance as he tried to cover up for the seemingly kind and gracious, but deadly, duo. The movie gave audiences a light-hearted look at murder by employing a series of comical scenes in which the dead bodies were moved from place to place to stay ahead of the police. Of course, there's nothing comical about murder, but humor has often been used to take some of the horror out of homicide.

In the Los Angeles case, the attorney for the black widows denied that his clients had been involved in a murder conspiracy. Rather, he said their idea was to insure old, sick homeless people and then, believing that they wouldn't last long, merely wait for them to die in order to collect. The fact that 2 of them happened to get flattened by vehicles that left the scene in the middle of the night was nothing more than a coincidence. Also, the fact that the women took the men into their home, provided food and shelter, while filling out applications for insurance on the them, didn't mean they were getting them ready to be a profit center for the septuagenarian females, according to their lawyer.

When sentencing the murderous matrons to two consecutive life terms, the judge said the unfortunate victims had been sacrificed on the altar of greed by a kindly-looking couple of elderly women who no one would have ever suspected of having such evil intent.

Part of the evidence that convicted them was a secretly recorded videotape of the defendants in a lockup after their arrests. The 75 year-old was criticizing the 77 year-old for taking out 23 insurance policies over a period of a few years. She told her accomplice that it was the large amount of policies that raised a red flag when the investigation into the deaths began.

"It's your fault," Rutterschmidt admonished Golay. "You can't have that many insurances. You were greedy. That's the problem." Not once did the licentious ladies show any signs that they understood the gravity of the crimes they committed. On the contrary, they talked about it in cold business terms, as though the murders were just dollar signs on a ledger sheet that they had added up incorrectly.

It causes me to wonder if the defense of insanity was proposed during the legal proceedings before trial. After all, if they believe that avarice was their only failing, it would appear that they have no conscience about taking human life. I also wonder how they were able to collect almost $3 million from insurance companies who have some of the best detectives in the world to keep their employers from having to shell out for fraudulent claims. This should have been a ground ball for gumshoes to uncover.

Yet, two old ladies with a malevolent view of humanity and no compunction about how to live prosperously in their declining years were able to pull off a multi-million dollar scam. And many people believe that old age leads to diminished physical and mental capacity. There's no indication that these two senior citizens were any less cerebral or cold-hearted than criminally-minded counterparts half their age. I'll never look at grandmothers the same way again.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.