Thursday, March 8, 2012

This Day in History: Mar 8, 1951: The Lonely Hearts Killers are executed

The Lonely Hearts Killers, Martha Beck and Raymond Martinez Fernandez, are executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in New York. The strange couple had schemed to seduce, rob and murder women who placed personal ads in newspapers. Beck and Fernandez boasted to killing as many as seventeen women in this manner, but evidence suggests that there may have been only four victims.

Martha Beck was an extremely overweight, and by all reports, unattractive woman when she joined a lonely hearts club advertised in a romance magazine. Her first letter came from Ray Fernandez in Brooklyn. After World War II, he suffered a serious head injury in an accident that left him bald and with serious headaches. He became a petty criminal and wore a cheap black toupee to cover up his baldness. He convinced himself that he had a power over women that could turn them into his sexual slaves.
In 1946, Fernandez found his first mark in a lonely hearts club. He dated the older woman until he had gained enough of her trust to loot her bank account.The next year, he took the latest in a line of victims to Spain, where she turned up dead in a hotel room.  Fernandez responded to Beck's note with the intention of conning her, but after a brief affair, Fernandez and Beck apparently fell in love. When he confessed his original idea, Beck liked his scheme so much that she decided to join him.

Over the next two years, Beck posed as Fernandez's sister as he seduced older women before stealing from them. By 1949, they had murdered one victim and killed another accidentally with an overdose of sleeping pills. The end came when Fernandez hooked up with a younger woman in Michigan. The woman was a bit suspicious of the "brother and sister," and although she allowed them to move into her home, wouldn't marry Fernandez immediately and provide him access to her funds. When the jealous Beck got tired of waiting, the pair killed the woman and her two-year-old daughter and buried them in the basement.

Police officers, challenged by Fernandez himself, searched the home and found the makeshift grave. Beck and Fernandez confessed readily in the belief that their lives were safe in the non-capital punishment state of Michigan. But they didn't count on being extradited to New York, where the electric chair was an option. At the last minute they attempted an insanity defense, but were unable to convince the jury.

Their depraved story was the subject of a particularly sordid 1969 movie The Honeymoon Killers.

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In South African History: 15 suspected mercenaries, many of them South African, are arrested in Equatorial Guinea

Date: 8 March, 2004

On 8 March 2004, 15 suspected mercenaries were arrested in Equatorial Guinea. Many of the suspects were South African, including the alleged leader of the advance party, Nick du Toit.

The day before, on 7 March, Zimbabwean authorities seized a US-registered cargo plane at Harare carrying 64 suspected mercenaries and military equipment. It was later revealed that the men were mercenaries from South Africa en route to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea.

20 South Africans, 18 Namibians, 23 Angolans, 2 Congolese and 1 Zimbabwean carrying a South African passport were arrested when their aging Boeing 727 was impounded.
On 27 July, all but 3 of 70 suspected mercenaries, accused of plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea, pleaded guilty to lesser charges in Zimbabwe. In 2006, Adam Roberts authored an account of this incident entitled "The Wonga Coup".

  • (2005). "Focus: The financier, the plotter and the mercenary" The Star.14 January. p. 13.
  • Timeline Equatorial Guinea [online]. Available at: [accessed on 3 March 2009]
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