Jury to Decide Fate of 'Black Widows'
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A Los Angeles jury is hearing closing arguments today in a bizarre double-murder trial involving two elderly women. They're charged with taking out life insurance policies on homeless men and then killing them. Prosecutors say the women stood to collect millions until their scheme fell apart.
NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Seventy-five-year-old Olga Rutterschmidt and 77-year-old Helen Golay have been in federal custody for the past two years. Now, the two gray-haired women sit before a jury accused of having masterminded a ruthless scam that left two homeless men dead.
They recruited homeless men, signed them up for life insurance policies and then staged hit-and-run accidents where they kill them.
DEL BARCO: Prosecutor Robert Grace(ph) from the DA's office says Golay and Rutterschmidt collected nearly $3 million in insurance money on the men, 50-year-old Kenneth McDavid, and 73-year-old Paul Vados.
In separate incidents, both men were run over in west Los Angeles alleys. Prosecutor Grace says the women found their victims outside a church in Hollywood that serve free meals for the homeless.
Mr. ROBERT GRACE (Lawyer): They recruited people that needed either food or shelter. They got them to sign up for life insurance policies, and then eventually they were killed.
DEL BARCO: And are you saying that they killed them?
Mr. GRACE: Defendants are tied circumstantially to the murders.
DEL BARCO: As evidence, prosecutor showed the jury multiple insurance policies naming Rutterschmidt as their cousin, and Golay as their fiance; documents with the men's signatures forged with rubber stamps, also DNA evidence from the car that allegedly ran over the men.
During the trial, 47-year-old Jimmy Covington took the stand to say he escaped being another of their victim. Outside the courtroom, he described how he, too, was approached by Rutterschmidt, claiming she had a partner.
Mr. JIMMY COVINGTON: Yeah, she's - come after me, asked me if I was homeless, and asked me if - to tell me that she worked as someone that can help homeless people get places to live and benefits and - a little money if I qualified.
DEL BARCO: Just like McDavid and Vados, Covington said he was set up with a place to sleep at night. There was one catch though, Covington says, in exchange, he had to fill out some paper work.
Mr. COVINGTON: It was about my - where I was born, what my I.D. number was, what my name was, what my Social Security number, and my mother's maiden name. And after several days, she started getting too personal. I told her, no, and that's when she got irate and then her eyes bugged down and she's just screamed and slammed the door and - I wouldn't fill anymore personal information out and she wasn't giving me any daily money, and then finally, I just left.
DEL BARCO: L.A. police and FBI agents say Covington was one of the lucky ones who got away from Golay and Rutterschmidt who reportedly took out life insurance policies on at least five men.
Mr. DENNIS KILCOYNE (Detective, Los Angeles Police District) This was brutal. This isn't 77-year-old women. These are just criminals, just flat-out criminals.
DEL BARCO: Dennis Kilcoyne is the LAPD detective who investigated the McDavid and Vados murders.
Mr. KILCOYNE: I personally believe that, yes, they are the ones who did it. The men were drugged, they were lain out, and they were both, basically, slowly bulldozed over, and just what a - just a horrific way to die.
DEL BARCO: Kilcoyne says after their arrest in 2006, the women were placed in the police detective room that was bugged.
Mr. KILCOYNE: And they're in there, and they go out to each other like - just convicts, just common thieves.
(Soundbite of video playing)
Ms. HELEN GOLAY: You were greedy.
Ms. OLGA RUTTERSCHMIDT: That's the cop. That's how I got angry. We had no problem here. Release us(ph) if you pay me, and be nice, and don't make extra things.
Ms. GOLAY: I was doing everything for you.
DEL BARCO: In the video, which was played for the jury, Golay and Rutterschmidt argue about money and the insurance policies.
(Soundbite of video playing)
Ms. GOLAY: Now, remember the bottom line.
Ms. RUTTERSCHMIDT: And I was the cousin, you are the fiance.
DEL BARCO: The defendants are both pleading not guilty. They have separate lawyers. Rutherschmidt's attorney isn't calling any witnesses. Golay's counsel tried to call half a dozen people to the stand, but the judge wouldn't allow them. That left Golay's lawyer, Roger Jon Diamond, to present a surprise theory.
Mr. ROGER JON DIAMOND (Helen Golay's Lawyer): Who murdered Mr. McDavid? Who did it (unintelligible). Who did it? Kecia Golay, Helen Golay's daughter.
DEL BARCO: Diamond suggested Golay wasn't even capable of such a crime.
Mr. DIAMOND: Helen Golay is a little old lady.
DEL BARCO: Golay's daughter is not on trial for the murder, but the jury will soon decide the faith of her mother and her mother's alleged partner - Two septuagenarians who face the rest of their lives behind bars if they're convicted.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
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