Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt: Black Widows

The Preliminary Hearing

In March 2007, the women underwent a four-day preliminary hearing in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. Gone were the flashy clothes, excessive makeup and bleached blonde hair. Instead, two weary-looking elderly women sat at the counsel table with their natural dark hair. They looked every day of their 70-plus years.

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Shellie Samuels had no sympathy. She said the victims likely suffered a slow painful death if they had been awake when the car ran over them.

The women had a systematic plan of housing, feeding and clothing the men for two years, waiting for the period to pass when insurance companies could contest the policy. "It was a huge investment," Samuels said, adding that the women were too old to wait for the men to die naturally. "The only way for the fraud to pay off is to kill these victims."

In all, Vados had been covered by more than 12 policies and McDavid, 23 policies, Samuels said.

Other witnesses included Hilary Adler, who testified that her purse had been stolen from a Santa Monica health club in 2003. Her identification had then been used to buy the Mercury Sable. Police later found a copy of her driver's license in Rutterschmidt's home.

A DNA expert also testified that the blood evidence found on the Mercury Sable was McDavid's with such certainty that for it to belong to someone else was a 1-in-10 quadrillion chance.

The case appeared strong enough to go to trial. When the judge told the women that they'd be facing a jury, Golay remained stoic and Rutterschmidt looked like she was going to cry.

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