The Lonely Hearts Killers
The Trial Circus
Amidst a stunning, deadly heat wave that gripped the nation that summer, the trial of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez opened on June 28, 1949. A young Manhattan attorney, Herbert E. Rosenberg, was chosen to represent Martha and Raymond. Of course, one attorney to represent both defendants was a violation of ethics and unfair to the accused, but the decision was allowed to stand. A change of venue from Nassau County, Long Island, where the Fay murder was committed, was granted and the trial moved to the more spacious, more accessible Bronx Supreme Court near baseball's famous Yankee Stadium. But nothing could save the spectators from the oppressive heat. Over the July 4th weekend in 1949, at least 881 people died nationwide from heat and accidents, a record that still stands today.
Judge Ferdinand Pecora sat on the bench, a stern but fair jurist who had a reputation of moving things along in his trials. The prosecutor was Nassau County District Attorney Edward Robinson Jr. who was on the case since the very beginning and participated in the deal to extradite the defendants back from Michigan. The prosecution began its case with a barrage of witnesses including the medical examiner, friends of Janet Fay from Albany and the landlord from Janet's apartment. Michigan investigators followed them to the stand and forensic detectives later explained the substantial physical evidence to the court.
Raymond Fernandez took the stand on July 11, 1949. He denied any role in the Fay killing and said that he only met Martha a short time before by writing to lonely hearts clubs. He admitted confessing to the Michigan authorities but wished to retract the entire statement because he said he confessed only to save his sweetheart, Martha. In a soft voice and often smiling over at Martha as she nodded approvingly during his testimony, Fernandez appeared the picture of the sophisticated Spanish gentleman.
"All my statements were made for the purpose of helping Martha," he said softly, exposing his gold lined front teeth. "I love her. It couldn't be anything else," he added.
But prosecutor Edward Robinson jumped all over Fernandez's story by bringing up Jane Thompson, Delphine Downing, Rainelle Downing and Myrtle Young, all dead after meeting with Raymond Fernandez. Robinson kept after him in a shouting, blistering examination.
"Mr. Fernandez is not deaf!" said Martha from her seat after one exchange. But Fernandez scored points also, especially when he described the Michigan interrogation.
"Everybody was permitted to question me, including the newspapermen," he said. "I didn't know if I was coming or going. And the D.A. said that whatever I said would not be used against me." Fernandez regained his composure and continued on, sensing that this point was one to dwell on. "They would look upon me as a murderer in New York and let her go," he said. "As a man, I could take it better than a woman. If I cooperated, they said I would do six years and be paroled. Then I could do what I liked. If I didn't cooperate, I would go to jail for life."