Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lonely Hearts Killers

Martha

Martha Beck
Martha Beck

She was born Martha Jule Seabrook in 1919 in the town of Milton in northwest Florida. As a small child, Martha developed a glandular condition that caused her to physically mature faster than most children. By the age of 10, she possessed a woman's body and the sexual drive of an adult. Unfortunately, she was already obese by that age and suffered ridicule from not only her classmates but from her domineering mother as well. It was claimed at Martha's murder trial in 1951 that her brother sexually assaulted her at an early age. When she told her mother about the incident, she blamed Martha and beat her. Wherever she went thereafter, her mother followed her. If a boy showed any interest in Martha, her mother was sure to chase the boy away with a barrage of insults and threats. Throughout her teenage years, Martha was the focus of cruel jokes and insults which drove her further within herself. She became reclusive, withdrawn and had virtually no friends her own age.

Later, Martha attended a nursing school in Pensacola where she graduated first in her class in 1942. But because of her appearance, she was unable to gain employment in the nursing field. She was forced to take a job working for a mortician in a local funeral home preparing female bodies for burial. It was a surreal environment for Martha who was already remote and lonely. Tending to the bodies of the dead at all hours of the day and night, she may have found a strange solace in the company of those who could not hurt her with criticism and ridicule. She lived with the dead.

In 1942, desperate to begin a new life, she moved to California. She soon got a job at an Army hospital working as a nurse. But at night, Martha would frequent the city's bars where she would pick up soldiers on leave and at times, have sex with some of them. As a result of one of these encounters, she became pregnant. The father was a soldier who was uninterested in her. When he discovered Martha was pregnant he attempted to commit suicide by throwing himself into a nearby bay. Unable to convince the father to wed and deeply ashamed that a man would rather die than marry her, she returned to Florida depressed and alone.

In Milton, Martha soon realized that she had to explain the pregnancy. She made up a story that she met and married a Navy officer in California. She bought a wedding ring and wore it proudly around town. Her husband would soon return from the Pacific and then everyone would meet him. Of course, that day could never happen so she had to come up with a remedy. She arranged to have a telegram sent to herself announcing that her husband was killed in action. She went into hysterics when she received the "news." The town mourned for her and the story even appeared in the local papers. Martha received a great deal of attention and sympathy for her "loss." In the spring of 1944, she gave birth to a daughter, Willa Dean.

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