Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lonely Hearts Killers

A Letter from New York

In sunny Florida, Martha went about her business at the Pensacola Hospital where she was so good at her job, she was made supervisor of all the nurses in just six months time. Her professional career was finally on track but her social life and her yearning for romance was still at a dead end. After she wrote her first letter to Mother Dinene's club, she waited nearly two weeks for a return letter. And each day she was disappointed when none arrived. But sometime before Christmas Day in 1947, she received her first and only reply.

The letter was from a Raymond Fernandez from West 139th Street in New York City. He said he was a successful and well-respected businessman who made his fortune in the import and export trade. The words were written in an elaborate manner, extremely courteous and seemed sincere. He wrote that he was a Spaniard who had recently left his country to come to America for better business opportunities. He now lived alone "here in this apartment much too large for a bachelor but I hope someday to share it with a wife." Fernandez wrote that he knew Martha was a nurse and he wrote to her because "I know you have a full heart with a great capacity for comfort and love."

It was too much for the starry-eyed Martha. She carried the letter with her everywhere she went and read it at every opportunity. She couldn't believe how well he wrote and expressed himself. She immediately bought expensive stationery and began a two-week correspondence that included a dozen letters and an exchange of photographs. The photos were a little bit of a problem. Of course, Martha didn't want to scare off the prospective Romeo with a full frontal view of her generous size. Instead, she sent Fernandez a group photo of all the nurses at the hospital in which she was partially hidden behind a row of friends. In the accompanying letter, she wrote "it doesn't do me justice."

She couldn't have known that size or appearance was of little concern to Raymond Fernandez. By this time, he had already defrauded, tricked, deceived and stole from dozens of women across the country. He didn't care if his victims were fat, skinny, old or young. He had only one criterion: they had to have assets. When he learned that Martha was a nurse, he assumed that she had money or a house or something of value. He knew that he would have to develop a relationship by mail and maybe a telephone call or two before arranging a face-to-face meeting. He had to build trust and inspire a level of sexual anticipation in his victims. Through repeated acts of trial and error, he built up a standard routine and he followed that script almost in every instance right up to the end.

When the victim realized that she had been "taken," most times she was reluctant to call the police. There were strong feelings of humiliation, guilt and even complicity in the crime. And above all, the women did not want their names dragged into public view as "lonely hearts" seeking men through newspaper ads. The self-absorbed Fernandez just assumed that most women were satisfied with his sexual dexterity and imagined they simply accepted the theft as a valid price to pay for a few days or weeks of happiness with a wonderful lover like him.

After a few letters, back and forth, Fernandez performed the necessary step of asking Martha for a lock of her hair. With this hair, Fernandez was able to perform his voodoo ritual, which he believed would make Martha unable to resist his sexual charms. He followed directions from a book written by William Seabrook called Magic Island, a bible of voodoo and secret spells. He considered it a good omen that his favorite author and his latest victim shared the same name.

Martha was thrilled that a man would ask for a lock of her hair. That had never happened before. She happily sent a generous piece of her hair with the very next letter and doused it with a smattering of perfume. Maybe her turn had finally come, she may have thought. Maybe she imagined that Raymond Fernandez would be her knight in shining armor, her dream lover to take her away from the daily routine of bedpans and a life of drudgery.

Maybe her luck had finally changed.

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