Two Elderly Women Jailed In Deadly Insurance Scam
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
LOS ANGELES, May 22 -- Two elderly women devised a complex plot in which they befriended homeless men, took out life insurance policies on them, and then killed the men in hit-and-run accidents in alleys around Los Angeles to collect $2.2 million in payments, police said Monday.
The women are linked to two deaths, one in 1999 and one last year. Los Angeles police are reviewing other hit-and-run accidents involving transients in a search for more possible victims.
The women were arrested last week after police investigating them began to fear for a third man's life, police said. The women, who remain jailed, were arraigned on eight counts of mail fraud, and the FBI froze more than $2 million in assets between them. They have yet to enter a plea.
"While our initial presumption was these women probably had some accomplices to run these guys over, the detectives are now actually leaning toward [believing] that these women are directly involved in these men's deaths," said Lt. Paul Vernon, a police spokesman.
Investigators have impounded the women's Mercedes SUV and Honda Civic.
Olga Rutterschmidt, 73, and Helen Golay, 75, took out 19 life insurance policies on the two victims and tried to take out more, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. They offered to help the men get off the streets in exchange for the men signing a life insurance policy. Then the women had rubber stamps made from the signatures and used the stamps to acquire more insurance, court records show.
Police believe the women kept up the rent on the men's apartments for two years after their policies were signed and then ran them down to collect the money. California law allows an insurance company to contest a new policy for two years, Vernon said.
"Between the first and second incident, there's a six-year span," Vernon said. "It's very naive to think there haven't been any victims in those six years, especially when you consider they're using these men as certificates of deposit, with a maturity date of two years."
Police said the women recruited victims from the city's Eastern European community. Rutterschmidt is Hungarian, as was the first victim, and she met at least one potential target at a Hungarian church in Los Angeles.
In the first case, a homeless man took out a life insurance policy listing the women as his aunts and only relatives, although he had three living daughters. The man's body was later discovered in a Hollywood alley with injuries from a traffic accident. Rutterschmidt and Golay claimed the body.
The second victim was found in a different alley after having been run down by a vehicle, records show.
Los Angeles traffic police started the investigation into insurance fraud after two officers who happened to be at a meeting together realized they had worked on similar cases, Vernon said.
One officer described a homeless man whose body was collected by two unrelated women asking for all kinds of paperwork. Another said he had had a similar case years ago. "So they pull out the case, compare notes and find it's the same two women," Vernon said.
In November, police detectives watched as Rutterschmidt drove to meet an elderly Hungarian man, directed him to sign a sheaf of forms, then drove him to a nearby bank.
Golay has some background in the life insurance industry, though police do not know how much, Vernon said.
"It is one of the most sinister, evil plots I've ever seen," he said.