3rd Death Probed in Insurance Scam Case
Fred Downie had lived more than nine decades in Massachusetts when an attractive Southern California woman, some 60 years younger, suddenly packed the widower up and moved him to Santa Monica.
The 97-year-old Downie ended up in an Ocean Park Boulevard apartment owned by the woman’s mother. He never made it back to Massachusetts.
In November 2000, the former owner of a private kindergarten, who had no children of his own, was struck by a car on Ocean Park. A month later, after lingering in the hospital, he died of his head injuries. Police closed the case as an accident.
Now, authorities are taking another look at the circumstances leading up to Downie’s death. The reason: He was living at the home of Helen Golay, one of two women in their 70s who have been indicted in an alleged life insurance scam involving the hit-and-run deaths of two Los Angeles homeless men.
It was Golay’s daughter, Kecia, who befriended Downie in Massachusetts and brought him to California. And it was the mother and daughter who took title to his house, then borrowed money on it and sold it, according to property records.
Kecia Golay also became executor of his will, with complete control of his assets, none of which went to his few surviving relatives.
Downie died about a year after the first of the two homeless men, Paul Vados, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in a Hollywood alley.
The Downie case is part of a complex web of insurance policies, power-of-attorney agreements, real estate transactions and lawsuits that Los Angeles police detectives and FBI agents are trying to unravel in their widening investigation of Golay, 75, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 72.
Investigators are focusing on at least a half-dozen people who might have had financial entanglements with Golay and Rutterschmidt or whose names were in their possession, according to people familiar with the probe.
Authorities seized from Golay’s home a box of documents related to Downie, one person close to the inquiry said.
Roger Diamond, an attorney for the Golays, said authorities do not suspect Kecia of any wrongdoing, including in the Downie case. He said she has cooperated in the investigation of her mother and Rutterschmidt and testified before a grand jury.
Diamond also said there was no evidence that Helen Golay mistreated Downie, let alone had anything to do with his death.
“It was just a coincidence,” Diamond said of the fact that Downie was hit by a car. “There is nothing there.”
He said Kecia Golay referred affectionately to Downie as “grandpa.” The sometime-model has a record of shoplifting arrests and is facing a 200-day jail sentence on a stalking conviction. Neither Kecia nor Helen Golay could be reached for comment.
Downie was struck by a Honda Civic driven by a woman named Cheryl Clark, who was found not to be at fault. The attorney who represented her in a subsequent lawsuit said he did not recall the details of the case. Clark could not be located.
Kecia Golay and Downie’s niece, Mildred Holman, separately sued Clark and Santa Monica, seeking damages for his death. Golay and Holman contested each other’s rights to Downie’s estate.
The suits were consolidated and quietly settled for a $100,000 insurance payment, with Golay and Holman splitting most of the proceeds.
Holman told The Times that she thought that the Golays took advantage of Downie.
“There are a lot of things, looking back, that looked very, very shady,” said Holman, 83, speaking from her home in Plymouth, Mass.
Marjorie Cronin, a friend of Downie, said people in Plymouth talked about “how strange it was” that Kecia Golay had become a fixture in his life.
“You just don’t come in and take a 90-year-old man ... to California,” said Cronin, 78, who lives in Kingston, the next town over.
The minister who presided over Downie’s memorial service, William Fillebrown of Chiltonville Congregational Church in Plymouth, said the locals were surprised at his relationship with Kecia Golay, because it seemed so out of character.
“He was a ‘swamp Yankee,’ ” Fillebrown said of Downie, meaning that some in town thought that he could be crusty, set in his ways and unlikely to part with money on short acquaintance.
Holman said her uncle lived alone, was in excellent health and spent much of his time reading, especially histories of Plymouth. Before he met Kecia Golay, he became friends with her sister, Pamela Latimer, who lived near his West Harwich home, Holman said.
Latimer did not return phone calls Wednesday. In an earlier interview, before Downie’s link to the investigation was known, Latimer said she was estranged from her mother and knew nothing about the allegations against her.
Latimer’s 17-year-old son, Ben, said she was “distraught” about Downie’s death. “She was close to him,” he said.
Kecia Golay got to know Downie during visits to Massachusetts and sometimes stayed at his home, Holman said.
Shortly before he left for California, she said, he arranged to have headstones for the Golays placed in a Plymouth cemetery on either side of markers for himself and his late wife.
“He told me he was having the stones put in because Kecia and her mother wanted to be buried here,” Holman said. “It’s very bizarre.”
Downie enjoyed the attention of Kecia Golay, whom he nicknamed “Bubbles,” and was “gung-ho” about the move West, Holman said. Later, however, he wrote in a letter from Santa Monica that leaving Massachusetts had been a “mistake,” Holman recalled.
“He was very unhappy,” she said.
In the meantime, Kecia and Helen Golay had acquired Downie’s house for $1, took out an $81,900 loan on it, then sold it for $200,000, property records show.
A person knowledgeable about the Golay-Rutterschmidt investigation said authorities were trying to determine whether Helen Golay forged her daughter’s signature on real estate and other documents.
Kecia Golay once sued her mother over several property transfers in Santa Monica and Madera County. In two instances, she accused her of falsely claiming to have power-of-attorney authority to sign her name.
Helen Golay, a former real estate agent, had engaged in dozens of property transactions over the years, some of which involve power-of-attorney agreements that she used to transfer deeds to herself. The authorities are reviewing much of this material.
Golay and Rutterschmidt have been indicted on federal fraud charges over life insurance policies they took out on Vados and Kenneth McDavid, who were hit and killed by cars in 1999 and 2005, respectively.
The two women are under investigation for the deaths, police said, but have not been charged. They were arrested May 18 and are being held without bail. They pleaded not guilty to the insurance fraud charges earlier this week.
Holman said she did not know about her uncle’s tie to the Golay-Rutterschmidt investigation until The Times contacted her. She said she last spoke with Kecia Golay shortly after Downie’s funeral.
Kecia Golay did not attend the service and refused to pay for it as executor of his estate, Holman said.
“She sent the bill back. We paid it.”
Times staff writer Cara Mia DiMassa and researcher John Jackson contributed to this report.