Los Angeles police detectives investigating a pair of elderly women accused of taking out large life insurance policies on two homeless men later killed in suspicious hit-and-runs said Friday that they were reviewing scores of other unsolved accidents to determine whether there are other victims.
Traffic division officers from around the city are poring over years of cases, looking for possible links to the women.
“I tend to believe there are other victims out there,” said LAPD Det. Dennis Kilcoyne.
Authorities said they have evidence showing that the women purchased rubber stamps bearing the signatures of at least eight men, which could have been used to forge signatures on insurance forms.
The whereabouts of some of these men remain unknown, officials said.
Olga Rutterschmidt, 73, and Helen Golay, 75, were charged Thursday with mail fraud, but police consider them suspects in the deaths of the two homeless men.
Detectives believe that Rutterschmidt and Golay recruited potential victims for the complex life-insurance scheme from Los Angeles’ Eastern European community.
Rutterschmidt is from Hungary, as was Paul Vados, the first of the two alleged victims.
According to court documents filed by prosecutors in federal court this week, detectives said they arrested the pair Thursday after becoming alarmed about the safety of several men.
During a surveillance operation, the documents say, police witnessed Rutterschmidt give an elderly man named Josef Gabor numerous documents, which he signed. She then drove him to a Washington Mutual branch on Wilshire Boulevard near Crenshaw Boulevard, prosecutors said.
Police are also looking for Nicholas Koos, who lived in an apartment building next to the Hungarian Reformed Church on Crenshaw, a few blocks from the bank.
Gabor and Kenneth McDavid, the second homeless man killed, also once lived next to the church.
According to court records, Rutterschmidt secured a rubber stamp of Koos’ signature from the same company from which she bought one bearing McDavid’s.
Authorities believe that the women befriended Vados and McDavid and found apartments for them. Then they allegedly took out 19 life insurance policies on the men and eventually cashed in more than $2.2 million in claims after the transients died in hit-and-run pedestrian accidents in Los Angeles.
Vados was hit by a car and killed in an alley off La Brea Avenue in Hollywood on Nov. 8, 1999. McDavid was found dead in an alley off Westwood Boulevard just south of Wilshire on June 22, 2005.
According to prosecutors, Golay called for a tow truck a few blocks from where McDavid was found, an hour before his body was discovered.
Both men died of multiple traumatic injuries to their upper bodies, said coroner’s reports obtained Friday. Their clothing was torn, with visible tire marks or grease stains. McDavid had alcohol and pain pills in his blood, while Vados had no such substances in his system, according to the report.
Vados’ relatives said Friday that they had never heard of the two women until homicide detectives contacted them soon after his death in 1999.
Randy Hansen, longtime companion of Vados’ daughter, said the family learned that the women had claimed the body from the coroner and buried it in an unmarked grave.
Over the last few years, the family fought unsuccessfully with the women to move the body to a family plot at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
“He was a perfect candidate for this [scam],” Hansen said, noting that Vados’ wife died years ago and that he had struggled with alcohol problems.
Hansen said he always suspected that the women had some involvement in Vados’ death but that he and his companion, Stella -- Vados’ daughter -- were never able to prove it.
“We had no leverage, no money for people to go out and beat the pavement,” said Hansen, who lives in Northern California. “We had no clues. His trail went cold. We don’t know what happened.”
A woman who answered the door and phone Friday at the Hungarian Reformed Church said the women had no connection to the congregation.
The woman, who refused to give her name, said Gabor, a non-English-speaking Romanian, had lived in the adjacent apartment building -- a 10-unit stucco complex -- for 30 years.
“No one at the church has any involvement with the whole thing,” the woman said. “They knew each other. That’s it. That’s what I’ve heard. There is nothing to do with the church.... We are very nice people. The church members are very nice. It is an unfortunate coincidence.”
The woman said Gabor was still living in the apartment, but he could not be reached for comment Friday.
Kilcoyne said Golay has a background in real estate, and Rutterschmidt once owned a coffee shop on the Westside. It’s unclear how they met, but the detective said they appear to have been friends for some time.
Golay owns a triplex in Santa Monica, among other real estate holdings, and drives a Mercedes SUV. Rutterschmidt lives in a modest apartment in Hollywood and drives a Honda Civic.
Kilcoyne said Golay appeared to have some background in the insurance industry, because she was allegedly able to navigate the complexities of multiple life insurance policies.
Times staff writer Juliet Chung contributed to this report.