Portrait Emerges of a Baffling Pair

Times Staff Writers

In early April, the two women dropped by a Sunday lunch for the homeless at Hollywood Presbyterian Church.

They fit the picture of the charity-minded, a pair of kind souls happy to spend the afternoon helping the less fortunate.

They chatted with church volunteers and found themselves being introduced to Pastor Charles Suhayda.

“They seemed like nice ladies,” he recalled. “They were like grandmothers.”


The memory of the encounter now chills him.

The women, Olga Rutterschmidt and Helen Golay, are the septuagenarian odd couple charged in an alleged life insurance scam involving the hit-and-run deaths of two homeless men.

Rutterschmidt is a feisty music lover from Hungary. She has an expired electrolysis license and little visible means of support but hinted to her Hollywood neighbors that she knew of ways to make easy money.

Golay is an outwardly prosperous Santa Monica landlord. Her penchants are for pantsuits and big bouffants, as well as for siccing lawyers on those who cross her, including her own daughter.

And although their backgrounds could scarcely be more different, they have shared a tendency over the years to alienate, sue and ultimately baffle the people around them, according to court records and interviews.

The women filed nearly 40 lawsuits between them over the last two decades, usually demanding money for alleged wrongs.

Golay sought damages from a woman she claimed stole leather skirts from her. She also sued a health club, saying she was hurt on an exercise machine.

Rutterschmidt sued the Ralphs supermarket chain, contending that stacked boxes fell on her, and she later took a Hollywood coffee shop to court, claiming that a fellow diner -- a woman trained as a minister -- kicked her and zapped her with a stun gun.

On Tuesday a federal grand jury indicted Golay, 75, and Rutterschmidt, 72, on 10 counts of fraud in connection with more than $2 million in life insurance policies that they took out on Paul Vados and Kenneth McDavid, who were struck and killed by cars in 1999 and 2005.

Authorities say the women, who were arrested May 18, are also under investigation in the deaths.

“What a piece of work,” said Kevin Rea, a neighbor who has known Rutterschmidt three years. “She’s alternatively reclusive and then really in your face. She has this bombastic manner about her, this operatic presence.”

Rea and others who live in the slightly worn apartment building off Hollywood Boulevard where Rutterschmidt has resided since the 1970s said she often expressed disdain for conventional work, while suggesting that quick riches could be found.

“She kind of intimated that there were avenues to extra money,” said Rea, a probation officer.

State records show that Rutterschmidt held a license to perform electrolysis from 1975 to 1997, although neighbors said she gave no indication of having worked in the hair removal field.

Dwight Emile, another resident of the Sycamore Avenue building, said he has known Rutterschmidt casually about 20 years but never learned what she did for a living, if anything.

Emile, a composer, said she would visit his apartment to play his keyboard and borrow his CDs.

“She’d say, ‘You want to make a little extra money?’ I’d say, ‘No.’ ”

He said he did not ask her what she had in mind.

At the building, Emile said, Rutterschmidt acted as “the enforcer” -- scolding residents for playing their stereos too loud or talking in the hallways late at night.

“She was aggressive,” he said.

Across town, Yonni Afman, who rented a Santa Monica apartment from Golay for four years, described his landlady in similar terms. He said she seemed to harbor an unreasoning contempt for her tenants.

She called the police on them over minor parking and noise complaints, and refused to discuss any problems they had with their apartments, he said.

“She would yell at you, ‘You can call my lawyer,’ ” Afman said.

Golay sheltered an apparently homeless woman in an attic room on the property for a number of weeks, then abruptly kicked her out, he said.

“She would lock herself up and cry all day in that little room,” Afman said of the woman.

Rutterschmidt and Golay were not related to Vados and McDavid, but allegedly put the homeless men up in apartments and kept track of them for two years. That is the period after which the insurances policies generally could not be voided for misrepresentations, according to court documents.

The women are accused of collecting the insurance money after claiming to be the men’s aunts, cousins, business partners or, in Golay’s case, a fiancee. They were arrested after being spotted in the company of other indigent men, authorities say.

Much about Rutterschmidt and Golay is still unknown, including precisely when and where they met. One person familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they bumped into each other more than 20 years ago in the Los Angeles area.

Their lawyers and relatives either could not be reached or did not return phone calls.

Rutterschmidt appears to be a loner with no family in this country. Neighbors say that she had been married to an Endre Rutterschmidt but that they never saw him.

Voter records show that Endre Rutterschmidt listed Olga’s apartment as his address and cast an absentee ballot in last November’s election.

But one longtime tenant said Rutterschmidt had told him her husband died several years ago.

The tenant, who other residents said was closest to Rutterschmidt, asked not to be identified because he feared being drawn into the investigation.

He said Rutterschmidt confided in him that she had been quarreling with Golay over money.

She said she worked with Golay as a “scout” for real estate purchases, he added.

Rutterschmidt had a passion for classical music and daily hikes in Runyon Canyon, the tenant and other neighbors said. She drove a Honda Civic and sued a motorist and an insurance company over two accidents.

By contrast, Golay owned a Mercedes SUV, which remained parked outside her Ocean Park Boulevard home last week, her granddaughter’s leopard-print car seat strapped in the back.

Golay, who was born Helen Salisbury in Eastland County, Texas, is a former real estate agent and mother of three daughters, according to court and licensing documents. Her complete marital history could not be verified, but records show she wed a David J. Wells in 1970. He could not be located.

A man identified as Golay’s boyfriend in a 2003 lawsuit, Santa Monica resident Gary Hilaiel, declined to discuss their relationship except to say she was “just a friend.”

“I don’t believe the charges against Helen,” he said.

Apart from her three rental properties in Santa Monica, Golay owns land in Playa del Rey, the Antelope Valley and Madera County.

She obtained title to acreage in Playa del Rey and the Antelope Valley after another court battle over her right to the property. Golay had secured power of attorney for the president of a company that owned the land. She asked a court to affirm that she later became the owner, and a judge ruled in her favor.

Attorneys in the matter did not return phone calls.

The day after Golay’s arrest, her daughter, Kecia Golay, said her mother had done nothing wrong. “We have a regular life,” she said.

But it has been a litigious and sometimes tumultuous one.

Helen Golay filed the bulk of the lawsuits -- more than 30 since the 1980s -- against tenants, real estate partners, banks, health clubs, restaurants and neighbors.

Her complaints included failure to pay rent and deceitful practices in land deals. She won some and lost others, and the rest were dismissed.

In 2003, as part of a family dispute, she sued Kecia Golay and her daughter’s then-boyfriend, Steve Taracevicz of Santa Monica, seeking more than $275,000 in damages.

She accused her daughter of assaulting her and trespassing on her property.

Kecia Golay and Taracevicz denied all the allegations. They said in court papers that Helen Golay had threatened to kill him, scraped his car with a key and hired a security guard to keep him from visiting her daughter. They also said Helen had exhibited “30 years of psychopathic behavior.”

In 2004, Kecia Golay filed a suit against her mother, claiming Helen falsely acted as the daughter’s “attorney in fact” and engaged in other deceitful conduct to cheat her out of ownership stakes in four properties.

The mother and daughter appear to have reconciled. Kecia Golay pleaded no contest last year to charges of stalking Taracevicz and is scheduled to begin serving a 200-day jail sentence next month, according to the district attorney’s office.

A lawyer for Kecia Golay declined to comment, as did Taracevicz.

In the meantime, Helen Golay and Rutterschmidt have half a dozen suits pending against insurance companies that balked at paying the policies taken out on Vados and McDavid.

Even those who had little good to say about Rutterschmidt and Golay found it hard to believe that they could have carried out the cold-blooded scheme alleged in the Vados and McDavid cases.

“Mean behavior didn’t make me think automatically she was a murderer,” said David Rodwin, a Santa Monica tenant of Golay’s.

He said Golay erected a fence across his patio to prevent him from having barbecues, painted the curb red to keep anyone from parking near the gate and often lurked around the 3rd Street property.

“I felt she was spying on us,” said Rodwin, a film writer and producer. “I would honestly hide from her when she was prowling around the grounds. I didn’t want to talk to her.”

Rea, the neighbor, said he also tried to avoid Rutterschmidt.

“What a shocker,” he said of her arrest. “That’s what living in a big city is all about. You have Olgas.”


Times staff writer Richard Winton and researcher Vicki Gallay contributed to this report.