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2 women convicted in homeless men’s slayings

Times Staff Writers

In a case that drew worldwide attention, a jury has convicted a 77-year-old woman of murder and her 75-year-old co-defendant of conspiracy to commit murder in a chilling slow-motion plot to kill two homeless men for $2.8 million in life insurance.

Jurors are still considering two murder charges and a second conspiracy count against the younger woman, Olga Rutterschmidt.

She and Helen Golay, who was convicted of all four counts Wednesday, were accused of plucking Kenneth McDavid and Paul Vados off the streets, putting them up in apartments for two years and then having them run over in dark alleys. Two years is the period after which most insurance policies cannot be contested.

Golay faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. She buried her head in her hands after the jury’s decision was read.

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Rutterschmidt could be sentenced to 25 years to life on the conspiracy conviction. As the verdict was returned, she put her chin on her fist and looked blankly around the small, softly lighted courtroom.

The jury, which received the case late Monday, will continue deliberating the remaining counts against Rutterschmidt today.

Golay’s attorney, Roger Jon Diamond, indicated that she would appeal. “The ladies did not do very well today,” he said.

Diamond said his case was damaged when Rutterschmidt’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Michael Sklar, blamed Golay for McDavid’s murder. Sklar declined to comment on the verdicts.

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In prepared statements, relatives of the victims praised Wednesday’s outcome. “Their plots were pure evil,” Stella Vados, the murdered man’s daughter, said of Golay and Rutterschmidt. “We have no pity for these women.”

The prosecutors, Deputy Dist. Attys. Truc Do and Robert Grace, said they would withhold comment until the jury completed its deliberations. Los Angeles Police Det. Dennis Kilcoyne, the lead investigator in the case, said: “So far, so good.”

At the jury’s request, Superior Court Judge David S. Wesley directed the attorneys to reargue the evidence today for one of the unresolved counts against Rutterschmidt, the conspiracy to murder Vados in 1999.

From the start, the defendants’ advanced ages kept the case in the headlines, drawing comparisons to the play and film “Arsenic and Old Lace.” The killings came to be known as the Black Widow murders.

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Experts said there was no point in seeking the death penalty because the women would probably die in prison during the long appeal process. A plea bargain was also out; any prison term would be tantamount to a life sentence.

After two years in custody, the defendants appeared gray and frail during the trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court downtown.

Prosecutors said Golay, a former Santa Monica real estate agent, and the Hungarian-born Rutterschmidt, a longtime Hollywood resident who once owned a coffee shop with her husband, targeted the most vulnerable people in society because their deaths would not raise a stir.

The women had known each other for at least 20 years before their arrests, police and others say. They allegedly were partners in a number of bogus lawsuits before embarking on the murder scheme, authorities say.

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A Texas native known for her elaborate hairstyles and youthful dress, Golay fronted the money for the cold-blooded enterprise and is believed to have pocketed most of the insurance proceeds, which infuriated Rutterschmidt, according to acquaintances and investigators.

No witnesses to either killing came forward and details about the deaths were scant, leaving prosecutors to painstakingly build a case on fragmentary testimony and a long paper trail of insurance documents and rent checks.

The death of Vados, 73, was particularly mysterious. The crime scene was washed clean in a downpour, and traffic investigators set the killing aside as an unsolved hit-and-run.

The jury appeared to be struggling with Rutterschmidt’s alleged role in the Vados killing. On Wednesday, they asked to have read back testimony by an apartment manager that she had cried over his death.

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Sklar had maintained that she and the homeless man were friends, but prosecutors said Rutterschmidt lured Vados into the women’s web and helped Golay house and monitor him while the insurance policies turned incontestable.

The evidence in McDavid’s murder was much more direct. Three surveillance cameras caught a silver station wagon turning into a Westwood alley the night that McDavid was found dead there. As in the Vados’ killing, McDavid had been crushed to death, his body twisted, and police said the scene was free of the skid marks and broken glass typically left by a hit-and-run.

Someone using Golay’s auto club membership called for the station wagon to be towed around the time that McDavid was killed, according to testimony. After the women came under suspicion, authorities tracked down the vehicle and found McDavid’s DNA on the undercarriage.

Prosecutors said the similarities between the two deaths were too uncanny for coincidence. The Los Angeles Police Department concluded that the killings were connected when two investigators bumped into each other, compared notes and realized the same pair of odd women had claimed both men’s bodies.

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Jurors heard damaging statements from the defendants themselves, even though neither took the stand. A conversation at Los Angeles police headquarters immediately after their May 2006 arrests on fraud charges was secretly videotaped, and the recording was played for the jury.

On the 30-minute tape, an animated Rutterschmidt angrily bangs on a table, shakes her finger and accuses Golay of inviting scrutiny by greedily piling on numerous insurance policies.

“You did all these insurances extra. That’s what raised the suspicion. You can’t do that. Stupidity,” Rutterschmidt tells Golay, who repeatedly admonishes her in a calm voice to be quiet.

“No, you’re going to go to jail, honey. They going to lock you up,” Rutterschmidt says in a thick accent.

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On the recording, the women never mention murder, although they had been notified that they were under investigation for the deaths. Prosecutors argued that an innocent person would have expressed shock at the murder allegations.

Sklar, Rutterschmidt’s attorney, said the conversation showed that his client did not know about the killings. He said Golay kept his simple-minded client in the dark about the murder plot.

Golay’s attorney, Diamond, argued that Rutterschmidt and Golay’s daughter, Kecia, conspired to kill McDavid.

Kecia was not charged in the case.

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Experts said the defendants made the prosecution’s job easier by turning on each other. Attorneys for both women conceded in their closing arguments that McDavid was murdered, but each pinned the killing on the other.

Prosecutors did not say who was driving the cars that killed McDavid and Vados. But they argued that both women, whether they were behind the wheel or aided and abetted the plot, were equally guilty of the murder charges.

Jurors also heard from a man who prosecutors said had narrowly escaped the women’s grasp. Jimmy Covington, who was brought from Northern California to testify, described Rutterschmidt’s approaching him on the street, when he was homeless, and offering to help.

Although she seemed sincere at first, moving him into an office space and taking him to Burger King, Rutterschmidt asked for more and more personal information and yelled at him when he refused to answer, Covington testified. He left after about a week. By that time, the two women had already requested an application for an $800,000 policy on his life.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

paul.pringle@latimes.com


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