They plucked the destitute off the street as “investments,” insured their lives for millions, then snuffed them out in staged hit-and-run accidents. They became so consumed by greed that they bickered over the money even after their arrests.
At least that’s how prosecutors Tuesday outlined their case against Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The septuagenarians stand accused of murdering a pair of Los Angeles homeless men in a chillingly deliberate scheme that required them to feed and shelter their victims for two years -- the period after which insurance companies often cannot contest policies -- before crushing them to death under cars in dark alleys.
“They waited for two years, with murder on their minds each of those days,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Truc Do told jurors in her opening statement. “They started this murder plot with greed, and you’re going to see that even when the jig was up, these defendants remained greedy.”
Do showed the jury portions of hidden camera videotapes that captured Golay, 77, and Rutterschmidt, 75, talking alone in a white-walled room, when they were taken into custody in May 2006 -- initially on suspicion of fraud.
The tape was the highlight of evidence not previously disclosed in the case, which has drawn media coverage from around the world.
On the recording, as Golay urges her to stay quiet, Rutterschmidt angrily complains that her co-defendant might have led authorities to them by taking out too many policies on the dead men.
“Why did you make the extra insurances?” says the Hungarian-born Rutterschmidt, in her accented English. “Too many. . . . You can’t do that!”
The slight, soft-spoken Golay tries to assure her that their troubles would disappear. “All they’re going after is mail fraud,” she says. “There is no mail fraud.”
Neither woman mentions the killings. Much of their conversation seems to concern their attempts to collect more from the insurers, some of it through lawsuits.
Golay says she wanted to sue them “to the gills.”
She also says in a pointed way that one of the victims, Kenneth McDavid, who was killed in 2005, “loved” them. “He wanted to be part of our family,” she says.
In insurance applications, Golay posed as McDavid’s fiancee and Rutterschmidt as his cousin, prosecutors allege.
“I was the cousin, you were the fiancee,” Rutterschmidt says on the tape. “Baloney.”
Golay and Rutterschmidt, both dressed in black suits, their long graying hair flowing over their shoulders, watched the tape without apparent emotion.
They paused occasionally to doodle or jot notes on a pad.
Some of the jurors glanced down when Do displayed crime-scene and coroner’s photographs of the broken, bloodied bodies of McDavid, 50, and Paul Vados, 73, who was killed in 1999.
The defendants also looked away at times.
The prosecutor noted that there were grease marks on their clothing and no trauma to their legs, indicating that the men were struck by a vehicle while lying down and not struck by hit-and-run drivers as they stood upright, as the defendants claim.
Meanwhile, the defense attorneys declined to make opening statements, reserving the option to do so once the prosecution rests. The trial is expected to last about a month.
If convicted on either of the murder counts with special circumstances, Golay and Rutterschmidt, who are being held without bail, could face life in prison without parole.
Golay’s attorney, Roger Jon Diamond, said during a break that his client had been falsely accused. “We will win when the whole case is presented,” he said.
In a methodical, Power Point-style presentation, Do took the jurors through a paper trail that she said made clear that the defendants provided apartments and food for McDavid and Vados for the two years leading up to their deaths.
The women took out more than two dozen life insurance policies on the men, most of it on McDavid, claiming to have a romantic, family or business relationship with them, Do said.
In one instance, Do said, the women stated on insurance documents that they shared an interest in a screenplay with McDavid that was worth $2 million. McDavid actually had nothing, the prosecutor said.
The defendants hired an armed security guard to shoo other homeless men away from McDavid’s apartment, because they feared these friends of the victim would foil the insurance scheme, Do said.
She said the women also called the police on the friends, and Rutterschmidt persuaded a neighbor to help scare McDavid’s visitors away with a .38-caliber handgun.
The women used rubber signature stamps to sign the insurance forms with the men’s names, Do said, holding up a stamp for the jurors to examine. Eventually, she said, the defendants collected $2.8 million in policy payments.
Do said they tried to snare a third man, Jimmy Covington, into the plot, housing him for a short time in a Hollywood office building and applying for about $800,000 in insurance on his life.
Covington, who is a prosecution witness, became suspicious and fled, Do said.
“Their guilt is evident in these numbers,” Do said, referring to the dollar amounts paid. “A clear motive to kill.”
Among the handful of observers in the small courtroom were McDavid’s brother, sister and her husband, who live in Northern California. They declined to comment and left before the more gruesome coroner’s photos were shown.