The two women first crossed paths during the spandex-era fitness craze that peaked in the 1980s, in a chance encounter at a West Los Angeles health spa, people who know them say.
Neither made friends easily, but Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt had enough in common to form a middle-age bond.
Both told stories of painful childhoods, acquaintances say. Golay spoke of feeling lost after her father died in a car crash when she was a youngster. The Hungarian-born Rutterschmidt talked about the injuries she suffered as a girl in World War II bombing raids.
Adulthood brought more hardships, with failed marriages and shaky finances. Each complained to friends of a need for fast money.
The older they got, the fiercer their chase of a dollar became.
Golay, 75, and Rutterschmidt, 73, are expected to be arraigned Aug. 29 on murder charges in the hit-and-run deaths of two homeless men. Authorities allege that the women killed the men so they could collect $2.8 million from insurance policies they took out on them.
Since their arrests, a fuller picture of the women’s unlikely, often arm’s-length friendship has emerged. Authorities say they entered into a predatory partnership that started with small-time swindles and bogus lawsuits and culminated in the purported plot to “harvest” the down and out for cash.
Before they were taken into custody, their rapport had become strained, investigators and acquaintances say.
“They didn’t trust each other,” said Los Angeles Police Det. Dennis Kilcoyne.
In the 1980s or earlier, Golay and Rutterschmidt began hanging out together at Westside gyms, the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hollywood Roosevelt, Kilcoyne said.
The exercise buffs used their good looks and a certain flamboyance — Golay with her short skirts and towering bouffants, Rutterschmidt with her Zsa Zsa Gabor accent — to beguile strangers who had just enough money to be careless with it, investigators and others familiar with the women said.
At the hotels, authorities now believe, they would pretend to be registered guests. They would slip into a bathroom to change and then lounge by the pool in their swimsuits, trolling for “marks,” authorities and others said.
Detectives said they have received allegations that the pair’s initial joint venture was stealing purses and credit cards from gym and hotel patrons, although there is no known record of their being charged with such crimes.
“It was petty stuff,” Kilcoyne said.
But it grew more and more serious, as the two pursued a variety of quick payoffs, investigators and others knowledgeable about the women said.
Rutterschmidt bragged to a longtime confidant that she had learned to “pyramid” dozens of credit cards, using one to pay the balance on another, then “stiff” the issuers.
Golay, for her part, engaged in questionable transactions involving property transfers, estates and possibly insurance policies, authorities and former associates said.
Her hairdresser recalled that Golay once described how a woman could score a windfall by marrying an older man, insuring his life and then secretly feeding him daily doses of Viagra until it triggered a fatal heart attack.
“ ‘I am evil,’ ” the hairdresser, who asked not to be named because she feared for her safety, quoted Golay as saying earlier this year. “ ‘You have no idea how evil I am.’ ”
In the district attorney’s complaint, Golay and Rutterschmidt are alleged to have befriended the two homeless men while taking out dozens of life insurance policies on them.
Paul Vados, 73, and Kenneth McDavid, 50, were run down by cars in 1999 and 2005, respectively, their broken bodies found in alleys.
McDavid was killed, the complaint alleges, by a 1999 Mercury Sable wagon. The two women allegedly bought such a car using a false name, and on the night of McDavid’s death, Golay had a disabled Sable wagon towed by the Automobile Club.
Kilcoyne said laboratory tests have matched McDavid’s DNA to material found in three places on that car’s undercarriage.
Police are still looking for three other men whom Golay and Rutterschmidt tried to insure for about $800,000 each. The policies were not approved, and Kilcoyne said investigators have no evidence that the men have been harmed.
Roger Jon Diamond, Golay’s attorney, said Golay has done nothing wrong and that her relationship with Rutterschmidt was innocent. He said Golay has become the victim of innuendo.
“She’s eager to have a trial and get this thing resolved,” Diamond said. “She has an explanation.”
An attorney for Rutterschmidt could not be reached.
Investigators say Golay was more sophisticated and polished than Rutterschmidt, and likely was the brains behind the alleged insurance scam. People who have known the former honor student and mother of three for years find that portrayal hard to accept.
Born Helen Louise Salisbury in Eastland County, Texas, in 1931, Golay spent much of her childhood with her maternal grandfather, friends and relatives say. When he died, she moved in with a cousin in Hoquiam, Wash. Later, the family of a high school friend, Bonnie Williams, took Golay in. She lived there for two years, then was placed in a foster home, Williams said.
At Hoquiam High, Golay was on the honor roll and in Spanish club, Williams said.
“We didn’t smoke or drink or anything like that,” she said of their crowd. “She was as normal as we were.”
Williams said the news of Golay’s arrest “has really bothered me bad. I really haven’t slept.”
After graduation, Golay headed to California, where she met Vernon Golay. He said they were married for nine years and had two daughters.
Now a retired dentist in Oregon, he said he “wouldn’t have suspected” that his attractive and outgoing ex-wife could be capable of killing for money, but their breakup had not been pleasant.
“I haven’t talked to her in 20 years,” he said. “She is not an easy person to talk to.”
After her divorce, Golay had a third daughter with another man. In 1970, she married David J. Wells, a union that lasted only about a year.
Wells said he had no idea that she was in trouble with the law until a Times reporter contacted him.
“Oh, my,” said the retired Orange County engineer, who added that he hadn’t spoken to Golay since about 1980. “Oh, gee whiz, that sounds so unlike her. It’s so opposite her true nature, which was gentle, with a zest for life.”
In the 1980s, Golay launched a real estate career, first as a sales agent. After some lean years, she began acquiring rental properties, including through probate sales.
Golay also began suing people — lots of them.
Williams said Golay told her about suing a “man and getting his property. She bought an apartment with it.”
In the meantime, her daughters had grown, but the youngest — Kecia Golay — remained close to home. Helen Golay had resolved that Kecia would meet the right men — meaning older ones with money, according to family friends.
One former boyfriend who did not fill that bill dated Kecia in the mid-1980s. He said the Golays behaved and dressed as if they were wealthy, but Helen’s “skin-tight” pants could be off-putting.
The ex-boyfriend, who asked to be identified only by his initials S.G., said Helen Golay knocked on his mother’s door one day: “She said, ‘My name is Helen Golay . Your son is a nice boy, but he is not what I had in mind for Kecia. I’m looking for someone older, wealthier and more established.’ ”
S.G. said his mother was flabbergasted and didn’t immediately mention the visit to him. “Helen came back a month later,” he added. “She said, ‘Didn’t you understand me? Your son is not what I had in mind for Kecia.’ ”
He and Kecia parted for other reasons, S.G. said.
Nearly two decades later, another of Kecia’s boyfriends, Steve Taracevicz, claimed in court documents that Helen Golay threatened to kill him.
In 2003, Helen Golay sued Kecia and Taracevicz, alleging they had assaulted her. In response, Kecia and Taracevicz said in court declarations that Helen had exhibited “30 years of psychopathic behavior.”
Kecia and Taracevicz eventually broke up, and Kecia was convicted of stalking him. They declined requests to be interviewed.
Artie Aaron worked with Golay on numerous real estate acquisitions that authorities are examining.
After Aaron died of cancer in 1999 at age 73, Golay used a power-of-attorney agreement to take ownership of some of his real estate holdings, cutting out his daughter, according to property and court records.
Golay deeded to herself two of his Playa del Rey parcels with an assessed value of about $1.2 million, as well as 11 other properties worth less.
Aaron’s daughter, Diana Aaron Olson, unsuccessfully challenged Golay’s actions in court. Olson said the land Golay received amounted to about one-fifth of the estate’s properties.
“I felt cheated,” she said. “She was stealing something that wasn’t hers.”
The Times has reported that investigators are also exploring the events leading up to the death of 97-year-old Fred Downie, who was struck by a car in November 2000 and died from his injuries a month later.
The driver stopped after the accident and was found not at fault. The incident occurred after Golay and Kecia quietly took title to Downie’s house and sold it for $200,000.
Williams, the high school friend, said Helen Golay had boasted of a plan to get Downie’s money.
“She wanted Kecia to have it,” Williams said.
Kilcoyne said police have uncovered no evidence of criminality in Downie’s death.
But even as she cultivated Downie, the detective alleged, Golay was coming up with a bolder con, in league with her old workout companion.
In her day, Olga Rutterschmidt has assured authorities, she was a woman of means, an immigrant entrepreneur who owned a downtown Los Angeles coffee shop with her husband, Endre.
As far as investigators can tell, that was in the 1970s, if not earlier. Then the coffee shop closed, and Rutterschmidt’s employment record became spotty at best.
She and her husband were divorced, after having no children, and authorities believe that Endre died several years ago in Hungary.
Through last November, however, someone continued to cast absentee ballots in Endre’s name from Rutterschmidt’s Hollywood apartment, according to voter records.
Olga Rutterschmidt was born in Hungary in 1933, finished high school there and immigrated to the United States in 1957, according to investigators and public record databases.
Neighbors at the Hollywood apartment building where she has lived since the 1970s said Rutterschmidt sometimes told of landing office jobs. But the jobs never seemed to last.
A longtime resident of the building who asked to be identified only as Lawrence said Rutterschmidt talked about ripping off credit card companies and not paying income taxes, information he has passed on to police.
“She had 30 or 40 credit cards,” he said. “She showed them to me.”
The yellow-haired Rutterschmidt did not appear to have any intimate friends, neighbors say, and very rarely entertained guests at her third-floor apartment.
Rutterschmidt took daily hikes in Runyon Canyon or walks on the beach. She otherwise holed up in the apartment listening to jazz and classical music, while constantly complaining about the noise that neighbors made.
She brought other complaints to court.
In the early 1990s, Rutterschmidt got into an argument at a La Brea-area coffee shop, refusing to pay the bill because she said her muffin had been inedible.
“She was ranting and raving,” said Kristy Howard-Clark, a customer who witnessed the incident. Howard-Clark said she came to the proprietor’s aid by escorting Rutterschmidt outside.
Rutterschmidt sued the coffee shop and Howard-Clark, an actress. As it happened, Howard-Clark said, she knew a handyman who was taking a nursing class with Rutterschmidt. The handyman said Rutterschmidt told him that she “sued people for a living,” according to Howard-Clark.
After the handyman offered to testify, she said, Rutterschmidt dropped the suit.
In 1997, Rutterschmidt sued a lighting company and called Golay as a sympathetic witness. Rutterschmidt claimed she had been injured by a falling lamp fixture that hit her “like an atomic bomb.”
Three years later, Rutterschmidt and Golay sued an insurer that questioned their claims in the death of Vados, one of the men they are now accused of killing.
After Vados and McDavid were killed, authorities say, Golay and Rutterschmidt continued to mingle with the homeless at a local church. Police said they arrested the women after becoming alarmed about the safety of several men.
By the time they were taken into custody, Golay and Rutterschmidt had begun to speak ill of each other. The passage of time had clearly underscored the things they did not have in common.
For Rutterschmidt, one of those things was money. She complained to her neighbor Lawrence that Golay had not paid her enough for “scouting” real estate opportunities. Golay had assembled a portfolio of buildings and parcels, including two Santa Monica rental properties.
Just days before her arrest, Rutterschmidt told Lawrence that she and Golay had called each other vulgar names.
Lawrence said Rutterschmidt had become jealous of Kecia Golay because her mother had given her “all sorts of things without her having to work for them.”
A few miles away, Golay’s hairdresser for the last eight years was also getting an earful. She said Golay denounced Rutterschmidt as “crazy, very explosive, very loud hard to deal with in public.”
She said Golay griped about everything: Men were “stupid,” her tenants were “pigs” and she was “mortgaged to the hilt.”
One diatribe that still makes the hairdresser shudder was about the poor left homeless by Hurricane Katrina:
“She said those people were nothing. They were just on welfare. They were useless to society.”
Times staff writer Lynn Doan contributed to this report.