One day they're baking you cookies and serving you a warm glass of milk, and the next thing you know they're whacking an old guy with a tire iron and trying to collect his life insurance. Is there anything more tragic than Grannies gone bad?
In the twilight years when they should have been swigging Geritol, these two harpies are now staring at the gallows. And they blame the boomers for society's ills...
Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt and their alleged victims Kenneth McDavid (L) and Paul Vados
Two elderly women are to go on trial in Los Angeles today for fraud and murder after taking out millions of dollars in life insurance policies on two homeless men, then allegedly drugging them and running them over with a car.
Prosecutors say that Olga Rutterschmidt, 75, and Helen Golay, 77, lifelong friends, hatched a plot to befriend Paul Vados, an elderly drifter, and house and feed him in exchange for his signing a life insurance policy. The women are said to have then duplicated the man’s signature and taken out at least a dozen more insurance policies.
In 1999, two years after the insurance policies were taken out - when insurance companies relax their vigilance about suspicious claims - 73-year-old Vados was found dead in a dark alley, apparently the victim of a hit-and-run accident. There were no witnesses. The women cashed in the life insurance policies, claiming to be Vados's relatives or friends.
Prosecutors say that the plot worked so well the women did it again - this time crushing 50-year-old Kenneth McDavid to death in 2005. They had 23 life insurance policies on his life, prosecutors say, bringing their illicit earnings up to nearly $3 million (£1.5 million). "It sounds like Arsenic and Old Lace but it doesn't have Cary Grant," Shellie Samuels, the Deputy District Attorney, said.
Prosecutors plan to call Jimmy Covington, another homeless man whom they say the women targeted, to give evidence of their modus operandi. Detectives have found at least three more men on whom the pair allegedly tried to take out life insurance. All are still alive.
The pattern of injuries suffered by the two victims is said to suggest that both were lying flat on their backs when they were run over, with crush wounds on their head and chest, rather than on their legs as happens in a typical collision.
"This victim [McDavid] was laid down and run over," Deputy District Attorney Truc Do told a pre-trial hearing last week, adding that a post-mortem examination had found alcohol and sedatives in McDavid's bloodstream. Empty vials of prescription drugs were allegedly found in Golay's bathroom cabinet. Clumps of McDavid's hair and pieces of flesh were found clinging to the undercarriage of a new Mercury Sable car that prosecutors will argue the women bought under false names.
The pair were arrested in May 2006 after a Los Angeles police officer mentioned McDavid's unusual head injuries to a colleague, who by chance remembered the earlier case of Vados.
A CCTV recording of the two women apparently falling out may also be used as evidence. It was filmed secretly when they were alone in a Los Angeles police department interview room during a gap in questioning. In it, Rutterschmidt allegedly mentions Vados and asks Golay: "Why did you make all these . . . extra insurances?"
She goes on: "You were greedy. That is the problem. That's why I get angry . . . I was doing everything for you."
Golay's lawyer has filed a motion for the CCTV footage to be ruled inadmissible, saying that FBI agents did not follow proper procedure during their arrests.
Opening statements are due to begin today at the trial of the women, who have been held apart since their arrest and are forbidden to contact each other. They appeared in court last week in identical black trousersuits, the dye grown out of their grey hair.
The district attorney's office said that the women's age would not be an issue. "It's not the age that counts, it's what they do. And we intend to show in court what their actions were," said spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons, adding that people of similar age had been convicted in murder trials before.
Prosecutors did, however, decide last year not to seek the death penalty because it takes a minimum of ten years to appeal against capital punishment. Each faces up to 160 years in prison without parole if convicted, so if they are found guilty they will probably spend the rest of their lives behind bars.
The case, with its murderous parallels to the vintage Alec Guinness black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, has prompted interest from Hollywood.
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