Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lonely Hearts Killers

Martha Takes the Stand

The anticipation had been building for weeks. The tabloids were filled with stories of how Martha would testify. Would she give up Raymond? Would she take the blame for all the murders herself? Would she cry? When her name was called on the morning of July 25, 1949, she rose from the defense table and walked slowly to the witness stand. She climbed the two steps up to the platform and sat gently into her seat. She wore a gray and white polka dot summer dress, two strands of pearls around her neck and green wedge-type shoes. It was an outfit inappropriate for a courtroom. After Raymond described their "abnormal sexual' practices during his testimony, the New York papers went into overdrive to further degrade the accused killers. The courtroom was jammed with an overflow of spectators and reporters.

When Martha told her story to a hushed and crowded room, Fernandez sat rigid in his chair, not knowing what to expect. Martha began with her childhood, reciting all the problems she suffered through as a child. When she was just 13, Martha said, she was subjected to "two incestuous attacks" which left her "frightened and shy" and also pregnant. She said that the assaults "preyed on my mind ever since." She dreamed constantly of being in love. "Life was not worth living," she explained. "I'd rather be dead than to continue arguing with my mother each day of my life." She said that her mother was over-bearing to such a degree, that "I had to give her a day-to-day story of whom I was with and what I did." She attempted suicide on several occasions.

Martha Beck
Martha Beck

Her luck with men was just as bad. Every time she developed a romantic relationship, she said, it went nowhere. Her first marriage ended when her husband walked out, leaving her pregnant. "He gave me the impression I was the only one he ever had loved," she said tearfully. Each boyfriend after her marriage was a disaster. She had two children along the way and yet still could not hold onto a man. She said the "remorse, fear and shame" drove her to attempt suicide once again. She told the court that she tried to commit suicide six times in the year before she was arrested and that "it entered in my mind almost every day." When she explained how she dropped off her children on January 25, 1948 at the Salvation Army in New York City, she broke down again.

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