Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lonely Hearts Killers

On Death Row

Martha and Raymond's stay on Death Row in Sing Sing prison had to be one of the most tumultuous events in that prison's history. From the day they arrived on August 19, 1949 until March 8, 1951 when they were executed, the ongoing soap opera of the broken-hearted Martha never ceased. Fed by intermittent press stories of Martha's sexual deprivation and erratic behavior, the public never lost its appetite for gossip about the Lonely Hearts Killers.

In September 1950 it was rumored that Martha was having an ongoing sexual relationship with one of the guards, a story that made front-page news in the tabloids. "For several weeks I have suffered in silence because of the rumors started by Mr. Fernandez," she wrote in a letter to Warden Denno of Sing Sing. "To print that or say that I am having an affair with a guard is one of the most asinine and ridiculous statements ever made!" she said. "Approximately 25 million persons heard Winchell's broadcast tonight including members of my own family. And I'll admit it will be a shock and embarrassment to them."

But Fernandez apparently believed the story and submitted court papers to have his case dropped. The petition stated "the triangle subjects him to mental torture beyond endurance" and requests that all appeals on his behalf be stopped immediately so that he be executed forthwith to "end his living death!" Martha asked her attorney, Herbert Rosenberg to do something to stop the rumors. "What do they expect me to do?" she wrote. "Sit here and let him destroy the one thread of decency I have left? He has done so much talking about how he has me wrapped around his little finger that it was a blow to his ego when I unwrapped myself and forgot about him...All I can say is: what a character!"

As time went on, Martha and Raymond carried on a love/hate relationship that changed almost daily. Some days they professed their undying love for one another, other days they would barely speak to each other. In one letter, Martha belittled him to her mother: "Oh yes, he's brave when it comes to talk and hurting others he can kill without batting an eyelash but to hurt himself he'd never do it. It takes a man to kill himself. Not a sniveling, low-down, double-crossing, lying rat like him!"

Incredibly, all during the time he spent on Death Row and apparently unknown to Martha, Fernandez continued to write and profess his love for his first wife Encarnacion, who was still in La Linea, Spain with his four children. "Kisses and hugs to the children and you receive a million kisses and hugs from the one who always will have you until the last second of my life," Fernandez wrote on January 8, 1951. Encarnacion, who knew that he was involved with many other women, still considered him her husband and wrote: "Do you prefer me to fly to you and spank you for not writing, just as if you were a little child? Kisses from the children. All my love to you, from your wife, Encarna."

But it was Martha, the hopeless romantic, who was trapped in a web of deceit and obsessive love who captured the imagination of legions of women. They could empathize with a young girl, who was ridiculed and rejected by family, friends and boyfriends because of a weight problem. They could feel for a woman who wound up on Death Row because she wanted to please the only man she ever loved and who loved her.

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