Los Angeles prosecutors filed murder charges Monday against two women in their 70s accused in a chilling, slow-motion scheme in which they allegedly befriended a pair of homeless men, insured their lives for millions, then killed them in hit-and-run crashes to collect the money.
Helen Golay, 75, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 73, who have been jailed since May on federal fraud charges, could be eligible for the death penalty under the new counts, if the district attorney's office decides to pursue capital punishment.
They are each charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder for financial gain in the deaths of Paul Vados, 73, and Kenneth McDavid, 50.
The plot outlined in Monday's complaint largely mirrors the elaborate, years-long scam alleged in the federal fraud case, which stopped short of accusing the women of murder.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said the federal charges would be dropped in favor of the murder allegations, but could be refiled later.
The defendants, who have pleaded not guilty in federal court, will be arraigned after their transfer to state custody, a district attorney's spokeswoman said. They are being held without bail.
Golay's attorney, Roger Jon Diamond, said she is innocent and "very confident that we're going to win."
"She's also very pleased that the federal charges are being dismissed," Diamond said.
Rutterschmidt's attorney in the federal case, a deputy public defender, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
In the complaint, Golay and Rutterschmidt are accused of taking Vados under their wing in 1997, when they began applying for more than a dozen life insurance policies in his name, listing themselves as beneficiaries.
Rutterschmidt allegedly put Vados up in an apartment for two years, paying the rent and utilities while visiting him regularly. Two years is the period after which insurers can have difficulty challenging claims, even if the policies were obtained under false pretenses, as is alleged in the charges against the women.
The complaint accuses them of killing Vados on Nov. 8, 1999, when he was run down by a car in a Hollywood alley near La Brea Avenue. It does not, however, say who is suspected of driving the car.
In the weeks afterward, Rutterschmidt falsely claimed to be Vados' cousin and, in league with Golay, identified his body and arranged for a burial in an unmarked grave, the complaint alleges.
The women collected about $595,000 from the policies they took out on Vados, according to the complaint.
A similar series of events is alleged in McDavid's death.
Golay is accused of providing a Hollywood apartment and paying the utilities for McDavid from September 2002 to December 2004. In the meantime, she and Rutterschmidt took out 23 life insurance policies with a combined value of about $7.7 million, and Rutterschmidt obtained a rubber signature stamp in McDavid's name, the complaint alleges.
Authorities have said the stamp was used to sign insurance policies.
The complaint says that the car used to kill McDavid was a 1999 Mercury Sable station wagon, and that Golay and Rutterschmidt, using a false name, bought such a car at a local sales lot for $6,000.
Golay stored a Sable behind her apartment for 17 months, until June 21, when McDavid was hit in a Westwood alley, according to the complaint.
It says that Golay "and conspirators" ran over McDavid, and that she called the Automobile Club of Southern California late that night to tow a disabled Sable. The car was subsequently abandoned five blocks from Rutterschmidt's Hollywood apartment, the complaint states.
Golay is accused of falsely claiming to be McDavid's cousin to claim his body and have it cremated. She and Rutterschmidt collected about $2.2 million in insurance benefits, according to the complaint.
At the time of their arrests, they were seeking more payments from insurers.