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The State

Portrait Emerges of a Baffling Pair

Two women, indicted in an insurance fraud case involving fatal hit-runs, alienated many with their aggressive ways and penchant for lawsuits.

May 31, 2006|Paul Pringle and Hemmy So | Times Staff Writers

In early April, the two women dropped by a Sunday lunch for the homeless at Hollywood Presbyterian Church.

They fit the picture of the charity-minded, a pair of kind souls happy to spend the afternoon helping the less fortunate.

They chatted with church volunteers and found themselves being introduced to Pastor Charles Suhayda.

"They seemed like nice ladies," he recalled. "They were like grandmothers."

The memory of the encounter now chills him.

The women, Olga Rutterschmidt and Helen Golay, are the septuagenarian odd couple charged in an alleged life insurance scam involving the hit-and-run deaths of two homeless men.

Rutterschmidt is a feisty music lover from Hungary. She has an expired electrolysis license and little visible means of support but hinted to her Hollywood neighbors that she knew of ways to make easy money.

Golay is an outwardly prosperous Santa Monica landlord. Her penchants are for pantsuits and big bouffants, as well as for siccing lawyers on those who cross her, including her own daughter.

And although their backgrounds could scarcely be more different, they have shared a tendency over the years to alienate, sue and ultimately baffle the people around them, according to court records and interviews.

The women filed nearly 40 lawsuits between them over the last two decades, usually demanding money for alleged wrongs.

Golay sought damages from a woman she claimed stole leather skirts from her. She also sued a health club, saying she was hurt on an exercise machine.

Rutterschmidt sued the Ralphs supermarket chain, contending that stacked boxes fell on her, and she later took a Hollywood coffee shop to court, claiming that a fellow diner -- a woman trained as a minister -- kicked her and zapped her with a stun gun.

On Tuesday a federal grand jury indicted Golay, 75, and Rutterschmidt, 72, on 10 counts of fraud in connection with more than $2 million in life insurance policies that they took out on Paul Vados and Kenneth McDavid, who were struck and killed by cars in 1999 and 2005.

Authorities say the women, who were arrested May 18, are also under investigation in the deaths.

"What a piece of work," said Kevin Rea, a neighbor who has known Rutterschmidt three years. "She's alternatively reclusive and then really in your face. She has this bombastic manner about her, this operatic presence."

Rea and others who live in the slightly worn apartment building off Hollywood Boulevard where Rutterschmidt has resided since the 1970s said she often expressed disdain for conventional work, while suggesting that quick riches could be found.

"She kind of intimated that there were avenues to extra money," said Rea, a probation officer.

State records show that Rutterschmidt held a license to perform electrolysis from 1975 to 1997, although neighbors said she gave no indication of having worked in the hair removal field.

Dwight Emile, another resident of the Sycamore Avenue building, said he has known Rutterschmidt casually about 20 years but never learned what she did for a living, if anything.

Emile, a composer, said she would visit his apartment to play his keyboard and borrow his CDs.

"She'd say, 'You want to make a little extra money?' I'd say, 'No.' "

He said he did not ask her what she had in mind.

At the building, Emile said, Rutterschmidt acted as "the enforcer" -- scolding residents for playing their stereos too loud or talking in the hallways late at night.

"She was aggressive," he said.

Across town, Yonni Afman, who rented a Santa Monica apartment from Golay for four years, described his landlady in similar terms. He said she seemed to harbor an unreasoning contempt for her tenants.

She called the police on them over minor parking and noise complaints, and refused to discuss any problems they had with their apartments, he said.

"She would yell at you, 'You can call my lawyer,' " Afman said.

Golay sheltered an apparently homeless woman in an attic room on the property for a number of weeks, then abruptly kicked her out, he said.

"She would lock herself up and cry all day in that little room," Afman said of the woman.

Rutterschmidt and Golay were not related to Vados and McDavid, but allegedly put the homeless men up in apartments and kept track of them for two years. That is the period after which the insurances policies generally could not be voided for misrepresentations, according to court documents.

The women are accused of collecting the insurance money after claiming to be the men's aunts, cousins, business partners or, in Golay's case, a fiancee. They were arrested after being spotted in the company of other indigent men, authorities say.

Much about Rutterschmidt and Golay is still unknown, including precisely when and where they met. One person familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they bumped into each other more than 20 years ago in the Los Angeles area.

Their lawyers and relatives either could not be reached or did not return phone calls.

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