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2 women convicted in homeless men's slayings

One is guilty of all charges, the other of conspiracy -- so far.

April 17, 2008|Victoria Kim and Paul Pringle | Times Staff Writers

In a case that drew worldwide attention, a jury has convicted a 77-year-old woman of murder and her 75-year-old co-defendant of conspiracy to commit murder in a chilling slow-motion plot to kill two homeless men for $2.8 million in life insurance.

Jurors are still considering two murder charges and a second conspiracy count against the younger woman, Olga Rutterschmidt.

She and Helen Golay, who was convicted of all four counts Wednesday, were accused of plucking Kenneth McDavid and Paul Vados off the streets, putting them up in apartments for two years and then having them run over in dark alleys. Two years is the period after which most insurance policies cannot be contested.

Golay faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. She buried her head in her hands after the jury's decision was read.

Rutterschmidt could be sentenced to 25 years to life on the conspiracy conviction. As the verdict was returned, she put her chin on her fist and looked blankly around the small, softly lighted courtroom.

The jury, which received the case late Monday, will continue deliberating the remaining counts against Rutterschmidt today.

Golay's attorney, Roger Jon Diamond, indicated that she would appeal. "The ladies did not do very well today," he said.

Diamond said his case was damaged when Rutterschmidt's lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Michael Sklar, blamed Golay for McDavid's murder. Sklar declined to comment on the verdicts.

In prepared statements, relatives of the victims praised Wednesday's outcome. "Their plots were pure evil," Stella Vados, the murdered man's daughter, said of Golay and Rutterschmidt. "We have no pity for these women."

The prosecutors, Deputy Dist. Attys. Truc Do and Robert Grace, said they would withhold comment until the jury completed its deliberations. Los Angeles Police Det. Dennis Kilcoyne, the lead investigator in the case, said: "So far, so good."

At the jury's request, Superior Court Judge David S. Wesley directed the attorneys to reargue the evidence today for one of the unresolved counts against Rutterschmidt, the conspiracy to murder Vados in 1999.

From the start, the defendants' advanced ages kept the case in the headlines, drawing comparisons to the play and film "Arsenic and Old Lace." The killings came to be known as the Black Widow murders.

Experts said there was no point in seeking the death penalty because the women would probably die in prison during the long appeal process. A plea bargain was also out; any prison term would be tantamount to a life sentence.

After two years in custody, the defendants appeared gray and frail during the trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court downtown.

Prosecutors said Golay, a former Santa Monica real estate agent, and the Hungarian-born Rutterschmidt, a longtime Hollywood resident who once owned a coffee shop with her husband, targeted the most vulnerable people in society because their deaths would not raise a stir.

The women had known each other for at least 20 years before their arrests, police and others say. They allegedly were partners in a number of bogus lawsuits before embarking on the murder scheme, authorities say.

A Texas native known for her elaborate hairstyles and youthful dress, Golay fronted the money for the cold-blooded enterprise and is believed to have pocketed most of the insurance proceeds, which infuriated Rutterschmidt, according to acquaintances and investigators.

No witnesses to either killing came forward and details about the deaths were scant, leaving prosecutors to painstakingly build a case on fragmentary testimony and a long paper trail of insurance documents and rent checks.

The death of Vados, 73, was particularly mysterious. The crime scene was washed clean in a downpour, and traffic investigators set the killing aside as an unsolved hit-and-run.

The jury appeared to be struggling with Rutterschmidt's alleged role in the Vados killing. On Wednesday, they asked to have read back testimony by an apartment manager that she had cried over his death.

Sklar had maintained that she and the homeless man were friends, but prosecutors said Rutterschmidt lured Vados into the women's web and helped Golay house and monitor him while the insurance policies turned incontestable.

The evidence in McDavid's murder was much more direct. Three surveillance cameras caught a silver station wagon turning into a Westwood alley the night that McDavid was found dead there. As in the Vados' killing, McDavid had been crushed to death, his body twisted, and police said the scene was free of the skid marks and broken glass typically left by a hit-and-run.

Someone using Golay's auto club membership called for the station wagon to be towed around the time that McDavid was killed, according to testimony. After the women came under suspicion, authorities tracked down the vehicle and found McDavid's DNA on the undercarriage.

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