One day late last summer, Los Angeles police officers Lee Willmon and Nelson Hernandez were discussing unsolved hit-and-run accidents when they noticed an unusual similarity in the cases of two homeless men run down in separate alleyways, six years apart. The same pair of elderly women identified both bodies. "I kind of got the shivers," Willmon recalls. Subsequent investigations revealed that the women—Helen Golay, 75, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 72—had also taken out 19 insurance policies on the men, sometimes falsely claiming to be relatives, and collected at least $2.2 million. What's more, says Lt. Paul Vernon, "they befriended these men, then put them up in hotels for two years"—two years being the time required to make life insurance claims difficult to contest. And who may have been behind the wheel when the lucrative crashes took place? "Anyone would think that they would leave the actual dirty work to someone else," Det. Dennis Kilcoyne told the Los Angeles Times. "We're not so sure about that anymore."
Police are now looking into murder charges against Golay and Rutterschmidt, arrested May 18 on federal mail-fraud counts based on the insurance policies they purchased for Kenneth McDavid, 50, run down near Wilshire Blvd. in June 2005, and Paul Vados, 73, struck in Hollywood in November 1999. (The women have not yet entered pleas.) Authorities said they made the arrests in part to protect other potential victims they believe were being set up by the pair, including a third man they observed signing documents for Rutterschmidt. And, says Vernon, "we're fairly certain that other men were targeted."
Police say the suspects appear to have been friends for years. Golay, who owns property in Santa Monica and drives a Mercedes SUV, has a real estate background; Rutterschmidt, who lives in a modest Hollywood apartment, once owned a coffee shop. They are, says Hernandez, "two old, cold-blooded ladies that are actually the brains of this operation."
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