Police are investigating two women in their 70s who they believe hatched a scheme to offer two homeless men shelter, then collect more than $2 million in insurance policies after they were killed in hit-and-run crashes.
Police also believe the women may have committed the accidents and were befriending other men to set up more insurance policies.
“Anyone would think that even though they’re making financial gains for this, that they would leave the actual dirty work to someone else or hire someone,” police Detective Dennis Kilcoyne said. “We’re not so sure about that anymore. ... This is pretty evil.”
Helen Golay, 75, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 72, were arrested Thursday for investigation of insurance fraud. They allegedly paid for the men to stay in apartments for as long as two years, police said. In exchange, police say, they obtained the victims’ signatures and opened more than a dozen life insurance policies that named the women as beneficiaries.
In the November 1999 and June 2005 hit-and-runs, both victims were struck in alleys in the early morning hours and no witnesses were found, police said. In both cases, Golay and Rutterschmidt came forward claiming to be relatives or fiancees of the men.
‘Preying and profiting’
“These women were preying and profiting from the most vulnerable victims of our society,” said Michael Ingram, a bureau chief with the state Department of Insurance.
Golay and Rutterschmidt, described by authorities as longtime friends, appeared in federal court and were ordered held without bail. They were indicted on eight counts of mail fraud for making false insurance claims, said assistant U.S. attorney Jason Gonzalez. They face up to 160 years in prison if convicted of all counts, he said.
It was not immediately clear whether the women had defense attorneys. No one answered the door at Rutterschmidt’s apartment in Hollywood.
The Los Angeles Times said neigbors described her as tempermental. “If she was a sweet old lady, I'd say she was a sweet old lady,” said neighbor Glenn Spinola. “But what can you do?”
Golay’s daughter, Kecia Golay, strongly denied the accusations when interviewed by the Times.
“That’s just not what’s going on,” she told the newspaper. “I’m too sad to talk right now. ... We have a regular life.”
The Times said a neighbor described Golay as a friendly person who drove around in a Mercedes SUV with dealer plates and put her Santa Monica home on the market 18 months ago for $1.5 million.
“I can't believe she did anything,” said Cristyne Lawson. “She seems perfectly harmless.”
The women have not been charged in the men’s deaths, but Kilcoyne said authorities are “focusing our direction directly at Helen and Olga for the murder aspect of the investigation.”
Police traffic investigators discovered the alleged scam when they were looking into a fatal hit-and-run accident last fall. One investigator mentioned the case of two women who had taken out large life insurance policies on 50-year-old Kenneth McDavid when another recalled working on a similar case in 1999, in which 73-year-old Paul Vados was killed.
When they compared notes, they found the beneficiaries in both cases were Golay and Rutterschmidt, and the victims were homeless men, police said. Investigators say the women filed $3.8 million in claims, and around $2.4 million was paid out before authorities contacted the insurance companies.
The Times said police placed the women under surveillance a few weeks ago but decided to arrest them Thursday after noticing the pair had met with several older men and had them sign documents.