Childhood & Early Life
Martha was born Martha Jule Seabrook, on May 6, 1920, in Milton, Florida, United States. She was the youngest child of William Seabrook. William was a weak man who had left his family when Martha was 10. She was thus raised by her domineering mother.
It is believed that due to a glandular issue, Martha was overweight and physically unattractive. She hit puberty quite early and also developed sexual desires when she was 9 years old. Martha was often teased and bullied in school.
She later claimed in her trial that she had been sexually assaulted by her brother. She also said that when she had told her mother about the incident, her mother had admonished her and beaten her, blaming it all on Martha.
She also claimed that her mother had started to follow her around after that incident, chasing away any boy who showed the least bit of interest in Martha. As a result, Martha had run away from home in her teenage years.
After completing school, she studied nursing and graduated in 1942. However, she found it difficult to get a job since she was overweight.
She thus became an undertaker's assistant, which required her to prepare female bodies for burial. Following this, she quit the job and shifted to California.
In California, she managed to get a job as a nurse at an army hospital. It is believed, she became sexually promiscuous there, even to the extent of having casual sex with random men she met at bus stops. This eventually resulted in an unwanted pregnancy.
She asked the father of the child to marry her, but it is believed that he refused and then tried to kill himself. She then returned to Florida and told people that the father of her child was a serviceman whom she had married.
She also bought a wedding ring and showed it off proudly. She later claimed he had been killed in action in the Pacific Campaign. People felt sorry for her, and her plight was published in the local newspaper.
Following this, Martha got a job at a Pensacola hospital, where she also gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Willa Dean (1944). However, she was sacked on May 31, 1944, for her promiscuous behavior.
Soon after the birth of her daughter, she became pregnant again, this time by a Pensacola-based bus driver named Alfred Beck. They got married on December 13 but divorced 6 months later, following which she had a son.
She was unemployed and was singlehandedly raising her two children. Soon, she started reading romance novels and watching romantic films such as ‘Confidential Agent’ and ‘Gaslight’ (featuring her favorite actor, Charles Boyer).
On February 15, 1946, she joined the ‘Pensacola Hospital for Children.’ She was promoted to the post of director there. She then got acquainted with Raymond Fernandez in 1947, through an ad that she had placed in the ‘Dinene’s Family Club for Lonely Hearts.’
Raymond had apparently responded to the ad. It is also believed by some that an acquaintance of hers had played a prank by advertising in the New York lonely hearts club in her name.
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Raymond visited Martha and stayed with her for a short time. However, he did not reveal the fact that he had a wife and four children in Spain.
During this time, she told everyone that they were gearing up for their marriage. Raymond then returned to New York City, while she got busy with the wedding preparations in Milton, Florida.
Soon, she was fired from her job. Following this, she went to New York to be with Raymond. Apparently, before that, on January 25, 1948, she had abandoned her children at a ‘Salvation Army.’ Willa, her daughter, was then adopted, and her name was changed to “Carmen.”
Martha initially posed as Raymond’s sister, for the sake of his reputation. Raymond was a seasoned criminal who had dated other women through lonely hearts ads, looting the bank account of one and killing another.
However, it is believed that Martha and Raymond had fallen in love with each other. He had then revealed his original idea of killing women to Martha. She liked his plans and joined him in the murders.
In the following 2 years, Raymond and Martha trapped older women and stole from them. It is reported that they would often convince women that they needed accommodation and then move into their homes.
Sometimes Martha would move in and convince the women that Raymond was her brother who would stay with her for a few days Raymond would then make the women fall for him but mostly avoided getting intimate with them.
Sometimes, when he got involved in sexual relationships with these women (before killing them or looting them), Martha would be violently angry. By 1949, they had committed three murders, one of whom they had killed with an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.
A woman named Janet Fay, aged 66, got engaged to Raymond and went to stay with him at his Long Island apartment. When Martha found them in bed together, she smashed Fay's head with a hammer. Raymond then strangled Fay.
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They had started their killing spree in New York but eventually ended up in Michigan. They went to Byron Center Road in Wyoming Township in Michigan, a suburb of Grand Rapids. There, they stayed with a woman named Delphine Downing, a mother. They eventually ended up killing both Delphine and her 2-year-old child.
Apparently, Delphine had become suspicious of the “brother and sister” duo, and although she allowed them to stay in her home, she refused to marry Raymond immediately or to allow him access to her money.
Martha started to get jealous of this lady (who was also younger than Raymond). It is said that on February 28, 1949, Delphine had grown agitated. Raymond gave her sleeping pills. Her daughter started to cry, and this angered Martha. Martha then choked the child, but she was still alive.
Raymond shot Delphine while she was unconscious. The couple then stayed for a few days in Delphine’s house. Soon, Martha drowned the child in a basin of water.
They then buried the bodies in the basement of the house. The neighbors suspected something was wrong and reported Delphine’s disappearance to the police. On March 1, 1949, Martha and Raymond were arrested.
Though they were caught, Michigan had no death penalty back then. Thus, they were extradited to New York to be tried for murder.
The Trial & Executions
Both were found guilty of first-degree murder, in a trial that had become the talk of the town. Raymond confessed to his crimes fast. The duo had initially denied committing the 17 murders that they were accused of, and Raymond even denied his confession later, saying he had done it to protect Martha.
Their trial was covered extensively by the media and was full of detailed accounts of sexual perversity. They were eventually convicted of Janet Fay's murder, which was the sole murder for which they were tried. They were then sentenced to death. On March 8, 1951, they were executed at Sing Sing prison in the electric chair, by Joseph Francel.
Martha's last breakfast menu had ham, eggs, and coffee. Her last meal consisted of fried chicken, French fries, and lettuce and tomato salad.
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Her last statement was: "What does it matter who is to blame? My story is a love story...but only those tortured with love, can understand what I mean.” Her remains were sent to her hometown, where she remains buried in an unnamed grave.
At the time of her death, she was survived by her mother; her former husband, Alfred Beck; her children, Carmen (who was 7) and Anthony (who was 6); her brother; and her three sisters.
Some of Their Victims
On November 8, 1947, Raymond had poisoned Jane Lucilla Wilson Thompson in La Línea de la Concepción, Spain.
On February 28, 1948, they tried to kill Esther Henne, in Fairfax, Virgina, but she managed to escape.
On August 18 the same year, they poisoned Myrtle Young in Chicago, Illinois.
On January 3, 1949, they killed Janet Fay, by striking her with a hammer and strangling her. They then buried her in cement.
On February 28 that year, they killed Delphine Downing by poisoning, in Michigan.
On March 1 that year, they killed Rainelle Downing, Delphine’s 2-year-old daughter, by drowning her in a basin.