LOS ANGELES – Two women took out millions of dollars in life insurance on two homeless men who later died in mysterious hit-and-run crashes, and investigators want to know whether the women were behind the wheel.
Helen Golay, 75, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 72, were arrested and jailed Thursday on fraud charges.
Police said the women alternately claimed to be a fiancee, close relative or business partner of the two men to secure life insurance policies worth more than $4 million. They ultimately collected $2.2 million and sued other companies that would not pay up.
Lt. Paul Vernon said authorities had the women under surveillance since last fall and arrested them this week for fear more homeless people were in danger.
"We knew they were actively out there having contact with other people," he said Friday. "We felt we had an obligation to take action to keep something worse from happening."
Kenneth McDavid, 50, was run down in June, and Paul Vados, 73, was struck and killed in 1999. Both deaths occurred shortly after the two-year period the women had to wait to become eligible to collect the insurance money.
Detective Dennis Kilcoyne said authorities are not sure who was behind the wheel when the men were killed and have not ruled out the elderly women.
"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," Kilcoyne said. "We're not so sure about that anymore."
Golay's daughter told the Los Angeles Times that her mother was innocent. "That's just not what is going on," Kecia Gola said.
In court papers, the FBI said the women befriended McDavid and Vados and provided them with apartments in exchange for their signatures on life insurance policies. The women then duplicated Vados' and McDavid's signatures on rubber stamps and used them to secure more than a dozen other policies, the FBI said.
"I've seen all kinds of clever and creative ways that people in the past have tried to defraud insurance companies, but I've never seen anything like this," said Kevin Smith, an attorney for American Life Insurance Co. of New York, which was sued by Golay.
McDavid's body was found in an alley. Prosecutors said that the same day, Golay telephoned a towing service from a place near the alley. Vados was found dead in an alley as well, and also appeared to have been run over. Golay and Rutterschmidt claimed his body.
In court papers, authorities said that while the women were under surveillance, they were seen meeting with "elderly, frail-looking men" and directing them to sign documents.