LOS ANGELES – Undercover detectives watched the blind man climb into the suspect's car and start writing on document after document. They worried he was signing his life away.
As 74-year-old Josif Gabor would later tell it, he was walking to the bank when a woman he had met briefly before offered to drive him and translate some banking documents into his native Hungarian.
Once inside the car, Gabor thought the woman was just trying to be helpful when she asked: Could she buy him some life insurance?
The woman, 72-year-old Olga Rutterschmidt, is now accused with a friend in a macabre scheme to befriend vulnerable men, insure their lives for millions of dollars and then cash in after they died in mysterious back alley hit-and-runs.
The women have been charged with insurance fraud in two cases involving transient men — and police are investigating whether they played a role in those two deaths and duped a half-dozen other men who are still alive.
In an interview translated by his neighbor, Gabor said he has been afraid to leave his apartment since last Friday, when Rutterschmidt and 75-year-old Helen Golay were arrested and a police detective came to his door.
"She told me I was the next victim," said Gabor, a retired chiropractor who moved to the U.S. in 1980.
The two women already face federal charges that they posed as relatives and even fiancees to buy life insurance and collect $2.2 million in payouts from 19 policies covering the two hit-and-run victims — Paul Vados, killed in 1999, and Kenneth E. McDavid, whose body was found last June.
Police did not link the two cases until last fall, when the detective investigating Vados' death overheard a colleague describing a similarly improbable scenario.
Police have since made some troubling connections, including that Golay and Rutterschmidt had become eligible for the life insurance money shortly before the two men were killed.
Tipped off by investigators about potential fraud, several insurance companies refused to make payments to Rutterschmidt and Golay. The women fought back this spring, demanding payment in a flurry of lawsuits.
Rutterschmidt and Golay remain jailed without bail. Their lawyers did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday and Thursday. Golay's daughter, Kecia Golay, has said her mother did nothing wrong.
A quiet man who feels his way around his sunny apartment with his hands, Gabor said he was unwittingly drawn in when he happened across Rutterschmidt on that cool day last November.
They had been introduced in 1988 by a mutual friend who worked at a swap meet, and would occasionally exchange greetings but were not close friends, Gabor said. The longest conversation they had was when undercover officers who had been tailing Rutterschmidt watched.
Gabor didn't feel anything was amiss — after all, he regularly relies on strangers for help and at least he knew Rutterschmidt. In the car, she helped him fill out what he believed were bank forms, showing him where to sign, he said.
At the bank, undercover detectives saw the two shuffle through papers and then approach a teller. Later they saw Rutterschmidt tear up several papers and, after going through the trash, found envelopes from a life insurance provider and a bank with Gabor's name on them.
According to an affidavit, Gabor went home and police followed Rutterschmidt to a copy shop, where she logged onto the Internet. Unknowingly, she struck up a conversation with one of the undercover officers, asking for computer help — she was trying to open a platinum credit card under someone else's name.
By that point, police knew quite a bit about Rutterschmidt and Golay.
Detectives first suspected foul play in 1999, when Golay and Rutterschmidt filed a missing person's report for Vados and later claimed his body, saying they were the Hungarian native's only living relatives.
Police soon learned that Vados actually had two children living in the U.S. — a daughter in Northern California and a son serving time in a Washington jail, according to a longtime boyfriend of Vados' daughter.
When homicide detectives interviewed Stella Vados and her boyfriend Randy Hansen at their Grass Valley home in 2000, questions focused on the two women, whom Hansen said were unknown to the family. He was surprised when police said that Vados' Social Security checks had been sent to a building in Santa Monica owned by Golay.
Hansen said the family didn't hear from police again for nearly six years, when an investigation into McDavid's death led detectives back to their home.
When they came again, something struck Hansen: Golay had made a call to a towing service just blocks from where McDavid's body was found around the time he was killed.
"It makes you start thinking about things," Hansen said.