All photos by AP
This year, in Los Angeles, two senior citizens, Helen Golay, 77, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 75, were convicted of murder. They were both sentenced to consecutive life terms. On two separate occasions, they had taken homeless men—Paul Vados and Kenneth McDavid—under their wings, housed, fed, and looked after them for two years, then killed them with cars, hit-and-run style. They had also taken out millions and millions of dollars in dozens of separate life-insurance policies on each man. LAPD homicide detective Dennis Kilcoyne was part of a task force that broke open the case.
Vice: You happened upon this case by accident, right? You were looking into a simple hit-and-run?
Dennis Kilcoyne: Within the Los Angeles Police Department, we have a traffic division, and they handle just that—traffic situations. So the uniformed traffic officer goes out and is investigating and writing a report on the death of Kenneth McDavid in June of ’05. And then, because it is a fatality, the traffic detectives are called out and they do a little investigation. The only thing substantial that came out of that investigation was that they obtained a time-lapse video from a couple of businesses whose cameras overlooked the alley. Anyway, it is generally thought of as a transient, homeless-type person that got hit in the alley, probably rummaging through the trash cans, and whoever hit him, you know, didn’t stop and there’s no clues, no witnesses, and basically, it’s a shelf case. Unless someone comes forward, not a lot is gonna happen with it.
But then, a week or so later, a couple of old women start making inquiries and want copies of case reports. They end up at the coroner’s office, claim the body, and say that they’re the only people in the world that care about this guy.
He [McDavid] had identification on him at the time of his death—and the coroner’s office ultimately made notification to Olga. That caused them to come in. They don’t talk to the traffic detectives at all, they just talk to the coroner’s representative to claim the body.
So it’s not like they were so concerned about what may have happened to the guy, or if there were any leads? They just wanted proof he was dead.
Exactly. So they claim the body, and in the days that follow, they return to the police station and get the traffic-accident reports—unbeknownst to the detectives, this is what the ladies need to make insurance claims. And they mention to the detectives that they have a little bit of life insurance on McDavid, and that one, Helen, is the fiancé, and the other, Olga, is the long-lost cousin, and that the guy has no other family.
A week afterward, an investigator from Mutual of New York life insurance, Ed Webster, pops up at the station and wants copies of the reports and he lets the investigators know that there’s a $500,000 life-insurance policy on McDavid, and that the old women are the beneficiaries. Over the next couple of days, this causes discussion in the traffic squad room. It was just… unusual.
What was unusual? The dollar amount on the policy?
Here’s a guy that they think is probably picking up cans or bottles in the alley, and he’s got a half-a-million-dollar life-insurance policy on him. And the insurance investigator, Webster, comes out to LA because of the amount of the claim. His company’s policy requires an in-person interview with the beneficiaries. He attempted that, but he couldn’t make contact with the women. They wouldn’t call him back.
It would have behooved them to talk to this guy though, if they wanted their money, right?
Probably. So, anyways, Webster makes his inquiries and this causes more discussion in the traffic squad room—this is weird, but weird things happen all the time in police work. Another detective overhears this, and says, “You know, I had a case like this years and years ago.” It takes a few days for him to clear out the cobwebs and find his old file from 1999.
He had a duplicate case, a guy by the name of Paul Vados, and sure enough, it’s the same two women that were making the claims for the reports and everything else. So now we’re into August of ’05, Webster of Mutual of New York calls back and says he wants to come out and meet with the detectives because once he got back to New York, the company realized that there’s a second $500,000 policy on McDavid, so now these old gals are into this company for a million dollars.
The detectives realize that this is more than a traffic thing, so they call homicide. I agreed to go and sit in on a meeting in early September of ’05 with Webster and all of the traffic detectives that were involved in the two cases and just listen in because when they first called, it sounded a little bizarre.
What’s your job with LAPD?
At the LAPD we have different stations, and each station has a detective bureau, as well as a homicide section. I work at the robbery/homicide division at the Parker Center in downtown LA. And we only handle special cases, like officers that are murdered, the OJs, the Ennis Cosbys, and the Barettas. Plus, anything that seems unusual comes to us. So that’s why this case came to my office. My partner and I ended up working directly with Webster.
In the insurance world, I could tell what you’ve done with your car insurance and tickets and what cars you’ve owned since you were 16 years old, but on life insurance, there’s no central index and there’s no sharing of information between companies. So there’s no way I could call some government entity and find out that you have three different policies and that you are a beneficiary on four other ones. There’s nothing like that. It was a gray area.
So that loophole represented an opportunity for Helen and Olga to do what they did.
Exactly. They were very schooled in this business, and they knew things that the average person would not know. For example, the two-year contestability window—the courts have decided that if life-insurance companies issue a policy on you, and they ask you all of the standard things: Do you have life-threatening diseases? Do you smoke? Are you a race car driver? No matter what you put down, the company has two years to figure out if that’s truthful and/or contest the policy. And if it’s two years and a day, well, then the courts have decided they’ve got to pay the policy. And Helen and
Olga knew that, and that was the reason that they housed these guys in an apartment, paid their bills and gave them some spending money for two years. They had quite an investment in each one of these guys. And all the while, they were looking at them, smiling at them, knowing that they’re fattening them up, just like livestock.
Helen Golay immediately after receiving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.Do you think Helen and Olga were ever really friends? I mean they set all of this up, and worked on various scams together for 20 years. It’s almost like a marriage, but in the videos of them in the interrogation room, they’re pretty bitter toward one another.
Yeah, they are. Helen is most definitely the brains of the operation. She’s worth millions of dollars. I don’t know what caused her to do stuff like this.
Do you think her millions came from illegal activities?
Absolutely. To back up a little bit, there was a man that she worked for by the name of Artie Aaron, and he was a real-estate investor, broker, just wheelin’ and dealin’. She worked for him for 15 or 16 years. And when he died in the ’80s, she ended up mysteriously owning a number of his properties that he supposedly had quick-claimed over to her. There was some civil litigation with his family members. She’s always been deceitful. So she reached a point where she owned a number of buildings within blocks of the beach in Santa Monica, and that’s a high-rent district.
What’s going to happen to that property now that she’s in jail?
She sold a number of the properties, and I suspect what her lawyer didn’t get, she’s stuffed away in other places. I had a guy from the FBI join the investigation, Sam Mayrose, and his expertise was paper trails, bank records, fraud, that type of stuff. And we brought in a guy from the California State Department of Insurance because this was their cup of tea, life insurance and bank fraud and tracking the paper trail. In homicide, we deal with blood and bullets. Anyway, between Helen and Olga, we seized around $2 million from their bank accounts when we arrested them. We froze those assets, but we weren’t able to seize any of the properties, because that becomes very intricate. If you have a hundred dollars in the bank, and you put in another hundred dollars that you obtained illegally, and then go purchase something for $120, I can’t prove the hundred dollars that you used was not the legal money. Once you commingle money, you can’t separate it out and start seizing things. The courts won’t let you. So a lot of people were upset about that—she was selling properties for millions of dollars, and she still convinced the court out here in California that she was penniless, and the taxpayers paid for her attorneys.
Sorry, where were we?
Were Helen and Olga friends?
What I learned sitting through this whole thing the last couple of years is that they weren’t friends. Helen used Olga, because Olga did the dirty work. She would find these people, she would go by and pay their rent, bring a check from Helen. Helen was always the money. The bank. But Olga would be the one to check on people and be a nuisance, just keeping tabs. And Olga wanted to live Helen’s lifestyle, and she got caught up in that, and she was always trying to get Helen to invest in properties so that she could elevate herself to Helen’s status.
Olga lived in a little apartment in Hollywood.
Yeah. And she’s so crazy, that the whole apartment, since ’75, ’77, somewhere in there, had never been painted. It still had pink countertops and the olive-green 1970s carpet and she would never let anybody in there, even though the rest of the building had all been upgraded. Meanwhile, Helen had expensive, fine furniture, and very nice things.
Early on, that’s what was unusual about these women. It’s not like they’re convicts or gang members where you put their names in the computer and you learn their life story. All we could tell is that they each had a driver’s license. Even though I took a lot of shit over it, I had one of our surveillance units follow them for a while, just finding out who these people were. Where do they go? Do they work? Who are they visiting? Do they get together? And not once over a couple of months of off-and-on surveillance did these women ever hook up together. So it wasn’t like every Saturday morning they met for breakfast. It was nothing. Never.
And then we learned that years and years earlier they were both swindlers and they would hang around the very expensive high-end hotels in Hollywood and in Beverly Hills. Olga, for example, would pack a bag and go into the hotel and go to the dressing room out at the pool, change into a bathing suit and just hang out at the pool all day like she was staying in the hotel. She and Helen came across one another doing that type of stuff, and they developed a strange relationship. They were both using one another. And they were very cautious about their relationship. But they fed off of each other, and kind of continued to do so until they got onto this [the killings] in 1997—when they started with Paul Vados, grooming him for his death.
Were they blinded by greed or psychotic or what?
I think Helen is a completely psychotic person. She is probably one of the evilest minds I have ever come across in 31 years of doing this. I’ve never seen anyone who was that calculating and evil. And Olga, she’s got an evil twist to her, but she’s not stupid—just easily manipulated.
Olga had a cafe in downtown LA a long time ago. Do you think there was ever a point in her life when she was an honest person?
Probably. She had a husband back in those days and then she chased the husband off and even though he had been gone for 15 years or more—he was Hungarian, as was she—she was always working it, stealing people’s mail and applying for credit cards. There was a lot of identity-theft stuff with Olga.
And she never got caught?
No. Never. And the husband—he’s dead—he hadn’t been around in a long time, but he was still voting, he still had a checking account, and he was still doing things, and it was just like, this is nuts!
And Helen, some of the great crime stories we’ve heard over the years, those guys have got nothing on this woman. She will calculate for years as to how she is going to kill you and what her bottom line is, and figure out like a budget and...
She seemed more concerned with the financial part of it than the execution of the actual crime, though. The Mercury Sable wagon she ran over McDavid with had to be towed when she was done. And later, there was still evidence on the undercarriage of the vehicle, connecting it to the crime. So it seems that she was hasty about the crime itself, but pragmatic about the money end of things.
Oh, yeah. When things would happen that would deviate from her calculated plan, that’s what caused her trouble. Because if she had just parked that car and walked away from it that day, we would have never caught up with her. There was no connection between her and that car. But she didn’t. She panicked, and that’s what brought her down. Same with Olga. That and the constant greed. They were up to like $8.5 million in policies on people. If they hadn’t got so completely out of hand, we never would have caught on to it. Because the insurance companies—look, the insurance industry didn’t cause this to happen, but the greed of the insurance industry created the atmosphere for it to happen. Everything is commission-based, everything is driven by sales...
Yeah. I guess it’s like if you have a half a million, or a million bucks in life insurance on a guy, you’re not just sitting around waiting to kill him and collect your money, you are paying that premium every month. Or premiums.
Exactly. There was anywhere between $40,000 to $60,000 invested in each one of these guys before they killed ’em. That’s quite a lot. And that’s where Olga came in, because they were not about to let that investment slip away from them.
Do you think they did other things that they didn’t get caught for that were maybe not on this scale? More like petty crimes that they got away with?
There reached a point where we had to consider a number of things. Hit-and-run traffic accident stuff is not tracked like murders. If I’ve got a serial killer who is killing people a certain way and he kills a couple in Los Angeles, and a couple in Dallas and a couple in wherever—there’s a communication system set up locally, at the state level, and there are national systems to track that type of activity and sooner or later, we would start connecting the dots.
If somebody drives over a homeless guy in an alley in New York City today and then a month from now the same thing happens in Los Angeles, that would never, ever be connected. We were like, we’ve gotta keep our eye on the ball here. We have the two murders, we’ve got all of this fraud stuff—and even if we couldn’t make a murder case, which we couldn’t until we did the search warrants on their homes—we’ll at least take them off the street for 10 or 15 years and that would be the end of it because of their age, and also it would have bought us some time to continue the murder investigations. But ultimately everything started to fall into place. Our job wasn’t to do their biography, it was to stop what they were doing. Then along the way we found this other old guy, Fred Downie, and that’s a pretty sad story.
Do you think Helen’s daughter, Kecia—whom Helen tried to blame for the murders of Vados and McDavid in the middle of the trial, to no avail—is completely innocent, or is she kind of shady? She’s the one who hooked up with Downie.
She’s a swindler. I don’t believe that she was in on the murders. I truly don’t believe that.
How do you think Helen pitched the idea of getting Fred Downie to move to California to Kecia?
Well, that didn’t come from Helen, that came from Kecia. What happens is Fred Downie is an elderly guy who retires up in Cape Cod. There’s another daughter of Helen’s up there who’s a chiropractor. And she had apparently, legitimately befriended old Fred Downie. And Fred doesn’t have a soul in the world except a niece, who, if she’s still around, she’s gotta be 80-something. Fred apparently has some means and he buys some medical equipment for the chiropractor daughter’s office—expensive stuff like X-ray machines. And at the time, Kecia is working in Manhattan as a model and would go up and hang out at the Cape now and again. So she ends up befriending Fred Downie and stealing him away from the other daughter.
Was the other daughter romantically involved with Downie?
No. I think Kecia probably lured him that way, but the other gal, no. But he fell for it. He’s got this young, hot woman, and the next thing you know, Kecia and her chiropractor sister aren’t on speaking terms and Fred is en route to Santa Monica, California, because he’s gonna go out where it’s warm and it’s nice and live with this young gal.
When they arrive, Fred immediately purchases a couple of properties in Santa Monica—an apartment complex and another multiple-unit place, little bungalows. And that’s where Kecia lives. So Kecia has graduated into Helen’s league and she has swindled this guy to buy these properties and put them in her name. This sends Helen into orbit. And Helen and Kecia end up getting involved in lawsuits against one another, and magically, Helen ends up with her name on the title to these properties and old Fred is living in an upstairs unit of her triplex where she lives.
Now Fred is in his upper 90s, a frail little man, and he’s out here, and no one’s looking after him, and it’s pathetic. He’s calling back to his niece, “Please, can I come home now? Send me money for a ticket. They won’t give me any money for even a bus ticket.” We talked to his neighbors—they would find him down in the alley where he’d fallen and they would help him up, and he wasn’t eating, and occasionally they would see a Meals-on-Wheels service bringing a plate to him or something. And all the while, Helen is right downstairs and she’s got her hairdo appointments and her high-end life. Basically they’ve milked this guy for every dollar that he is worth. He ended up signing over his home in Cape Cod over to Helen for a dollar. They cleaned him out completely.
How did they con him so bad? I see where he would be lonely, but how did he agree to these crazy terms?
Well, whatever they told him, he thought the world of these people. He even bought plots in the cemetery back in Massachusetts so that Helen and Kecia would be buried next to him. That’s pretty sad. Ultimately, he gets hit by a car, disoriented, in the middle of the afternoon, 20 blocks from the house. They said that he was going to the library, but there’s a library the other direction, just one block from the house. So he gets hit by a car, lingers in the hospital for a couple of weeks and then passes away. This one is legitimate, he stepped out in front of a car and the driver stopped and the whole thing. And that was the end of him.
That is a crazy coincidence. So I guess I’ve veered off. Maybe we should get back to the case itself. How did things fall into place? Whose name was on the Mercury Sable that killed Kenneth McDavid?
It was a woman named Hillary Adler. She didn’t even know Helen and Olga—her purse was stolen at a workout facility in Santa Monica some years earlier. Kecia was a member at this health spa, and we actually found the records that put Kecia and Hillary Adler in the gym at the same time. They had both signed in on the day that her purse came up missing in the locker room. And they [Helen and Olga] wound up with her driver’s license.
And they registered the Sable in her name?
The 1999 Mercury Sable station wagon driven by Helen Golay in the hit-and-run murder of Kenneth McDavid.
After the tow-truck driver hauled it away from near the scene of the crime, how long was it before you guys went and said, let’s take a look at this car?
Well, originally we didn’t know anything. We had that surveillance tape I mentioned, so we knew we were looking for a Mercury or a Ford Taurus, and when we did the search warrants and were going through Helen’s stuff, we came across some partial information about a 1999 Mercury and we were able to develop enough information to find the car.
The car had been sold by the tow yard to an unsuspecting young Hispanic family in downtown LA. The guy had fixed it up and it was a station wagon for him and his wife and kids. When we went and seized the car from them, I felt so bad about it. I mean we had every legal means to take the car. It was a murder weapon. But I had the police department purchase the car from him so he could go buy another car. I still have the car sitting in a parking lot at work. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it now. We’ll probably auction it off or something.
We didn’t even know that the car had been towed until an insurance investigator told us. There were 20 or more different insurance companies we were dealing with by this time, and one of them was AAA life insurance—the Automobile Club of Southern California. The gal working there got caught up in the stories and said, “Yeah, [Helen & Olga] have life-insurance policies on this guy.” She got curious and did some checking on her own. Then she called back and said Helen is also a Triple A roadside-service member, and lo and behold, one time that she needed service was on the night of McDavid’s murder and it was for a Mercury Sable. Sometimes when it rains it pours, and things fall into place.
Over the long run, in the scheme of things, if they had not been so greedy, if they had just had a couple of policies on each guy, they probably never would have been caught. Greed is what finally got them. In the end, when they were arrested, I don’t know if you ever saw the video [surreptitiously filmed in the interrogation room when the two women were alone, arguing], but Olga lashed out at Helen, “You got too greedy. Your greed is what got us caught.” They knew it.
So if they only had, say, $50,000 on McDavid, they would have just gotten the check, right?
Oh yeah. It never would have even come up. There never would have been an inquiry by an investigator, and they would have sent their claim form in, got a check, and lived happily ever after. That would have been it.
Why do you think, at that age, this stuff was even important to them? Like you said, Helen had money.
But like we said, Helen is psychotic. It’s the thrill of it for her. Olga, as she said in the interview room, was saving. We took like $900,000 from her bank account. Her plan was to save enough money, move to Canada to hook up with an old girlfriend, and open a business. And she was just waiting for the final payoffs. And what happened was once we came on the scene and we started contacting insurance companies, they held back their payments. So in Olga’s case, that caused a delay in her plan because she wasn’t getting the money. You would think at that point, maybe the jig is up, I’ve got to take what I’ve got and get the hell out of here. But greed got the best of them.
What do you think their mindset is now, sitting in prison? Defeated?
Olga will adjust nicely to jail. She will have her little living space or whatever she winds up with and she will have her daily routine. Helen will be scheming all of the time, trying to get something for nothing, and she will stay in touch with the outside world, because she’s still got some capital out there and she will be wheeling and dealing from the jail, just like one of the Mafia guys. But they’re both doing two life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus 50 years. So they’re done.
The first guy, Vados, they buried him for a rock-bottom price, just in a sheet in a wooden box. They cremated McDavid so that there was no evidence trail. The ashes were given to Helen. The family of McDavid would like the ashes. So we’ve been asking where they are. I suspect they went into a dumpster. At the end of the trial, when it was all over, the attorney for Helen came up to me and asked, “Would you be opposed to Helen doing her time in a prison near Los Angeles, so she could have visitation with her granddaughter?” I said, I don’t think I’d oppose that at all, but I’d be more inclined to cooperate if I learned something about the ashes. He said, “I can’t tell you, because of the attorney/client relationship, but if you were to get a call someday from an anonymous source that told you where the ashes were, don’t be surprised.” And I said, if that anonymous call comes, then I will put in a favorable word with the Department of Corrections with regard to her housing location. We left it at that. I haven’t heard anything yet.