Meet Helen and Olga, two old ladies who seem like your ordinary grandmas. The thing is these two women are far from ordinary. Neither of them was friendly, but they managed to find something to bond over after swapping painful childhood stories. Both were widows, and both wanted fast cash.
And both had nothing to lose. This unlikely friendship turned into a deadly force against men, particularly homeless men with valuable life insurance policies. It was only after their arrests that we got to see how these two “Black Widows” really operated. From petty crimes to cold-blooded murder, Helen and Olga became the most talked-about criminals in America.
Teased Hair and a Zsa Zsa Gabor Accent
Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt first crossed paths by chance in the 1980s in a spa in LA. They were in their 50s when they started frequenting Westside gyms, like the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hollywood Roosevelt. Hungarian-born Olga had been living in Hollywood since the ‘70s, whereas as Texas-born Helen was twice divorced and on the prowl.
The two were real characters who easily attracted strangers – Helen with her short skirts and teased hair, Olga with her Zsa Zsa Gabor accent. But they weren’t interested in any random stranger; they wanted the ones who were careless with their money. You see, Helen and Olga were on a mission.
The Crimes Were Petty at First
It was later discovered that the women would pretend to be members of these fancy LA gyms. They would slip into the bathroom to change into their swimsuits and lounge by the pool, trolling for their next target. But Helen and Olga didn’t make the news, get consecutive life sentences, and become the subjects of a podcast for doing petty crimes.
All mastermind plots take time and careful planning. This deadly duo didn’t hit the ground running; they started out small and worked their way up. Their initial joint venture was stealing purses and wallets from the spas they were “members” of.
Credit Card Schemes and Planned Heart Attacks
The purses and wallets eventually turned into transfers, estates, and insurance policies. Olga once bragged to a longtime confidant about the way she would “pyramid” stolen credit cards, using one card to pay the balance on another, and thus “stiff” the issuers.
Helen’s hairdresser remembers a time when Helen told her about how a woman could score a payout by marrying an older man, issuing an insurance policy on his life and then secretly dosing him daily with Viagra he suffered a fatal heart attack. Helen actually said the words “I am evil” to this hairdresser who chose to remain anonymous. “You have no idea how evil I am,” she said.
The Plot Unravels
Everything started to unravel for Helen and Olga when, in 2005, a homeless man named Kenneth McDavid was found dead in an alleyway behind a Westwood Bristol Farms. The 50-year-old reportedly died of “crush injuries.” In other words, he was a human version of a “total loss.”
The toxicology exam found prescription sedatives in his system, and he was deemed a victim of a hit-and-run. McDavid had an ID in his pocket, which led authorities to a building in Hollywood. The apartment complex’s manager said McDavid lived there for a few years but had recently moved out.
It All Went According to Plan
More intriguing was what the manager said next. She told investigators that the man’s rent was paid by a woman from Santa Monica named Helen Golay — the same name on his lease. She was, of course, notified of his death.
Helen, then 74, told detectives that she was McDavid’s cousin and only next of kin. She did her dues: she identified his body at the morgue and paid for his cremation. She also got exactly what she wanted: his life insurance check. For the LAPD, the case remained unsolved for months.
Something’s Fishy Here…
Things changed when a man named Ed Webster showed up to get a copy of the incident report. He was an investigator for Mutual of New York, the company that issued McDavid’s $500,000 life insurance policy.
Webster had been trying to reach the “beneficiaries,” Helen and Olga, but neither had returned his calls. Things got fishy when another insurance policy case opened up not long after. This one, also worth $500,000, also had the same two women as the official and sole beneficiaries. Another red flag: both deceased males were homeless.
Could It Be? These Old Ladies?
Another red flag waved when Webster noticed that, despite Helen insisting that she was McDavid’s cousin, the policies had no mention of their familial relation. The forms only indicated that Helen and Olga were investors in McDavid’s screenwriting career (it’s Hollywood, after all).
Webster took his suspicions to veteran detective Dennis Kilcoyne, who was confused at first. The suspects – a pair of 70-something ladies – didn’t seem like the kind of criminals who could be capable of masterminding a serial-killing insurance policy plot. Then Kilcoyne’s colleague told him something…
The Plot Thickens
Kilcoyne’s colleague recalled working a similar case, also in Hollywood, back in 1999. The victim was a man named Paul Vados, and the similarities were hard to ignore. Vados was outwardly homeless, killed in a hit-and-run, left in an alley, and loaded with life insurance policies.
Vados was a 73-year-old Hungarian immigrant, as well as a widower and an alcoholic who lived alone in Koreatown. The flags couldn’t have been redder when the detectives pulled the man’s case file to confirm whether Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt were indeed Vados’ next of kin. They were also the ones to report him missing.
Who Are These Black Widows?
In May 2006, Helen and Olga were finally arrested on charges of felony mail fraud and possible murder. Before long, they were being called “Black Widows” in The Los Angeles Times. Everyone who read the news was baffled. How could it be?
How could two seemingly nice elderly women be so cold-blooded and greedy? Well, every story has a back story. And the thing about Helen and Olga is that they each had their own reasons for preying upon vulnerable men.
The Typical Annoying Client
Born Olga Papp, she left Budapest in her early twenties, during Hungary’s 1956 anti-Communist revolution. Olga ended up hiring a Hungarian lawyer, George Brownfield, for her trial. Apparently, Olga was the typical annoying client who kept showing up every few years with yet another personal injury claim from a car accident or a fall.
Olga tended to spawn petty lawsuits. Her apartment building’s maintenance guy once asked her what she did for a living. She replied by telling him that she sued people.
The Time She Sued Over a Muffin
One of her most ridiculous lawsuits was the one where she sued a coffee shop in the La Brea neighborhood. She claimed to have suffered severe emotional damage when the muffin she bought was “inedible.” A fellow customer then escorted her out when she started to make a scene.
She sued both the customer and the coffee shop but was later forced to drop the suit when the handyman in her building offered a scathing testimony. When she walked into Brownfield’s office in 2000, however, she had a very different story to tell. She needed his help badly.
His Token of Appreciation
She told the lawyer that her “cousin,” Paul Vados, was run over in an alleyway. Vados looked like a stereotypical homeless guy, weighing 130 pounds and missing most of his teeth. The record stated that he was a “retired electrical technician” who was living on Social Security with a measly pension. Olga’s story was that she would check up on him, drive him to AA meetings, and even introduced him to a woman.
That other woman was Helen Golay, “a friend she’d met at the gym.” As the story goes, Vados was going to marry Helen, and to “repay them for their kindnesses,” he named them as co-beneficiaries on his insurance policy (issued by Monumental Life).
With Vados now dead, they were waiting for their payout – a sum of $200,000. But she was sitting in Brownfield’s office for a reason, and that was because it was a potential homicide case, and she and Helen had yet to be ruled out as suspects.
Now, both women are intriguing, but there’s something about Olga that stands out. Maybe it’s the accent; maybe it’s her no bulls*** attitude. Olga is a grandiose liar, one not to be trusted. The Vados case was eventually settled, and each of the women collected $60,000. Olga, obviously, haggled with her lawyer over her share.
7 Years, 20 Policies, $3 Million
Over a span of seven years, Olga and Helen took out 20 life insurance policies on both Vados and McDavid, “earning” $3 million in claims. Olga even made rubber stamps of the men’s signatures to make the forging process that much easier.
The savvy stealing seniors would shop around for lower-cost insurance policies – ones where the paperwork could be handled over the phone or by mail alone. Premium payments were sometimes handed out via electronic withdrawals from the men’s checking accounts. There was one stipulation among all the policies, though…
They Were a Team, for the Most Part
The women had to wait 24 months for the coverage to be virtually indisputable. In other words, those two-year deadlines were expiration dates on the men’s lives. Helen and Olga were a team, but the two didn’t share all their activities with each other.
They took out 13 policies on McDavid, but Helen was the sole beneficiary on “only” eight. There were instances when they tried to remove each other from the policies. As for the insurance companies, they were none the wiser. “You made a wise decision in applying for this insurance,” Guarantee Reserve Life wrote to Vados in 1999, that was sent to Helen’s address.
Helen and Her Deli
It wasn’t hard to spot the ladies when Kilcoyne sent undercover detectives to follow them in late 2005. Helen was seen in her pencil skirts, black pantyhose, heels and bouffant hairstyle. She drove a Mercedes SUV and spent a little too much time at Izzy’s, a Santa Monica deli.
She practically lived there as her favorite pleather booth in the corner served as her bookkeeping office. Helen owned various properties as well as land in Playa del Rey. It was in the ‘80s that Helen launched a real estate career, which is when she started suing people. Lots of them.
The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far
Helen had three adult kids but only kept in touch with her youngest daughter, Kecia. Helen actually sued her own daughter once – Kecia and her boyfriend, Steve Taracevicz – for assault. Steve claimed that Helen threatened to kill him. Helen, in response, sued him and her daughter, alleging they assaulted her.
The couple then declared that Helen had been exhibiting “30 years of psychopathic behavior.” The two broke up, after which Kecia was convicted of stalking him. Kecia was a petty thief of sorts and was arrested numerous times.
Money, Money, Money, Moneeyyyy
Still, Kecia showed up on her mother’s own insurance policies as a contingent beneficiary. Helen would tell her daughter that it was important to find the “right” man, meaning older ones with money. One of Kecia’s boyfriends, who chose to be named only as SG, provided a little anecdote.
He said the Golays acted and dressed like they were rich, but Helen’s “skin-tight” pants were “off-putting.” SG recalled a time when Helen knocked on his mother’s door to give her what can only be understood as a warning…
She Wasn’t the Subtlest of Women
“My name is Helen Golay. Your son is a nice boy, but he is not what I had in mind for Kecia. I’m looking for someone older, wealthier and more established.” Clearly, Helen wasn’t one for subtlety. SG’s mom never told him about it, and a month later, Helen showed up again.
This time, she said, “Didn’t you understand me? Your son is not what I had in mind for Kecia.” According to SG, he and Kecia broke up for other reasons. But let’s face it…
Olga and Her Monologues
Meanwhile, across town, Olga was living a one-bedroom apartment near Franklin. She was the kind of woman who spoke mostly in monologues. That, along with her Hungarian accent, tended to turn people off.
But the aging criminal kept remarkably fit. She also stole her neighbors’ mail and lived on subsidized rent ($200 a month) because she claimed a mental disability. She even had a backstory for that disability, too. Whether it’s actually true is up for debate. Nevertheless, the story Olga liked to tell people was…
Woe Is Her
In the winter of 1944, when Russia and their allies were attacking Budapest, a bomb hit her family’s building, burying 11-year-old Olga in the rubble. She was a gifted pianist up until then, but the explosion permanently disfigured one of her hands.
She received electroconvulsive treatments and claimed to have suffered brain trauma. Her personal injury lawsuit files saw the phrase “severe shock” used repeatedly. But her “woe is me” stories wouldn’t hold up for too long. The system eventually caught up with her.
A “Dog and Pony Show”
It took months to collect enough evidence to charge Helen and Olga with felony mail fraud. What was left to determine was whether or not the women killed Vados and McDavid. Getting the two in custody took a task force of 100 law enforcement officials.
They split into two teams: one in Santa Monica and the other in Hollywood. The goal was to arrest them at the same moment. Helen and Olga had no idea. “I wanted it to be a major dog and pony show, to scare the sh*t out of these women,” Kilcoyne shared.
Attention All Homeless Boozers
Despite their obvious senior citizen status, Kilcoyne likes to refer to them as “the girls.” Kilcoyne had his ideas about how the girls worked. According to him, they used the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood as a recruiting station of sorts for homeless, alcoholic men.
Since Vados and McDavid were dead, Kilcoyne suspected the girls were looking for new “marks.” And so, the undercover cops found and photographed Olga with a rail-thin man, Josef Gabor, who lived by himself above the Hungarian Reformed Church.
How “The Girls” Worked
She was seen talking to Gabor and literally pointing at forms before driving him to a Bank of America. Kilcoyne explained how the girls worked: “They would go open a checking account. And then, ‘Hey, by opening a checking account, you get a free thousand-dollar policy.’”
A week or two later, the bank sends a letter, saying they increased the policy, you know, “for being such a great customer.” 26 cents a week for a $10,000 policy? It’s hard to say no to that. And from there, it would just start snowballing.
The One That Got Away
There was one 40-something homeless man named Jimmy Covington who almost signed an $800,000 application with AAA Insurance, with Helen as his beneficiary. He later told the police that he was roaming the streets of Hollywood when Olga approached him and gave him an offer.
She offered to let him stay on a futon in a nearby office space on the condition that he fill out some paperwork. He met the woman leasing the office (Helen), and over the following week, Olga showed up at the office repeatedly and got increasingly angry when she learned that he hadn’t provided his personal information. Weirded out, Covington bailed.
A Stolen ID and a Confirmed Purchase
Helen was very fussy with her records. She kept a detailed record of all the life insurance policies. Over at Olga’s apartment was an envelope with photocopies of a driver’s license belonging to a woman named Hilary Adler, a member of the same health club as Kecia Golay.
Years before, Adler reported her purse stolen from a locker at the gym. Another connection was her car – a Mercury Sable – which was the same vehicle that killed McDavid and was registered in her name. In court, it was determined that Olga bought the Sable and provided the salesman with Adler’s ID, saying it was a gift.
Enough to Put an Elephant to Sleep
Kilcoyne found a mixture of pills grounded into powder in Helen’s home — enough to “put an elephant to sleep.” Kilcoyne’s theory was that the girls “probably took him to dinner and sprinkled a little something in his food. Then they pulled down the alley; he’s out cold….”
“They pushed him out, and then they backed up, got a running start, ran him over.” Ouch. In Vados’ case, there was no trace of alcohol or drugs in his system, but the circumstances of both his and McDavid’s death were too similar to be a coincidence.
A Curve Ball in Court
Despite the lack of eyewitnesses in both hit-and-runs, the amount of circumstantial evidence was enough for them to charge both women with murder. The trial began in March of 2008 and lasted three weeks. Both women pleaded not guilty, but neither of them testified.
A curveball came when Helen’s private lawyer presented his opening arguments. His client had an alibi: her daughter, Kecia, was the one who killed McDavid, who could have been in cahoots with Olga. Did he have proof? He had records of late-night calls to Olga from Kecia’s cell phone.
Two Life Sentences
As for Olga’s public defender, he tried to shift the blame onto Helen. Olga, his “impressionable” client, was simply hypnotized by Helen’s lifestyle. She went along for the ride with the insurance fraud but was unaware that it would involve killing two men.
In the end, the jurors didn’t take long to deliberate. Both women were convicted of murdering Vados and McDavid and received life sentences. A few years into their sentences, the son of Olga’s lawyer, Paul Brownfield, wrote letters to both women. Helen was the first to respond.
He’s No Fool, Helen
Then 81, Helen wrote back to Paul saying she didn’t want to talk. Months later, she changed her mind. She would talk, but under one condition – that he deposit $250,000 into her daughter’s bank account. Paul declined (he’s not an idiot).
Olga had a different stance. She asked for legal help while also paying homage to his father, referring to the lawyer as her “friend.” So, Paul set up a prepaid phone account, and before long, she was calling him regularly, begging him to find her a paralegal.
What did she want from him? Well, her plan (she always had one) was to sue the media for libel, and the two would split the winnings. She also hoped to track down investment accounts that might not have been seized yet.
“Paul, darling,” she’d say to him (you can just hear the accent). As usual, she would complain about how Helen’s conditions were better than hers – that Helen was in a better unit, for seniors and disabled people, while she was in the “regular” part of the prison.
She Maintains Her Innocence
Paul went to visit Olga when she was 80, at which point she was already pushing a walker. They spoke about the murders, and she maintained her innocence. She said that McDavid wasn’t homeless; rather, he was “a bohemian,” “a ghostwriter.” She met him at a Writers Guild event.
She suggested that he could have been run over by “the Pakistani boyfriend,” referring to Helen’s friend. As for Vados, she said she met him at a Buddhist temple. “If you gave Paul a thousand dollars,” she told Paul, “he would drink it all.”
She Was Pretty Likable
It was during these visits that the son of Olga’s former lawyer got to know the woman, and he had to admit – he even liked her. She had a sense of humor and hardly seemed threatening. Paul Brownfield found himself hoping the mastermind was Helen and that Olga was riding shotgun along the way.
Olga told him about her late husband, who came from a prominent Hungarian family that owned and ran a bakery in Budapest. But the one thing she brought up in every visit was how she wished Paul would get her out of there.
Where Femme Fatales Go
As of late 2021, Helen and Olga are still alive (90 and 88, respectively) and serving their time in the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. The prison is holding (or has held) other notorious female killers, such as Susan Atkins (before she died in 2009), Nancy Garrido, Omaima Nelson, Louise Turpin, and Dorothea Puente (before she died in 2011).
What about Helen’s 40-year-old daughter, Kecia, the one who was blamed in the court case for killing McDavid? While she was accused of running him over, she was not convicted of any other crime in her life.
What About Kecia?
In court, Kecia was seen constantly weeping as she looked at her mother. The lawyer’s opening statement, in which he blamed Helen’s own daughter, described a much younger and physically fit woman. Helen, he said, is just “a little old lady” who “lacked the physical ability to lift a man six feet tall and put him in the road to be run over.”
Kecia was a member of the Spectrum Club and evidently worked out and was in good shape, he emphasized. The lawyer also mentioned that the car used to run over McDavid broke down after the fact.
The Tow Truck Operator’s Testimony
The car had to be towed, and the tow truck operator testified that the woman who called in was “about 40.” The man also couldn’t identify Helen in court as the woman he met that night. “The evidence will show it was Kecia Golay – she is the one that drove over Mr. McDavid and killed him,” the lawyer declared.
The new podcast, The Thing About Helen and Olga, is hosted by Keith Morrison. He’s the famous Dateline correspondent you’ve seen and heard many times before.
A Binge-Worthy Story
When it came to this story, Morrison couldn’t turn away. It was one of those he just couldn’t stop thinking about. “The nature of what they did is binge-worthy, and I found myself fascinated by the way they behave,” he shared.
The podcast is not the only way in which Helen and Olga have been immortalized. The case has been covered on the series Dateline, Deadly Women, Wicked Attraction, and was the source of inspiration for a 2009 CSI: NY episode starring Kim Kardashian and Vanessa Lachey.