The Hit-and-Run Grandmas

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In a shocking, real-life update of Arsenic and Old Lace, two elderly women were arrested last week in Los Angeles for taking out life insurance policies on homeless men and then bumping them off. Literally. The two victims were killed in hit-and-run accidents after Olga Rutterschmidt, 73, and her friend Helen Golay, 75, allegedly took out at least 19 life insurance policies in the men's names. The women had collected more than $2 million before they were arraigned last week on eight counts of federal mail fraud. With the investigation still ongoing, police say they expect the suspects will also be charged with murder or with conspiracy to murder.

According to prosecutors, the women obtained life insurance policies for the homeless men through several companies, including Mutual of Omaha and Monumental Life. After the men had signed the policies, authorities allege the women provided the transients with food and shelter for a little over two years before mowing them down to collect the payments. The waiting period appears to stem from California insurance law that allows companies to contest new policies only within two years of issuing them.

"It's a sinister, scary, evil plot," Lt. Paul Vernon of the Los Angeles Police Department told "We're continuing our investigation and looking at other possible targets." Vernon notes that because Rutterschmidt allegedly met her first victim in a Hungarian church, the LAPD is putting out feelers to the local Hungarian community for further leads. "The first and second incident were six years apart, so it's hard to believe there haven't been other victims." Both women are being held at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles, Vernon says, and investigators have impounded Golay's new Mercedes SUV and Rutterschmidt's Honda Civic.

Although this isn't the first time little old ladies have been accused of heinous crimes — in 1988, Dorothea Puente was nicknamed "the black widow of Sacramento" when the 60-year-old was convicted of killing three boarders and then continuing to cash their pension checks — some elements of the Los Angeles duo's alleged crimes shocked even hardened veterans. "Female killers operating for profit by taking out insurance policies on their victims are working one of the oldest scams in the book," says Michael D. Kelleher, who co-wrote Murder Most Rare: The Female Serial Killer. "What makes this situation unique is that they rarely operate in pairs. And a hit-and-run? I've looked at over 300 female serial killers and this is the first time I've heard of this method. Now that's pretty brutal."