70-year-old women held for LA kill and claim scam

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The crimes were six years apart, but the circumstances behind them were too chillingly similar for investigators to overlook: two homeless men run down by a car in dark alleys, no witnesses, and two elderly women coming forward, claiming to be relatives of the victims.

Helen Golay, 75, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 72, were arrested last week after they allegedly collected more than $2m (£1.1m) in life insurance from policies issued in the names of two homeless men killed in hit-and-run crashes in 1999 and 2005, authorities said.

Police not only believe the women were befriending other men to set up more insurance policies but may have driven the killer car themselves. "Anyone would think they would leave the actual dirty work to someone else or hire someone," said Detective Dennis Kilcoyne. "We're not so sure about that any more ... We're focusing directly at Helen and Olga for the murder investigation."

The women allegedly provided the men with apartments in exchange for signing a life insurance policy. According to investigators, the women duplicated their victims' signatures on rubber stamps and used them to secure more than a dozen other policies.

They appeared in court on Thursday for making false insurance claims, and were held without bail. Each faces up to 160 years in prison if convicted.

Investigators discovered the alleged scam while looking into a fatal hit-and-run accident. One investigator had mentioned the case of two women who had taken out large life insurance policies on 50-year-old Kenneth McDavid, when another recalled working on a similar case in 1999, in which 73-year-old Paul Vados was killed.