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The Disturbing Stories Of 11 Criminal Couples

A lone criminal or killer is disturbing enough, but when two people embark on a crime spree together, the results can be downright terrifying. Perhaps the most infamous of law-breaking couples is Bonnie and Clyde, bank robbers and murderers who terrorized America in the 1930s. Their spree not only captivated a nation but also inspired other criminal couples, such as Immanuel and Cara Lee Williams, who modeled themselves after the historic couple.

While many infamous offenders team up with others, these pairs believed themselves to be in loving, romantic relationships. Yet when they were apprehended, many of these partners claimed their other half was the real culprit. Some said they were victims themselves, and some turned on their other half in exchange for a lesser punishment.

In either event, this is just a small collection of the duos who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law. And while finding love is usually a positive, in many of these cases, we can't help but wonder what would've happened if these couples had never met. 

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  • 'Lethal Lovers' Gwendolyn Graham And Catherine May Wood Killed Patients At The Nursing Home Where They Worked
    Photo: Kent County Sheriff's Department / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    'Lethal Lovers' Gwendolyn Graham And Catherine May Wood Killed Patients At The Nursing Home Where They Worked

    Later known as the "Lethal Lovers," Cathy Wood and Gwen Graham met in 1986 while working together as nurse aides at Alpine Manor in Walker, MI. The two began a relationship their coworkers described as intense and toxic, which soon evolved to include the murder of patients at the nursing home.

    One such patient was a 58-year-old woman with Alzheimer's disease, Marguerite Chambers. Chambers's daughter, Jan Hunderman, remembered visiting her mother one day and noticing dirt on her face. When Hunderman tried to wipe it off with a washcloth, her mother reacted oddly. "Her arms started going, her eyes got big as saucers, and I knew she was scared... She was afraid of something. Something had happened."

    Chambers passed in 1987, but her family wouldn't learn what really happened until the following year. That's when Cathy Wood's ex-husband alerted the police that she'd told him she'd been involved in a series of homicides at her work.

    When questioned, Wood eventually revealed that Graham had suffocated elderly patients in their care while Wood acted as a lookout, though she later admitted to more involvement. Wood said that Graham, with whom she'd recently broken up, had used a washcloth to kill Marguerite Chambers. Police charged Wood with two counts of open murder and Graham with five counts of murder. After a plea deal, Wood served 33 years before parole set her free in January 2020. Graham is serving five consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole.

    According to Wood, they selected victims by their first initial, in an attempt to spell out "MURDER," starting with Marguerite Chambers. When asked what their motive was, Wood said they did it as "something that would bind [them] together forever." 

  • Martha Beck And Raymond Fernandez Met Through A ‘Lonely Hearts Club,' Then Found Their Marks The Same Way

    Raymond Fernandez used a "lonely hearts club" in a romance magazine to seduce and date an older woman in 1946, slowly gaining her trust and then emptying her bank account. When he wrote a letter to another "lonely heart," Martha Beck, he initially had the same intention of conning her, but soon decided he loved Beck and wanted to share his schemes with her. Beck decided to join him.

    The pair pretended to be siblings so Raymond could carry out his ruse with older women, entering into relationships with them and taking their money. By 1949, they had murdered one woman and accidentally caused another to overdose on sleeping pills.

    In Michigan, the pair moved in with a younger widow named Delphine Downing who had a 2-year-old daughter. Downing at first believed Fernandez to be a "lonely heart" named Charles Martin, but soon she grew suspicious of their sibling routine. After she refused to immediately marry Fernandez or give him access to her finances, Beck reportedly grew envious and annoyed with waiting. The couple killed the woman and her child and buried them in the house's basement, where they were eventually discovered in a police search.

    Thinking they could avoid the death penalty in Michigan, the couple confessed. Upon learning they were being extradited to New York and the death penalty was an option, they attempted to plead insanity, but couldn't convince the jury. Fernandez and Beck were executed at Sing Sing Prison in 1951. While they at one point claimed to have killed as many as 17 women, evidence suggests their number of victims is closer to four.

  • Bonnie Parker’s Poetry Suggests She And Clyde Barrow Were Prepared To Die Together

    Perhaps the most famous pair of criminals in American history, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow met in 1930 and eventually went on a bank-robbing and killing spree for nearly a year. Barrow had been in prison before, where he allegedly was sexually abused and killed his abuser before being paroled. Parker spent time in prison after a burglary gone wrong with Barrow, but no one could believe a woman would take part in crime willingly, and she was released.

    Parker immediately went back to Barrow, even penning a poem about them in 1934:

    Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang.
    I'm sure you all have read
    How they rob and steal
    And those who squeal
    Are usually found dying or dead.
     

    There's lots of untruths to these write-ups;
    They're not so ruthless as that;
    Their nature is raw;
    They hate the law--
    The stool pigeons, spotters, and rats.

    They call them cold-blooded killers;
    They say they are heartless and mean;
    But I say this with pride,
    That I once knew Clyde
    When he was honest and upright and clean.

    But the laws fooled around,
    Kept taking him down
    And locking him up in a cell,
    Till he said to me,
    "I'll never be free,
    So I'll meet a few of them in hell."

    The road was so dimly lighted;
    There were no highway signs to guide;
    But they made up their minds
    If all roads were blind,
    They wouldn't give up till they died...

    ...Some day they'll go down together;
    They'll bury them side by side;
    To few it'll be grief--
    To the law a relief--
    But it's death for Bonnie and Clyde.

    In addition to foreshadowing their demise, Parker also references specific crimes that she claims have been erroneously attributed to the couple. The pair did kill some innocent bystanders during their bank robbing spree but preferred to kidnap and then release them with money or quotes for the papers. Over the 21-month spree, they robbed around 15 banks and took very small amounts of money from each. Regardless, the FBI tracked the lawless couple and caught up with them on May 23, 1934, in Black Lake, LA.

    Parker and Barrow drove their car past an ambush and two states' worth of lawmen started shooting, supposedly firing over 160 rounds. The couple had so many bullet wounds that their bodies allegedly kept leaking embalming fluid.

  • Ray And Faye Copeland Killed Drifters Who Worked On Their Farm
    Photo: Unknown / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    Ray And Faye Copeland Killed Drifters Who Worked On Their Farm

    Ray Copeland made a living by defrauding people out of money and land. In 1940, 26-year-old Ray met Faye Wilson and eventually married her. They had children together and moved from Oklahoma to Arkansas before settling in Missouri.

    Ray kept to what he knew and made ends meet by stealing animals from other farmers and using bad checks at livestock auctions. When he could no longer run those scams, Ray hired drifters to work for him at his farm. He set them up with checking accounts and then used their checks to return to the auctions.

    At some point, the Copelands started killing the drifters and burying them on their property. In October 1989, someone called the police and told them human bones were on the Copeland farm. Authorities visited Ray and found five corpses in shallow graves on his farm. Based on that discovery, and a register kept of the drifters' names, police believed the elderly couple killed 12 people and left the remains on their land.

    Faye used the men's clothing in a quilt found in the house and Ray's .22-caliber rifle matched the murder weapon. Police arrested the couple, but Faye claimed she had battered woman syndrome and knew nothing of the murders. She refused a deal for lesser charges, but the jury found her and Ray guilty of murder, making them the oldest couple ever sentenced to death.

    Ray passed in prison in 1993 while still awaiting execution. Faye had her sentence commuted to life imprisonment and was released in 2002 due to her poor health. She passed a year later.

  • Julius And Ethel Rosenbergs' Sons Continue To Fight For Their Mother’s Exoneration
    Photo: Roger Higgins / Wikimedia Commons / No known restrictions

    Julius And Ethel Rosenbergs' Sons Continue To Fight For Their Mother’s Exoneration

    Ethel and Julius Rosenberg married in 1939 and were registered members of the Communist Party in the US. Julius got a job with US Army Signal Corps as an engineer, and supposedly Ethel, who worked as a secretary, helped him to provide US military secrets to the Soviet Union. It was also said that Ethel's brother used his job to provide information about nuclear weapons to the Rosenbergs for Soviet Union use.

    In 1945, Julius lost his job for failing to disclose his membership in the Communist Party. In 1950, Julius, Ethel, her brother, and others were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. Ethel's own brother testified that she typed up her husband's notes, and was instrumental in the Rosenbergs' conviction. He later recanted his testimony, saying he'd only done it to protect his own family. 

    Unfortunately, that came long after Ethel and Julius were convicted and put to death in 1953. The Rosenbergs were the first US citizens to be convicted and executed for espionage during peacetime.

    The case was controversial at the time, and remains so today. Many believed their execution was an overly harsh sentence in response to anti-communism hysteria post-WWII. The orphaned children of Julius and Ethel believe their father was indeed recruiting spies but hold firm that their mother was innocent. They also believe that while their father was guilty, he was passing on information that wasn't that useful to the Soviet Union, and he was the victim of trumped-up charges.

    They continue to fight for their mother's exoneration, but as of 2022, their efforts have been unsuccessful.

  • Leopold And Loeb Tried To Pull Off The Perfect Crime, Only To Be Caught 10 Days Later
    Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-12794 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

    Leopold And Loeb Tried To Pull Off The Perfect Crime, Only To Be Caught 10 Days Later

    Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were members of upstanding, wealthy families in Chicago when they decided to pull off the "perfect, motiveless crime." Supposedly, Leopold was in love with the younger, more outgoing Loeb, meeting as neighbors before becoming close friends who lived in a fantasy world of detective novels and delusions of grandeur. The pair were reportedly fascinated by nihilism and became obsessed with the idea of getting away with murder.

    They kidnapped a 14-year-old neighbor named Bobby Frank on May 21, 1924, by luring him into their vehicle. They then killed the boy with a chisel, dumped the body, and sent a ransom note to the family demanding $10,000 for the child's safe return. However, Leopold dropped his glasses near Frank's body - glasses that were only sold to three people in Chicago. Police also discovered the child's body long before the ransom note arrived at the Frank home.

    Clarence Darrow was hired to defend the young men in court, with a stellar reputation backing him up. Darrow gave a 12-hour closing argument that admitted the guilt of his clients but blamed a multitude of other factors for the crime. With the lack of remorse and full confessions from his defendants, he knew a conviction was inevitable, but his goal was to avoid the death penalty.

    Darrow succeeded; while Leopold and Loeb were convicted, they received sentences of life in prison. Loeb lost his life at the hands of another prisoner in 1937 while Leopold served his time, leaving prison in 1958 and living until 1971.