LOS ANGELES - Two elderly women charged with mail fraud after collecting $2.2 million from insurance policies they took out on two homeless men who died in hit-and-run accidents were arrested because police feared they were targeting more transients.

A police affidavit alleges Helen Golay, 75, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 72, alternately claimed to be a fiancee, close relative or business partner of the men to get insurance policies worth more than $4 million.

"We knew they were actively out there having contact with other people," Vernon said. "We felt we had an obligation to take action to keep something worse from happening."

Detective Dennis Kilcoyne said authorities aren't sure who was behind the wheel when the men were killed and have not ruled out the elderly women.

Each of the women, neither of whom had a criminal record, have been charged with eight counts of federal mail fraud for collecting money from the policies they held on Kenneth McDavid, 50, and Paul Vados, 73.

McDavid was run down in June and Vados was struck and killed in 1999 - both in alleys and apparently without eyewitnesses. Each death occurred shortly after the two-year wait that made the women eligible to collect on their policies.

The affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Samuel A. Mayrose alleges the women befriended McDavid and Vados and provided them apartments in exchange for their signing individual life insurance policies.

The women then duplicated Vados' and McDavid's signatures on rubber stamps and used them to secure more than a dozen other policies, Mayrose wrote. The women ended up collecting $2.2 million and wanted more, filing lawsuits when some companies didn't pay.

Garden State Life Insurance Co., which covered McDavid, was one of the companies sued. Attorney Stephen Galton said Garden State refused to pay after being tipped to the investigation. Galton said Golay, a Santa Monica landlord, filed the lawsuit against his company in March.

"I've seen all kinds of clever and creative ways that people in the past have tried to defraud insurance companies, but I've never seen anything like this," said Kevin Smith, the company's attorney.

Police learned of the women's connection to the men serendipitously - a detective investigating one of the deaths overheard a second investigating the other.

Vernon said authorities began watching the women last September. More recently, they were observed meeting with "elderly, frail-looking men" and directing them to sign documents, according to the affidavit.

Rubber stamps bearing the signatures of various men recently were confiscated from a retail store and police are investigating the possibility the women had accomplices, Vernon said.

Golay and Rutterschmidt, of Hollywood, were taken from their homes in handcuffs and remain jailed without bail. Their arraignment is scheduled for June 5.

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