Hyper Local News Pages

Web Stats Provided By Google Analytics

Wednesday, September 6, 2000

09/06/00 A comprehensive look at Matthew Margolies' last day; the search for a missing boy leads to a gruesome discovery

Youth spent his last day doing favorite things
Part 2 of a 4 part Series
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time

He was the Tom Sawyer of Pemberwick. He knew all the best fishing holes in and around the Byram River, and could catch the slipperiest frogs in "The Valley."

But when 13-year-old Matthew Margolies disappeared one late summer day 16 years ago, he wasn't pulling the type of prank that might be associated with the boy of Mark Twain's imagination.

If you lived in The Valley, chances were you knew Matthew. He was always on the move, looking for spots in the Byram River where the fish were biting, and if he didn't have his line in the water he could be found riding around the neighborhood on his bicycle.

The river flows along many of the neighborhood's side streets and through some back yards, and it was hard to miss the skinny young boy who approached the sport of fishing so seriously. The host of a local cable television show about fishing said he once had Matthew talk to his students in a Greenwich Continuing Education class because "Matthew was a confident and cocky fisherman, and the best (I) had ever seen at Matthew's age."

Matthew was the second generation of his family to be born and raised in The Valley. His mother, Maryann, grew up on Morgan Avenue, in the house her mother, Stella Miazga, lives in to this day. After marrying Paul Margolies from New Canaan, Maryann moved only a few blocks from her childhood home to 8 Pilgrim Drive, where she raised Matthew and his older sister, Stacey.

During the divorce of Maryann and Paul Margolies, finalized in 1983, Matthew became closer than ever with his grandfather, George Miazga. The pair were constant fishing companions, and among other anglers along the Byram River, some sensed a bond so loving that they mistook Miazga for Matthew's father.

Matthew was proud of his grandfather's status as life member of the Glenville Volunteer Fire Company, and he looked forward to following in Miazga's footsteps. As the son of a single working mother, Matthew divided his time between his home on Pilgrim Drive and his grandparents', where he would often sleep over to get an early start on the next day's fishing with George Miazga.

Then Matthew's grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. When George Miazga's illness made him weak, Matthew would go to his house to make his grandfather breakfast and see that he took his medicine after Stella Miazga left for work at a local nursing home.

After George Miazga succumbed to his illness in early August 1984, Matthew began to show signs of profound depression. However, he continued to be out and about the neighborhood, fishing and riding his bicycle, and he still regularly visited with Stella Miazga, having dinner with his grandmother and sleeping over.

Matthew slept at his grandmother's house the night of Aug. 30, 1984, and headed out early the next morning for another day of fishing. He didn't show up for dinner on Aug. 31, and he never would come home. He was brutally murdered that day. His savaged, slight body would not be found for five more days as it lay concealed in a makeshift grave of rocks and leaves a stone's throw from his beloved river.

The crime sent shock waves that ripple to this day through the murdered boy's neighborhood, a tight-knit, working-class enclave known as The Valley. Making matters worse for residents of The Valley was the fact that police suspected then, and still suspect today, that Matthew's murderer may be one of them.

Parents and adults suddenly feared for the safety of the young people of Glenville and began taking precautions.

"We will be encouraging all the children to go directly home so their parents don't worry," Western Junior High School Principal Joan King told Greenwich Time the day after Matthew's body was found.

Jeff Tipke, a 42-year-old Weaver Street resident who has worked at the Glenville Texaco station at the corner of Weaver Street and Glenville Road for more than 25 years, said that because the murderer is likely someone acquainted with Matthew and the area, there are lasting memories among the neighborhood's residents.

"I think that's why they didn't forget, why they haven't forgotten," he said in an interview last month. "Deep down they feel it's somebody local."

In an attempt to better understand the crime, police pieced together Matthew's known movements up until the time he was last seen alive.

Based on witness accounts, police reports show Matthew began the last day of his life just as he had most other summer days.

At about 9:30 a.m. Matthew stopped by Sparta Deli at the corner of Comly and Morgan avenues to buy provisions for the morning's fishing - a small carton of milk and a pastry - before casting his line into the Byram River from the nearby Comly Avenue bridge.

A 69-year-old Morgan Avenue resident spotted Matthew still on the bridge about a half hour later, and she asked "What did you catch?" The boy held up a string of fish and told the woman the fish were really biting that morning.

After leaving the bridge, Matthew apparently made his way upstream. As he climbed the east bank of the Byram River near The Mill - a residential-retail complex on Pemberwick Road near Highview Street - Matthew came across a White Plains, N.Y., man who worked at The Mill. The man recalled that the boy, wearing gray corduroy pants and carrying a fishing pole, remarked about the "good fishing" he was having that day, and that the boy walked away south toward Pemberwick Road. The encounter was placed at about 11:15 a.m., and police noted it occurred about 250 feet from where Matthew's body was later found.

Matthew's next known stop was at his grandmother's house on Morgan Avenue. A 13-year-old boy on his way home from fishing spotted Matthew at about 11:30 a.m. in his grandmother's back yard. Matthew apparently left shortly after that, because when the grandmother, Stella Miazga, returned home around noon she found freshly caught trout in her kitchen. The woman also saw that her grandson had changed clothes, noting his wet corduroy pants on a living room chair.

Before going back out to run errands at about 4 p.m. on Aug. 31, Stella Miazga left a note telling Matthew to "get rid of the fish in the sink."

The next time Matthew was seen was 2 p.m., when he rode his bicycle to Sparta Deli and called up to a man on the veranda of an apartment above the deli, asking the whereabouts of the man's roommate. The identities of this man and his roommate are deleted from the released police reports. One of the roommates had just bought a boat and had promised to take Matthew on it.

Between 4 and 5:30 p.m. there are numerous sightings of the victim, all occurring within a one-square-block area of Sparta Deli, a popular hangout for a group of older neighborhood youths in their mid-to-late teens known as "The Valley Boys."

In police reports, one of Matthew's best friends related how after his grandfather's death, Matthew "began hanging out in the area of Sparta Deli prior to returning to his mother's or grandmother's house for dinner, depending on where he was going to eat É and (on) some occasions would return to the area of the deli to ride his bicycle."

Police said some of the Valley Boys at the time were experimenting with drugs and committing such petty crimes as stealing things from cars. Although friendly with some of those youths, police said Matthew would anger some of them by lecturing them about the dangers of doing drugs.

Sometime around 4 p.m., a 17-year-old boy visiting a friend on Morgan Avenue saw Matthew across the street in his grandmother's driveway, holding a fishing pole in one hand and a frog in the other. The boy related that Matthew told him he planned to cut up the frog to use as fish bait. The 17-year-old's friend had a different recollection, telling police he saw the victim with a frog in his grandmother's driveway between 5:45 and 6 p.m.

The woman to whom Matthew had proudly displayed his string of fish that morning saw the boy again at approximately 5 p.m. as he walked south past her house on Morgan Avenue. She told police she saw Matthew turn and then heard him shout to an unseen person, "Are you coming, Willie?"

In interviews, police said the "Willie" Matthew had called out to was a neighborhood boy named William who had been in his parents' car outside Sparta Deli.

Matthew proceeded down Morgan Avenue and turned left at the next block, where he was next seen by Ellin Drive resident Josephine Wilson as he walked down her street with a fishing pole in one hand and something small concealed in the other.

A short time later, between 5 and 5:15 p.m., two 11-year-old boys who had just finished their newspaper delivery route saw Matthew on a bicycle in front of Sparta Deli, where a group of eight to 15 teenagers also were hanging out. Several fishing poles were observed propped up against the side of the building. Matthew pedaled over to the boys, and they all talked about construction on nearby school grounds. Matthew told the boys that "he had been up there and believed it to be the makings of a playground for Mead School," and then rode back to the deli as the two boys left to go home for dinner.

It was also at about this time, between 5:20 and 5:30 p.m., that a 21-year-old Nicholas Avenue woman home from college saw Matthew walking east on Comly Avenue between Fletcher and Morgan avenues, toward Sparta Deli. The woman was positive the boy was Matthew because she used to baby-sit for one of Matthew's friends, and when the two boys were together they always talked about fishing and how they wanted to join the Fire Department when they grew up.

Although it is not apparent from the heavily edited police reports, detectives said in interviews that one or more witnesses may have seen Matthew climb into a car belonging to one of the teenagers hanging out at the deli, also at around 5:15 to 5:30 p.m.

These accounts of Matthew being at or near Sparta Deli are the last confirmed sightings of Matthew Margolies.

According to reports and interviews, Maryann Margolies drove to the Miazga residence at about 5 p.m. to pick up Matthew for dinner, but no one was home. Miazga had driven Matthew's older sister Stacey to an appointment and they hadn't returned. Maryann waited in case Matthew had gone with Stacey and his grandmother.

Police reports state that a 31-year-old woman was in her River West apartment when, between 6 and 6:30 p.m., she heard someone screaming. "She looked out the window and realized they were coming from the vicinity of Pemberwick Road. (She) described the screams as coming from a young person, and they lasted approximately 30 seconds."

The woman did not report hearing the screams for two weeks. When she did, police determined the screams had come from the woods where Matthew was murdered. The woman's account helped police to fix the time of Matthew's death at between 6 and 6:30 p.m.

When Matthew had still not returned home by 7 p.m., Maryann sensed that something was wrong. She called police at 8:59 p.m. to report her son was missing. She described her son as having been depressed over George Miazga's death, and that it was possible he was off sulking somewhere. But the 43-year-old nurse also told police Matthew never went anywhere without letting her or someone else in the family know.

Police launched an immediate search that involved 17 police officers. Police were assisted by Glenville volunteer firefighters and members of the Margolies family.

Paul Margolies, who by this time was living in Texas, was notified that his son was missing and he assured police he would let them know if he learned of Matthew's whereabouts.

Police concentrated their search on bodies of water and surrounding areas because they knew of the boy's love for fishing and thought he might have drowned. Dozens of streams and ponds were searched. Stacey Margolies searched on her own and also led police along bridal paths near the river that her brother would often take to go fishing.

Another theory about the disappearance was Matthew had wandered into the woods to be alone while grieving for his grandfather. John vonBergen, a 13-year-old from Deep Gorge Road who "knew the gorge and all the hiding spots in the gorge better than any area resident," led searchers to those types of places where a young boy not wanting to be found might go. Western Glenville is marked by steep hillsides, gorges and other features of rough terrain, leading police to wonder whether Matthew had fallen and injured himself so badly he was unable to walk out of the woods on his own. The search was suspended after it became too dark to see.

After the next day dawned and Matthew still had not turned up, the search intensified. A command center, headed by patrol division Capt. Albert Barclay, was established at the corner of Comly Avenue and Pemberwick Road, then the site of Mead School.

At about 11 a.m. Sept. 1, two state police tracking dogs arrived. After sniffing the gray corduroys Matthew had worn the day before, the dogs led troopers north from Comly Avenue along the Byram River. They lost the trail at the base of a waterfall that flows from a dam above. Scuba divers searched for Matthew's body in the pond behind the dam, as well as in other area waterways.

Missing person fliers were distributed throughout western Greenwich, describing Matthew as having last been seen wearing a white T-shirt, white shorts and a distinctive pair of black and white checkered slip-on sneakers. Area hospitals and youth shelters were contacted, and as the extensive ground search continued, a Greenwich officer went airborne in a helicopter loaned by Channel 8 in Hartford.

Maryann Margolies told police Matthew was best friends with the Petrizzi brothers, who lived next door to her mother on Morgan Avenue. The brothers had left for vacation with their parents a week earlier. Matthew had wanted to go with the other boys, but the brothers couldn't get permission. With the help of another neighborhood youth who was friends with Matthew and the Petrizzi brothers, 16-year-old Timothy Fudale, police searched the Petrizzis' vacant residence.

After the Petrizzi brothers returned from vacation, they told police about some places they should look, including a chicken farm where police searched an abandoned cottage and they found a mattress, blanket and other indications someone had been living there.

The afternoon of Sept. 3, a hysterical Stacey Margolies called police to say she had been contacted by a psychic from upstate Connecticut, Sharon Robinson, who said she and her son Raymond both had visions after reading about Matthew's disappearance in a newspaper. One vision had focused on the letter "M," and the other concerned "a warehouse with the color green."

Robinson and her son came to Greenwich and were led by Stacey to an old warehouse about a quarter mile from where Matthew's body would be discovered two days later. There, the visions appeared to come to life.

"Upon seeing the Market at The Mill, (Sharon) related those words with M was what she had envisioned. É Upon walking around the warehouse (Raymond) observed the ivy on the building and observed a green door, and related that was what he had envisioned.

"Both Ms. Robinson and her son entered the warehouse and related that they feel Matthew had been in the warehouse. Ms. Robinson felt that Matthew had been in the warehouse, had left, and will not return. She feels something happened in the warehouse, but not sure of what. Robinson further related Matthew's body would be found on a nearby steep hill by an unknown male."

Stacey Margolies received a second, more disturbing telephone call on Sept. 4. "He's been going there for years and you haven't found him yet. By now he might not be able to get out on his own," the unidentified man said to the missing boy's sister before abruptly hanging up.

To this day, police say they are unsure whether the call had been a prank or was made by Matthew's killer.

Another volunteer firefighter who helped search for Matthew was Frederick Lambert, facilities manager for The Mill. Lambert told police he learned about the hunt for the missing child upon returning from vacation at 8 p.m. Aug. 31.

On his own, Lambert searched a wooded area across Pemberwick Road from The Mill, near Greenway Drive and Hawthorne Street. At about 3:30 p.m. Sept. 5, having spent about half an hour scouring the steep hillside, Lambert found two black and white checkered slip-on sneakers. Marking the spot with an old bicycle tire, Lambert took one of the sneakers to the police and led Youth Officers Stephen Paulo and Michael Panza to where he had found them. As they approached, they noticed a strong foul smell, which one of the officers described as being a "fish-like" odor.

"A strong odor was mentioned again by one of the officers, and I looked to my left and saw some flies about 10 feet from where we were standing, and they were on something white, which I thought might be a dead animal," Lambert said in a later interview with police. "I said, 'Mike, over here!' Panza came over and said, 'This is a body.' "

When the officers got to a pile of rocks, leaves and branches where the flies were swarming, they knew they had finally found Matthew. Through gaps in the material comprising the burial mound, they could see toes, and, upon closer inspection, an ear.

Lambert was told to go back down the hill and wait on the side of Pemberwick Road so he could direct additional police personnel to the body. Meanwhile, officers began stringing yellow crime scene tape from tree to tree.

It came as no surprise to police that their search ended with the recovery of a body, but they hadn't expected to find a murder victim. And the unthinkable brutality of the crime became evident as the rocks and leaves that concealed the boy's body were carefully removed. Matthew, clad only in undershorts and stripped of his T-shirt, gym shorts and one of his socks, had been stabbed over a dozen times, mostly in the chest. His T-shirt was knotted around his neck, and his mouth had been gagged with his sock.

But that alone was not what killed him.

It wasn't until after Matthew's body was removed from the scene for examination at the coroner's office in Farmington that the full extent of the crime became evident. When the gag was removed from Matthew's mouth, it was found that dirt and a stick had been forced down Matthew's throat. The boy had still been alive at this point, according to the autopsy report, because dirt had been breathed into his lungs.

And when the T-shirt was removed from the boy's throat, more stab wounds were found.

Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver ruled the cause of death to have been multiple stab wounds and asphyxiation.

Some of the stab wounds were superficial, torture type injuries, and others had been inflicted after death, leading an FBI profiler to later surmise they were "indicative of overkill." The profiler said one of the superficial wounds to Matthew's neck was a "torture type laceration and the post-mortem stabbing are part of the offender's overall sadistic fantasy."

Defense wounds, which police have not been specific about, indicated that Matthew struggled with the killer. Among other possible defense wounds, the autopsy refers to an injury to the back of Matthew's right hand.

After Matthew's body was removed from the makeshift grave, it was found he'd been lying on the knife that was used to stab him. It was identified as a Foster Brothers knife, about 10 years old, with a 6-inch carbon steel blade and 41Ú2 -inch beechwood handle. It was a type of knife commonly used for boning fish and poultry, and one local angler told police it was the type of knife that could be used to cut up fish bait. The knife is not believed to have been Matthew's, and efforts to determine who might have owned it have failed.

Police collected a considerable amount of evidence from the crime scene and off the victim's body, including "trace" elements that they have never publicly identified and were deleted from the released police reports. Trace evidence can include anything left behind by the killer, including blood, hairs and body fluids. The medical examiner's report refers to fingernail scrapings and hairs being recovered during the autopsy.

Detectives were now faced with the most daunting challenge of their careers. Not only did they have to find someone who was capable of such a heinous act, they were starting their investigation with distinct handicaps - the crime scene had been significantly altered by heavy rains and intense heat; the killer's trail was already five days old.

Editor's note: The murder of Matthew Margolies is one of the most compelling crimes in Greenwich history.

Matthew, 13, disappeared Aug. 31, 1984. His body was discovered five days later in a makeshift grave less than a mile from his home.

No arrests were made, nor was a prime suspect publicly named.

In recent years, the investigation became inactive after all leads were exhausted. Greenwich Time requested the case files but was denied by Greenwich police officials, who maintained the case remained active.

An agreement was reached through the offices of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission. The Greenwich Police Department opened much of the Margolies murder file but kept some names and details confidential to protect its investigation.

Using those case files, new interviews and research, Greenwich Time has prepared a four-part series on the Margolies murder case

The Raw Greenwich Blog And RSS Feed - Bloggers Who Are From, Work In Or Used To Live In Greenwich