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Thursday, September 7, 2000

09/07/00 The hunt for a killer begins

Clues abound, but murder is still a mystery
Part 3 of a 4 part Series
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time

How and where does one begin to look for someone who would torture, repeatedly stab, strangle and shove dirt down a young boy's throat?

With no eyewitnesses, no hard evidence and a crime scene already five days old, Greenwich detectives must have been asking themselves that very question as they began their search for 13-year-old Matthew Margolies' killer.

In the 610 pages of the 1984 Margolies murder case file recently released to Greenwich Time, it seems apparent that detectives made an exhaustive effort. They were guided by an FBI profiler, and what little physical evidence they recovered was examined by one of the nation's preeminent forensic scientists, Dr. Henry Lee, then the director of the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory. They even reached into outer space hoping to be aided by NASA satellites, and reached out further still in accepting the help of clairvoyants.

But what the released portions of the voluminous case file shows most of all is that the detectives wore out a lot of shoe leather in their reliance on old-fashioned police work.

In the days after Matthew's brutalized body was found in a shallow grave off Pemberwick Road, police canvassed the victim's neighborhood, known as The Valley - a working-class neighborhood along the banks of the Byram River in the Pemberwick section of Glenville - where they knocked on countless doors and interviewed hundreds of people looking for witnesses and possible leads.

A week after the murder, on the afternoon of Sept. 7, a roadblock was set up on Pemberwick Road below the crime scene where 512 motorists were questioned about whether they had been driving that stretch of roadway the day of the murder - Aug. 31, 1984 - and what they might have seen.

A month after the murder, having found no one with an obvious motive for killing Matthew, police turned to the FBI for guidance. Special Agent John Douglas of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit viewed autopsy and crime scene photographs to formulate this psychological profile of the killer: a white male who was a "classic loser with poor self-image," probably overweight with a skin problem and poor hygiene, and a sloppy dresser.

The profile states the murderer probably knew Matthew and was familiar with the crime scene area; that he enjoyed associating with younger people to achieve a "feeling of superiority," and likely had been counseled for anti-social behavior. Further, the profile states, the murderer possibly had a drug or alcohol problem and may have driven an older, well-maintained vehicle.

Guided primarily by the FBI profile, police went to work scouring The Valley for possible suspects, especially known pedophiles. One of those was a man who lived not far from Matthew and had molested a newspaper delivery boy 10 years earlier. The man, who told detectives the molestation had been a "one-time incident" that occurred while he was experiencing emotional problems, had left with his wife for vacation at about 5 p.m. on Aug. 31, 1984, at least one hour before police believe Matthew was murdered. He was ruled out as a suspect.

Investigators would travel many such avenues for years after the murder, most of which went nowhere or to a dead end. For example, there was a 17-year-old girl from Norwalk who in 1987 told police her former boyfriend from Glenville "on more than one occasion stated that he killed Matthew," and that he "also said that the cops would never be able to prove it." According to police, the girl's boyfriend was never a viable suspect because the apparently incriminating statements were just some of the bizarre things he would say while drunk or high on cocaine.

Despite the false leads and dashed hopes, detectives did settle on eight people as their key suspects. Although heavily edited, with suspects' names and other crucial information blacked out, the recently released police records show how and why the following were suspected of murder:

The first to be questioned was Suspect A, a 32-year-old maintenance worker who lived near the crime scene and was a suspected pedophile. The first interview of Suspect A was done two days before Matthew's body was even found, on Sept. 3, 1984, as police were operating under the assumption the boy was missing as a result of foul play and wanted to speak with likely suspects.

As detectives approached Suspect A outside his home, the first thing he said to them was, "Is this about Matthew?" He then was asked "if he was involved in any way in the disappearance or had knowledge of the disappearance of Matthew Margolies." Suspect A answered no to both questions, explaining he was not even in town Aug. 31, having gone with a group to a baseball doubleheader at Shea Stadium in New York City. Detectives spent more than a year tracking down others who were at the baseball game, and Suspect A's alibi appeared to hold up.

Suspect A had been looked at with even greater suspicion after Matthew's body was found because of an incident that occurred about a year earlier.

According to reports, a 16-year-old boy planning to try out for the Greenwich High School cross country team was in training on a trail along the Byram River the afternoon of Sept. 4, 1983, when he stopped to cool his feet in the water. At that time, Suspect A emerged from the bushes and struck up a conversation about nature and the boy's schooling. Feeling uneasy, the boy began to walk away when Suspect A knocked him to the ground, got on top of him and while grabbing the boy's neck said, "Don't try to stop me, it'll be over soon."

Suspect A loosened his hold when the victim kicked him in the groin, at which time the victim got to his feet and held his assailant at bay with a large rock. Suspect A reportedly apologized, saying, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do this." The boy ran away and flagged down a motorist who drove him to the hospital.

Co-workers and other acquaintances told of how Suspect A had an unusual fascination with the Byram River, where he would often go to take photographs. Such statements, along with the 1983 alleged assault, led detectives to believe Suspect A was familiar with areas where Matthew fished and therefore had the opportunity to encounter the victim.

Suspect A had agreed to a polygraph examination, but the test was later canceled by the suspect's attorney.

Another early focus of the investigation was Suspect B, a 16-year-old boy who was known as a neighborhood bully and had been arrested a month before Matthew's murder for assaulting a 13-year-old boy.

During the alleged assault, police said, Suspect B grabbed the victim around the neck and forced him into a bathroom, where he threw the boy onto the floor, sat on his back and repeatedly struck him. Police said the older teen then told the victim to lie if asked about his injuries.

Police reports show that a neighborhood youth told officers that Suspect B had "hurt" Matthew at a school bus stop two weeks before the murder, and in interviews detectives said their investigation determined Matthew had been pushed by Suspect B because of a comment Matthew had made.

Another factor making Suspect B particularly interesting to police was that he lived near the crime scene - an area where a steep hill briefly flattens on its ascent from Pemberwick Road toward Greenway Drive. Discarded household appliances and other refuse made it clear the area was used as a dump by residents of the neighborhood above. Beer cans and rocks layered with soot from campfires indicated the place had also been a hangout of sorts.

And although it does not appear in the released reports, police confirmed in interviews that Suspect B allegedly pulled a knife on another neighborhood youth about a year before Matthew's murder.

Shortly before 11 p.m. on Sept. 5, about seven hours after Matthew's body was found, detectives went to the restaurant where Suspect B worked. He was read his Miranda rights and accompanied detectives to the police station, where he denied involvement in the murder.

During an interrogation that lasted nearly three hours, Suspect B related the following:

He saw Matthew the afternoon of Aug. 30, the day before the murder, while the suspect was swimming in the Byram River by the Comly Avenue bridge and the victim was on a nearby sidewalk. After emerging from the river to walk to a friend's house, Suspect B and Matthew "talked for a few minutes and the victim told him that he had been fishing during the day with a couple of friends."

Suspect B said he last saw the victim at about 9:30 a.m. the next day, Aug. 31, approximately nine hours before the murder, while on the way to Sparta Deli. "(Suspect B) was riding his bicycle across the Comly Avenue bridge and at that time observed the victim leaning on the bridge fishing. Once again they exchanged greetings, and (Suspect B) stated that he rode away."

After detectives drove Suspect B back to his home at 2 a.m. Sept. 6, his parents consented to a search of their residence. "Said search elicited no items of evidentiary nature," one of the detectives reported.

Suspect B's whereabouts at the time of the murder were verified by his work time card - which showed he punched in at 4:09 p.m. and punched out at 10:40 p.m. - as well as by co-workers.

Also closely examined during the investigation were members of the so-called Valley Boys, neighborhood youths who hung out near the corner of Morgan and Comly avenues, particularly in front of Sparta Deli. Police said some of the youths, who were in their mid- to late teens, were involved in illegal drug activity and petty crime. Several were outside the deli when Matthew was last seen at about 5:30 p.m. Aug. 31, 1984, and one or more of them could have been in the car that Matthew may have been seen entering before he disappeared.

Many neighborhood youths, including some of the Valley Boys, went to a party at the home of a teenage girl that lasted from early the evening of Aug. 31 until early the next morning. Detectives spent many hours questioning partygoers about whether any of the Valley Boys had said or done anything unusual in the hours after Matthew had been murdered.

The first of the Valley Boys to undergo scrutiny was Suspect C, a 16-year-old who occasionally fished with Matthew along the Byram River.

On the day Matthew was reported missing, Suspect C told police that he and another friend were to have met Matthew that morning to go fishing, but Matthew never showed up. Suspect C later changed his story, telling detectives he hadn't gone fishing with Matthew not because the victim failed to show up at the Comly Avenue bridge as planned, but because he and his friend had decided to "ditch the little bastard."

When Suspect C's friend was questioned, the friend stated that "at no time did he and (Suspect C) ever discuss ditching Matthew on Aug. 31, 1984," and "didn't understand why (Suspect C) would make such a statement."

As was the case with other suspects, Suspect C was questioned in a detective bureau interrogation room where police had arrayed such evidence as autopsy photographs, the knife that was used to stab Matthew, and the large rock used to conceal Matthew's body. During the October 1984 interview, Suspect C "reacted very badly in that he turned his back to the table on which the pieces of evidence were located, and he faced a blank wall."

When asked if he could identify the knife, the investigator handed it to him but he would not touch it. However, he did say he thought he had seen it somewhere before but could not remember where.

When asked what bothered him about the evidence, Suspect C replied, "It brings back old or bad memories." When asked to explain, police said Suspect C replied that "Matthew was a good friend of his and he didn't want to remember him like that."

A search warrant was executed at Suspect's C's home in early November 1984, leading to the seizure of over a dozen items, eight of which were sent to the state forensic science lab for testing. Descriptions of the seized evidence were blacked out from the released reports.

Another Valley Boy, 17-year-old Suspect D, is thought to have a possible revenge motive for killing Matthew. During the homicide investigation, detectives interviewed a Morgan Avenue woman who recalled talking with Matthew's grandfather in George Miazga's driveway shortly before his death. "George started yelling at the Valley Boys that he and Matt had found their marijuana plants and that they told the police where they were," the woman told detectives. The woman related she then "told George that he should have never said that to the boys because it might cause problems for both him and Matt." Suspect D was arrested for growing the marijuana prior to the murder, detectives said in interviews.

Matthew has been described as an outspoken critic of drug users, and would lecture some of the Valley Boys about the danger of substance abuse. One 13-year-old friend of the victim told detectives that "Matt was somewhat of a wise guy and that he was not afraid to tell people off if he got mad at them."

In September 1985, police obtained a warrant allowing them to search Suspect D's home and his person. Seven items - also blacked out in the released reports - were seized during the search of the suspect's dwelling, outdoor shed and vehicle. Assistant State Medical Examiner Arkady Katsnelson accompanied detectives to examine Suspect D for possible wounds and was intrigued about scars he saw. "Dr. Katsnelson related two of the scars were interesting, and one on (Suspect D's) right shoulder appeared to have been caused by a fingernail," the detectives reported. "Dr. Katsnelson advised that the wounds were healed and further, that they could be two months to a year old or possibly older."

Police said Suspect D also was familiar with the area where Matthew's body was found, having once been arrested for rolling logs from that area into traffic on Pemberwick Road.

In interviews, detectives said that if a Valley Boy had committed the crime, they believed it likely two of them had been involved. What may have begun as an attempt at intimidating or bullying Matthew could have quickly spiraled out of control, they said.

In one scenario developed by detectives, Matthew screamed during the confrontation, and when a hand over the mouth failed to quiet him, dirt was shoved into his mouth and he died. The stab wounds and marks may then have been used either as a means to make it look like the work of a psychopath, or to ensure that the boy was dead.

Detectives said that if that scenario was to be believed, then two teenagers may have been involved in the killing because, among other reasons they would not reveal, a rock that had been placed atop Matthew's body was so large it might have taken two youths to lift it.

The woods where police believe Matthew was murdered, and where his body was found, is on the side of a steep hillside that was littered with household refuse discarded by people living on top of the hill. The hill flattened out a bit in the area of the makeshift grave, a secluded spot where they might smoke and drink without being seen.

Among evidence collected from the crime scene was an audio cassette, the description of which was deleted from the released reports. Believing the tape was possibly significant, detectives bought a copy of the tape at a local music store and read the lyrics that came with it.

"At this time investigators could only remark that it is contemporary music listened to by today's teenagers," a detective wrote. "At this point, we could not determine whether the tape is cultist or whether it belongs to a racial group or any other particular group of listeners."

A teenager who had moved out of The Valley shortly before the murder was questioned about rumors he was a Satanist, but detectives determined he had only been a fan of the Black Sabbath rock group and ruled him out as a suspect.

Suspect E had been an early focus of the investigation because he not only knew the area where Matthew's body was found, but certain of his actions near the crime scene on Sept. 5, 1984, were considered highly suspicious. Police would not say why Suspect E's movements that day were suspect. What the released reports show, however, is that the 38-year-old man who worked in Glenville was questioned several times by detectives before continued access was denied by Suspect E's lawyer.

When asked to come in for questioning four days after Matthew's body was found, Suspect E "appeared at the detective division with his attorney. (He) was asked why he brought his attorney? He stated he did so for his own protection. (The attorney) related that if his client was being accused of anything there would be no interview, further that his client would not fill out or sign a Miranda rights form."

Four days later, the attorney denied a request for Suspect E to undergo a lie detector test, informing detectives they had to first check with him if they wanted anything else from his client.

Suspect F, a man described by police only as a man in his late 20s, was investigated because he was suspected of being a pedophile. Although never arrested, police said they had looked into several complaints lodged by young boys prior to Matthew's murder.

In addition, Suspect F was known to frequently fish in the company of young boys.

Although Suspect F appeared to fit some elements of the FBI profile, he was eventually discounted as a prime suspect. During a conversation with police recorded by a concealed microphone, Suspect F did not appear to know much about Matthew's murder, and what he did know could have been learned through media accounts.

Suspect G, a 37-year-old Glenville man, came to the attention of Greenwich detectives while he was in the custody of state police in October 1984. Suspect G was being questioned about a series of shootings on Interstate 95 because he resembled a police sketch of a suspicious person seen driving a van near one of the shootings.

A state trooper related that Suspect G told him "he was constantly picked on as an adolescent growing up in the Pemberwick area," and "that he needed help, someone to talk to, or psychiatric counseling." The trooper also told detectives Suspect G said he'd been sexually assaulted and tied to a tree in the woods off Pemberwick Road, and that Suspect G appeared he "had something he wanted to say, but was holding it in."

It was confirmed that Suspect G had been involved in some sort of sexual encounter, but perhaps not an assault, involving another neighborhood youth in the woods off Pemberwick Road in 1962.

After Suspect G suggested that his alleged assailant might have murdered Matthew, detectives determined the assailant in the earlier incident had moved from Greenwich prior to Matthew's disappearance and they confirmed that he had been incarcerated in a Florida prison on Aug. 31.

Even though the Florida prisoner was ruled out as a possible suspect, detectives grew more suspicious of Suspect G, who had peppered detectives with questions about Matthew's murder, asking about "all that forensic stuff, like fingerprints and stuff under the nails, footprints and all kinds of stuff," and wanted to know if investigators knew the killer's hair color and blood type.

In a rambling conversation, recorded in a police car by a detective wearing a concealed microphone, Suspect G expressed fear that he was going to die, " 'cause of the Thruway thing and the Margolies kid," and offered that the murderer "got a charge out of it like all these other thrill killers get their charges out of these things."

During the taped drive in the police car, detectives drove Suspect G on Pemberwick Road to watch his reactions, and they noted as they neared the base of the crime scene Suspect G "looked directly to the area where the victim was found" and asked if that was "where the kid was killed?"

Suspect G, who refused take a lie detector test because "he was afraid of being framed," remains a prime suspect, according to police.

Suspect H, a Glenville man in his 50s, was investigated for possible involvement in Matthew's murder because he lived near the victim and had a history of criminal violence. It is thought that Suspect H had given Matthew gifts, which police described in interviews only as "woodsman-type" items, and George Miazga once warned his grandson not to have further contact with Suspect H.

Among other reasons, police ruled out Suspect H as a prime suspect because he suffered from a physical impairment, and the doctor who had operated on the suspect for that impairment told detectives the disability probably would have rendered Suspect H unable to lift the large stone that had been placed atop Matthew's abdomen.

In late 1984, a 33-year-year-old Angelus Drive man who had possibly seen Matthew just before he was believed to have been murdered agreed to undergo hypnosis in an attempt to recall details. On Dec. 21, during a taped interview at the Hypnosis & Counseling Center of Connecticut, the potential witness recalled that as he was driving on Pemberwick Road between 5:30 and 6 p.m. Aug. 31, he saw two boys walking on the side of the road in the vicinity of the crime scene. The younger of the boys was carrying a fishing pole, and directly behind him was a boy who appeared to be "at least 15 years old." Walking on the same side of the road toward the two boys was a stocky and "dumpy looking" white male with black, medium-length hair and wearing a "green CPO type jacket." The white male appeared to be walking from a car parked on the side of the road directly below the crime scene. The car was described as a faded green 1969 or 1970 sedan, possibly a Chevrolet Nova.

The hypnotized witness recalled he'd been driving to a house on Grey Rock Drive, and upon arriving there, "he believed he heard a scream/shriek come from the area of the homicide scene."

The man's recollections appear to coincide with those of the River West woman who heard screaming coming from the vicinity of the crime scene between 6 and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 31. The woman had not thought to report it until after Matthew's body was found - on Sept. 15 - because it was only then she realized the screams might have been related to a crime.

The Margolies case attracted the attention of a number of psychics, who made unsolicited offers of help. One psychic, 12 days after Matthew's body was found, mailed police a list of possible names.

"Mitchell is a key name, but Lawrence deserves special merit. This info is a result of sensory perception," the psychic wrote. "The killer is a young person, 15 to 18 years old. Fact victim fought viciously projects the killer is small in stature. Killer likely is constitutionally pathological, suggesting manic compulsion."

Other psychics alternately described the murderer as Indian, tattooed, a farmer, a landscaper, pockmarked and handicapped. The color red was prominent in some purported visions, and one clairvoyant specifically stated a red pick-up truck was involved.

By far the most intriguing of the purported psychics were those with whom police had contact prior to Matthew's body being found, Sharon and Raymond Robinson.

While some investigators were highly skeptical of the psychics, others found the paranormal information interesting enough to follow it as a legitimate lead. An FBI agent and Greenwich police searched the warehouse the Robinsons claimed to have envisioned, and they found nothing that would "prove or disprove" the psychics' claims. The investigators noted they found a hole in the vacant warehouse wall large enough for a boy to climb through.

Accompanied by the victim's sister, Stacey Margolies, police officers began to search the woods near the warehouse, but they stopped when it began to rain heavily. Had they continued the search, they would have eventually reached the area where Matthew's body was later found.

Nearly six months after the murder, on Feb. 27, 1985, a Riverview Court woman called police to say her 12-year-old son had information that could help the investigation.

According to the boy's statement to detectives, on the afternoon of Aug. 31 Matthew and an older teenager had gone to a house on Concord Street to ask another boy who lived there if he wanted to go fishing with them. The third boy did not go, and Matthew and the other teen were driven either by the older teenager's father or uncle in a red pick-up truck and dropped off on Pemberwick Road near The Mill. Matthew and the older teen then walked to a house nearby.

The 12-year-old boy said he learned this from a friend, who had been threatened with death if he told anyone.

Later that same day detectives interviewed the Concord Street boy, who confirmed he had been approached by Matthew and the older teen on Aug. 31, and that he told the other boys he couldn't go fishing with them because he was going to the YMCA. The Concord Street boy's mother placed the time of the encounter at just prior to 6 p.m. because that was the time he was driven to the YMCA.

The Concord Street boy said the next day, after learning that Matthew was missing, he spoke with the older teen who had been with Matthew.

"You should know where Matthew is, you were fishing with him yesterday," the young witness recounted for detectives, stating that the older teen had replied, "I stayed by the waterfall fishing and Matthew went fishing upstream."

The boy said the day Matthew's body was found, Sept. 5, the same teenager told him, "I bet they probably found him tied to a tree."

The Concord Street boy stuck to his story when re-interviewed at his home five days later. But the day after that, on March 6, the boy changed the story slightly, telling detectives he was "uncertain of the conversation" he and the older teenager had the day Matthew's body was found, and that the older teenager never threatened to kill him.

The Concord Street boy's mother then told detectives she had seen the older teenager's uncle driving an older-model red pick-up truck, and that she believed the uncle was living on Concord Street.

Although not evident from the released portions of police reports, detectives said in interviews that both the boy and his uncle were ruled out as suspects. They would not explain why they were ruled out.

A red pick-up truck entered the picture again, with a report by a retired Greenwich police officer who told of having seen such a vehicle parked on Pemberwick Road, directly below the hillside crime scene, between 5:30 and 6 p.m. the day of the murder. Another witness said he saw a red pick-up truck with wood side panels on northbound Pemberwick Road, between the base of the crime scene and Hawthorne Street, stop to pick up two 12- or 13-year-old boys, one of whom had a fishing pole.

For the above reasons, detectives spent months unsuccessfully looking for this truck and its owner.

Much time and effort had also been put into trying to find out what became of a fishing pole that Matthew was seen carrying about an hour before he was believed murdered. The blue rod, equipped with a spinning reel, had been Matthew's favorite, since it had belonged to his grandfather that was passed down to him by his mother shortly after George Miazga's death. That police was initially believed to have been what Ellin Drive resident Josephine Wilson saw the boy carrying as he walked past Wilson's house at about 5 p.m. Aug. 31.

Detectives examined several fishing poles, and each time Maryann Margolis told them it wasn't the one she passed down to her son after her father's death. Then detectives, acting on a tip, questioned one of the Valley Boys on Sept. 10 about the missing fishing rod, and the teen showed them a blue pole he said he bought from Matthew for $2. Upon viewing it Maryann was unable to positively identify it "due to the fact that the blue cushion area of the rod, she thought was made of cork."

Stella Miazga said she hadn't fished with he husband for many years, and so was unable to identify the blue fishing pole. Maryann Margolis said then, and still maintains today, that she didn't believe Matthew would have sold a fishing rod that had such sentimental value to her son.

Nevertheless, on Sept. 11, the Police Department issued a press release stating that the fishing rod had been found. Police that day also indicated they no longer believed Matthew possession of a pole immediately prior to the fatal assault. And if Josephine Wilson had in fact seen Matthew with a fishing rod, police said, perhaps it was one that the boy's mother was unaware of.

The Margolies murder case continued to be actively investigated through 1988, but as the killer's trail grew colder, leads trickled to a stop. The last lead detectives followed up was in July 1988, when a woman called to say her son might have information relevant to the case. It turned out the boy didn't know anything of significance.

The next and final report in the released portion of the Margolies case file is dated May 29, 1996. It details how on Feb. 24 of that year a Greenwich marine officer trained in satellite global positioning went to the murder scene and determined its exact coordinates. Those coordinates were given to NASA with the hope that a reconnaissance satellite had taken pictures of the crime scene on the day Matthew was murdered.

NASA reported back on May 22 that its satellites had photographed the crime scene area, but only in 1972 and 1992.

Hoping there had been an eye in the sky that witnessed Matthew Margolies' murder was a last-chance grasp at something to keep the case alive.

Then, two years later, Police Chief Peter Robbins revealed a reinvestigation of Matthew's murder was planned.

"I think now is the time to reinvestigate the case," Robbins said in May 1998, shortly after being promoted. "I think it's a solvable case. I want to open this case up with the intent to solve it. I want to review every piece of evidence, every statement and try new approaches."

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