Matthew Margolies

Greenwich, Connecticut is frequently associated with both  affluence and, in the true crime community, with the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley. Yet there  is a working class enclave within the opulent community, and with it, there is a lesser known, unsolved murder. The Byram River is a shallow, narrow waterway at this point in its course. The river offers abundant fishing spots sought after by local anglers. One bridge over a dammed portion of the river, holds a plaque that reads: Matthew Margolies, an Excellent Angler, Now with God, 1971-1984.  It’s Matthew’s story that I will be telling today.

In the last days of the summer of 1984, Matthew Margolies was thirteen years old and getting ready to start eighth grade at Western Junior High. Matthew and his older sister, Stacey, had been dealing with some serious changes in their lives. The previous year, their parents had divorced and their father had moved Texas. Their mother, Maryann, worked as a nurse, and her work schedule meant that the kids often spent the day with their grandmother. In addition, Matthew’s maternal grandfather had died just a few weeks before after a long illness. Matthew and his grandfather had been close, and in fact it had been his grandfather who had taught Matthew how to fish, an activity he loved and excelled at. People who knew Matthew described him as polite and responsible, and most of what has been written about his personality paints the picture of someone who was independent and mature for his age.

On August 31, 1984, Matthew spent the day much as he usually did. His mother was working, so he and Stacey were staying with their grandmother. Matthew went fishing and returned home around noon to drop off a fish he had caught, and then went back out again. His grandmother took Stacey to an appointment, and they returned sometime shortly after 5:00 pm. Maryann was off work by then and had come to the house to pick up the kids. It was at this point that they realized that none of them knew where Matthew was. It is unknown exactly when this became a cause for concern, but the family did contact law enforcement at 7:00 pm. The first concern was that Matthew might have met with some kind of accident down by the river, and so a youth division officer and some neighbors began searching along the banks while other people began contacting Matthew’s friends. The following day, the search increased in both scale and intensity. Now, divers began searching the deeper points in the river, and law enforcement contacted Matthew’s father in Texas to see if he had heard from his son (he had not).

Meanwhile, investigators began piecing together Matthew’s last known whereabouts. At around 5:00 pm, several witness claimed they saw him on the corner of Comly and Morgan Avenues. This placed him close to the Sparta Deli, which had a bit of reputation as a place where teenage troublemakers hung out. Matthew had previously  been forbidden to socialize with the older kids that frequented the deli, although a vague report would surface that someone had seen him get into a car with some of the kids. A young woman who knew Matthew also said she saw him near the deli around 5:30 pm, and said that she had waved to him. A group of Matthew’s friends said they had plans to meet up and go fishing together, but that Matthew had never showed up, although I have not seen it stated anywhere when or where the meet up was supposed to happen. Matthew is considered to have last been seen in the late afternoon of August 31st, on the corner of Pemberwick Road and Comely Avenue.  The days following the disappearance were hot, and there were some heavy rainstorms that interfered with the searches and that washed away potential evidence. 

A rumor began circulating that Matthew had gotten into a red truck with another young boy and that boy’s uncle. The uncle took the kids down to the river and they split up to fish in different areas, at which point Matthew vanished. This whole story has never been verified, but a witness did state that he saw a red truck parked directly downhill from the place where Matthew’s body would later be found.  Another witness said they saw two young boys get into a red truck, and one of them was carrying a fishing pole.

Small details surfaced, which may have been significant or that may have meant nothing at all. At some point shortly after Matthew vanished, someone noticed tire marks near the driveway of his grandmother’s house. What, if anything, this was supposed to signify I am not sure–Matthew, after all, was not believed to have gone missing from his grandmother’s front yard. In my own opinion, there is nothing to indicate that the tire tracks were anything other than a coincidence.

Matthew’s mother Maryann recalled a peculiar incident that had happened just a few days before Matthew had gone missing. They had been looking up at a ridge above Pemberwick Road, near the Glenville Civic Center. Matthew had asked his mother what was up there, citing simple curiosity as his reason for asking. She explained that there were some homes comprising the Glenville neighborhood over the ridge, a relatively isolated section of town. She asked her son if anyone had asked him to go there with them, and he said no. She promised Matthew they would check out the area one day, but reminded him not to got there alone.

Maryann and her boyfriend, Jim (whom she later married) searched the Glenville area on September 2nd.  While searching on Hawthorne Street where it dead-ended in a wooded, rocky area frequently used as a dump site, they caught wind of a foul odor. It was close enough to homes that Maryann thought the residents must have already complained of it, but she still reported it to police. However, the police were dismissive, assuming that the stench came from discarded offal left by fishermen. 

Two days later, on September 4th, a volunteer fireman was walking through the same dumping ground, approaching from the wooded hillside above Pemberwick Road, when he found a discarded sneaker. He marked the spot, and on September 5th, around 4:00 pm, he led two youth division officers to the area. There, buried under leaves in a shallow grave almost a mile from the place he was last seen, they found Matthew Margolies’ body.  His body had been covered by leaves, branches, and stones. He was wearing one sock and his underwear,  while his T-shirt had been tied around his neck. Dirt, sticks, and the other sock had been shoved down his throat. He had multiple stab wounds in his torso, believed to have come from a 10-inch boning knife found nearby. The cause of death was a combination of these injuries and traumatic asphyxiation due to chest compression. Along with the knife, Matthew’s athletic shorts and the sneakers. There was no evidence of sexual assault.

Law enforcement would state that Matthew was most likely killed close to the spot where his body was found. I have taken this to mean that he did not appear to have been dragged or carried through the woods for any great distance, or to have been transported in a car. The statement may also imply that blood from the initial attack was found at the scene, although with the recent rainstorms in the area, there may not have been much blood evidence left. A woman who lived on the other side of the river from the site where the body was found would later report that she heard what she thought was a young person screaming between 6:00 and 6:30 pm on the 31st. An investigator at the time would say that the area where Matthew’s body was found was not well known to many people in the community and not frequently visited.

The fishing rod Matthew had been carrying was not found with his body, but it may have turned up during the subsequent investigation.  Apparently, the fishing rod was in the possession of an unidentified friend of Matthew’s, who said that Matthew had sold it to him. Exactly when and where this sale took place has not been specified. Maryann questions the claim, saying that the fishing rod had been a gift from Matthew’s grandfather, and he would never have sold it of his own volition. Whether Matthew would have sold it or not is less relevant than the fact that there is no evidence that he did, at least to my mind. Another unanswered question is if Matthew had access to more than one fishing pole. After all, fishing poles often don’t look that different from one another to those not familiar with them, and if Matthew sold one of his poles to a friend on a prior occasion and had a different one with him when he went missing, that would clear up the mystery right then and there. Sadly, however, we do not know this.

This whole anecdote about Matthew telling his mother he wanted to explore the ridge seems a little odd to me, although it may ultimately mean not be all that significant. In the first place, Matthew had grown up in the Pemberwick section, and most people considered the community to be a safe case for kids to play outside. Matthew seemed to spend hours at a time fishing, unsupervised, near the river. Why would he be so interested in the area if he had lived so close all his life and had had previous opportunities to explore it, and why did his question seem to disturb his mother? Another question: if Matthew was so intensely focused on the neighborhood, why did Maryann wait two days before searching there? I can’t help but wonder if this is an understandable case of hindsight distorting perception, and that neither Matthew’s curiosity or his mother’s concerns were as strong as they have since been presented. However, I also have to take into consideration that there may have been a more specific reason for Matthew’s interest in the ridge. I’ll dig into this a bit more in the section below in which I discuss the layout of the area where the body was found. Suffice to say for the moment that it seems unlikely that anyone could expect to find anything up on the ridge except for woods and some houses.

The discovery of Matthew’s body at least allowed investigators to begin developing an idea of the type of person who might have killed him, even if they were no closer to finding the individual. An FBI behavioral profile described the assailant as “a classic loser with a poor self-image,” perhaps unkempt and overweight with a drinking or drug problem.” A homicide expert hire by the Greenwich Police Department, Vernon Geberth, said that there might have been a sexual motive even in absence of sexual assault. While much of the investigation would focus on teenage suspects, Geberth thought the evidence pointed to someone in early adulthood instead. His reasoning was that the transition from fantasy to physical reality tends to develop gradually over a number of years in sexually motivated offenders, and so most teenagers are too young to act on these impulses . However, not everyone views it this way. Forensic psychologist Charles Bahn thinks disagreed that the murder was a sexual crime, and thought it more likely to be rooted in some kind of personal grudge against Matthew. In his view, a teenage attacker is just as plausible as an adult one.

At this point, it would be very easy to digress deeper into criminal theory than I particularly enjoy or am qualified to write. So I will attempt to summarize by saying that Geberth and Bahn disagreed over whether the murder was a lust murder directed at Matthew due to chance and proximity or if he was targeted due to the relationship between him and his attacker. I’ll refer to this definition of a lust murder, wherein the motive is some form of erotic satisfaction for the perpetrator. Even a murder lacking signs of overt sexual assault can qualify as a lust murder if it is rooted in a similar motive. The ambiguity in this case centers over whether the clothing removal was done for the attempted sexual gratification of the murderer or for some other purpose. Potential reasons could include a sign of contempt or degradation towards Matthew or to make him less likely to flee towards a public area for help. Possibly, some of his clothing came loose during the struggle, at which point the shirt and sock were used to help the attacker strangle him.

The case is not without its persons of interest. Police have stated that “3 to 5” were people targeted by the investigation, based on the profile developed by the FBI Behavioral Science Unit. Two of these people were teenagers known to hang out as part of the same group of “bullies and troublemakers”, although it is not clear that this was the same group that hung out at the deli near the point where Matthew was last seen.   One of them was a sixteen year old boy who lived in a house adjacent to the spot where Matthew’s body was found, and, according to a neighbor, had threatened the neighbor’s son with a knife a week before the murder. He was also known to have access to a car. The other was a frequent angler along the Byram River as Matthew was, and lived a short distance from Matthew’s home. Interestingly, this second suspect had a father who was a policeman in the nearby neighborhood of Port Chester. This policeman reportedly contacted his department before the discovery of Matthew’s body, inquiring about a murder that took place in Greenwich, something which troubles people to this day.

The sixteen year old boy was especially scrutinized. He was a habitual bully, and Matthew had been one of his targets. In addition to threatening his neighbor with a knife, he had also lured a 13 year old boy into an empty apartment earlier in the summer by promising him a cold soft drink. Once inside, the suspect attacked the younger boy, stabbing him with a nail and forcing him to pull down his pants. The attack was interrupted by the arrival of tenets in a neighboring apartment, and the boy returned home with minor injuries. Eerily,  this victim bore a physical resemblance to Matthew. This suspect had a timecard from a local Wendy’s, saying he had worked from 4:00 pm until 10:40 pm on August 31st and a witness verified he had been there.

Also of interest was a seventeen year old boy with a bit of a criminal record, including growing marijuana. This becomes relevant because this person held a grudge against Matthew and his now-deceased grandfather for supposedly having ratted on his operation. It is also worth noting that one of his past criminal offenses was rolling logs down into Pemberwick road from the ridge close to where Matthew’s body would be found. Like the first suspect mentioned, this boy was well known as a chronic bully, and other kids were afraid of him.

If anyone has been reading my other case write-ups probably knows that I like to zero in on the geography of crime scenes, so I have included a link to the map of the area. Most likely, the neighborhood has been  developed since 1984.  For instance, Hawthorne Street and Greenway Drive are mentioned in accounts of the murder, but not High View Road, even though this street now runs through the wooded area between the dead end of Hawthorne and Pemberwick below the ridge–the area where Matthew’s body was found. Based on the previous points discussed, it seems likely that Matthew was murdered close to the spot where his body was found, if not directly on it.  The question then becomes one of what he was doing in the area to begin with.

If Matthew was as interested in in the Glenville neighborhood as his mother believes he was, then it’s entirely possible he went to explore it on his own and encountered his killer by sheer chance. He was thirteen years old, and even the most well-behaved thirteen year-olds are not above scouting out an area their parent warned them away from. Plus, he was used to spending a lot of time outside, sometimes alone, due to his frequent fishing. If this was the case, then the murderer was either an opportunistic predator and/or someone with a grudge against Matthew who spotted him and decided to take advantage of the moment. Being that this was a relatively small community, and that Matthew was known to frequent the river, the latter is also far from a remote possibility.

On the other hand, someone could have lured or forced Matthew into the woods, perhaps with some innocuous sounding proposal, such as suggesting a shortcut to a good fishing spot or asking for help with some small task. If Matthew trusted the person or simply had no reason to distrust them, he might have followed them. However, it’s difficult to imagine he would have gone anywhere with one of the kids who had bullied him and his friends in the past. If the attacker was someone Matthew knew and was not on good terms with, it might even be possible that more than one person was involved– one person to get Matthew to follow them to the isolated area and another to carry out the attack itself. After all, this would have taken place during broad daylight when, based on the number of people who claimed to have seen Matthew, there was still a lot of activity in the area. It’s possible that someone straight up grabbed him or used a weapon to get him into the woods, but unlikely. There is also the “phantom red truck sighting” discussed earlier in this article, in which someone claimed to see Matthew and another young boy getting into the truck, but I’m at somewhat of a loss as to what to do with this one, largely because there really isn’t much to do with it. It may have happened, but there is nothing to persuade me that it did. No persons of interest were mentioned as driving a red truck and the “friend and his uncle” remain unknown entities. None of this is to say that Matthew could not have been lured or forced into someone’s vehicle, driven up to the Glenville area, and then went to the murder site on foot. This is completely feasible. Yet there is nothing that specifically supports either the “red truck” or the “getting into a car with the deli kids” rumor.

In the decades since Matthew’s murder, there have been flickers of activity in the case, but nothing that quite amounts to a confirmed development. Hair and biological had been preserved from the scene, and in the early 2000s DNA was finally used to eliminate some of the suspects (although which ones is not a matter of public record). In 2011, Mark Zuccerella, the head of the Greenwich Police Department’s Special Victims Section, stated that the case remained open. “Well, we have some leads we are following; there are some leads that have to be followed,” he said. “We are still receiving information from people.” This could be equally read as a) there have been actual developments, but law enforcement is keeping their cards close to the chest, or b) next to nothing has happened with the case since the DNA testing, but law enforcement isn’t admitting to this.

When reading about the teenager who attacked a child in the empty apartment, I had the same thought some of you may have had: it’s got to be this guy, right? There is so much about that assault that dovetails with what we know of the murder–the location, the removal of the shorts, the frenzied stabbing, the victim profile, and the need of the assailant to keep the victim isolated from seeking help. We also know that this same person threatened someone with a knife, although not one specified as similar to the murder weapon. Yet, the individual in question has an alibi, and one that’s solid enough that I find it difficult to discredit. Yes, it’s possible that the teenager got someone else to punch his time card for him or had a coworker lie to cover for him, but Wendy’s is a small enough establishment that his absence would not have gone unnoticed. And while the witness who reported hearing the screams around 6:00 or 6:30 pm did so two weeks after the fact and could have misremembered the event, we still have to contend with the sightings of Matthew around 5:00 pm. Given everything we know, it is highly unlikely that Matthew was murdered or incapacitated somewhere before 4:00 pm or after 10:40 pm, the times that records indicate the teenager was at work. I can’t ignore facts just because I find them maddening.

One thing that will never stop nagging me is what happened to Matthew’s fishing pole. Did his killer take it and hide or dispose of it? Did Matthew himself leave it somewhere when he went to the Glenville area with the intention of returning, and it was never recovered or linked to him? Was the one he allegedly sold to a friend even his? Could that same friend have been less then entirely truthful?

The boning knife and presumed murder weapon is intriguing to me, because these are the types of knives frequently used in cleaning and preparing fish. In other words, it suggests that Matthew’s attacker may have also been a frequent fisherman and could have been carrying the knife not necessarily because they were planning to commit murder, but because they habitually carried one. The fact that heavy chest compression was a contributing factor in Matthew’s death indicates that the assailant was larger and stronger than Matthew, or possibly that there were multiple assailants.

To my mind at least, most of the evidence supports a scenario that unfolded something like this: Matthew walks through town and heads north along the river for more fishing, possibly to meet up with friends. While walking alone, he encounters another person fishing or preparing to do so. This person either decides to take advantage of Matthew’s vulnerability (Geberth scenario) or has some more personal reason for wanting to hurt him (Bahn scenario). In the latter case, murder might not have even been the end objective. Maybe they wanted to scare him or “teach him a lesson” and things spiraled out of control. Either way, the unknown person lures Matthew on foot up to the murder site or convinces him to get into their car before driving up to the more isolated Glenville neighborhood. Once deep into the wooded area, Matthew is attacked and killed by this person, another person, or both. Realizing that its still daylight and the struggle is close enough to a populated area to have drawn attention, the killer (s) hastily put Matthew’s body in a natural depression in the ground and cover it with dirt, stones, and leaves. Solving this case would be a long-shot–it’s been 37 years–but not impossible. And, honestly, even if it was, that’s never been quite enough to stop me from doing a write-up about a case.

If anyone has any information on this case, please contact the Greenwich Police Tip line at 203-622-3333 or toll free at 800-372-1176. Tips may also be emailed to


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