When 13-year old Matthew Margolies didn’t come home for supper on the night of August 31, 1984, police in Greenwich, Connecticut launched a full scale search scouring the Pemberwick woods and waters of the Byram River for any sign of the young fisherman.
Despite numerous suspects and abundant evidence over the last 40 years, police have failed to make an arrest in this senseless crime that tossed the otherwise idyllic New England town into a state of chaos.
About Matthew Margolies
Driving through the Pemberwick section of Greenwich, Connecticut on a summer day in the early 80s, you were pretty much guaranteed to catch a glimpse of 13-year old Matthew Margolies. Whether riding his bike between his house and his grandparents’ place, posting up outside the Sparta Deli, or traversing the banks of the Byram River with a fishing rod in hand, Matthew was an ever present figure in The Valley.
Matthew was a skilled angler, even as a young teen, and he learned much of what he knew about fishing from his grandfather, George. By all accounts, grandfather George was Matthew’s best friend. They fished on the Byram together not far from their homes, and George taught his grandson everything he could about the outdoors and survival in the wilderness.
When Matthew’s parents divorced in late 1983 and his father moved away, Matthew became even closer to his grandparents. He lived with his mother and sister only a few blocks away from his grandparents, but Matthew often preferred to spend the night at their house instead. The more time with George, the better, and it made for an earlier start to the next day’s outdoor adventures together.
And the outdoor adventures continued – identifying edible berries, scouting the best trout fishing spots, learning how to walk quietly on the fallen sticks and leaves in the woods – it was all part of the special time George and Matthew shared together until the summer of 1984 when George was diagnosed with cancer. It was fast moving, and George grew weak and tired as the disease took a toll on his body. Their days of fishing together were far and few between until George was eventually confined to his home…but Matthew didn’t abandon his best friend. He was there at George’s side, keeping him company and making sure he took his medication while his grandmother Stella was at work.
That was the kind of kid Matthew Margolies was. In an interview with The Daily Advocate, Matthew’s mother Maryann said he was a very giving child, not only to his family, but to anyone in need. She said that if Matthew saw another kid struggling to catch a fish, he’d share his. She described her son as charismatic, gentle, trustworthy, and said he had a natural sense of humor, too.
In August 1984, George tragically lost his cancer battle and the death of his best friend devastated Matthew. But still, there Matthew was on the Byram River, casting his line into the water and searching for a bite just like his late grandfather had taught him. For a young boy who had been through the ringer in the last year – between the divorce of his parents and the decline and death of his grandfather – fishing was his happy place.
While other kids were leaving for Labor Day weekend trips with their families, Matthew planned to spend one of the last late summer afternoons as he did every day. He slept over at his grandmother Stella’s house on Thursday, August 30 and early the next morning, he was out the door and on his bike, heading off to his favorite perch on the river with his trusty fishing rod in tow.
August 31, 1984: Disappearance and Search
Around 9:30 a.m. on the morning of Friday, August 31, 1984, Matthew stopped into the Sparta Deli on Morgan Avenue to fuel up for his day of fishing. He grabbed a pastry and a carton of milk before heading to the nearby bridge on Comly Avenue. Just about 30 minutes later, Matthew already had a string of fish beside him when a passing woman asked Matthew how the catch was that morning and he told her they were really biting.
According to J.A. Johnson Jr.’s extensive coverage of the casefile contents for the Greenwich Time newspaper, within the hour Matthew decided to change his position on the river and he ventured upstream along the east bank and onto Pemberwick Road. By 11:30 a.m. though, Matthew went back to his grandmother’s house.
When his grandmother Stella got home for lunch around noon, while Matthew wasn’t there, she could tell he had obviously been there recently because his dripping wet corduroy pants were hanging off a living room chair and his trout were in the kitchen. She scrawled a note to her grandson before leaving to run some errands: Get rid of the fish in the sink.
In 2000, the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission ordered the Greenwich Police Department to release the Matthew Margolies case file. It’s redacted to protect what they considered to be an open and active investigation at the time, but the over 600 pages of reports gives incredible insight into the day 13-year old Matthew Morgolies disappeared. J.A. Johnson Jr. covered the contents of these reports for the Greenwich Time newspaper.
That afternoon and into the early evening, Matthew was spotted all around Pemberwick – in his grandmother’s driveway, walking down Morgan Avenue, and again back at Sparta Deli. Sparta Deli was a kind of hub for neighborhood teens, especially a group of older boys known as “The Valley Boys”. J.A Johnson Jr. reports that the Valley Boys had a reputation for drug use and petty crime around town, breaking into cars and things like that. Matthew had been notably critical of the boys’ behavior and lectured them about the risks of drugs. Even still, friends said that Matthew had started spending time with some of the boys in the few weeks after his grandfather’s death. There were roughly a dozen boys hanging out around the deli when Matthew was last seen there around 5:15 or 5:30 p.m. on August 31.
At 5 p.m. when Matthew’s mother Maryann pulled into the driveway of her childhood home, where her mother still lived and where Matthew spent so much time, the house was quiet. She knew that Stella had driven Matthew’s sister Stacy to an appointment, so she waited at the house, thinking Matthew maybe went with them. But when Stella returned, Matthew wasn’t with her. Over the next four hours as they waited for Matthew to return, the dread in Maryann’s stomach intensified with each passing minute. She couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that something was terribly wrong.
At 8:59 p.m. Maryann decided to call the local police to report Matthew missing. Soon, the Byram River was flooded with officers and family members, all on the lookout for the boy they’d all seen fishing the banks of that same river day after day.
Maybe there’d been an accident. Maybe Matthew was somehow swept up into the river or fell into a pond or injured himself. Or maybe Matthew, weighed down by grief, had taken to the woods for some alone time where he and his grandfather George had shared so many wonderful memories. Never during those first hours of searching did anyone let their mind wander to anything sinister.
Confident that Matthew was either near or in the river, the search efforts focused there and continued into the night. But darkness made the search treacherous, especially on the rocky terrain and steep hillsides, so they called it a night until a more organized effort could proceed in the light of day.
By 11 a.m. on the next morning, state police tracking dogs were assisting in the search for Matthew, working off a scent from the pants he left on a chair at his grandmother’s house. The case file shows that on September 1st, 1984, the dogs traced the scent all the way to the waterfall below a dam on the river, but the trail stopped there. Divers took to the waters below the dam looking for any sign that Matthew had been in the river.
Based on a tip from Matthew’s friends, investigators also searched an abandoned house on an old farm as well as his grandfather’s gravesite at St. Mary’s Cemetery. They even checked in with Matthew’s father in Texas, but the boy wasn’t anywhere. The first full day of searching came to an agonizing close for Matthew’s mother, and the subsequent searches over the weekend would bring more of the same for the Margolies family – no Matthew and no clue as to where he might have gone.
On his missing poster, Matthew was described as 4 feet 8 inches tall, 100 pounds with brown eyes and short brown hair. He was last seen wearing white cut-off shorts, a white t-shirt, and distinctive black and white checkered sneakers. As these posters with his photo and that description were distributed throughout the community, Maryann spoke to her son through the newspaper. She says to the Hartford Courant, quote, “I want him to come home, and I love him, and want him to know he’s not in any kind of trouble.” End quote.
Matthew’s mother seemed to consider the possibility that something terrible had happened to her son. Despite there being no evidence that he’d been abducted, Maryann asked publicly that whoever had her son to not hurt him, and to help him find his way home.
Just four days into the search, the effort began to taper off. Greenwich Police officer Michael Panza told the Hartford Courant that they’d exhausted every lead and had searched every place by air, land, and sea that Matthew could possibly be. Until they had a piece of clothing, a credible sighting, or a solid lead to follow, the extensive organized search would come to a close.
On the fifth day of the search, a United Press International article in the Hartford Courant stated that police didn’t have any reason to believe that Matthew Margolies was missing under suspicious circumstances. But the very same day that article ran, the once-dismissed possibility of foul play became an undeniable reality.
The case of Matthew Margolies continues on Dark Downeast. Press play to hear the full story wherever you get your podcasts.
Episode Source Material
- Police, volunteers search for boy, 13, Hartford Courant, 02 Sep 1984
- Search continues for boy missing from Greenwich by Steve Burkholder, Hartford Courant, 03 Sep 1984, page 2
- FBI enters hunt for boy missing from Greenwich, Hartford Courant, 04 Sep 1984
- Police think missing boy may be hiding in woods, UPI/Hartford Courant, 05 Sep 1984
- Missing boy was slain, AP/The Day, 06 Sep 1984
- Missing Greenwich teenager apparent homicide victim by Kevin Donovan, Hartford Courant, 06 Sep 1984, page 2
- ‘Quiet’ Greenwich boy was knifed, strangled by David H. Rhinelander, Hartford Courant, 07 Sep 1984, page 2
- Slain boy’s mother worries about other children, AP/The Day, 07 Sep 1984
- Police find knife believed used in slaying of Greenwich youth by David H. Rhinelander, Hartford Courant, 08 Sep 1984
- Knife found near youth’s body, UPI/Record-Journal, 08 Sept 1984
- Motorists queried in boy’s death, AP/Hartford Courant, 09 Sep 1984
- Search continues for Greenwich slaying clues by Karlynn Carrington, Hartford Courant, 10 Sep 1984
- Relatives, friends mourn slain Greenwich boy by David H. Rhinelander, Hartford Courant, 11 Sep 1984
- $38,400 fund collected to find boy’s killer, AP/Hartford Courant, 29 Sep 1984
- Psychological profile of killer is completed, AP/The Day, 20 Oct 1984
- Police say acquaintance of suspect in slaying may be in peril by Nancy Tracy, Hartford Courant, 28 Dec 1984
- Driver sought in slaying case, Hartford Courant, 10 Jan 1985
- Police ask help in murder probe, Hartford Courant, 16 Jul 1985
- A year after Greenwich teen’s slaying… by Michele Block, Hartford Courant, 05 Sep 1985, page 2
- Police ordered to release report, AP/Hartford Courant, 27 May 1988
- Selectmen to appeal ruling in slaying case, Hartford Courant, 08 Jun 1988
- Greenwich denied request to quiz state commissioners, AP/Hartford Courant, 29 Oct 1988
- FOI chief asks release of Greenwich probe, AP/Record-Journal, 06 Feb 1992
- Killing suspect may have been high, The Day, 09 Oct 2000
- Moxley case techniques to be used to solve slaying, Record-Journal, 06 Mar 2001
- Ex-cop’s DNA may link him to boy’s killing by Bill Hughes, Journal News, 13 Sep 2004
- Parents want answers in son’s death by Lynne Tuohy, Hartford Courant, 17 Sep 2004
- Lead in old murder case is a dead end, The Day, 29 Aug 2006
- Police still hunting for Margolies’ killer by Kevin Donovan, The Advocate, 31 Aug 1986
- Report lists police errors in Greenwich murder by J.A. Johnson Jr., Daily Advocate, 11 Mar 1992
- Remembering Matthew: A mother shares the loss of a murdered child, Daily Advocate, 22 Mar 1992
- Margolies murder remains a mystery by J.A. Johnson Jr. The Daily Advocate, 05 Sep 2000
- Typical summer day for boy took tragic turn by J.A. Johnson Jr. The Daily Advocate, 06 Sep 2000
- Many suspects but no arrest in killing by J.A. Johnson Jr. The Daily Advocate, 07 Sep 2000
- Exhaustive police effort fails to find lead in boy’s murder by J.A. Johnson Jr. The Daily Advocate, 08 Sep 2000
- Killing suspect may have been tripping By Associated Press, 09 Oct 2000
- Convicted molester could be linked to Margolies murder by Ken Borsuk, Greenwich Post, 16 Sep 2004
- Cold case team collects DNA to test in ‘84 murder by Martin B. Cassidy, The Daily Advocate, 29 Sep 2004
- Despite some advances, Margolies case still stalled by Martin B. Cassidy, 12 Sep 2005
- Plodding along with Margolies case, Greenwich Time, 14 Sep 2005
- Still looking for a killer: Margolies family awaits updates from investigators By Martin B. Cassidy, Greenwich Time, 26 Aug 2007
- 25 years later, Margolies’ killer still at large By Debra Friedman, Greenwich Time, 31 Aug 2009
- Matthew Margolies cold case: The killing that shook Greenwich By Frank MacEachern, 18 Sep 2011