January 27, 2020 | By Cori Santucci
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
Matthew King grew up in Beaumont, Texas, the youngest of six children. He was the baby of the family and loved by all, according to his oldest sister Beth Hartley.
“He was quiet, happy, soft-spoken,” Beth recalled. “Everybody loved him, and he was easy to get along with.” Matt was also a fabulous artist. He would often draw elaborate pictures for his parents as gifts as a child.
Growing up with an Army veteran father, the three brothers would each have their heads shaved. Matt, however, had a “little curl in the middle of his forehead,” Beth said. “We demanded our father not to cut it! We called it his ‘personality.’”
When Matt turned 20, he moved to Jacksonville, Florida, to pursue a career in sales at Helena Laboratories.
Less than two months after leaving home, Matthew would return home. He had been murdered.
“The impact of his murder was unbelievable,” Beth said. “We were a big family. It was traumatic for all of us. It was awful.”
Matt’s father and two brothers would pass away in the following years. “It was like reading about someone else’s life,” Beth recalled.
By the time he decided to take the new position at medical engineering company Helena Laboratories, his three older sisters had all moved out of the house, living their own lives. Beth recalls that, when Matt moved to Jacksonville, he was excited to be on his own, making sales calls around town, and meeting new people along the way.
King’s move to Jacksonville offered opportunities to take advantage of his newfound access to the sea. For a man who loved the outdoors and playing his guitar, the coastal city offered him a journey that reflected his interests and personality.
Matt was described as calm, level-headed, and a fabulous artist. He would often draw elaborate pictures for his parents as gifts as a child.
He had been a great student, remaining on the dean’s list at Lamar University in Texas. He received his associate degree in Industrial Electricity and Electronics Technology. Matt even spent a few years in seminary school before changing his career path.
Patty Brinker, the second oldest sibling, vividly remembers the day that Matt flew out of George Bush International Airport, recalling her feelings of apprehension as she watched her youngest brother fly away. The unease prompted her to start writing him letters that very day.
“I was pregnant with my son the last time I saw Matt. He bears my brother’s name,” Brinker shares. “I was so traumatized by my brother’s death that he came three weeks early.” The news of his death shocked and devastated the family.
Matt would fly back home to Texas to visit for his father’s 55th birthday. “That was the last time we saw him,” Beth recalled. Just a few weeks later, Matt was dead.
“I received the phone call from Helena Labs called, Beth said. “They told me Matt had been killed and they couldn’t get a hold of our parents.”
According to the Beaumont Enterprise, Matt had not been seen for about five days before his body was discovered by the maintenance man on February 21, 1980. Matt was found in his Arlington apartment at Castilo Court Apartments off Rogero Road. At the time, Jacksonville Police Information Officer Mike Gould detailed that Matt’s hands were bound and a pillow was placed over his face.
The attacker is believed to have also robbed Matt, taking his car which was later found in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a week later.
After the murder, the King siblings heard conflicting theories from those close to Matt about how he was killed. One theory offered pointed to an accidental hit to the head with a skateboard. The injuries discussed were consistent with the blunt force cause of death listed on his death certificate.
Matthew King’s murder has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. His surviving family continues to struggle with the loss.
Beth Hartley consistently writes letters to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. She has done so every year since her brother was taken. Unfortunately, she shares with Project: Cold Case that a response has never been received.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Matthew King, please call the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-0500. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a $3,000 reward, call First Coast Crime Stoppers at (866) 845-TIPS.
Research and Impact
Project: Cold Case often hears stories from our families and survivors that have grown up hearing about a loved one, or grown up with memories shared with them with a lasting impact in their life and function, even if they had never met the victim. Experts have studied the impact of fetal exposure to grief in-utero with results revealing a higher predictive chance that depression and negative effects on their mental health is likely.
Fetal exposure to extremely elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, can have lasting impacts on the mental health of a child, even into adulthood, as evidenced by the 2018 research conducted by Petra Persson and Maya Rossin-Slater.
Grief is a great stressor for a pregnant mother, especially when it’s brought on by the sudden death of a close loved one. There is an estimated 25% greater chance of purchasing ADHD medications for a child exposed to excessive cortisol in-utero compared to those with low exposure, and a 24% increase in the average daily dose of these medications.
There are similar findings amongst those that are now adults, expressing a significantly increased likelihood of taking prescription medications to treat anxiety and depression and consuming them at stronger daily doses.
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