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Thomas Matusiewicz Guns Down Ex-Daughter-In-Law and Friend In Courthouse Amid Custody Battle
Christine Belford's ex-husband and former in-laws would stop at nothing in a raging custody dispute — including murder.
An ordinary morning was thrown into chaos when a gunman fatally opened fire in the New Castle County courthouse in Delaware on Feb. 11, 2013.
“I could see there was a man chasing a woman. He opened fire on her,” said Steven Rinehart, a corporal with Delaware Capitol Police.
“Then the shooter turned towards another woman and chased her shot her several times,” he told Fatal Family Feuds, airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen
Rinehart pursued the assailant and exchanged gunfire. The officer ordered the shooter to drop his firearm but instead, the assailant turned the gun on himself.
“The man, while he’s standing there, takes a gun and blows his head off,” said Cris Barrish, an investigative reporter for the Wilmington News Journal.
Victims ID'd as Christine Belford and Beth Mulford
The victims were identified as Christine Belford, 39, and Laura "Beth" Mulford, 47. Belford was known to police as she and her ex-husband David Matusiewicz had been in a bitter, widely-publicized custody dispute.
As they worked the case, detectives learned that Belford’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1998. The next year she began dating David, who was well-educated and had his own optometry practice. They dated for two years, got married, and in short order had three daughters. But David’s parents, Thomas and Lenore, didn’t support his relationship with Belford, which would later become a serious issue.
In 2003, when the couple’s second daughter was just two months old, David’s parents moved in with them. They couldn’t afford to live on their own at that point, said Timothy Hitchings, Belford’s attorney.
The in-laws seized control. “Christine felt like she had been kicked to the curb as far as how to deal with her children,” said Jeff Shriner, a detective with New Castle Police.
That live-in arrangement lasted for nine months, causing the Belford’s marriage to suffer. Belford reached a breaking point and filed for divorce in 2006.
The couple had to come up with some custody agreement for the kids and, in the process, David tried to minimize her contact with her children. “David made a claim that Christine was not fit to be a mother,” said Det. Shriner.
A psychologist, however, found that David had issues of his own. “The psychologist said David … saw the world from his perspective only,” said Hitchings.
In Feb. 2007, the divorce was finalized. “The court decided that the parents should have shared custody,” said U.S. Attorney Ed McAndrew.
Christine Belford and David Matusiewicz's Custody Dispute
In early summer of 2007, the children were living with Belford when David asked to take the children on a two-week vacation with his mother to Disney World in Florida. Belford consented to the trip and they left on August 26.
When her ex-husband failed to bring the children back or return to his business after more than two weeks, Belford got nervous and filed a missing persons report.
Det. Shriner was assigned as the investigator. He learned that David had sold his optometry business to his partner for $900,000. “He had a very, very large cache of money … to go on to run,” said Det. Shriner.
Detectives found that David’s house had been emptied of the furniture, indicating that he had no plans to return.
Det. Shriner secured a felony warrant for three counts of parental abduction against David. He enlisted the help of U.S. Marshals to search countrywide and, if needed, beyond, Det. Shriner told Fatal Family Feuds.
At the same time police looked at financial transactions, toll records, and any other information that might lead to David’s whereabouts. Amid the investigation, Belford struggled to keep it together.
“Christine had a child from her other marriage,” said her friend Lois Dawson. “The other child was older and knew what was going on. Christine tried to keep everything as normal as she could for the older girl.”
Det. Shriner’s attempts to get information from David's father, Thomas Matusiewicz, and sister, Amy Gonzalez, proved fruitless. They appeared unconcerned, the investigator said.
Meanwhile, Belford discovered that the mortgage on the marital home was in default. It came to light that David had forged Belford's signature on financial documents, which amounted to fraud, according to Hitchings. Money from that transaction went into Thomas and Lenore’s bank account, so their financial records were subpoenaed. This led to the revelation that the parents had bought an RV and a BOLO was issued on the vehicle.
Det. Shriner found out that Thomas and Gonzalez had moved to Texas. The Matusiewicz's email communications were tracked.
It would take a year for that strategy to pay off, when investigators located the missing children in Nicaragua. On March 12, 2009, Belford and the authorities flew to Central America. David and Lenore were taken into custody without incident.
After 18 months, Belford was reunited with her kids, at which point she learned that David had told the kids she’d committed suicide. “It’s a very, very devious, evil thing to say to a child,” said McAndrew.
David pleaded guilty to kidnapping and bank fraud. He got four years in federal prison. Lenore was given 18 months for her role in the abduction.
On Jan. 8, 2010, Belford filed a motion in family court and successfully terminated David's parental rights and Thomas and Lenore’s grand-parental rights, according to Fatal Family Feuds.
Custody Battle Escalates
In response to the filing, the Matusiewicz family upped its course of criminal conduct, investigators said. There was a multi-pronged effort to defame her through internet postings accusing her of neglecting and abusing her daughters.
In September 2010, Lenore was released from prison and moved to Texas to be with her husband and daughter. Two years later, David was released from prison and moved in with his parents in Texas.
But David was ordered to appear in court in Delaware for a hearing on child support payments he owed. He obtained permission to travel to Delaware.
“What he doesn't tell the probation office is that his mother and father are going to travel with him,” said McAndrew.
Thomas Matusiewicz guns down Belford
On the morning of Feb. 11, 2013, Belford dropped her girls off at school and headed to the courthouse. Her friend, Laura Beth Mulford, offered to accompany her for support.
The women were shot dead moments after they entered the building. Their killer, who subsequently took his own life, was Thomas Matusiewicz.
David was found at the courthouse and arrested on a petition for violation of his federal probation tied to traveling with his parents.
Lenore denied any involvement in the shootings. She claimed that her husband acted on his own. Lenore was released due to a lack of evidence to hold her.
Back in Texas, Lenore and Gonzalez resumed cyber stalking Belford by recording defamatory videos targeting her.
Matusiewicz family members charged in courthouse murder conspiracy
“We concluded that the only way to ensure these kids could remain safe into the future was to prosecute the entire Matusiewicz family,” said McAndrew. "We had to show that death resulted from this group of people who had an agreement, a common criminal objective to cyber stalk Christine Belford."
David was charged with internet stalking, resulting in death. His sister and mother were charged as co-conspirators.
Belford’s oldest daughter testified against her mother’s killers in the trial and insisted that she had never been abused in any way by her mother.
The three defendants were convicted of and sentenced to life in prison.
To find out more about the case, watch Fatal Family Feuds, airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.