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When a woman wanted her husband dead, she turned to one of the most important men in her life: her own brother.
“This was one of the more gruesome scenes that I’ve seen," said Kevin Helms, a retired lieutenant of the Shelby County Sheriff's office in Tennessee, of the murder of Fred Matting, 51, to "Killer Siblings," airing Fridays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
Several of Fred's neighbors had called 911 around 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 2, 2010 after hearing shots go off in their suburban neighborhood of Cordova, 20 miles east of Memphis. When police arrived, the found Fred's brutalized body lying in the middle of the road in a pool of his own blood — with a trail of blood indicating he'd staggered there, possibly being pursued by his killer, from his own driveway about a block away.
The eventual autopsy report underscored Helms' impression of the crime scene: Fred had a shotgun wound to his right pelvis, two stab wounds to the head, one stab wound to the neck, four stab wounds to the torso, multiple fractures to the right forearm, and 10 fractured ribs.
“Fred Matting died one of the most violent deaths I’ve ever seen,” said Helms — and his neighbors had witnessed much of it.
“About 4:35, I heard a loud noise and it sounded like a shotgun,” one neighbor said, as recorded by police.
" A pop, then another pop, real loud," Fred's friend and neighbor Devin Johnson told police. "I saw one individual standing up. I saw one individual on the ground." He described the getaway vehicle as a "dark color, four-door pickup" that had been parked in the driveway of a home the neighbors all knew to be unoccupied.
The neighbors all described the perpetrator as a large man in a yellow hoodie; another neighborhood car fanatic identified the vehicle as a Ford F-150 pickup truck.
But none of it — not the shotgun going off in her driveway, the beating, the stabbing, the pickup truck zooming away, or the two hours of flashing lights as police investigated — woke up Fred 's wife of 30 years, Patricia Matting.
It took the cops knocking on her door to make the notification, based on having found Fred's driver's license in his wallet, for her to come outside.
“It’s hard for me to believe that somebody on the inside hasn’t come out to go, ‘Hey, what is going on?’" said Helms. "You don’t want to overly concentrate on that, but you do note it."
Patricia told police that her husband, a machinist, had taken a late shift at the factory and was due home. She said she didn't know who would want to kill him. Neither did any of his coworkers at the factory — none of whom owned an F-150.
Police then pulled a variety of phone records, looking at which phones had been in the area of the murder at the time and at Fred's call history... which revealed that he was having an affair with a local married woman named Mary.
Mary admitted to the affair, but swore her husband didn't know about it, and police were able to confirm her husband wasn't involved: His employer said he’d arrived at his job at 4:50 a.m. the day of the murder, when Fred was killed at 4:35 and 20-30 minutes away.
By Nov. 9, police were even more suspicious of Patricia Matting, who had not been in touch with them at all.
“Patricia just was MIA,” Shelby County Sheriff Assistant Chief Deputy Mark Dunbar told producers. “She was just kind of disinterested. So we began to question: Did Patricia know about Fred’s affair?”
Around this time, police heard from a local insurance agent, who told them that three days before Fred's murder, Patricia had asked about purchasing life insurance for her husband.
Police then began looking at Patricia's cell phone records and discovered that she'd been making a lot of calls to Carbondale, Illinois — a town about 220 miles north of Cordova — where she had no apparent relatives. With the help of the Carbondale police, they discovered that Patricia had been renting an apartment up there, was seeing a man outside her marriage, and had established a small transportation company. (She was out on disability from the U.S. Postal Service, which she'd joined out of high school, and disability awards are usually dependent on the recipient being unable to work.)
Investigators with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office met with Patricia for the second time on Dec. 1, 2010 and admitted that she knew about Fred's affair: She told them she'd seen a text from a strange number on his phone and called Mary, who'd confirmed the relationship.
“This thing’s been going on forever with us, you know, but we’re dedicated to keeping our family together,” Patrica told police. “We both were, even though we both did different things.”
But after being confronted with evidence of her second life, Patricia's story about her supposedly beloved husband shifted.
“Fred does his own thing," she said. "The women, partying, sleeping around and all that. When you run the streets like he run the streets, anything can happen."
Patricia, investigators decided, might well be involved but, between the eyewitness accounts of the man in the yellow hoodie and the sheer physicality required to break a relatively large man's forearm and 10 ribs, they didn't believe Patricia could have been the one who wielded the gun or the knife that killed her husband.
Her Carbondale boyfriend was ruled out by credit card and cell phone records — but Patricia's phone records yielded another potential suspect: Her brother, James "Zell" Smith, 47.
James and Patricia were extremely close even though James had moved to Milwaukee as an adult, according to James' wife, Millie Smith.
“James and Patricia talked on the phone two to three times a day," she told producers. "Whatever Patricia wanted him to do, James would do without question."
And phone records showed that the brother and sister were together in Carbondale on Nov. 1, the day before the murder. Both of their cell pones went off that night and didn't come back on until after 7:00 a.m. on Nov. 2.
They also discovered that Patricia had called a Milwaukee-area bank and inquired about the lien on her brother's black Ford F-150 before the murder. And in his driver's license photo provided to Shelby County by Milwaukee Police, James was wearing a yellow hoodie.
In the early morning hours of of Dec. 3, Shelby County investigators called James to ask where he'd been the weekend of the murder and he lied, telling them he hadn't left Milwaukee except for Fred's funeral since July. They decided it was time to interview him in person.
At 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 3, Shelby County investigators joined Milwaukee police officers in a Milwaukee interrogation room to talk to James — after he was pulled over during a traffic stop and his car was impounded.
"I never killed no one, sir," James first said to investigators.
But when confronted with the fact that his impounded truck was leaking oil in the same pattern as the truck seen leaving the scene of Fred's murder seemingly left on the driveway, he recanted.
“Yes, I did lie about that,” he admitted. "I just want to be no part of this thing."
James said that he'd driven to Cordova — which is around 650 miles from Milwaukee — on the night of the murder to confront his brother-in-law for allegedly abusing his beloved sister, not the affair.
"She spoke to me many times about how verbally and sometimes physically abusive he was towards her,” he claimed. "I wanted to talk to him about the way he was treating my sister you know?”
But when he arrived, James said, two other men were attacking Fred.
“They came up, two guys,” he told investigators. “They confronted him. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ And they pulled a gun on me. And he said, ‘Look, one word and all this gonna be done with.’ I panicked and I left.”
Of course, the neighbors who witnessed the murder hadn't mentioned a third man coming and leaving, let alone two men killing Fred.
Investigators one last time encouraged James to tell the truth about his brother-in-law's murder — and the third time, he agreed.
Fred, he said, had been abusing Patricia for years but it wasn't until the weekend before the murder, while in Carbondale, that Patricia asked James to kill Fred. She also, he said, offered to pay off the lien on his truck if he did so.
The two siblings then agreed to turn off their phones, and James drove to Cordova with a shotgun. He got there between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m., parked in the driveway of the vacant house (which Patricia told him about), and waited for Fred to get home after work.
“So, I had gotten out the truck and he saw me. We saw each other. He got out,” James said. “I confronted him. I said, ‘Man, what’s going on with you and my sister? Why are you treating my sister like this?’ And that’s when I just squeezed the trigger. First shot missed.”
The second did not. “And that’s when he dropped all his stuff and we just was fist fighting."
According to testimony at trial, Fred pulled the knife on James, but James wrestled it away and stabbed him.
Lacking any more bullets, James hit Fred with the shotgun as Fred was holding his arms up, accounting for Fred's broken arm. “I think I hit him on the leg and the arms and maybe the head.” Fred got back up and took off running.
“I ran behind him because I was gonna fight with him some more,” James said. But with the blood loss, Fred fell down in the street and never got back up.
James said he then got back in his truck and drove back to Milwaukee, stopping to throw the knife and the shotgun in the Mississippi River. He only turned his cell phone on once he got back.
“I haven’t been able to eat or sleep because I feel that I’m a very bad person because of what I’ve done,” James told investigators.
On Dec. 7, 2010, Patricia Matting and James Smith were charged with first-degree murder in the death of Fred Matting.
Patricia never spoke to police or confessed to her involvement; lacking much evidence against her other than James' confession, prosecutors offered him a plea agreement in exchange for his testimony against Patricia (and, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, testimony against his cellmate).
Patricia went to trial in 2012, but the jury deadlocked after both she and her children testified about Fred's physical abuse, according to the newspaper. In August 2013, she pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and false reporting, and was sentenced to eight years in prison and 10 years of probation.
James pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in November 2013 in exchange for a 13-year sentence, as negotiated.
James Smith died in prison in 2018. Patricia Matting was released after serving her sentence and is currently on probation.
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