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True crime. Casually done.

The Liquid Matthew Murder

Psychopaths love a good riddle. What better way to flaunt your intelligence to some hapless police officers, than by turning your crime spree into one big mind game? One of the most famous  examples is the Son of Sam. That killer fell victim to his own ego, when the cops caught him by tracing the clues in his crime scene letters.

Today, we’ll be looking at a lesser-known case of a murderer toying with the cops. This one also went down in history, but for…. slightly different reasons. In 1983, cops in Miami came up against one such devious intellect, when the body of a foreign national turned up in a car park. 

What looked like an everyday act of violence soon turned into a game of intellectual cat and mouse, when a cryptic clue was found nearby. So began a mind bending hunt for the culprit, in what would come to be known as the Liquid Matthew Murder…

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THE MURDER

Two joggers were out running Miami’s Hialeah NEIGHBORHOOD on Sunday, December 6th, 1983, when they stumbled across a man lying face-down in a car park. That’s probably an extremely common occurrence in Florida, but judging by the state of this guy, he wasn’t just on the tail end of a mega bender. A closer look confirmed it: he was stone-cold dead.

Palm Avenue in Hialeah
Palm Avenue in Hialeah. By Ivan Curra, is licensed under CC-BY-SA

When the police arrived to investigate, they found that the man — a Colombian national named Patino Gutierrez — had been strangled to death. The time of death was likely earlier that same evening, but nobody in the area had seen anything suspicious. There wasn’t much immediately apparent evidence either.

The cops sealed off the scene, and began taking pictures of the area, but progress was stifled when a heavy thunderstorm swept across the city, forcing the detectives to retire for the night until the weather cleared. The next morning, they returned for a proper sweep of the area. 

But rather than a murder weapon or traces of DNA, they found an even more compelling clue, lifted straight out of the pages of a cheesy mystery novel…

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A Cryptic Clue

Taped onto the back of a ‘No Dumping’ sign at the edge of the parking lot, just meters from where the body was found, was a plastic bag. A sheet of paper was folded up inside, only slightly damp despite the downpour. It was a neatly-typed letter, featuring a cryptic clue:

“Once you’re back on the track you’ll travel in night. So prepare your old self for a terrible fright. […] Now the motive is clear and the victim is, too. You’ve got all the answers. Just follow the clues.”

Holy mackerel Batman, the Riddler has struck again! But unfortunately the Caped Crusader’s jurisdiction doesn’t extend down as far as Florida. That left the cops to crack this code on their own. 

Still, it was hardly the Zodiac Cipher; surely it wouldn’t take a team of ace detectives that long to figure it out. Just in case they were wasting their time on a hoax, they checked through the crime scene photographs from the night before. Sure enough, the bag was poking out at the back of the sign, hidden just out of sight all along. 

SERGEANt David Miller was the one tasked with following the trail of the strange message. This was the kind of classic Agatha Christie detective stuff that dreams are made of — a chance to go head-to-head with a villain — a real career-making case.

But it wouldn’t be easy. Perhaps there’s some key info left out in the middle of the quote, but regardless, it seems like the detective didn’t have much to go on. For one, the killer suggested that the motive should be obvious, but it was really anything but. 

Could the letter be giving coded directions to some location in town? Maybe “back on the track” alluded to following some train tracks? Maybe the “terrible fright” suggested… a halloween costume store? I don’t know, I’m shit at riddles. The point is though, Sergeant Miller wasn’t.

Somehow he managed to crack it in under an hour…

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FOLLOWING THE TRAIL

His keen intuitions helped him track down a second clue, sealed in a plastic bag just like the last one. Who knew how many there might be strewn around the city, or if the devious murderer would be waiting at the end of the line. This one was taped to the back of a speed limit sign, a few minutes down the road from the murder scene. Its message was more macabre than the last one:

“Yes, Matthew is dead, but his body not felt. Those brains were not Matt’s because his body did melt. For Billy threw Matt in some hot, boiling oil. To confuse the police for the mystery they did toil.”

Jesus Christ, sounds like Mr Gutierrez got a better deal than this Matthew character. Perhaps the killer was boasting about another victim, whose liquefied remains were waiting at the end of the trail. If so, then the dead guy in the car park might have just been killed to kickstart this sick little game.s

Or maybe, as the end of the clue suggests, it was all a ruse to waste police time in the crucial early stages of the investigation. If so, it worked a charm. Nobody could quite work out the meaning of this second riddle. 

The mention of boiling this poor guy in hot oil didn’t directly suggest anywhere in the vicinity. Somewhere with a deep fat fryer? McDonalds? Just like me, the cops ran into a dead end. After several more days of making zero headway, Sergeant Miller decided to appeal to the public for help. 

Locals opened their copies of the Miami Herald to a bonus puzzle page, featuring an appeal for information about that second clue. The cops were asking for anything that could either help solve the riddle, or cut the bullshit and identify the writer directly. Some budding amateur detectives no doubt tried crack the case, now popularly known as the Liquid Matthew murder, but it wasn’t long before a more direct tip came in. 

The writer turned himself in…

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A RIDICULOUS CONCLUSION

This crafty criminal was among those who spotted the riddle in the paper that day. He contacted the police, but not to taunt them with a diabolical monologue — he actually wanted to clear something important up. Around a weekend half after the body was first found, the Miami Riddler rang up the police tip line, and identified himself.

police tip line

He was the leader of a local Christian youth group. So what drove this holy young man to commit such a violent, senseless crime? Money? Drugs? Sheer bloodlust? Well… actually, none of that. In fact, the devout young man didn’t actually commit any crime at all (despite perhaps a minor bit of littering).

It must have been a painfully awkward phone call. Yes, he did post those riddles there, but they had nothing to do with the murder. In fact, they had been hanging there for months before the victim even died. Every halloween, their church group ran a blood-and-guts themed treasure hunt for the young people at four local churches. 

It was predicted to rain back on that night in October, so they put the clues in plastic bags just in case they got ruined. Sure enough, it started bucketing down partway through, meaning the murder mystery game — and the clues — had to be abandoned.

They never bothered going back to collect the remaining clues. I mean, what were the odds that an actual real-life murder would occur right next to one of them!? That’s some astronomically bad luck for everyone involved. Soon another churchgoer called in to confirm the story; the detectives had been inadvertently playing a children’s game, rather than chasing a murderer.

Honestly, I almost wish they hadn’t needed to go public after that second clue. Imagine some grizzled old detectives following the trail to its conclusion, expecting to find a killer, but just nabbing a bag of Christian book vouchers instead…

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Something About a Murder?

Just like that, the mystery of the Miami murder riddles was solved (in the most ridiculous way imaginable). But hold on, the whole thing wasn’t really about solving some scavenger hunt — who actually did the murder? Oh yeah, about that — we have no idea. Whoever strangled Francisco Patino Gutierrez to death in that parking lot was never found (not directly because of that little place distraction, but it can’t have helped). 

The alternative avenues of inquiry revealed some actual clues about why the guy was killed. He worked as a sailor, and recently arrived in Miami via Panama. The ship he was on got raided when it arrived in port, and the cops seized 11 pounds of cocaine on board.

Gutierrez was a suspect in the smuggling case, and his untimely end seemed to confirm the authorities’ suspicions. Drug cartels don’t usually have a ‘forgive and forget’ type mentality, so it’s likely he was assassinated in retaliation for the seized cargo. 

That was the official conclusion when the case was closed on December 19th, 1983…

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Wrap-up

Unfortunately for Sergeant Miller, this never turned out to be his career-making case — but at least he got a pretty funny story out of it. As for the riddle master himself, he never got in any trouble for leaving those harmless Halloween game clues around.

The only repercussion was a bit of short-lived embarrassment for the church group leader, who for a brief time became Miami’s second-most famous super-villain — second only to the dastardly Florida Man (who somehow escapes jail to commit a new crime every other day).

In the end, the murder of Gutierrez went unsolved. Rather than finding the person responsible for his untimely death, the investigation just resulted in one of the most absurd real-life punchlines we’ve ever featured. On the plus side though, at least nobody was boiled alive in oil…

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