Confronted with physical evidence from the scene of an April 13 arson-murder in New London, Joel Matthews confessed to police that after a day of drinking, he killed his two neighbors with a baseball bat and returned later with his mother and set fire to the house to cover up his crime.
Julie Vince, Matthews' mother, has denied involvement in the arson and murders. Police are continuing to investigate.
A police report unsealed Thursday in New London Superior Court details the police investigation into the deaths of Noel Starback, 57, and Sherry Roush, 50, who were discovered in their first-floor apartment at 36 Blinman St. when the New London Fire Department responded to a fire there.
The apartment was fully involved when Starback was found in the kitchen area with significant head trauma that did not appear to have been caused by the fire, according to the police report. He was taken to Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Roush was found in another room, her body burned beyond recognition. She was not immediately removed from the scene.
In the kitchen, detectives discovered evidence of a violent physical altercation, according to the report. Outside the home, they found an aluminum baseball bat with blood on it. Fire investigators said that a dog trained to detect accelerants alerted on several areas of the stairs and the second-floor landing.
Police talked to the third-floor tenant of the apartment, who they eliminated as a suspect and who helped them identify Matthews, 29, and Vince, 52, as residents of the second floor. The third-floor tenant said he saw Vince and Matthews drinking with Starback and Roush at about 5:30 or 6 that night. The fire was reported at 8:23 p.m.
At 8:45 the next morning, Vince called a member of the fire department from the Red Roof Inn to verify that she and her son lived at 36 Blinman St., according to the report. The mother and son said they had been at Mohegan Sun all night and had decided to get a hotel room after returning to New London. Detectives obtained a search warrant for the hotel room and interviewed Matthews and Vince at police headquarters. Both denied knowledge of the arson and murders.
Matthews said he and his mother drank a little alcohol that day while hanging out in a second-floor bedroom and that Starback and Roush were drinking heavily all day on the back porch of their apartment. He said Starback and Roush either were drinking or sleeping when he and his mother left to catch a bus for the casino.
Later that day, detectives Richard Curcuro and Matthew Galante asked Matthews whether they could speak with him again, according to the report. Matthews resisted but eventually agreed. Confronted with evidence from the scene and witness statements, he admitted he had killed Starback and Roush. He said he and his mother had been drinking with them. He said his mother had left to buy marijuana and he had gone to his apartment to listen to music. He said he heard Starback and Roush screaming about the music being too loud, and he got angry and confronted them.
Matthews said Starback threatened to throw him out of the house and was belligerent, so Matthews threw him to the ground. He said Starback attempted to call 911 so he smashed the phone. He said he may have been hit on the hand with a baseball bat by Roush. He said he took the bat and repeatedly struck Starback in the head until he died. He then took the bat to Roush, repeatedly striking her in the face.
Matthews said he called his mother and met up with her in the area of Reed and Coit streets, and the two returned to Blinman street "so she could see what he had done." He said he decided to set fire to the house but didn't know how to do it, so Vince assisted him. He said they both set fire in different areas of the house and then walked to the bus station, where they caught the bus to Mohegan Sun.
Matthews, who is being held in lieu of $1 million bond at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder, capital felony and second-degree arson. He is due back in court Thursday.