Neill F. Matzen, dirty, distraught and on the run from the law, tried to convince himself to commit suicide by jumping off a freeway overpass in Ontario but lost his nerve, a Fontana man who befriended Matzen said Saturday.
Billy Lay, a maintenance man who hired Matzen to clean up his yard, said Matzen talked about God, dispensed advice and ate like a starving man Thursday night. Lay said he was stunned when Buena Park detectives arrested Matzen Friday on suspicion of bludgeoning to death a Buena Park nurse whose husband he later gunned down.
As Matzen remained in jail and incommunicado Saturday, Matzen’s wife, Cynthia, confirmed that she had been having an affair with Richard Connaty, the slain man, a 38-year-old diesel mechanic.
“Rick and I had been having an affair for over 14 months,” she said.
The Matzen-Connaty saga, with charges of adultery, murder-for hire, betrayal and an unfolding custody battle, began with the Nov. 24 bludgeoning death of Donna J. Connaty, a 34-year-old nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange.
It was followed by Matzen’s shooting of Richard Connaty on Dec. 3; a suicide note received Tuesday by a newspaper in which Matzen said Richard Connaty had agreed to pay him $15,000 to kill Donna; the police discovery of Matzen’s empty car in the desert on Thursday, and Matzen’s capture in Fontana on Friday.
Matzen was being held Saturday at Orange County Jail. He refused to speak to reporters and spent much of the day in a psychiatric lockdown, jail officials said.
The bizarre developments Friday and Saturday have raised new questions about Donna Connaty’s murder.
Buena Park police have said that Richard Connaty plotted to have his wife killed because he feared he would lose their home and custody of the children in a bitter divorce proceeding.
However, according to police reports, 10 days after his wife’s death, Richard Connaty came to the Matzens’ Santa Ana trailer, pulled out a semiautomatic handgun, yelled, “You killed my wife!” and shot Matzen in the left shoulder. Matzen grabbed a .357 handgun, chased Connaty outside and shot him in the chest, police said.
After the shooting, Santa Ana police arrested Matzen on suspicion of Donna Connaty’s murder but released him after the district attorney found insufficient evidence to file charges. Matzen also was not charged with Richard Connaty’s shooting because authorities concluded that he acted in self-defense.
But in a letter dated Dec. 7 and mailed to the Orange County Register, Matzen confessed to Donna Connaty’s murder and wrote that Richard Connaty had offered him $15,000 to kill her.
Matzen’s letter said he would be dead by the time police found him and that his body would be found at Chiriaco Summit, 30 miles east of Indio. Police found the car but not Matzen, and began a manhunt.
Lay, 25, said he befriended Matzen on Thursday, unaware that the man was a fugitive.
Lay said he noticed Matzen wandering in a rocky vacant lot at 11 a.m. Thursday while Lay was filling his gas tank at the Beacon/Bingo truck stop in Ontario. He said Matzen looked dirty and disoriented.
“I felt sorry for the guy. I just wanted to help him out,” Lay said. He approached Matzen and offered to hire him to help clean up Lay’s yard. The two men then drove to Fontana to the one-bedroom shack Lay shares with his wife, Janet.
Lay said he paid Matzen $35 to clean his garbage-strewn dirt yard and to allow Lay to use Matzen’s driver’s license to sell $100 worth of scrap metal. It was the scrap dealers at Frankel Iron and Metal Co. who recognized Matzen from newspaper and television reports and called police.
Meanwhile, Matzen was devouring an entire pizza and a box of doughnuts, Lay said.
“He was such a nice guy,” said Janet. “Whatever his problem is is his business.”
“I felt so sorry for him,” Lay said. “He was really starving.”
Denon Parker, 20, who was also staying in the tiny stucco shack, said Matzen told him to try to find a good job and keep his nose clean.
“He gave me good advice. He said: ‘Man, just stay out of trouble. I been walking across the bridge and I wanted to jump over myself.’ ”
Over the course of the evening, Parker and Lay said, Matzen told them he had spent much of Wednesday walking back and forth across a towering freeway overpass near the truck stop, trying to summon the courage to jump.
“He told me, ‘I’ve been feeling like jumping off.’ He said, ‘You won’t have to worry about me,’ ” Parker said.
Matzen also told them that he had once seen God’s face in a cloud and had a taken a photograph to prove it.
At 11 a.m. Friday morning, Lay and Matzen were sweeping down the dirt driveway when Buena Park detectives arrived.
One detective “told me to eat dirt,” Lay said. “Before I knew it I was eating dirt.”
“I said, ‘Wait a minute,’ and he said, ‘This man’s a killer,’ ” Lay said.
Matzen was taken back to Buena Park for questioning Friday night. Police declined to discuss his statements except to say that Matzen had waived his right to have a lawyer present during questioning and had confirmed details of letters he had written to the Register, his wife and Buena Park police. Buena Park Police Sgt. Terry Branum said the letters had “his fingerprints all over them.”
However, both Cynthia Matzen and Carlos James, a 48-year-old retired truck driver and martial arts buff who lives next door to the Matzens, said Saturday that they believe some parts of Matzen’s suicide note to be false.
James said that before his death, Richard Connaty had sworn that he was not involved with Cynthia. He also said Matzen had exhibited violent and erratic behavior for months before the killings.
“I think he had a screw loose,” James said.
James said he has been a close friend of Richard Connaty for nine years and that the Matzens had met the Connatys through him.
“I’d say we were closer than best friends,” James said. “We were brothers.”
“Rick was killed at my house outside the door,” James said. “He was laying on my front porch. . . . I’m not saying anything to make him look good . . . but I don’t think he deserved to die, and I don’t think he did anything that he should have died, except maybe that he confronted Neill Matzen.”
James said Richard Connaty lived with him from about July, 1989, until March, 1990, during a separation from Donna, but that the couple had been attempting to reconcile during the month before Donna’s death.
“Rick loved his wife. No matter how bad things got, he loved his wife,” James said, adding that he does not believe Connaty hired Matzen to kill Donna.
On the other hand, he described both Matzens as out of control.
“The Matzens were fighting constantly,” James said, noting that Neill Matzen often struck his wife. “I’ve seen him throw a trash can through the windshield of her car, and she threw a brick” at his car. Cynthia Matzen confirmed the incident Saturday.
James said Matzen also had shot at a power transformer on their street, and once “danced in the street in the middle of the night with a gun in his hand. In the nude.”
James said he did not believe that Richard Connaty and Cynthia Matzen were having an affair, despite the fact that both Matzens have said so.
In March, James said, he heard Cynthia Matzen taunt her husband by saying she was having the affair.
He became alarmed and called Connaty to confront him.
“Rick said, and these are his exact words, ‘God is my witness that I am not having an affair with her. . . ,’ ” James said.
“I don’t believe there was an affair going on,” James said. But, he added, “I think that Cindy would like something to have gone on.”
James said the Matzens were more than six months behind on the payments on their home, and had asked both James and Connaty if they could move in with them. James said both refused.
James said he had given a statement to police, which he said also contradicts portions of the statements that both Cindy and Neill Matzen gave police. Detectives could not be reached for comment on that assertion Saturday evening.
In a brief telephone interview Saturday night, Cynthia Matzen confirmed her husband’s violence and said she had obtained a restraining order to keep him away from her.
The affair with Connaty, she said, “is not an invention.” She said he might have denied the affair to James “because we both had been denying it to any outsiders. There were only a few select people who knew.”
She also said her husband’s assertion, in his suicide note, that he had become incensed after hearing her and Connaty making love in a truck was false since they were not there at the time Matzen specified.
“There are parts I know for a fact are untruthful,” she said, but declined to elaborate further. “It will all come out eventually.”
Cynthia Matzen said she had not seen her husband for more than a week and had not attempted to visit him in jail.
“I will see him in court,” she said.
A funeral was held in Cypress Saturday for Richard Connaty. His friends and relatives said that Cynthia Matzen attended the wake but not the funeral.
Connaty’s relatives said they were distraught that Donna and Richard’s three orphaned children, who are staying with Donna’s mother, did not attend their father’s funeral as promised.
Richard’s father, Ramsay Connaty, said his grandchildren had been living with him and his wife until they were brought to their mother’s funeral. At the funeral, Donna’s mother, Kathy Taylor, took the children for a visit “and we never saw them again,” Ramsay Connaty said.
Taylor has not returned repeated telephone calls and could not be reached for comment Saturday.