The killer assured his pole-dancing sweetheart that he wasn’t a “bad person”—things just got “out of hand.”
To the world, he was ex-con Richard Matt, on the run after murdering and chopping up his elderly boss in 1997. She called him Ricky.
At Matt’s 2008 murder trial, stripper Johanna Capretto testified against her former beau, saying he smoked a Marlboro as he confessed to breaking the businessman’s neck. She listened to him in the bathroom of the Fort Erie, Ontario, motel where she lived. He said it was an accident.
“Ricky [would] dominate,” recalled Capretto, adding that Lee Bates, Matt’s accomplice who was also convicted in the killing, “was pretty much [a] follower.”
Now Matt and another partner-in-crime, convicted murderer David Sweat, are on the lam after busting out of the Clinton Correctional Facility, an escape fit for the Hollywood treatment. It was Matt’s second prison break, but his first at the state’s largest maximum-security prison, called “Little Siberia” for its isolated location.
Authorities say the criminals used power tools to cut through the cells’ steel walls and fled through a series of tunnels leading to a manhole outside. From the get-go, Governor Andrew Cuomo questioned how guards didn’t hear the jailbirds. “I’d be shocked if a correction guard was involved in this, but they definitely had help,” he said.
As the manhunt entered its third day on Tuesday, ABC News revealed police were investigating a female prison worker’s possible connection to their elaborate bust: Joyce Mitchell, 51, an industrial-training supervisor who has worked at Clinton Correctional since 2008 and makes $55,000 a year, state records show.
Mitchell, who lives an hour from the Dannemora prison, looks nothing like a criminal collaborator. Her Facebook page shows off photos of her family and baby granddaughter, along with patriotic sentiments (she’s an Air Force mom). In 2013, she shared a photo post for National Correctional Officers Week that read: “It takes balls to work behind the walls. No guns... just pure guts.”
She has remained silent since her name made headlines Tuesday afternoon. But lawmen who’ve faced Matt, 49, have painted a disturbing narrative of his sociopathic charms.
“He has a way with the ladies,” a prison source told the New York Post.
Retired detective David Bentley, who testified against Matt in 2008, added, “When [Matt’s] cleaned up, he’s very handsome and, in all frankness, very well-endowed. He gets girlfriends any place he goes.”
The murderer’s own public defender, Matthew P. Pynn, testified in court, “I can’t explain it. I can see him as a guy who would have a lot of friends... Rick Matt was a fun but dangerous guy to hang around with.”
Still, Pynn’s secretary told The Daily Beast he is declining media interviews.
Matt was convicted in 2008 of kidnapping, murder, and robbery in the 1997 death of his former employer William Rickerson, 76. After he committed the deed, Matt stole his half-brother’s van and reportedly abandoned it in Texas. Then he fled to Mexico, where he was arrested for a fatal stabbing not long after.
He was extradited to New York’s Niagara County nearly a decade later, and during trial, the court installed snipers outside in case he got away. Authorities also put electrodes under his suit to shock him if he was unruly.
Before Matt was sentenced to 25 years to life, prosecutors warned they received reports that the con was masterminding a plot to spring from the county jail and would kill anyone who stood in his way. (In 1986, Matt escaped another jail by climbing over a fence, the Buffalo News reported.)
His conviction was sealed in part thanks to testimony from Capretto, who met Matt at the now-shuttered jiggle joint Pure Platinum in Canada. “It was getting serious,” Capretto said on the stand, according to court transcripts. “We were planning to get married.”
She conceded that Matt once stole her tips from a night at the club, and that he ordered her to get rid of a diamond ring stolen from Rickerson. She flushed it down her toilet, according to court records.
“The last conversation me and Ricky would have is when he told me about the ring,” Capretto told the courtroom.
When reached by phone Tuesday, the onetime exotic dancer changed her tune, claiming she was never in love with him. “I’m shocked, I’m speechless,” she told The Daily Beast of his breakout. “That chapter of my life is over. I don’t want nothing to do with it.”
Matt’s half-brother, Wayne Schimpf, also testified against him. He said the killer was in and out of his life since they met in the early 1990s.
The day before Rickerson was reported missing in December 1997, Schimpf, Matt, and the accomplice Bates downed vodka at Schimpf’s Buffalo apartment, according to Schimpf’s testimony.
Matt and Bates announced they were going to see a cousin’s boyfriend, who owed them money for vitamins from Rickerson’s food brokerage. Schimpf gave the pair batting gloves and packing tape, he testified. Matt said he planned to use the gloves to hit the boyfriend and force him to pay up.
Weeks later, Matt showed his brother a newspaper story on police finding Rickerson’s torso in the Niagara River.
“He said that he was in a lot of trouble,” Schimpf testified, adding, “that he thought he might have killed Mr. Rickerson on accident.”
“He said they hacked him up,” the half-brother continued. “I remember when he showed me the article, I just kind of looked at him like, ‘Are you for real?’”
“And I just says—I mean, I couldn’t believe that he did it. I says, ‘How did you do it? How did you hack him up, with a chainsaw or something?’
“He turned and looked at me, and with a grin that I won’t forget, he said, ‘With a hacksaw.’ This whole time I’m still thinking he’s full of crap, he’s just trying to sound big. You know, I really didn’t want to believe it.”
In January 1998, Matt told Schimpf he was in trouble and needed to leave Buffalo. “I remember his words,” Schimpf testified. “I can do another seven years, but I can’t do life.”
When Schimpf refused to let Matt use his car to get out of town, Matt warned, “You’re my brother, you’re my blood. I love you but I’ll kill you.”
Shortly after Schimpf made copies of his car keys, his vehicle was gone. Eventually Texas authorities found it, he said.
Schimpf could not be reached by The Daily Beast. Posts to his Facebook page show he’s had frequent visits to the hospital because of health issues.
One family acquaintance, who is terrified of Matt, said the con’s relationship with his long-lost sibling was short-lived.
“They kept in touch a little bit,” the insider said. “Richard Matt was wacky. He was in and out of jail all the time. We wanted nothing to do with him.”