Parent killer ‘poor little rich boy’ with a lonely jail life
As Matthew Wales dragged the bleeding bodies across his front yard, the young woman who lived above the shop across Burke Rd was looking straight at him. He was afraid she had seen him.
If that potential witness hadn't been focused on the telephone conversation she was having, it all might have ended differently and much sooner.
Margaret Wales-King and her husband Paul were still alive then. Perhaps an intensive care ambulance could have brought them back from the darkness.
That ghastly question hangs over the "society murders". Matthew's mother Margaret and stepfather Paul King died much later that night, hours after the brooding man-child had clubbed them unconscious. He couldn't even do that properly.
As a murderer, Matthew Wales made a fair hairdresser. At 34, the youngest of the stylish Margaret Wales-King's five children wasn't a deep thinker. The murders were premeditated - but only up to the point where he ran out of thoughts.
He'd invited the older couple to dinner, as he regularly did. This time, as well as preparing vegetable soup and a risotto, he crushed blood pressure tablets he'd taken earlier from his mother's Armadale home. He put the crushed tablets in the soup to serve the doomed couple before everyone shared the risotto.
After dinner, Matthew's Chilean-born wife Maritza went upstairs to put their two-year-old son to bed. While she was gone, Matthew followed his mother and Paul King to the door, picked up the lump of wood he'd hidden earlier and smashed each of them in the head. Then he dragged them across the yard to the garden bed under the high front fence, presuming they were dead.
It was around 9.45pm on April 4, 2002, a Thursday night.
At 5am next morning, a Middle Park lawyer walking his dog noticed a silver Mercedes sedan near his house. It didn't move for days. He reported it after seeing television news the following Wednesday appealing for sightings of a silver Mercedes.
When the missing couple were not in the car boot it seemed a blessing. In fact, it just stretched the family's agony further, dangling the faint hope that, somehow, Paul and Margaret were still alive. But detectives knew they were looking for bodies.
Everything about Matthew's strange behaviour implied he was involved.
On the first weekend, when his brother and three sisters asked frantically where Margaret and Paul were, Matthew said only that he hadn't seen them.
It wasn't until pressed about it 24 hours later that he "remembered" they'd had dinner at his house the previous Thursday night - the last time they were seen.
That jarring omission and his evasiveness alarmed his siblings. They didn't yet grasp the full horror but Matthew was acting guiltily. The fact that he burst into theatrical sobs, crying "mumma, mumma, where's my mumma?" didn't help.
The bad acting underlined bad actions. The only doubt the police had was whether he had acted entirely alone. Had Maritza played some part in the planning?
Police and prosecutors would later reject that theory after cross-checking her version of events with Matthew's.
That version, unshaken in repeated interviews of both, was that Matthew had planned it all and that Maritza walked into a nightmare when she came downstairs that night.
When she saw the bodies at the front door, she had run upstairs and vomited.
She apparently begged Matthew to do what she should have done: to call the police.
When he refused, she was numb with fright about what would happen to their two-year-old if both parents were jailed. For a month, she would be locked into a macabre charade with the strange younger man she'd married three years before.
In the meantime, Wales muddled through the next part of his ghastly scheme like an overgrown child.
He rented a trailer and bought a variety of incriminating hardware with his credit card, immediately linking him to such hard-to-explain items as rope, shackles, concrete blocks, cleaning agents, mattock and crowbar. And a map from his local service station.
He used doona covers to cover their bodies before he put them in the trailer, covered with his child's plastic swimming pool.
He shackled concrete blocks to the bodies, which suggested he intended dumping them in water but changed his mind.
Instead, he drove to Cambarville, 50km past Marysville, where he'd been on school trips. The spot he chose was hard and so he dug a shallow hole: a common mistake for lazy or rattled killers, and one that led him to make another.
Worried that animals would dig up the bodies, he returned with extra soil and rocks. He put the rocks down neatly on the mounded soil - creating what looked exactly like a grave, visible from the nearby track.
On April 29, a passing park ranger noticed it and returned later with a rake. Lyrebirds don't build two-metre long mounds paved with rocks. But a liar might.
In minutes, the ranger uncovered a body, which was on top of another.
When homicide Detective Charlie Bezzina arrived, he saw a big diamond ring on the dead woman's hand, confirming it was almost certainly Margaret Wales-King - and proving that whoever did it wasn't motivated by robbery.
Like most murders, this was personal.
Every day, homicide detectives see the truth of Shakespeare's line "the nearer blood the nearer bloody."
With the bodies found, the game was up.
The day after the funerals on May 8, Maritza finally steeled herself to act. She went to criminal barrister, Phil Dunn, who notified the homicide squad how she could offer maximum help for minimum chance of being jailed.
Wales was arrested on May 11, 2002, and has been behind bars ever since.
The "society murders" became a book and a television film, based on facts gathered for the trial that led to Wales being sentenced to 30 years with a minimum of 24.
Maritza avoided the serious charge of accessory to murder, instead being placed on a bond for perverting the course of justice by initially lying to police.
At the heart of the case is a youngest son of limited intelligence whose life changed at the age of seven when his parents split so his mother could marry her lover.
That bewildered little boy is now 52 and starting the final quarter of his minimum 24 years before being eligible for parole in 2026.
The signs are he should get it. Prison officers say he is a model prisoner - docile, helpful and obedient.
One officer says he wishes all prisoners were like Wales, who does his work and completes courses he undertakes and is polite to authority figures.
"Real good, no drama," the officer says. "It's all 'please' and 'thank you', which isn't always the case in here."
The killer Wales has some standing inside. While at Barwon, he even found business success as the jail barber in his "own little shop", says a former jailmate.
He got his daily prison pay and also charged two large tins of Black & Gold tuna for each haircut.
When he was moved to Loddon midway through his sentence, he resented a reclassification that saw him getting less prison pay than before and quit the scissors to work in the prison garden, often with the Russell St bomber, Craig Minogue. Both were known to other prisoners as "clickers" who could switch into instant rage.
Wales is known in the system for his grand arrival at Loddon Prison. The prison van carrying him arrived towing a covered trailer.
In the trailer, wrapped in plastic, was his special bed, reputedly a "Sealy Posturepedic" customised to fit the narrow concrete blocks used as bed bases in cells.
Prison talk is that he took legal action to get the custom bed because he has an injured back, whether from bending to cut hair or from lifting heavy weights is unknown.
Wales is trusted enough to be one of the mentors who teach young intellectually disabled prisoners life skills such as cooking simple meals to prepare them for life outside.
"But Matty's not as good a cook as he thinks he is," says a fellow mentor, who never fancied Wales' vegetable soup or risotto.
Wales hit trouble when he insisted on using his cottage shopping budget to buy the ingredients for vegetarian health food instead of the sausages, chicken wings and dim sims the young prisoners wanted.
"One mentor got stabbed because there was no ice cream, so a lentil burger is a hard sell in there," the source said.
"I told Matthew he should buy what they wanted, not what he wanted, and he sulked and moved out of the cottage."
Mentoring aside, the poor little rich boy has a lonely life even by prison standards. He is estranged not only from his family but from the wife he saw himself as defending from his mother's supposed snobbery.
Maritza has never visited him. Their son, now 20, visits rarely.
Matthew's anguished sisters and brother once hired a top public relations firm to push the angle that Maritza got off scot-free.
They could not believe she did not manipulate their brother.
Right or wrong, the lobbying changed nothing.
But in 2007 Maritza found some of the disgrace they wanted for her when she was convicted of "finding" an $8000 gold engagement ring at the Kew Aquatic Centre and pawning it for $400.
Did it show a dishonest streak in the loving wife and mother presented at court five years before? Or is she just unlucky with engagement rings?
*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
Originally published as Matthew Wales a 'poor little rich boy' with a lonely prison life