The "Liquid Matthew" Murder Case and it's Cryptic Clues

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"It started like many South Florida murders."—The Miami Herald.

There were 1,193 murders in Florida in 1983 by the time the two joggers discovered the "beaten and strangled" body of "Liquid Matthew" on December 6th. By the end of that year, there would be several more murders committed—just in South Florida. However, this particular dead guy was special because his body came with a note.

Wrapped in a sandwich bag and taped to the back of a "No Dumping" sign was a simple poem that kicked off a bizarre whodunnit case.

The note read:

The Miami Herald 18 Dec 1983
Once you're back on the track you'll travel in night. [sic]
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.

Leading the investigation was homicide detective Walter Philbrick—a no non-sense officer who was determined to identify the body and catch the man's killer.

"In a homicide investigation, you have to follow all your leads."—Sgt. Walter Philbrick.

Not being a puzzle-solver himself, he handed the poem off to Sgt. Dave Miller, a "rookie homicide detective who developed a love for mystery games when he was a kid."

Living up to expectations, Sgt. Miller solved the puzzle within the first hour.

The detectives loaded up and soon found themselves at the intersection of NW 103rd St. and Okeechobee Road.

Hileah, Florida. Source Hileahfl.gov

They knew Miller had put them in the right place when an officer spotted another sandwich bag—this one taped to a speed sign—stuffed with another cryptic clue.

This second note read:

The Miami Herald 18 Dec 1983
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.
Here is where Billy dumped oil from the drum and poured Liquid Matthew,
every drop till it's done.
Now Bill, it is said, never winced, at this once.
But pleasurely filled the canal with the dunce.

This one led detective Miller and his team to a canal near the Palmetto General Hospital, and after a hasty search, the officers noticed an oil slick. Floating on top of the oil was a bone that was "the length of a pencil."

The bone was sent for testing.

Police reprinted the first two poems in the Miami Herald, hoping for help from the average citizen, and almost immediately got a response. The 'killer poet' himself strolled into the Hileah Police Station and confessed.


Not What It Seems

The man responsible for the cryptic notes was a local Hileah youth pastor. This man claimed that there was no connection of the notes to the dead body, and that on every Halloween, "four church groups" leave "four separate sets of clues" around North Dade County.

The goal is for the church kids to "solve fictitious murders" and it was just by an "extreme coincidence" they found the first note next to the dead body.

Headline from The Miami Herald 19, Dec, 1983

Asked why the groups never collected all the notes, the man said the downpour of rain that night had stopped them from going back out.


The Body

But what about the dead body found by two joggers? Police identified the body of Francisco Patino Gutiérrez.

The unfortunate man arrived in Miami two weeks before his murder on a Panamanian cargo ship loaded with Colombia cocaine. Tipped off, police quickly swooped in and arrested the men on board. They released Gutiérrez and the cartel—we assume—murdered him, along with another fellow who arrived on the same ship. The other man's "bullet-riddled body" was found dumped in a canal.

It was just an "extreme coincidence" that Gutiérrez was dumped near the Halloween note. No littering charges were brought on the local pastor.