Sock it to Me: the Gold Sock Serial Killer

Posted: August 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

“What kind of man is the sock strangler? What dark secret lies deeply embedded in the twisted web of his psyche and compels him to murder again and again? What turns him on?” Fort Lauderdale News, August 30th, 1973 

7am, July 14th, 1973. A man walking his dog past a heavily-wooded yard in Fort Lauderdale noticed a scattered trail of women’s clothing:
following the garments into the underbrush he came upon the body of Jonina Kelpien, age forty-two.
Clad only in her bra, Jonina, an Iceland native, had been garroted from behind with a gold men’s knee sock;
she had also been raped.
Her white Cadillac, the interior flecked with blood, was parked nearby;
in the car’s back seat her cocker spaniel Sponge waited unharmed.

When detectives arrived at the Kelpien residence at 34 Pelican Isle—approximately one mile from the crime scene—they discovered Jonina’s key in the door but the inside chain lock fastened;
she’d been locked out of the house.
Rousing her husband Theodore from sleep, investigators learned he’d last spoken to his wife on the phone at 10pm the previous evening;
during the conversation they’d argued about her drinking.
Detectives later determined Jonina visited with friends in the Icelandic expat community into the wee hours,
and was last spotted at 3am at a nearby convenience store.

Eleven days later, ten blocks from the Kelpien crime scene:
shortly after 9pm a twenty-five year old secretary reentered her apartment after doing a load of laundry.
While groping for a lamp in the dark she encountered an intruder—fighting like a wildcat and screaming like a banshee, she managed to drive the man out her front door.
The assailant—who had entered via a jimmied-open back window—left his would-be murder weapon behind:
a men’s gold knee-length stretch sock.
Although it appeared identical to the sock used in the Kelpien murder the crime lab determined the items weren’t a matched set—slight compositional differences existed in the fabric.

The Kelpien home

August 3rd, just outside Fort Lauderdale:
one week after the secretary’s attack seventeen-year old Teresa Ann Williams crept into North Miami General Hospital after visiting hours to meet her newborn nephew;
she then dropped her boyfriend at his home around 11:30pm and vanished.
Four days later men hunting land crabs in a marshy area in Hollywood discovered her body,
nude from the waist down.
Her advanced state of decomposition precluded a definitive determination of rape
but her cause of death was readily apparent: she’d been strangled with a men’s maroon knee-length stretch sock.

The medical examiner determined Teresa had been slain shortly after she was last seen.
Her car, a white two-door Comet, was eventually located parked at an apartment complex near her dumpsite;
none of the building residents recognized Teresa’s photo,
and she had no known connection to anyone who lived in the area.
In her car authorities found a dozen eggs, indicating she had likely stopped at a store after dropping off her boyfriend.

Next to die was Hollywood-resident Marisue Curtis, age sixteen.
A recent transplant from Upstate New York, August 28th was her first day of South Broward High school—that evening her stepfather Stanley took her out for a soda to celebrate the occasion.
As they returned home around 9pm
Marisue chanced upon some friends outside the Curtis residence at 901 South Surf Road;
assuring her stepfather she’d be upstairs directly
she accompanied her friends to a nearby convenience store and then disappeared.

The following morning Marisue’s nude corpse was found by a fisherman at a construction site six miles from her home.
Attached to two concrete blocks,
her body had been placed underwater just off the shore of the Intercostal Waterway;
her clothing and bathing suit were found nearby.
She had been raped and strangled; a black men’s knee sock was knotted around her neck.
The building site’s security guard heard screams in the area at approximately 10pm but failed to contact authorities.

[Unimportant but interesting detail: security at the construction site was provided by Wackenhut, the CIA-affiliated company that played a prominent role in the Octopus conspiracy theory. Digging into the crime archives is like playing Six Degrees of Separation with murder victims instead of Kevin Bacon costars.]

Marisue’s stepfather Stanley Curtis, an attorney, wrote an open letter to the strangler

The Curtis family was devastated by Marisue’s death:
“How does something like this happen,” her sister Debbie Cantwell asked a reporter from the Fort Lauderdale News.
“She wasn’t a tramp. I can’t understand it—something like this doesn’t happen to good kids.”
Florida was experiencing a homicide spike at the time,
but even amidst the daily carnage the upper-middle class backgrounds of the sock victims focused substantial media attention on the slayings.
Dubbing the perpetrator the “Gold Sock Strangler”—“Gold-Maroon-Black Sock Strangler” would’ve been more precise—newspapers abounded with speculation about the killer’s identity and the significance of his chosen murder weapon.

“Perhaps his mother wore gold panties or some other gold-colored undergarment . . . . All right, let’s consider the material of those socks. Men’s stretch socks, weren’t they? Smooth, nylon, silky? Perhaps the smooth softness of the socks reminds the murderer of an undergarment; there is a connection there—the socks mean something to him.” Psychiatrist Dr. Raymond R. Killinger, Fort Lauderdale News, August 30th, 1973

A connection between the sock slayings seemed obvious to the press and area residents,
but in a Fort Lauderdale News  interview
a spokesperson for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department denied the murders were linked.
Homicide Bureau Chief Sergeant Jerry Meltzer acknowledged superficial similarities between the Hollywood victims—Teresa Ann Williams and Marisue Curtis—but he was adamant
the two crimes in his jurisdiction [the Kelpien murder and the secretary attack] were unrelated:

“The victims didn’t come from the same social strata. And I’m not convinced Mrs. Kelpien was raped; in the attack on the secretary I’m convinced the woman walked back into her apartment and surprised a burglar.” Sergeant Jerry Meltzer, Fort Lauderdale News, August 31st, 1973

Apparently law enforcement was so obsessed with quelling community panic investigators were willing to undermine a medical examiner’s findings
and pretend run-of-the-mill burglars arrived equipped with one extra knee sock.
The Fort Lauderdale Police Department’s message was clear: there is nothing to worry about, average citizen.
These attacks are personal cause crimes, and as long as you don’t pal around with homicidal maniacs you’ll be fine.

Although Marisue Curtis was the final victim strangled with a men’s sock the ligature homicides in the area continued.
Six weeks after Marisue’s death Vermont nurse Susan Mickelsen, age twenty-three,
arrived in Fort Lauderdale for a week’s vacation.
On November 20th her body was found in her room at the Fair Winds Motel—she’d been garroted with an item variously described as a woman’s sock, pantyhose, or nylon stocking.
Her assailant had placed an open Bible and a pillow over her face;
clad in a housecoat pushed above her waist, it’s unclear if Susan had been raped—the media reports regarding her autopsy are inconsistent.

Ten weeks later, February 6th, 1974.
When Ann Raub Newman failed to appear at her desk at 9:30am her coworkers immediately presumed disaster;
the thirty-two year old office manager was unfailingly prompt and responsible.
At 10am they went to her Hollywood apartment and found her dead in bed, nude from the waist down—a pillow had been placed over her face and a brightly-colored silk scarf knotted tightly around her neck.
Ann’s killer left two fingerprints behind:
one on the window screen he’d removed to gain entry and one on her bedroom doorjamb.
An autopsy revealed Ann had been sexually assaulted;
the crime lab subsequently determined her assailant was a B-blood type secretor.

Acting on a tip, detectives were able to match the fingerprints at the Raub Newman crime scene to nineteen-year old construction worker Gary Jay Matus.
Matus—like Marisue Curtis a recent transplant from Upstate New York—had been arrested the previous summer for prowling.
Like Ann’s assailant Matus was a B-type secretor,
a fairly rare attribute shared by only ten percent of the population.
Matus was arrested on February 8th while driving down State Road A1A—his car, interestingly enough, was a gold-colored Cadillac.

When questioned by police Matus did the classic dance of guilt, inching himself ever closer and closer to the crime scene.
First he claimed he’d never been in Ann’s neighborhood;
when detectives noted his stepbrother lived nearby Matus conceded he may have been in the neighborhood but had certainly never been to the Raub Newman residence.
When confronted with his fingerprint on the removed window screen Matus pivoted,
now claiming he actually had been outside Ann’s apartment but only at the behest of a friend
(named either Steve or Roy, his companion’s identity as changeable as the details of Matus’s story).

According to Matus he’d been enjoying a beverage at a local bar when he met Steve/Roy,
a friendly stranger who suggested they cap off the evening with a burglary.
Matus had accompanied Steve/Roy to Ann Raub Newman’s apartment, he admitted,
and had then helped remove the window screen—but he had never been inside the crime scene, he insisted.
When detectives cited his fingerprint on the bedroom doorjamb Matus adopted his final stance, a tale he would cling to through two trials:
he had entered Ann’s apartment with Steve/Roy the evening before the murder,
he now admitted, but no one was home at the time.
In a twist you almost certainly saw coming, investigators were never able to locate the elusive bar-hopping burglar who answered to the name of Steve/Roy.

At his first trial Matus was the sole witness and the jury split nine for conviction, three for acquittal—his imaginary-codefendant-ate-my-homework alibi was surprisingly effective.
At his second trial, however, luck failed him;
after five hours’ deliberation Matus was convicted of rape and second degree murder.
Sentenced to one-hundred and sixty five years in prison,
Matus’s projected release date is in 2034 at the ripe old age of seventy-nine.

Gary Jay Matus (left) and a court bailiff


Predictably, although the Fort Lauderdale Police Department initially denied the sock crimes were linked
investigators changed their tune after Matus’s arrest—although he was never tried for the sock slayings or the murder of Susan Mickelsen he was identified as the Gold Sock Killer in the press,
and investigation into the other strangulations seems to have ceased after his conviction.
Jonina Kelpien’s husband and Marisue Curtis’s stepfather attended every day of both Matus trials,
so certain were they of his guilt in the sock slayings.

Assessing guilt in the pre-forensic science era lacks the certitude of DNA evidence,
but Gary Jay Matus is almost certainly guilty of Ann Raub Newman’s murder—the imaginary coconspirator is a common guilt-deflection trope and the likelihood Ann had experienced multiple break-ins—-first by a burglar and then by a rapist/murderer—within the span of a few hours is infinitesimal.
Ann had been slain at approximately 7:30am and Matus had arrived at his job—scheduled to start at 7:45am—thirty minutes late that morning; the evidence against him is circumstantial but substantial.

However I’m far less certain is Matus the Gold Sock Strangler—the secretary who survived her attack was unable to identify him in a lineup,
and authorities have never revealed the blood grouping of the semen recovered at the sock crime scenes,
an omission I find suspicious at best.
Law enforcement obviously wanted the public to believe the local serial killer was behind bars, but the case against Matus for the sock attacks is less than overwhelming.

Ironically, the crime I find most similar to the Raub Newman slaying is the Susan Mickelsen murder—both victims were attacked in bed,
nightclothes pushed up, naked from the waist down, a post-mortem pillow covering their faces—but it’s unclear if the Mickelsen murder is related to the sock crimes.
Approximately ten percent of homicides are committed via strangulation;
while not the most commonplace murder method there’s no statistical imperative indicating every contemporaneous ligature strangulation was committed by the same offender.
The male knee socks transported to the scene are atypical enough to qualify as a signature, but Susan’s killer murdered her with an item of her own hosiery.


There is only a single factor which indicates Matus’s guilt in the sock murders but it’s persuasive:
Matus was a construction worker by trade,
and he was employed at the building site where Marisue Curtis’s body was found.
And Marisue, coincidentally, was the only sock victim whose corpse was concealed; the remains of both Jonina and Teresa were openly discarded.
Attaching the cement blocks and dragging Marisue into the water must’ve been a time-consuming task;
an assailant without ties to the crime scene had no incentive to hide her body.
And the odds of two murderers with a penchant for ligature strangulation frequenting the same jobsite seem astronomical, even in the homicidal wonderland of 1970s Florida.

Of course, astronomical odds don’t equate with impossibility; for example, what are the chances two high-profile murderers would patronize the same drinking establishment?
Matus was a regular at the Button, an infamous Fort Lauderdale dive bar;
and when Son of Sam David Berkowitz visited his stepfather in Boynton Beach he was a frequent customer as well.
When a Fort Lauderdale News  reporter mentioned the unlikeliness of this coincidence to longtime Button employee Bill Penna the barkeep seemed unimpressed:
“I think half the people who come around here are insane,” he replied.
I never knew the Son of Sam had Florida ties, but I can’t say I’m surprised.

Spring Break at the Button in the 1970s; I spent an hour playing Where’s Waldo?  looking for serial killers in the crowd.

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