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Suspect in grisly '97 slaying faces trial Officers bring Matt back after his release from Mexican prison

A career criminal who has been in a Mexican prison for almost nine years is returning to Niagara County to face prosecution in the horrific slaying of an elderly businessman.

Federal marshals and state police traveled to Texas on Wednesday to pick up Richard W. Matt, 40, a City of Tonawanda native who recently completed his prison term for killing a man outside a Mexican bar in 1998.

Matt now will be prosecuted in the December 1997 abduction, murder and dismemberment of William Rickerson, 76, a food broker who lived on Harvard Place in North Tonawanda.

"I'm thankful that [Matt] is being brought up here, because this was one of the most horrific crimes I've ever prosecuted," said Niagara County District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III.

Murphy said it was his understanding that the U.S. Marshals Service was recently notified that Matt had completed his Mexican prison term and could be extradited to Niagara County to face prosecution in the Rickerson slaying. Murphy's office and North Tonawanda detectives charged Matt with the crime in February 1998.

"We've always said that we would wait as long as it takes for him to finish his prison time in Mexico and bring him back up here for the Rickerson case," Murphy said.

"I feel a lot of sympathy for Mr. Rickerson's family. They lost him, and then they had to wait a long time. I hope that the prosecution of this case will eventually bring them some kind of closure."

Police said Rickerson lived in North Tonawanda's upscale Wurlitzer Park neighborhood. He disappeared from his home on Dec. 5, 1997. Weeks later, Rickerson's torso -- his head, legs and arms had been chopped off -- was found in the Niagara River off Fisherman's Park.

Later, two legs were found in the river off Tonawanda Island, about a quarter mile from Fisherman's Park. DNA testing verified that the body parts were Rickerson's.

North Tonawanda police believe Matt and an accomplice kidnapped Rickerson in hopes he would give them money. Police said they believe Rickerson was beaten in his home, thrown down a flight of stairs, forced into the trunk of a car and driven all over Western New York, then killed.

Matt, widely known to local police for his long history of violence, had worked for Rickerson at a food warehouse on Military Road in the Town of Tonawanda. Detectives said Matt was fired for poor performance a few weeks before Rickerson disappeared.

Lee Bates, then 21, a video store clerk from North Buffalo, was arrested in March 1998 and accused of being Matt's accomplice. Bates had no previous history of violent crime and was studying in college to become a police officer.

In a statement to police, Bates said Matt killed and dismembered Rickerson because he was convinced the businessman had tens of thousands of dollars in cash. Ultimately, authorities said, the killers got only $80 and some jewelry from Rickerson.

Bates pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He is serving 15 years to life in state prison. Murphy said he could not comment when asked if Bates will testify against Matt, but Bates agreed in court to testify under the conditions of his guilty plea.

Police said Matt was hiding out in Mexico when he fatally stabbed a man outside a bar in the city of Matamoros, across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville, Texas.

Matt's long criminal history includes a sentencing in 1993, when he was sent to prison for two to four years on charges relating to a 1989 Buffalo rape and a 1991 stabbing attack on a nurse.

He became a government witness in a bizarre 1992 case involving David Telstar, a wealthy California socialite. Telstar, who was facing a federal drug charge, met Matt in the Erie County Holding Center and offered him $100,000 to travel to Los Angeles and kill four prominent people, including Telstar's wife.

Instead of traveling to Los Angeles, Matt reported the offer to the FBI and provided information about Telstar. Telstar later took a plea deal.

Federal marshals and a state trooper from the Violent Felony Warrant Squad in Buffalo brought Matt back from Houston, arriving at Buffalo Niagara International Airport Wednesday afternoon. Murphy said he is not sure when Matt will appear in court in Lockport.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com