Richard W. Matt was a killer reviled by many, but he still has loved ones who want him to have a proper funeral service.
This weekend’s farewell for Matt – who was fatally shot June 26 after escaping from a North Country prison – will be private, held at an undisclosed location.
“If I hadn’t claimed his body, he would just be rotting up there,” Nicholas Harris, Matt’s only son, said Tuesday. “The funeral is not going to be public. Certain people who have contacted me will be invited. We’re having this funeral in honor of my biological dad’s memory.”
The 23-year-old Angola resident made no excuses for his father’s behavior in life, but publicly asked that his family be left alone as they go through the mourning process. Harris spoke about the funeral because he wanted to publicly express gratitude to those who have helped in defraying the costs.
“A lady whose husband is a corrections officer and knew my father just came by and asked, ‘Are you Nicholas?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and she handed me an envelope with a donation,” Harris said.
There have been other acts of kindness.
“Another person sent me a money order and signed it ‘a complete stranger,’ That was really, really nice, ” Harris said. “But I want it known I am not going out of my way seeking contributions.”
Harris, a college student on leave, said he used thousands of dollars in funds set aside for his tuition and loans to cover the cost of transporting his father’s body from a funeral home in Plattsburgh to a local funeral home, which arranged for cremation.
“I wanted to have an open casket,” Harris said, but explained it was not possible because of the condition of his father’s remains.
Matt, 49, was shot three times in the head by a federal agent after he refused to put down a shotgun. Two days later, his fellow escapee, cop killer David P. Sweat, 35, was shot twice by a state police sergeant after refusing to surrender and running across a field. The apprehension of Sweat ended a massive three-week search for the two convicts, who broke out of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.
Sweat has been assigned to a special housing unit at Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus. Matt’s death and Sweat’s apprehension were first reported by The Buffalo News as numerous media outlets pursued new developments in the national story.
In the early days of the manhunt for his biological father, Harris, in an exclusive interview with The News, had said he regarded his stepfather as the true father figure in his life. But on Tuesday, he revealed that he had stayed in contact with Matt over the years while he was in state prison.
Matt was serving a sentence of 25 years to life for killing and dismembering William L. Rickerson, a 76-year-old North Tonawanda food broker, in 1997. Matt had fled before his arrest and ended up spending several years in a Mexican prison after killing an American businessman in that country.
The sudden attention brought upon Matt’s relatives, Harris said, was emotionally overwhelming.
He said he was outraged when photographs of his slain father, graphically showing bullet wounds to his head, were aired or published on some websites.
“The media has been on me 24-7 and I’ve been harassed. I’ve been called by lots of film companies who want to make movies about the whole thing,” Harris said, adding that the only way he would agree to assist in such a project is if Italian-Americans were portrayed in a positive light. His father, he said, was proud of his Italian ancestry.
“The television show ‘Jersey Shore’ has ruined the image of Italians,” Harris said. Of Harris’ prior comment that he and his father shared high IQs, other family members have since said it is a common trait among the Matts. Harris on Tuesday said his father’s IQ was in the genius range of 180.
Wearing a fluorescent yellow Nike shirt and matching athletic shorts, Harris talked Tuesday as he repaired his off-road dirt bike in front of the home he shares with his disabled mother.
Reflecting on his father and what the family has been through, he said he wants to “try and maintain a normal life,” which includes returning to college in the fall, after having taken a leave of absence to care for his mother, Vee Marie Harris. She was physically attacked by Matt years ago when she and Nicholas, a baby at the time, lived in the City of Tonawanda, where Matt had been raised by foster parents.
“I want to get a college degree in environmental science and forestry,” Harris said.
Not all of Matt’s relatives plan to attend this weekend’s funeral.
Matt’s brother, Wayne M. Schimpf, said he wants nothing to do with it. In an exclusive interview with The News last week, he said he believes Matt is in hell “where he deserves to be.” Schimpf said he lived in fear for nearly two decades that Matt would make good on a threat to kill him for cooperating with North Tonawanda detectives in the investigation of the Rickerson slaying.
“If he ever had apologized or expressed remorse for everything he’s done, it might have been a different story,” Schimpf said Tuesday evening.
But Harris says other relatives will be at the funeral service, including a daughter of Matt’s. “I’ll be meeting her for the first time,” Harris said.
The son says he plans to hold onto some of his father’s ashes, but will scatter the rest at a place that was special to Matt.
That location, Harris said, will remain a secret.