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The double life Friends, neighbors and spouses -- they all could be immersed in a world of deception

In his quiet neighborhood and at his West Seneca dental practice, everybody thought they knew the real Dr. Joseph D. Matteliano -- an all-around great guy.

And they did. But that was, according to statements to police, only one side of him.

Matteliano, found dead last month inside his Amherst home, is now accused of having led a deeply divided double life. The dentist's hidden life exploded into public view in a particularly grisly way, shocking many people who knew him.

But he's hardly a unique case when it comes to hidden behavior.

A double life, according to Buffalo forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael J. Lynch, can be defined as a life in which someone carries on certain activities in private, not sharing them with others, usually because of feelings of guilt or shame; the activities are not socially acceptable and would carry penalties if discovered.

Many people in Western New York lead double lives of one kind or another -- hiding some type of secret life, even from loved ones and close friends.

Secret gambling. Compulsive shopping. Embezzlement or cheating. Hard drinking or drugging. Obsession with pornography. Infidelity.

Why do people lead these hidden lives?

How do they manage to keep them secret?

And what happens when they get found out -- if they get found out?

Experts say -- and a look at some high-profile cases illustrates -- that there are no easy answers in this strange and troubled shadow-world of duplicity.

>Deceptions

Patrick Farrell, 17, a Buffalo high school student, faces charges in Matteliano's death. According to court records, Farrell told police in statements that the older man picked him up near an adult bookstore in the Black Rock section of the city, got him high and sexually abused him.

But on Kim Circle in Amherst, people considered Matteliano, 64, a good neighbor. He was friendly, kind, and he opened up his swimming pool to neighborhood kids each summer.

In West Seneca, where he ran a dental practice for 35 years, Matteliano was the picture of success: busy, professional, but not too formal that he couldn't cut loose a bit at work -- by blaring rock or country music while tending to patients, for example.

"You couldn't ask for a nicer man," said Dennis Lang, CEO of the Erie County Agricultural Society and manager of the Erie County Fair, who knew Matteliano since 1971, when the dentist first rented office space from him on Union Road.

"He was the ultimate professional tenant, the ultimate professional dentist," Lang said.

Matteliano was also known as a hospitable presence in his neighborhood.

"He lived a low-profile life here," said Dorothy Schultz, a Kim Circle resident since 1957. "It's always been a quiet, family-oriented neighborhood. Everybody gets along. [Matteliano] had parties, but they were fine. He played in a band, but they were never unruly."

Suzanne Brown, a mother who lives on the street, called Matteliano "a good neighbor and a good man." "He was really very generous," she said. "That was all we saw."

>Celebrity tales of duplicity

Matteliano is hardly the only person to be charged with leading a double life.

On the national stage, New York Times reporter Jayson Blair's double life of drinking, hard drugging and deceit ruined his career and, when exposed, brought down the newspaper's upper management in 2003. Blair, in a memoir, said he had various reasons for his duplicity, including stress and job pressure, childhood abuse, and drug and alcohol addictions.

In 1997, CBS journalist Charles Kuralt's hidden life was exposed after his death when it became public that he had two families -- a public one in New York with his wife, a second family in Montana with a mistress. Kuralt never explained his double life.

The list goes on. Don Heche, father of actress Anne Heche, died in 1983 of AIDS, which exposed his double life of homosexual activity to his wife and daughters -- one of whom, Susan Bergman, wrote a book about her father. Tab Hunter last month published a memoir about his double life in Hollywood, in which he built a reputation on-screen as a heterosexual heartthrob, all the while living a bisexual or gay private life.

But you don't have to look to Hollywood or New York City for examples.

Many of us know people right here in Western New York who have lived double lives in varying degrees.

"It happens when an activity -- or an impulse or an urge -- is not socially acceptable," said Lynch, the forensic psychiatrist. "Because you're ashamed of it, you keep it to yourself. You may not tell your husband or your wife. There's a secret life there."

Double lives come in many different forms, said Lynch, who is in private practice and also affiliated with BryLin hospital, and who has examined several hundred people who have committed homicides as well as many people who lead double lives.

The list includes: gay or adulterous sexual behavior; drinking or drug use; gambling; embezzlement or theft; compulsive shopping or kleptomania; pornography; pedophilia; transvestic fetishism; or forms of simple cheating -- even compulsive cheating in sports and games.

People engage in double lives because they find some type of temptation impossible to resist, Dr. Lynch said. But most feel guilt or shame about their doubled persona, he said.

The very few people who feel no guilt or shame about their hidden actions fall into the class of psychopaths, he said.

>Caught in the act

J.L. King knows all about living a double life -- about the anxiety, the shame, the thrill of taboo behavior, the omnipresent fears of being found out.

The Atlanta resident lived a double life for years. In public, he was a happily married man, a good father, a regular churchgoer, and a successful businessman. But in secret, he was seeking out men for lots of illicit sex.

"It's like being an actor. You perform. You live -- in your own mind -- that you are two personalities," said King, who has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show in connection with his book about his double life, "On the Down Low." "When I was living a double life, I could name the other side of me, the side that was sneaking out and sleeping with men. I could even chastize that other side of me."

One of the most stressful things about such a bifurcated life, King said, is that you never know where you're going to run into people who know you from one of your other lives. For instance, when you run into someone you have to think quickly about how you know them, so you know which persona to present.

"It's two full-time jobs," he said. "You literally have two full-time jobs. You have to constantly make sure your lives match, that your lives don't overlap. You have to make sure people from one life don't see you in the other life, so you don't get busted."

If it sounds like a lot of work, that's because it is.

So, the million-dollar question becomes this: Why doesn't that level of stress deter people from carrying on in their duplicity?

King said that for him it's because the pull of the addiction -- in his case, to sex with other men -- was stronger than any warning signals his brain could send out.

"It was unbelievably strong," King said. "I would have sex with people five times a day and then go home to make love to my wife, be the perfect father, the perfect husband, the perfect man. I'd be spent, totally exhausted. But then desire would rear its ugly head and I'd be controlled again."

King got caught in his deceptions -- a life-changing, horrible experience -- but it was good in one sense: It made him face up to his life and his lies, he said.

Now he lives on his own, in a new life without his wife or family but with a lot of inner peace. "I was able to begin a healing process," he said.

e-mail: cvogel@buffnews.com

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