Jamie Ciffa’s nightmares started after the 9-year-old girl learned that her father was a murderer.
“It was always the same. He was coming into the house at night, and I was in bed. He was dressed in black but I could see his face. He’d put me in this big black plastic garbage bag and tie it up,” the now-adult Jamie said.
The nightmare haunted her throughout her childhood.
Her father was Richard W. Matt, a notorious killer.
But to Jamie, now Jamie Scalise, her father was a man shrouded in mystery. She has virtually no childhood memories of him, because he abandoned her and her mother when she was an infant.
Matt was not known to harm children, but he relished his reputation as a brutal killer.
After getting in a dispute with a 76-year-old North Tonawanda businessman in 1997, he kidnapped the man, tortured him and then sawed off his head.
On the run in Mexico, he killed again while robbing a man in a strip club.
Two years ago this Monday, he and cop killer David P. Sweat escaped from a maximum-security prison in the Adirondacks. They led police on a three-week manhunt that commanded the nation’s attention and ended when a searcher shot and killed Matt. Sweat was later shot and captured.
Retired North Tonawanda detectives who had put Matt behind bars were relieved. They feared that Matt would return to seek vengeance for being put behind bars.
For Jamie, Matt morphed from a dark mystery in her childhood when she first learned about him, to a curious figure when she was a young teen.
And then when she became a young adult – a new wife and mother – she developed a strong bond with him while he was in prison.
They carried on a correspondence for several years. Curious and moved by his letters, she visited him in the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, where she got to learn more about him.
Matt told Jamie repeatedly that he loved her and was deeply sorry for his failures as a father. He and another woman had a son, Nicholas Harris. Matt kept in better contact with Harris, who knew Matt just well enough to be afraid of him, than he did with Jamie.
Matt told her about his horrible crimes. He told her about his life as a prisoner in Mexico and then in New York. He also said he was a changed man and that one day she would know him as a free man.
The 27-year-old mother of two young daughters says she condemns her father’s violent and manipulative past. She does not want to change opinions of him. But she was willing to tell her story about her relationship with Richard Matt for the first time to provide another view of someone who committed so many horrible crimes.
She also shared with The Buffalo News dozens of letters Matt sent her.
“I knew what he did. I never approved of anything he did, but I grew to love him,” she said. “He was my father.”
Jamie Ciffa first learned about her biological father when she was 9.
Her mother sat her down to tell her that her father was a killer.
Lucille Ciffa-Longo said his name was name Richard Matt and that he had killed two men, one in Tonawanda and another in Mexico. She spared her daughter the gruesome details of the torture and beheading.
But just knowing he was a murderer was enough to fuel terrifying nightmares.
“I was kind of in shock when my mother told me that my father was going to prison for murder,” Jamie said.
She had always known that there was a “bad reason” why he wasn’t part of her life.
Her maternal grandparents – thoroughly disgusted with Matt – had paid to have her last name legally changed to theirs: Ciffa.
While on the run in Mexico after killing the local businessman, Matt killed a man south of the border and was imprisoned in Mexico for nine years. Authorities believed Matt killed the man in a robbery-murder at a strip club in Matamoros, Mexico. Matt spotted the man with a wad of cash and followed him into the men’s room before stabbing him in the back, police said.
Back in the City of Tonawanda, Lucille had remarried to Dan Longo. Jamie considered him her “real” father, and they had a loving family home on Duffy Drive, a suburban street filled with other families.
But the nightmares continued.
Then in 2003, a letter arrived for Jamie, now 14. It was from Matt. This was his first contact with her since she was a baby.
“My mom let me read the letter and then took it back, and I never saw it again. I did not write him. I didn’t feel like I was allowed to,” Jamie recalled.
After confiding her father’s identity to her closest girlfriend, Jamie said she and her friend went to the City of Tonawanda library, where they could access a computer and the Internet to read about his crimes.
“I went to my girlfriend because I didn’t feel I could go to my parents. My mother had just recently had my brother,” she said.
At the library, Jamie said she did a Google search on “Richard Matt” and printed out every newspaper story she could find on him. The two teenage girls then read all of the gory details.
She was shocked.
“My girlfriend asked if I was OK and gave me a hug,” she recalled.
Jamie is not sure why, but at around this time, her nightmares gradually went away. And for the next several years, Jamie said she never discussed her father.
“He became the skeleton in the closet that I never talked about.”
She went on with her own life.
Matt tries again
By the time she was 21, Jamie had married her high school sweetheart, Stephen Scalise. She was a hairstylist and he was a contractor. They were in the process of buying their first home and looking forward to starting a family.
Another letter arrived in January 2011, postmarked Dannemora. Her father was reaching out to her again.
Matt was now doing 25-to-life in the Clinton Correctional Facility for the killing of William Rickerson, the North Tonawanda businessman he had tortured and dismembered.
The letter, dated Jan. 29, 2011, began with an apology. Matt said he would understand if she wanted nothing to do with him. But if she was willing, he wanted to make up for the lost years.
Matt went on to describe his time in the Mexican prison. He wrote that he was tortured because he was American. He said he did 27 months in solitary confinement, a cockroach-infested “hole.” Guards there spit and urinated on him from above and wondered aloud how long it would be before he went crazy, his letter said.
“It was the type of place where you wish you were dead or someone would just kill you and end it all,” Matt wrote.
He also told his daughter how his memory of her sustained him.
“You were and are the most important thing to me in life. Not a day went by down there and still does not go by that I don’t think of you.”
The letter touched Jamie.
“It made me realize how important I was to this man. It hit a deep spot. I had kept him alive,” Jamie said.
Wanting to form her own opinion of her father, she wrote back and shared details about her life, including her childhood nightmares.
He said that he reread her letter six times and wept when he realized how much of her life he had missed. Matt also took responsibility for her nightmares.
“One thing is for sure, Jamie, I would never kidnap you or let anyone hurt you. I would jump in front of a bullet without thinking twice to save you and if it ever came to it, I would give my life to save you.”
Matt wrote about his passion, oil painting.
He said that he traded his artwork for food and other favors from prison workers.
“Everyone in Clinton comes to me to get their work done including the guards. The guards bring me food from the outside. Sometimes pizza subs, etc., so it’s cool and works itself out,” he said.
Matt offered to paint for her.
The correspondence increased. Matt wrote his daughter 68 letters over the next four years, filling 382 carefully handwritten pages.
He repeatedly apologized for his abandonment of her and accepted blame for the failure of the marriage between him and her mother. He said they broke up because of his cheating.
Matt also described details of prison life and how he worked in the prison tailor shop stitching together prison uniforms.
“The big tough Rick Matt works on a sewing machine. It pays $15 a week. But it gets me out of my cell all day. There’s not many options for work here. It’s a job and it keeps me busy and out of trouble.”
In another letter, Matt wrote of how he had tried in his own bizarre and violent way to be a good husband and father.
Her mother had called Matt and complained that the tenants in the apartment above theirs were playing loud music and waking up their infant daughter. Matt told his wife not to call the cops and that he would be home shortly.
Matt described how he showed up with a shotgun and confronted the noisy neighbors.
“I kick the door in and there’s three guys in there,” Matt wrote. “I put the first out with a punch, the second guy went down from the butt end of the shotgun to the face, and the third took the barrel in his mouth as I rammed it in.
“I knocked out a couple of his teeth and left the gun in his mouth as I kindly told him if he ever wakes my little girl up again or bothers my wife that I’ll blow his head off.”
Jamie recalled her mother once telling her the same story.
She appreciated her father’s honesty. She said he promised that he would always tell the truth when she asked him questions about his past, though he warned she might not always like his answers.
Killing the boss
After exchanging some letters, Jamie decided she wanted to meet her father.
She and husband visited him at the prison in Dannemora in July 2011.
She asked him why he had killed William Rickerson. Matt had always refused to discuss the murder in his letters.
He began by telling the couple that he and his accomplice, Lee E. Bates, had been drinking heavily and doing drugs before going to Rickerson’s North Tonawanda home, she said.
Matt told her that Rickerson, a food broker who had fired him a few weeks before the Dec. 4, 1997, attack, owed him two paychecks.
“He told us he believed there was money in the house and that they didn’t expect anyone to be home,” Jamie said of her father’s account. “But Rickerson was home, and he punched him.”
Matt said the blow unintentionally broke Rickerson’s neck.
Bates, who pleaded guilty as an accomplice to the murder and served time in prison, had offered a different account. Bates said Matt robbed and tortured Rickerson with a knife sharpener before binding him with duct tape and throwing him into the trunk of Bates’ car.
When Rickerson yanked out the car’s stereo speaker wires and began kicking and screaming during a 27-hour odyssey that took them into Pennsylvania and Ohio, Matt got out of the vehicle, opened the trunk, and snapped Rickerson’s neck, according to court testimony.
When Matt finished telling them about Rickerson, Jamie said, her father leaned across their table in the prison visiting room, “as if he was going to whisper something.”
When he was close enough, he slipped a gold cross on a necklace into her shirt pocket.
“He told me the cross and necklace had belonged to his birth mother, Maria,” Jamie said. “I was nervous. I didn’t know what he was doing, and I didn’t want to get in trouble. But he told me the gold wouldn’t set off the prison metal detector.”
She decided to continue her relationship with her father based on the man he had become, she said, and not the man he had been.
Letter of gratitude
In a letter that arrived soon after, Matt wrote his daughter to say how much he appreciated their visit.
“The last two days I spent with you guys have been the most happiest days of my life in many years. Jamie you grew up into a very beautiful woman and a good person with a good heart. I’m real proud of you both,” the prisoner wrote.
But Matt said there had been some painful moments during the first visit.
“… your questions were hard for me to answer because I feel shame in a lot I of what I did out there. But it is what it is and I told you the truth. I never want to lie to you Jamie. I never want you or Steve to lose respect for me in that aspect. I want trust between us, and I would like us to grow strong in our relationship.”
He ended the letter with a request, one he would make over and over in the coming years: asking if his daughter could set him up with a woman looking to have a relationship with a convict behind bars.
“I really need to find myself a girlfriend,” he wrote.
In another letter, he asked Jamie to post a good-looking photo of him online in the hopes that it would attract interest from the opposite sex. He asked his daughter to say he was “open” when it came to race and hoped it would attract “some hot Latin babe.”
Matt was known for his swarthy good looks and had a reputation for chatting up women. At the time in his mid-40s, he was vain about his appearance, his daughter said.
Matt said he hoped that, if he found a girlfriend, they could marry and have “trailer visits” on the grounds of the prison.
But Jamie said she was not interested in assisting her father in his romantic life.
“I didn’t think it was my job to get my father a girlfriend,” Jamie said.
Matt sometimes in his letters complained about putting on weight. Yet he also described how on weekends, when prison supervisors were not around, he and another inmate on the honor block cooked elaborate meals.
Matt said he would boil them up two pounds of spaghetti, add two cans of sauce, and chop in onions and garlic.
“I don’t have any meatballs, but the pepperoni and salami will do,” he wrote.
After these weekend feasts, Matt said he and his buddy smoked celebratory cigars.
Tidbits like this were casually mentioned in letters that, a few lines later, told of brutal fights between opposing inmate gangs. After one battle between the Crips and Bloods, Matt said a subsequent lockdown had ruined his dinner plans to cook a pot of rigatoni.
In his cell, Matt had a sign that stated: “Hacksaw’s Personal Stuff,” he told her.
That might well be a warning to others. Matt was not to be trifled with in prison, he said. He said that he had enough sway with corrections officers that he could ask them to leave doors ajar so an inmate could be targeted for attack.
But his gallows humor and boasting vanished, she said, when he wrote or spoke about spending the rest of his life in prison. When inmates serving life sentences had exhausted their appeals, he said, they often committed suicide.
Joyce Mitchell calls
Matt may not have wanted a blonde girlfriend on the outside, but he had one on the inside.
During his work in the tailor shop, he cultivated a relationship with Joyce E. Mitchell, the shop supervisor. The two had a romantic relationship that included sex in the shop.
Matt also persuaded the prison seamstress to call his daughter and serve as an intermediary between them.
Matt could have spoken by phone directly to his daughter, but Jamie explained that she did not have a land line in her home, something that was necessary for accepting prison calls.
Mitchell’s first call to Jamie came in the later part of 2013. Mitchell said that she did not mind doing Matt this favor because he watched out for her in the prison, Jamie recalled.
Mitchell’s calls began with, “ ‘Your dad says hi and wanted to check in on you.’
“I would say, ‘Tell my dad I said hi,’ and I’d fill her in on my life at that time to pass along to him,” Jamie said. “She would always message me on holidays, ‘Happy Thanksgiving,’ ‘Merry Christmas.’ ”
With this more immediate line of communication established, the letters between them became infrequent, she said.
Jamie’s own life had gotten busy with her first child and running a hair-styling business out her home.
But the love between father and daughter was solid. Matt tattooed her name onto his left forearm and sent her oil paintings. Among them was a portrait of her and her husband. Another was of the late actor James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano.
In many letters to his daughter, Matt insisted that someday he would start a new life in Mexico.
Jamie said she never took her father’s statements seriously when he said he was going to escape from prison.
Matt told her that, if he ever did escape, he had a way to contact her without putting her in danger.
“He said that because he only paints in oil, that he would send me an anonymous painting done in watercolor and when I received that, I was to rinse it off and behind it would be his location and a way to contact him,” Jamie said.
She laughed it off.
“I just figured it was a fantasy that every inmate has,” Jamie said.
Coming Monday: All hell broke loose in high-security Dannemora the morning of June 6, 2015.