On a Sunday night in December 1983 in Miami’s Hialeah neighborhood, a pair of joggers found the body of Francisco Patino Gutierrez, who’d been murdered and dumped in a parking lot. It was the start of what became known as the “Liquid Matthew” case.
A nasty rainstorm was passing over Miami that night making the search for clues difficult. It wasn’t until the next day that police returned to the scene and tried to piece together what had happened to Gutierrez. A few things were known at this point: the victim was a Colombian national, he’d been a seaman, he’d traveled to Miami via Panama aboard a cargo ship. With nothing much to go on, police suspected the murder may have been drug related.
At least until a police technician named Terry Anderson spotted a plastic bag taped to a dumpster near where Gutierrez’s body had been found. Inside was a note that read:
“Once you’re back on the track you’ll travel in night. So prepare your old self for a terrible fright… Now the motive is clear and the victim is, too. You’ve got all the answers. Just follow the clues.”
When police went back to the crime scene photos taken when the body was in situ, they discovered that the notes had been there all along. What it could mean? The only way to find out, it seemed, was to do as the verse suggested, and follow the clues.
Sgt. David Miller worked the scene and somehow managed to solve the riddle within an hour. It led him to a second verse, taped to the back of a speed limit sign.
“Yes, Matthew is dead, but his body not felt. Those brains were not Matt’s because his body did melt. For Billy threw Matt in some hot, boiling oil. To confuse the police for the mystery they did toil.”
Who was taunting the Miami P.D.? What brains were they talking about? Who was Matthew? These questions troubled and confounded Miller, who only grew more frustrated trying to solve them. Finally, unable to make much headway on his own, he appealed to the public for any information they might have about the case, colloquially referred to now as the Liquid Matthew murder for the note’s cryptic allusions to hot, boiling oil.
It wasn’t long before he got a tip. And then another. Two church members came forward. Back in October, they explained, they’d had the idea to have some fun. But much like the night the body had been found, the evening was interrupted by a rainstorm. The plastic bags? Oh, that was so that the clues wouldn’t be ruined. They wanted to make certain that the members of the four neighborhood churches would be able to read the clues and solve the murder mystery they’d staged. Not wanting to go back out into the rain, they’d left the clues there. They had nothing whatsoever to do with the body found just feet away.
Francisco Patino Gutierrez, it turned out, had come to Miami packing 11 pounds of cocaine. Cocaine that was confiscated. That mistake made someone angry enough to strangle him and leave him behind in that parking lot. A bad end, but a mystery much less mysterious than police originally feared they’d have to solve.
Author’s note: OK, yes, it might be cruel to set you up for a scare only to let you down, so I’ll leave you with a few links to cases involving genuinely disturbing clues:
- Mysterious disappearances, bizarre clues. (Maybe don’t use that bus stop in front of the Mount Holly Plantation.)
- Three words: “Is Dorothy home?”
- Dive deep into the mystery of the Circleville Letters.
I’ll be back Thursday with your weekly lineup of true crime links across screen, page, and pod.