A credit card receipt left in the plastic bag used to suffocate a 16-year-old prostitute led to the arrest of an Arlington man who authorities believe killed the teenager and two other prostitutes during Memorial Day weekend, police said yesterday.
"We have the physical evidence to link him to all three of the murders," said William K. Stover, Arlington police chief. "And we have confessions to all three of the murders."
The key to Sunday's arrest of Chander "Bobby" Matta, 21, was a credit card slip from a drugstore for garden supplies. The receipt, bearing the name of Matta's father, led police to the neat gray stone house in South Arlington where police believe Matta suffocated two of his victims in the basement while his parents were away.
So far, Matta has been charged only with the death of prostitute Sherry K. Larman. But as Matta was being questioned Sunday afternoon, police said he made tearful tape-recorded statements that led them to believe he killed Larman, teenager Jodie Marie Phillips and prostitute Sandra Rene Johnson.
Arlington County prosecutors are expected to ask a grand jury next Monday to indict Matta in the other deaths. He was being held without bond after an arraignment Monday morning in General District Court. A hearing on whether he should be released on bond was set for Thursday, and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for July 9.
Phillips was found May 30 near a west Alexandria office complex, with the plastic bag still bunched around her neck. Police said she had been dead for three or four days. Johnson, 20, was found in her apartment at the Country Club Towers, 2400 S. Glebe Rd. in Arlington, on May 27. Larman, 26, was found May 26 on the top level of a parking garage in the 900 block of South Highland Street in Arlington, also with a plastic bag over her head.
Police believe Phillips and Larman were killed in the basement of Matta's parents' home in the 1800 block of South Oakland Street. Phillips had been beaten. All three victims had worked in an area where prostitutes congregate in downtown Washington on L Street NW between 12th and 15th streets.
Five other prostitutes who also worked in that area have been killed since April 1989, but D.C. police said yesterday they do not believe Matta is involved in those deaths. Four of those victims were shot and one was bludgeoned. Police are seeking a suspect seen by a witness at one of the shooting scenes who does not match Matta's description.
The break in the case came on May 30, after a groundskeeper discovered the partly clothed body of Jodie Phillips lying on a grassy knoll next to the Seminary Professional Village in the 5200 block of Dawes Avenue. Her hands were bound. When Alexandria police pulled the plastic bag from around the girl's neck, they found the small piece of paper that would lead them to Matta.
"If it had not been for the receipt, we all would be still sitting up at 14th and L streets," doing surveillance on prostitutes, said one investigator who asked not to be identified.
Police began checking on Matta, his present and past employment, his bank accounts and credit, sources said. Matta began work June 4 as a printer for the Department of Defense and also works part time as a customer service agent for USAir at National Airport. He had taken business administration courses on the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College from summer 1989 through this spring. He is a 1988 graduate of Arlington's Wakefield High School and had attended a military prep school in Vermont.
The FBI and police from Alexandria, Arlington and the District participated in a 24-hour surveillance of Matta. The monitoring continued until "there came a time that we felt we had been watching him long enough and that it was time to confront him," said an investigator.
On Sunday morning, Alexandria and Arlington County investigators arrived at Matta's home and a short time later took him to the Alexandria police department for questioning. Police interviewed him and then took him home.
In the meantime, police got a search warrant for the Matta home. He was taken back to the Alexandria police station while authorities began combing the house.
During the second interview, Matta made statements that police believe implicate him in the killings of all three women, police said.
The interview was taped, sources said, and Matta began crying during the final session. He was charged in Larman's death and was taken to the Arlington County jail about 7 p.m.
Matta's attorney, Arthur Reynolds, said after Monday's hearing that his client has not had problems with the law previously. Police confirmed that Matta has no criminal record.
"The family's devastated. They are distraught," said Reynolds. "They are holding together and are supportive of Mr. Matta." Matta's father is retired and his mother is employed at a restaurant. The Mattas have a teenage son who also lives at home.
Police would not discuss a possible motive for the slayings. They also would not comment on what was found during the search. Neighbors said a tan car was towed by police from the driveway of the house.
Court documents supporting Matta's arrest and the search of the house were ordered sealed by Arlington County Circuit Court Judge William L. Winston. The documents, including an inventory of what was taken from the home, are expected to be made public this week.
Although the degree of murder charge Matta will face will be decided later, Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Arthur Karp said the maximum penalty Matta likely would face is life imprisonment if he is convicted.
That means prosecutors do not expect Matta to be charged with capital murder, for which the maximum sentence in Virginia is the death penalty. Capital murder is a killing in the commission of another crime such as kidnapping or rape, or the killing of a police officer or prisoner.