“I had a dream, and then I turned on the lights and she’s dead on the floor,” he said on the 911 recording. “Um, I have blood all over me, and there’s a bloody knife on the bed, and I think I did it.”
Circumspect investigators probed his story — and the Bible college graduate’s life — and learned troubling details that they say pointed to a unstable marriage and an obsession with killing.
“It was learned that Matthew Phelps was obsessed with the movie ‘American Psycho’ and this Instagram account shows numerous photographs of scenes from the movie and Phelps dressed as the main character,” one detective wrote in court documents filed in Wake County and obtained by the (Raleigh) News & Observer.
“American Psycho” is a 2000 movie starring a pre-Batman Christian Bale as a wealthy New York investment banker named Patrick Bateman, who is also a serial killer. In the past 18 years, the film, full of gratuitous acts of violence and dark humor, has become a cult classic.
Phelps’s secret Instagram, called marty_radical, is set to private. But its profile picture is a photo of a blood-spattered Bateman. According to “Inside Edition,” one Instagram post quoted lyrics from the metal band Korn: “I can’t get out of bed. There is an evil in my head.”
Quoting dark lyrics and dressing as a serial killer don’t necessarily mean that there is an intent to do harm, but investigators interviewed Phelps’s friends, who told them that the Raleigh man had “expressed interest” in “what it would be like to kill someone.”
And the Phelps marriage had been growing increasingly acrimonious. According to search warrants, friends told investigators the couple argued frequently, particularly about their finances. Matthew Phelps “was spending more money than the couple made,” a detective said in the documents, and his wife “had recently taken drastic steps to limit her husband’s spending.”
The most drastic step was apparently looming. Lauren Phelps was “preparing to end the relationship.”
Instead, investigators found her clutching hair in her hands when she died, according to the News & Observer.
The medical examiner discovered 123 stab wounds and cuts on Lauren Phelps’s body, according to USA Today. Some were more than four inches deep.
Her husband’s cold-medicine claims — he said he took “more medicine than I should have” just before going to bed — sparked a debate about the perceived dangers of medications like Coricidin, which is marketed as a line of cold and cough medicine for people with high blood pressure.
Bayer, the pharmaceutical company that makes Coricidin, told ABC News in a statement that it extended its “deepest sympathies” to the family.
“Patient safety is our top priority, and we continually monitor adverse events regarding all of our products,” Bayer told the network. “There is no evidence to suggest that Coricidin is associated with violent behavior.”
Matthew Phelps’s attorney, Joseph Cheshire, did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, but he spoke with local media in September after a court hearing. He asked that people reserve their judgment until more about the case becomes clear.
“We’re just at the beginning of understanding what is happening here,” Cheshire said.
“It’s a very tragic situation, sad and tragic,” he added. “There’s a lot to this story I believe that will be told in the future.”
It’s still unclear what caused the couple’s relationship to sour so fast. They had been married less than a year in September, when Matthew Phelps was charged with his wife’s murder.
The couple’s Facebook pages indicated that they shared a love for “Star Wars” and had just gotten married the previous November. Online albums for both of the Phelpses were filled with photos of the two together: at their fall wedding, posing with light sabers, holding a dog and goofing off for the camera.
Matthew Phelps worked at a lawn-service company and had studied missions and evangelism at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville, Ky., according to the News & Observer.
His wife was a Sunday school teacher, ABC News reported. He was studying to be a pastor.