Horror on Hatteras Drive: Adam Matos kills son's mother, her family and new boyfriend, with autistic child in the house
02/12/2018 2:07 pm PST
What police found at a house in Florida in 2014 is the stuff nightmares are made of. It's a crime that would rip a family apart and lead investigators to one of the most disturbing killers they would ever encounter.
In Hudson, Florida, a family hoping to start over again lost their lives in the most violent way imaginable. A beautiful young mom is among those savagely slaughtered by a monster who turns her family's new waterfront home into a house of horrors.
The sole survivor turning out to be her terrified little boy. Now cops just have to get the autistic and traumatized child to tell them who killed his family.
The Brown family had a simple, good old-fashioned life down on the farm in Pennsylvania. Dad Greg brought home the bacon as an architectural and engineering executive, while mom Maggie took care of the property, their three children and all the animals. Megan was the Browns' youngest child and only daughter.
Megan was the pride of the family: a medal-winning track and field star who would run her way into Pennsylvania State University. And she had more than athletic talent and brains going for her.
One her suitors was Adam Matos, an aspiring avant-garde D.J. who Megan had begun dating when they were both in their early 20s. Before she knew it, Megan was pregnant with Adam's child. Megan was said to be thrilled, as was her family.
After giving birth to a beautiful little baby boy they named Tristan, Megan reunited with Adam for the sake of their child, who needs extra care because he is autistic. And Adam even moved into the Brown family house with Megan and Tristan, with the family's full blessing, to give the child a good home.
But Adam Matos would soon start to wear out his welcome with Megan's mom Maggie. And Megan and Adam were continuing to have problems. But even when dad Greg decided to retire and move the family to Florida, there was still no shaking Adam. And the relationship between Megan and Adam would only continue to deteriorate.
Architectural executive Greg Brown decided to retire, selling the family farm in Pennsylvania and moving to Florida with wife Maggie for a new kind of laid-back life.
The couple was renting a waterfront house in Hudson, about 20 miles north of Tampa while their tropical island dream home was being built. Greg and Maggie also had daughter Megan, her baby boy Tristan and the baby's father Adam Matos all living with them.
To make ends meet, Maggie has to take a job as convenience store cashier. Megan starts waitressing at a local bar. And Adam Matos briefly works in a restaurant kitchen until reportedly being fired, causing only more conflict between Adam and Megan, who were already squabbling more than ever and reportedly even sleeping in separate bedrooms.
Megan had also begun going out with a new group of friends she'd met, leaving the unemployed Adam at home babysitting Tristan, and battling jealousy, wondering what Megan was doing and who she was doing it with into the early hours of the morning.
And Adam's seething jealousy eventually leads to a violent showdown one morning when Megan comes walking through the door around dawn after another fun night out in 2014.
"I just came home and my son's dad put a knife to my throat and he cut my hand, and I'm bleeding everywhere, and my son is freaking out," Megan says in a recorded 911 call.
Megan is weeping and sounds in fear for her life as she tries to comfort her baby boy Tristan
"It's OK, baby, I'm sorry. Please have someone come out here as soon as possible. He literally tried to kill me," Megan says in the call.
Police arrive at the house to find Megan distraught and bleeding from hand wounds she'd suffered struggling to get the knife away from Adam. Adam took off after Megan called 911, but she tells police she's afraid he might come back even angrier than ever.
But days went by without any further word of trouble between Megan and Adam. The silence broke when a relative calls police to report that nobody had been able to reach any of the Browns by text or phone.
It had been six days, and when cops show up nobody appears to be home at the Browns' house. But they detect the foul and all-too familiar odor of death and decaying bodies. And a door was left open. So they entered through the open door, leading to the garage, where the Brown family van is parked.
"They immediately see blankets on the ground behind the van, there is what appears to be blood all over the floor on the blankets," said Pasco County Sheriff's Detective Chet Cougill.
And about the same time, a veteran cop makes another grim discovery just a stone's throw away after also noticing that same smell of death coming from a wooded area he just happened to be driving by.
"So he called me. I showed up just a few minutes later," said Det. Cougill.
Cougill finds something worse than he's ever seen in all his years in law enforcement
"I could smell it, and I could see there was a pile of bodies," said Det. Cougill.
They were decomposed beyond recognition.
"We didn't know exactly who or how many total bodies were in the pile that we saw," said Cougill.
But Det. Cougill could easily deduce that the brown family was among them.
"It was just common sense. You know, we had a house with several people that are missing, and now we have a pile of bodies less than a mile away right up the street," said Cougill.
As the medical examiner tries to identify the victims, detectives swoop on the Brown house with forensic experts and find a shocking scene: the place turns pink when it's sprayed with Luminol. There's a trail of blood stretching throughout the house, signs that the killer had tried to clean up some of it, and other clues to the horror that had occurred there.
But some of the best evidence is found in the van parked in that blood-soaked garage patrolmen had reported when they earlier visited the house.
"We knew there were people dead and decaying in the back of the van. The van had indications they were in there," said Cougill.
Including blood and maggots.
"We also found a shovel in the back of the van," said Cougill.
Detectives believe the killer had used the shovel to try to bury the bodies in the yard.
"On the side of the house there was a freshly dug area, but in that area you can't dig more than a foot," said Cougill.
So, investigators say, the murderer loaded the bodies into the back of the van and dumped them in that wooded area where they'd just been found left under a tree.
Friends and relatives are devastated by the horrifying news.
As the medical examiner picks through the mound of flesh and bones to identify exactly which members of the family are dead, detectives try to find their killer. Their main person of interest is Adam Matos, ex-boyfriend of the Browns' 27-year-old daughter Megan, and the father of her 4-year-old son Tristan.
"We knew that Adam was a person who lived in that house," said Pasco County Sheriff's Det. Cougill.
And they knew that Adam and Megan had been having serious problems. Adam had fled the house when Megan made her 911 call less than 24 hours before she and her family are believed to have been murdered.
But for all detectives knew, Matos might even be among that unidentified pile of bodies. So they turn their immediate attention to another possible suspect: Nicholas Leonard, a new guy Megan had met after she moved from Pennsylvania to Florida with mom, dad, Adam and baby Tristan a few months earlier.
Detectives already suspect that Nick Leonard's relationship with Megan may have turned into a love triangle that could have sparked the murders.
Megan apparently hadn't told her friends and family about Nick, a carpenter and landscaper, but he had told his family all about Megan, saying he was head over heels in love with her. Nick told his parents that he and Megan were keeping their romance quiet until Adam had moved out of the house. He told his parents that Adam had found out he was seeing Megan and was jealous.
Nick and Megan had continued seeing each other. Detectives learned Nick had actually been among the friends Megan had been out with that night she arrived home near dawn, sending Adam Matos into that jealous rage that led to the 911 call. Then Nick Leonard suddenly disappears.
But Nick Leonard is discounted as a suspect in the murder of the family when the medical examiner finally identifies those found in that pile of decomposed bodies, and Leonard is identified as one of them.
The medical examiner identified the other victims as Megan, her dad Greg and mom Maggie Brown, all slaughtered in an unspeakable horror that will haunt friends and family forever.
The one small, yet heart-lifting, mercy is that Megan's little boy Tristan appears to be still alive. Detectives believe he's probably with his father Adam Matos, who is now the prime suspect in the murders. Police haven't been able to find Matos since he fled the Brown house the night Megan called 911, saying he'd threatened to kill her. But now they're about to get a few lucky breaks.
Investigators finally locate Adam Matos a week after the four were slaughtered, tracing him to a hotel where they find him holed up with his little boy Tristan.
"And sure enough, he checked in under his own name," said Sheriff's Detective Chet Cougill.
Authorities say when they picked up Tristan, the little 4-year-old seemed to be in a state of shock, and not talking to police. Matos was taken into custody.
"He was very calm. He didn't put up a fight or anything," said Det. Cougill.
Detectives don't let on that they've found the bodies of Megan, her parents and her new man Nick Leonard, hoping they can trip Matos up. Instead detectives tell Matos he's being arrested on domestic violence charges stemming from that first frantic 911 call from Megan. At the station, detectives cunningly ask Matos who he would like to care for Tristan now that he can't.
Detective: "Obviously, you know, we would like him to go back to Megan. You know if that's going to be possible?"
Adam Matos: "I wouldn't know."
Detective: "Megan's parents? Can he stay with them maybe?"
Adam Matos: "You can check. You can call and ask."
They ask Matos about his troubled relationship with Megan.
Detective: "When did you guys break up?"
Adam Matos: "A week ago."
Detective: "A week ago, OK. Do you remember what that was about?"
Adam Matos: "Just a bunch of drama [----], you know."
Matos denies he attacked Megan in a jealous rage the night she called 911.
Detective: "Do you know if she was seeing anybody else?"
Adam Matos: "Wouldn't know."
But he admits they got into a loud argument after Megan arrived home near dawn.
Adam Matos: "Her mom came out and she told me to leave, and I left."
It isn't until he's locked up on domestic violence charges that Matos learns detectives had fooled him and had actually found the bodies of the Brown family and Nick Leonard a week earlier.
In a newspaper interview, Matos denies killing them. And with detectives present, Adam Matos drops a bombshell, pointing the finger of blame at a jealous ex-girlfriend of Megan's new boyfriend Nick Leonard.
Detectives had been suddenly sidetracked after Adam Matos pointed them to another possible suspect, one of Nick Leonard's ex-girlfriends, who had allegedly been jealously stalking Leonard for years and is said to have even threatened Megan Brown after learning she was seeing him.
Then detectives learn she has an air-tight alibi. And the focus is once again back on Matos.
Adam Matos and Megan Brown's traumatized, autistic son Tristan, just 4 years old, witnessed the bloody massacre and is starting to open up to investigators.
"He described hearing the gunshot that killed his mother and saying 'Please don't,'" said Assistant Florida State Attorney Bryan Sarabia.
Tristan tells them what else he heard and saw.
"He grabbed a little doll and he wrapped it in a little blanket, and he started pounding on it, saying 'Mommy, mommy,'" said Sarabia.
And finally the poor kid points the finger at his own father.
"'Daddy killed mommy,'" said Sarabia.
With that detectives and prosecutor Bryan Sarabia have an eyewitness to corroborate their findings that Adam Matos is the murderer.
And they are able to reconstruct, shot by deadly shot, blow by brutal blow, their scenario of what happened the day of the Brown family massacre. The timeline starts with that first 911 call from Megan.
Shortly after that call Adam Matos stormed out in a jealous rage, but detectives learned that Matos bombarded Megan with more than a hundred threatening calls and text messages in the twelve or more hours that followed.
"He was threatening to come back and finish her off," said Sarabia.
A terrified Megan Brown had called her new boyfriend, Nick Leonard, who rushed to her home armed with a gun to protect her should Matos try to make good on his threat. Investigators say Matos did return to stake the place out, aware by early evening, that Nick was in there with Megan, Tristan and dad Greg, and now just waiting for the last member of the family to join them.
Matos makes his move when mom Maggie arrives home from her night shift at a local convenience store around midnight.
"She pulls in in the van, she gets out of the van, and he attacks her in the garage," said Bryan Sarabia.
He viciously pounds her with a hammer. Matos then ties her up and grabs a plastic bag.
"Putting the bag over her head trying to ensure that she was either going to die, or at least not be able to get away," said Sarabia. "He would then go upstairs still armed with a hammer."
He made a beeline for the bedroom he used to share with Megan, and found her in there with her new man Nick Leonard.
"And start attacking Nick. Just wailing, just start wailing on him," said Sarabia. "Nick tries to defend himself."
"The medical examiner indicated that it was 21 strikes to the head," said Det. Cougill.
"And Matos is able to get Nick's firearm," said Sarabia.
He then goes after Megan, who ran with son Tristan to the master bedroom to seek refuge with dad Greg.
"He's a hunter, so he had some hunting weapons in the house, and there's indication that he was in the closet trying to get a weapon trying to protect his family," said Det. Cougill.
But he was shot before he could load.
"I believe he may have loaded one bullet into a weapon, but just didn't have time to react," said Cougill. "I think Adam got the drop on him."
"Matos kills Greg, shoots him twice, turns and deals with Megan," said Sarabia. "Shooting her once in the face. It only took one with the way he shot her. She's facing him, hit her in the left eye, and that's that."
And detectives learned that Matos then settled back into the house of horrors with son Tristan and make himself right at home among the dead. Investigators believe while the bodies lay murdered inside the Brown family home, Adam Matos was putting out an ad on Craigslist to sell all their stuff, including several of the dogs mom Maggie bred, which he sold for $50 a pup. He even had pizzas delivered to the murder scene.
He made contact with the neighbors, telling them that the family had gone to West Virginia on a hunting trip.
"So he would go over there periodically over the next few days and nights and just hang out with them," said Det. Cougill.
That is until authorities found the bodies he had eventually dumped in nearby woods. When authorities came knocking at the door, Matos took off with his son through the neighbors' back yards and stole a canoe, paddled to the other side, hopped in a cab and went to Tampa, about an hour south.
Less than two weeks after being captured at a Tampa hotel, Adam Matos was charged with the first-degree murder of the Brown family and Nick Leonard.
Adam Matos faces four counts of murder and the death penalty at trial. He took the stand in his defense.
Matos shocks a packed courtroom by claiming he killed his son's mother Megan Brown, her parents Greg and Maggie and Megan's new boyfriend Nick Leonard, in self-defense after they attacked him.
"I just wanted to get my things. Just gather the stuff that I had," Matos says in court.
Matos testifies that it was Nick Leonard, armed with a pistol, who first pounced on him after he'd entered the house.
"He grabbed me by the throat," Matos says on the stand. "He reached into his right pocket and he pulled out a gun and he pointed it at my chest.
"We struggled, and I was able to get it out of his hands," says Matos.
But instead of shooting him, Matos admits, he bludgeoned Leonard to death with 21 blows of a hammer.
"And I just kept hitting him until I couldn't anymore," said Matos.
Matos also admits killing Maggie the same way, saying he believed she was going to kill him. And Matos says he used the gun he took from Leonard to kill Megan's father Greg before he could shoot him with a rifle.
"I shot him in his lower back as he was trying to turn around with his weapon," Matos says on the stand.
He also claims Megan Brown had been screaming at her father to shoot him.
"She said 'Shoot him dad, shoot him dad, shoot him,'" said Matos.
And he says he then turned the gun on Megan, again claiming self-defense.
"I thought she had something in her hand, and I just reacted, and I shot her," Matos says on the stand.
Now the horrified prosecution takes aim at Matos.
"You didn't stand there with the gun pointed at her left eye while she was saying please don't, please don't?"
"That never happened?"
Matos finds himself under fire when an angry prosecutor reminds him he's facing the death penalty.
"You understand we're trying to kill you Mr. Matos, you understand that?"
Bryan Sarabia says Adam Matos's version of the story is literally unbelievable.
"The circumstances he described and the way he described his actions didn't really match up with that," said Sarabia.
Matos couldn't convincingly explain why he never called police if it was a case of self-defense.
"I believe my phone was dead at that time," Matos says in court.
Matos also struggled to explain why he threw the murder weapons into the canal at the rear of the house, where they were retrieved by police divers.
"I didn't want it to be a threat to anyone else, to me, or to Tristan," says Matos.
And he has a hard time explaining why he chose to dispose of the four bodies, first by trying to dig a grave for them beside the house with a shovel, the same shovel Matos is captured carrying through a store on surveillance video recorded after the murders took place.
"I wanted to move the bodies out of the house," Matos says.
Eventually dumping them in nearby woods to spare his 4-year-old son any more trauma.
"So Tristan wouldn't be exposed to them," says Matos.
"I don't think anybody believes him," said Assistant State Attorney Bryan Sarabia.
But now he's about to find out, the jury has reached a verdict
Matos was found guilty verdict of the murders of Greg Brown, Maggie Brown, Megan Brown and Nicholas Leonard.
But Matos catches a break when only 11 of the 12 jurors vote for execution.
"That means there was one person on that jury that felt enough sympathy, mercy, for you that they decided you did not deserve the death penalty," the judge said, addressing Matos in court.
And the judge voices her disagreement.
"If there's ever a case that I have ever heard that people would have decided, quote, 'That death was appropriate, this is probably it,'" the judge said.
Matos makes a pathetic attempt to show remorse.
"I would just like to apologize to the family of the victims," Matos says in court. He's shouted down by Aaron Brown, Megan's angry older brother.
And the judge finally gives Matos the harshest punishment allowed by law:
"Based on the decision of the jury, I sentence you to life in prison without the possibility of parole," the judge said.
But her most moving words are reserved for the littlest and most innocent survivor of this horror: 4-year-old Tristan, who is now being raised by his late grandmother's family.
"He will grow up without a father because he will know his father murdered his mother, and murdered his grandparents," said the judge.
Part of the deal that was made requires that Tristan's adopted mother send a picture of the boy to Adam Matos in prison until Tristan turns 12.