Benjamin Matthew Williams, 31 years
James Tyler Williams, 29 years
Authorities have arrested two Palo Cedro brothers in connection with the killings of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder.
Benjamin Matthew Williams, 31, and James Tyler Williams, 29, were arrested just hours after authorities found the slain couple's missing car abandoned on the side of a road near Oroville on Wednesday.
Detectives who served a series of search warrants both in and outside Shasta County said they had retrieved "information and literature that suggests that the suspects subscribe to some white supremacist beliefs."
The brothers were arrested about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday as they walked to their car while leaving a shopping mall in Yuba City. Both carried handguns and one wore a bullet-proof vest.
Deputies said it appeared that the Williams brothers had "at least a casual acquaintance" with Matson and Mowder, a suspicion confirmed by others who knew the suspects and victims.
The brothers were booked into Shasta County Jail about 1:15 a.m. Thursday, each on suspicion of two murders. Bail was set at $2 million each.
Deputies searched the car belonging to the brothers while forensics experts continued to comb the victims' car for evidence. Authorities also searched a house in the 1900 block of Hartnell Avenue in Redding where Benjamin Matthew Williams lived.
Records show that the brothers once lived in Gridley, which is about halfway between Oroville, where the car was found, and Yuba City, where they were arrested.
The discovery of the slain couple's Toyota Tercel wagon was a big help. "It was certainly a significant find in that it gave us some direction to go," the police said.
The brothers, both six-footers with brown hair, were known by their middle names, Matthew and Tyler. They gave sheriff's deputies a home address in Palo Cedro, a gray and white ranch house where Tyler Williams apparently lived with their parents, Ben H. and Sally Williams.
Neighbors said the family moved in about two years ago and that the brothers spent a lot of time planting things in the large yard.
"They professed the religious aspect a great deal, to listen to their father ... tell it," a neighbor said.
Palo Cedro neighbors, too, described the brothers as "religious," though no one knew whether they had any church affiliations.
Ed Smith, who owns a nursery in Palo Cedro, said that Benjamin Matthew Williams worked for him for about six months, but left because he wanted to raise and sell plants on his own.
"I know Matthew Williams. He's a bright young individual with very strong religious views, very strong," Smith said. Smith also had known Gary Matson for years and said Matthew Williams knew him as well.
"I thought a lot of Matson. It's just hard to imagine," Smith said. "I know Matthew and Gary were friends. I think they met at the farmers market in Redding. I believe Matthew Williams talked about how intelligent Gary was."
Dennis Williams, who manages the Redding Certified Farmers Market and is not related to the Williams brothers, said Benjamin Matthew Williams was a member of the market "in past years" but did not renew that membership this year.
"He sold a variety of plants, indoor, outdoor. The Matt I know is nice, educated, smart... quiet, mild-mannered," Dennis Williams said.
A few of the vendors at the Redding Certified Farmers Market at Thursday night's MarketFest said they knew the Williams brothers and had bought plants from Benjamin Matthew Williams.
Another farmer, Margaret Jensen of the Good Work Organic Farm, was shocked to hear the Williams' name.
"Not the Matt that used to sell plants? Wow. He seemed like a very nice young man," Jensen said. "That would be too, too strange."
The search warrants have produced some information and literature that suggests that the suspects may subscribe to some White Supremacist beliefs.
The Williams brothers were arrested by the Shasta County Sheriff's Office and Yuba City Police Department when the suspects attempted to retrieve property that had been delivered to a Yuba City private postal service. The property had been ordered with one of the victim's credit cards after they were killed.
The criminal complaint against Benjamin Matthew Williams and James Tyler Williams charges them with the murders of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Benjamin Matthew Williams and James Tyler Williams have committed the following crimes, enhancements, and special circumstances:
The defendants used a firearm in the commission of the murders, robberies, and burglary. The murders were committed as a hate crime because of the sexual orientation of the victims.
- murder of Gary Matson and of Winfield Mowder
- robbery of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder in their residence
- burglary of the residence of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder
- unlawful taking of the vehicle of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder
The maximum potential sentence based on the case as it is charged is the death penalty for both defendants.
Benjamin Williams' sexuality questioned
A Southern California man who says he was a Navy buddy of Benjamin Matthew Williams, one of two brothers accused of killing two Happy Valley men because they were gay, said Wednesday that he and other friends questioned Williams about his own sexuality.
Benjamin's one-time "best friend," Todd Bethell, also claims that he witnessed Benjamin's metamorphosis from "normal evangelical Christian to paranoid conspiratorial charismatic."
Benjamin and his brother James Tyler Williams are charged with the shooting deaths of Gary Matson, 50, and his partner, Winfield Scott Mowder, 40, whose bodies were found in their bed July 1. The Shasta County brothers also are suspects in a trio of Sacramento synagogue fires in June.
Bethell, who lives in Huntington Beach, is a technician for a fitness equipment company. In the past week he has contacted several television stations, networks and other news organizations attempting to sell a videotape and still photographs of Williams taken during their friendship in Bremerton, Wash.
The Record Searchlight declined to buy the material.
But in a telephone interview Wednesday, Bethell talked about the man he said he met in 1989 when the two were assigned to the same ship.
"Because it was such a horrible living environment, we wanted to get our own apartment," Bethell said.
Bethell said he and others thought that Williams "acted kinda prissy and sat too close" to other men when he talked to them, leading them to wonder if he was gay.
"So I asked him and he was just shocked," Bethell said. "For about a month he kept asking why.
"He wasn't gay, but he was dogged by giving the impression that he was."
And because Benjamin Williams was not savvy about the impressions he made on others, the issue arose several times, Bethell said.
"So every time it happened he would crank up the volume on his masculine characteristics and his religion," Bethell explained.
Motorcycles, guns and other traditionally male pursuits became Benjamin's hobbies and he met a Bremerton woman who later became the mother of his daughter.
Bethell said that despite Williams' pleas, the woman, Kimberly Rodgers, refused to marry him.
Rodgers, who since has married another man, still lives near Bremerton. She could not be reached for comment, and her husband, Kyle Barber, would say only that "if it's about that California stuff, we are not commenting."
During his Bremerton days, Williams' interest in firearms sharpened and he purchased his first Glock 9 mm handgun, Bethell said. An obviously proud young Williams demonstrated the use of that gun in a segment of the five-minute videotape that Bethell is hawking to the media. "Huh?" the nonplussed shooter says, turning to the camera in confusion when his first trigger squeeze results only in a dull click. Subsequent shots blew away chunks of stump in the "burned-out gorge" where the tape was shot.
Another segment of the tape shows Williams giddily fanning out what he says are nine $100 bills apparently paid on an insurance claim after his car was reported stolen. He and someone not visible on the tape joke about filing other claims and making even more money.
"I'm going to sleep with my Glock until I get this to the bank," Williams laughs on the tape.
But the penchant for sleeping with the Glock under the pillow continued when Williams moved to Moscow, Idaho, where he became involved in the controversial Living Faith Fellowship church, then abandoned it in despair, Idaho friends told The Sacramento Bee.
Benjamin Williams' closest friend was a fellow church member who later left the church and is now a gay activist, the friends told The Bee.
Williams left the church in outrage because he learned that they were keeping personal files on members. He went from there to writing books on purifying diets and finally to distributing anti-Jewish pamphlets, the Bee reported.
By the time Williams moved back to California two years ago he had developed an interest in Christian Identity, his friends told the Spokane Spokesman. Some proponents of that movement advocate death to homosexuals.
Bethell, who said he cut off his relationship with Williams because his beliefs were becoming increasingly extreme, speculated that Williams probably befriended Matson and Mowder without realizing that they were gay. The men had met through a mutual interest in plants.
"He was probably cruising along, oblivious to the signals," Bethell said, adding that his former friend was likely to have been quite upset about learning that his friends were gay.
Victim may have been forced to make message
Investigators heard a distressed man on a message machine and found a room littered with empty shell casings in the aftermath of the slaying of two gay men in July.
The outgoing message was recorded, authorities believe, very near the moments when Gary Matson, 50, and Winfield Mowder, 40, were shot to death at their Happy Valley home.
In the court documents, detectives refer to a message first heard the morning of July 1 when Matson's father, Oscar Matson, called his son. The man heard on the recording sounded distressed and may have been forced to make it, investigators said.
The victims had been to Oscar Matson's house for dinner in Redding the night before.
But the voice on the answering machine said the two were ill and leaving for San Francisco for a week to visit a "specialist friend of theirs."
The man on the recording, who detectives said sounded "either confused or reluctant to record the message," also coughed.
Detectives believe the man on the recording was trying to alert others "that the individual who forced him to make the message is a close acquaintance of the male."
Heard in the background was another voice "that stated something similar to 'Just calm down.'"
Concerned the voice did not sound like Matson or Mowder, Roger Matson, Matson's brother, went to the Olive Street home about 1 p.m. He found the men dead in bed.
Shell casings from a .22-caliber gun littered the floor, believed to be fired from a semiautomatic gun or guns shot from different angles. The walls and ceiling were stained with blood.
The Williams brothers were arrested July 7 in Yuba City after they allegedly picked up gun-loading equipment at a rented mail drop.
Matt Williams wore a bulletproof vest and carried Matson's cards and a 9 mm Glock handgun in his fanny pack, which he continued to reach for while being placed under arrest.
At one point he asked his brother, "Well, partner, what are we going to do?"
When they were placed in the felony prone position, Benjamin Matthew Williams taunted the sheriff's deputies to shoot them.
When Matt Williams asked a detective if he had searched their car yet and the answer was no, "Williams responded by saying 'Huh' and was observed to have a 'smirk' on his face." Deputies interpreted his reaction as a hint the car may be boobytrapped or contain evidence.
In the car, registered to the Williamses' father, Benjamin H. Williams, detectives found another bulletproof vest, three 9 mm handguns, two semiautomatic rifles, a 12-gauge shotgun and a homemade silencer with blood spots on it.
A key ring with an Orchard Supply Hardware logo was found under the front passenger floor mat. Mowder had been a part-time employee at the Redding store. Keys on the ring matched those of the victims' two vehicles and home.