Man charged with killing elderly Bradenton woman

rdymond@bradenton.comMay 4, 2014 

MANATEE -- Neighbors remember Helen Van Orden as a friendly 79-year-old woman who walked her little dog near her apartment in Building 17 at Burgundy I, a quiet, 55-and-older community at 46th Avenue Terrace West.

Those same neighbors were stunned Saturday to learn that Van Orden's unexpected death on Friday was ruled a homicide by Saturday afternoon.

By Saturday night, neighbors learned that an arrest had been made in the case.

Richard W. Matthews Jr., 32, was charged with murder and burglary in connection with the killing of Van Orden, according to a Manatee County's Sheriff's Office news release.

The motive appears to be burglary, the release added.

"Matthews knew of the victim through a family member of the victim," the release states. He was also charged with grand theft auto after he allegedly stole the murder victim's car.

Van Orden's son, Charles, who lives locally, talks to his mother nearly every day and talked to her on Thursday, said Dave Bristow, a sheriff's office spokesman.

"He didn't hear from her and went over Friday to see if she was OK," Bristow said.

The son found his mother deceased and called authorities, Bristow added.

The sheriff's office arrived at 6:10 p.m. Friday, according to the report.

Van Orden's death was ruled "suspicious" Friday but after an autopsy was performed Saturday, it became a homicide, Bristow added.

The sheriff's office is not ready to release the cause of death, Bristow added.

Residents, who were stunned by news of Van Orden's death, were also relieved a suspect was in custody and that the crime does not appear random.

"I said a prayer for her," Burgundy I resident Nora

Fitzpatrick said Saturday night.

The incident was especially shocking to residents because Burgundy I Apartments is noted by many as a place where watchful eyes are everywhere.

"I once went for a dip in the pool after 8 p.m. and they called the cops," Fitzpatrick said. "They are very strict here."

Sandy Cavendish, one of the only Burgundy I board members who lives there year-round, said she knew who Van Orden was, but didn't know her personally.

"She had a job and wasn't able to come to a lot of our gatherings," Cavendish said Saturday. "I didn't know where she worked. I believe she has a son and daughter."

Cavendish said many residents in the 200-apartment Burgundy I leave after Easter.

"Many of Helen's friends from her building are gone," Cavendish said. "They don't know what happened yet."

Sue Singleton, who lives in adjacent Burgundy II, echoed Fitzpatrick's views on the no-nonsense atmosphere at Burgundy I, mainly because she and her boyfriend are among those watching.

"When my boyfriend sees people loitering he will go up to them and say, 'What are you doing here?' " Singleton said.

"We tell people our dog, Hunter, is a drug-sniffing dog," Singleton added, describing people who she has seen apparently making drug deals near the front of the entire complex.

Singleton said Burgundy II has more rented apartments than Burgundy I, which is more owner-occupied, and she has seen drug deals in II, but not in Burgundy I.

"Burgundy I is much safer," Singleton said. "There's been drugs in Burgundy II. But we keep an eye out."

Singleton said she knew Van Orden because they both owned dogs.

"I think she had a little pug," Singleton said. "She was in good health."

The Fitzpatricks, Nora and John, didn't know Van Orden to talk to her, but saw her walking her pet.

"We were always respectful to her privacy," Nora Fitzpatrick said. "I feel so bad for her. She never got to retire."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.

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