MANATEE — Helen Van Orden, 79, was a part-time housekeeper at Emeritus at College Park, a senior-living residence on 26th Street West in Bradenton.
After working from 8 a.m. to noon every weekday, Van Orden, who lived in Towanda, Pa., and Norwich, N.Y., before moving to Florida with her now-late husband, William, would go right home to her small apartment at Burgundy Condominiums on 46th Avenue Terrace West and walk her diabetic pug, Lucy.
Then, she relaxed and waited for her 61-year-old son, Charles, who lives off Cortez Road and has been on disability since 1981, to call to check on her, as he did precisely at 9 p.m. every night. But all of that is over.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives believe Richard Wayne Matthews Jr., 32, who lists his residence as homeless, murdered Helen Van Orden in her apartment in what sheriff’s office spokesman Dave Bristow on Sunday called: “a burglary gone horribly bad.”
Charles Van Orden, 61, said he believes his mother may have been murdered Thursday for her credit cards, purse and 2000 silver Dodge Strata.
Charles Van Orden went to her apartment Friday afternoon and discovered his mother’s body. “I saw a pool of blood behind her head and I called 911,” Van Orden said.
Charles Van Orden’s sister, Mary Ann Layhew, who lives in Whitfield Estates and is a debt collector for Vengroff Williams Inc., was as crushed as her brother Sunday.
“This is senseless,” Layhew said. “Maybe she had $30 in her purse.”
Layhew said she believes there was a connection between her mother and Matthews.
“The connection to this guy was that he was associated with friends of my son, Nathan Cory Martin, who has passed away,” Layhew said. “I believe Matthews stayed in an apartment in Burgundy II and he must have seen my mom come and go and recognized her from the days when Nathan was alive. I think he thought of her as an easy mark.”
Charles Van Orden said his mother was “sweet” and made delicious meals of roast beef and mashed potatoes.
Layhew said: “Our mom was a go-getter, She didn’t let anything get by her. She stayed busy. She was very active. She never let grass grow under feet.”
Van Orden said he took Lucy to an animal shelter. “I can’t afford her care,” he said.
Layhew said her mother will be buried Saturday at Manasota Memorial in Oneco at a time to be set.
The man charged with Helen Van Orden’s murder has multiple felony convictions, including dealing in stolen property in 2001, according to Manatee County Court records.
Among Matthews’ roughly 30 separate cases from 2001-14, which include many minor legal run-ins, are several probation violations and a felony battery charge in 2012, court records reveal.
In the Van Orden case, Matthews has been charged with non-premeditated murder, motor vehicle theft and burglary with assault and battery, according to the sheriff’s office’s jail website.
Van Orden’s autopsy revealed she died as a result of “homicidal violence,” according to Matthews’ arrest report.
The arrest report also states Matthews told three people he murdered Van Orden and two of the three gave authorities sworn statements.
Ronald Ellison told the sheriff’s office Matthews, who is his godson, called him around 8 a.m. Friday to ask for a ride. Matthews reportedly told Ellison: “He had killed a lady at the Burgundy Apartments and that he had stolen her car and credit cards,” the report states. Working on another tip, authorities captured Matthews Saturday night in the 5200 block of U.S. 41, Bristow said Sunday.
Matthews was incarcerated late Saturday and is being held in the Manatee County jail with no bond, according to the sheriff’s office’s jail website.
Van Orden was found on her living room floor, according to the arrest report.
Marks were found on her consistent with a tennis shoe.
A large blue T-shirt was found under her body.
The Stratus was ditched sometime Friday and found Saturday at Midway Apartments in the 300 block of 57th Avenue Drive East, Bristow said. Charles Van Orden said he is extremely angry at Matthews. He would like to confront him in court.
“I would ask: ‘Why did you do a heinous thing like this?’” Van Orden said. “I would also say: ‘I want you to get everything you deserve.’”