by Shane Bishop, Dateline producer
Those words in the lead sentence of a story assignment starts a pit forming in the stomach of any television producer. Visual, shall we say, it ain't. You'll have no dramatic video caught by surveillance cameras to work with; no exciting car chases; no crime scenes littered with fingerprints or revealing clues.
"What pictures are we going to cover this with?" my colleagues and I joked. "This is a great story," one added. "For a newspaper."
But oh, how wrong we were. The tale of accused mortgage fraud mastermind Matthew Cox would surprise us all in many ways.
First, Cox was not some boring banker-type in a gray flannel suit, but a hip, young daredevil who wore expensive clothes, drove flashy cars, and loved to skydive. He was also an accomplished visual artist with a flair for the dramatic. He painted sprawling art deco murals in several of the apartments where he lived. Our camera crews were stunned when they entered Cox's former living spaces still adorned by floor-to-ceiling panoramas painted by the wanted man.
Cox also wrote a 300-page manuscript called "The Associates," in which a character who bore an uncanny resemblance to the author, except for the fact that in the book every woman wanted him. Cox's manuscript was a veritable 'how to' on fraud. It laid out plans and schemes that Cox would later copy in real life. (And it wouldn't be a bad beach read, either, although Cox desperately needs to learn to use a spellchecker. What publisher is going to take seriously any writer who uses the phrase, "cereal killer?")
In addition, Matthew Cox was a gifted forger and silver-tongued liar who talked his way out of police custody at least once. Authorities say he routinely juggled 30 or 40 false identities, somehow keeping them all straight at a moment's notice.
Cox seems to possess what is politely termed the "artistic temperament." Wikipedia defines this behavior as "..often characterized by being highly passionate about subjects of importance to the possessor of this behavior, extremely dedicated to certain goals, often hyper-aware of the presence of others, and at other times seemingly oblivious to the presence of others."
Ask the women that Matthew Cox lured into his schemes. Ask Rebecca Hauck. One minute she was his other half, his sidekick, the Bonnie to his Clyde; the next, Cox would slip out the door while she soaked in the tub. He was gone forever. And weeks later, another woman's eyes would light up as he told her that she was now his indispensable other half.
In our research, we learned that Cox was a severely dyslexic child, and was often told by teachers that he'd never amount to anything. Many we interviewed told us that all the fraud was simply a game to Matthew Cox. As an adult, Cox was now attacking the mortgage world as he attacked his canvas, his keyboard, and his life: as if he had something to prove.
Within weeks, Matthew Cox is expected to strike a plea bargain with federal prosecutors and be sentenced to what perhaps will be at least a decade in federal prison. Bureau of Prisons records will reflect that his crime was simply "mortgage fraud." But it's tough to label an artist of Matthew Cox's caliber.
"Thief of Hearts" aired Dateline Sunday, 8 p.m. Read a post on the story from producer Shane Bishop, below. Click here for the transcript and video of the report, as well as links to Cox's art and an excerpt of his unpublished book.