The Short Life of Viktor Matthey

At 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds, Bob Matthey was not the sort of person a stranger would pick a fight with. He was handsome in a pleasant, baby-faced way, with steady blue eyes and a head of dark blond hair in a short mullet cut.

He was articulate, low-key, but with a self-confidence that occasionally veered into self-righteousness. He didn't sugar his opinions for easy consumption, and when he talked to people, he looked them in the eye.

In a pre-adoption study, in which a social worker reviews finances, education, upbringing and home life, Matthey described his personality as "choleric," not a word likely to be tossed around by the mechanics he supervised as manager of an engine shop in Bridgewater Township.

Matthey's parents divorced when he was 3. He said he had a good relationship with his father. The elder Matthey was a mechanic and a sailor, and Bob fondly remembered, at the age of 13, spending a week on a boat with him. His father died 11 years ago at age 50.

Bob's mother, Phyllis, took him on day trips, camping, and they spent a lot of time with her large extended family. He played Little League baseball and was confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church.

Brenda Matthey, whose round, pretty face was framed by waves of brown, shoulder-long hair parted in the middle, exuded a comfortable earth mother warmth.

Brenda was born in New Brunswick and raised in the Lutheran Church. Her father, Roy, who worked in the office of the telephone company, died at 41, when Brenda was 9.

She remembered him as funny and loving and strong, a protective presence in her childhood. Brenda had an older brother and sister. She speaks with her brother by telephone and sees her sister on holidays, but she and her sister don't have anything in common, she said in the pre-adoption study.

Bob and Brenda were introduced by friends at a party in June 1981. She was 16 and he was 17. They eloped in March 1983, while Brenda was still in high school. Bob, who graduated a year earlier, was in the Navy and completing electronics school in Tennessee. Brenda joined him there and finished high school.

Bob spent four years in the Navy, most of it in Maryland, where he worked on aircraft electronics before his honorable discharge. It was in Maryland that Bob began attending Bible study groups and exploring Pentecostal religion.

Less than 11 months after Bob and Brenda married, their son Robert was born, and their next son, Richard, came along 19 months later. Raymond was born in October 1990, and the youngest, Jonathan, arrived in February 1992.

By the time Bob and Brenda Matthey started thinking about adopting children in 1998, their older boys had hit their teens and the two younger ones were elementary school age, although all were home-schooled.

In the pre-adoption home study done in 1999 by Bethany Christian Services, a social service agency in Hawthorne, the Mattheys described their four children as "strong-willed."

They said punishment came in the form of "time-outs," and they believed that when the children erred, the children should not be told that something was wrong with them; it was their behavior that was wrong.

Brenda said she took the children to the Bible when they misbehaved and showed them that what they were doing was wrong. As the children got older, punishment meant the loss of privileges.

The Mattheys, according to the study, always coordinated their child-rearing decisions to present a united front to the children.

The home study also said: "They believe in the New Jersey State law concerning the use of passive means of discipline."

That meant no spanking or physical punishment.