Love and fear dominated the last years of Christine Belford’s life as a mother, and on Monday, one of the men she feared most, took her life as she got ready to face the other.
She was shot inside the lobby of the New Castle County courthouse by her former father-in-law, Thomas Matusiewicz, according to state police. His son and her ex-husband, David T. Matusiewicz, had just walked through the metal detectors, on his way to the couple's child support hearing.
“Christine was under an incredible amount of stress,” said James Woods, Jr., a Delaware attorney who Belford had hired and in whom she had confided about the turmoil surrounding the custody battle over her three children and trouble with her in-laws. Woods was not representing her at the hearing. “I was aware there was a lot of anger and a lot of unfair and untrue accusations against her."
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In 2007, after the couple divorced, David kidnapped the girls. He told Belford he was taking them on vacation to Disney World, and instead, he and his mother, Lenore Matusiewicz, kidnapped the daughters, who were 5, 4 and 2 years old, and drove them to Nicaragua, where David kept them for 19 months.
“David told the children she was dead when he took them ,” Woods said. “And dealing with that effect and the fallout it had on her kids was horrible.”
After the kidnapping, Woods filed a civil suit on Belford's behalf against the Matusiewicz family.
Woods said the intimidation and suspicion she lived with was intense.
“She had a closed-circuit TV system installed around her home and she was afraid that David, after he got out of prison, or Lenore, after she got out of prison, or Tom, at some time would maybe try to take the kids again.”
The civil suit never made it into court. Woods said Thomas Matusiewicz twice sent him “packets of lies” about Belford.
“I think his cover letter said something about ‘You should know who your client really is,’ or ‘What your client’s really like,’ and it was a pack of lies. But to think that someone would deliberately do that I think shows, at least on one level, how twisted he was,” he said.
”We ended up dropping that lawsuit because it just became obvious that any judgment we got was just going to be uncollectable,” Woods said. “Oddly, after we dropped the case, we got – I don’t remember if it was a letter or an email -- from Tom Matusiewicz saying, ‘Why did you drop the case?’ and I think my response was along the lines of ‘that was for our reasons, but we’d like to start the healing process, we’d like to start to put all this behind us and that was the last communication I had from him, which was probably a year ago.”
Woods said Christine, who was 39, worked hard at helping her children recover.
“She was a lovely person and I saw her interact with her children many times and it was just obvious that she had a very typical mother’s love for her children.”