AT News
Archived Issue
Originally emailed 26 May 2004

Matthey Trial Ends

In December 1999, 6-year-old Viktor Tulimov escaped a Siberian orphanage via an adoption by a New Jersey couple, Bob and Brenda Matthey. Ten months later, he was dead, apparently (and ironically) from the effects of hypothermia. For most of 2000, he was battered repeatedly — some might say tortured — by his adoptive parents. Because of his alleged misbehavior, he was occasionally locked up in a dark, damp, unheated “pump room” in the basement of the Matthey’s home.

At death, Viktor Matthey was covered with 40 or more cuts, scrapes and bruises. For their treatment of Viktor, his adoptive parents were convicted this month of three charges of child abuse related to the batterings, each carrying a 5-10 year prison term; they will be sentenced this summer. The Mattheys were acquitted on a witness-tampering charge, and the jury deadlocked, 9-3, on the most serious charges made against the two, manslaughter. Their lawyers vow to appeal the convictions, while prosecutors have not said whether they will re-try the couple on the manslaughter charges.

Manslaughter was charged after Viktor was brought to a hospital in cardiac arrest with a body temperature of only 83.2 degrees and doctors could not revive him. Prosecutors alleged that his condition was the result of being locked overnight in the pump room. An autopsy revealed there was a indigestible mass of uncooked beans in the emaciated boy’s stomach.

It took over three years to bring the Mattheys to trial as the defense advanced several alternatives to explain Viktor’s condition and death, including prior medical conditions, his maltreatment in Russia, his medications, and his alleged Reactive Attachment Disorder (or Post-Institutionalization). The trial extended over several months.

Viktor’s sad story gained national notoriety as another failure of New Jersey’s troubled child-welfare system. (See a summary of Viktor’s treatment at ACT’s
victim page for this case, which also has links to some of the major news stories.)

AT NEWS believes the Matthey trial revealed a number of features and associations with Attachment Therapy and AT parenting methods:

  • ADOPTION AGENCY INVOLVEMENT. The Matthey’s adopted Viktor using the services of the Adoption Alliance of Aurora (Colorado) — an organization that “highly” recommends Attachment Therapy literature. A spokesman also told AT NEWS that the Adoption Alliance holds “occasional classes” on Attachment Disorder and Attachment Therapy.

  • DIAGNOSIS. Psychologist Anait Azarian, testifying for the parents, claimed Viktor had Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), which led him to need to be “in control.” Needing to be in control is not a feature of RAD. The parents, however, reported this behavior and others consistent with the unrecognized diagnosis called “Attachment Disorder.”

  • BLAME THE CHILD. The parents claimed Viktor self-inflicted the injuries that covered his body. Expert testimony claimed that some injuries, such as those on the boy’s back and buttocks were of the type and severity that could not be self-inflicted.

  • RESTRAINING DURING TANTRUMS. Viktor’s parents claim they held him down (sometimes in bath water) for “five minutes of being still and calm.”

  • AVERSIVES. Viktor was sprayed with cold water for bedwetting. His father admitted to duct-taping Viktor’s mouth closed. Viktor was fed foods, such as oatmeal, suggesting AT “soup kitchen” regime. “[Viktor’s brother] described a mixture of beans and barley that was used to punish Viktor: he was forced to eat the mixture before a buzzer went off — if he failed to finish, he would not be allowed to have a drink.” A pediatrician who saw Viktor in the hospital ER claimed: “He was remarkably wasted. There was muscle wasting. You could see all his bones.”

  • SCREAM ROOM. Viktor was allegedly shut in the basement pump room. AT survivors report long stays isolated in basement “scream rooms.”

  • RE-PARENTING. Mrs. Matthey fed her three adoptive children (ages 4, 4, and 7) with a baby bottle for “bonding time.” She claimed to spoon feed Viktor like a baby.

  • PARENT REACTION. The parents believed Viktor’s behavior problems were typical of foreign adoptees, according to their research. This was apparently their explanation for failing to seek medical or psychiatric attention for Viktor.

  • CHURCH SUPPORT. The parents apparently had the support of their church congregation despite Viktor’s deteriorating state. The parents claim they consulted informally with their friends about Viktor; those friends are two physicians who run an “evangelistic medical ministry.”

  • STATE SUPPORT. The State of New Jersey DYFS has created a climate favorable to Attachment Therapy/Parenting. DYFS has itself published a paper favorable to Attachment Therapy and has recommended a number of AT websites to the public.

Caution: links may have aged since this AT News was first emailed.