Who was Matt Walter? Family, colleagues left wondering following lawsuits, missing money after his death
One year after a Danville attorney’s suicide, his family and colleagues are still asking themselves: Who was Matt Walter, really; and what happened to the money he stole?”
Two recent lawsuits involve Walter’s alleged illegal “pillaging” of his wife and three children’s college savings, investment and retirement accounts, and another claims Walter illegally wrote checks to himself out of an estate account where he was executor. These two suits have brought to light other mystifying and illegal actions Walter hid for years from those who loved and respected him.
Now, his widow, Audrey Walter, and former office colleague, Ephraim Helton, want to talk about what they have discovered.
“We have more questions than we have answers, and I don’t think that we’ll ever find the answers to our questions,” Helton said. “We’re not even sure who he was. He was a person that we’ve uncovered, isn’t the person that we all saw everyday. It’s not the person we all loved. It’s not the person we all supported. It’s not the person we probably would have gone to the end of the earth for. I mean, Matt was like a child to me. I would have done anything for him. But now, I don’t know who he was.”
The day Matt killed himself, Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, was a typical day, Audrey said. They had enjoyed a nice Valentine’s Day weekend at home with their children, Lilla, 13, Annie Capers, 11, and Townsend, 9.
“We had a great weekend. We cooked a nice meal and watched a movie.” And Sunday was just a normal, quiet day.
Early Monday morning Audrey went to workout and Matt went to the office. A bit later, they met at a local body shop where she dropped off her minivan for repairs from an earlier accident where someone rear-ended her vehicle.
She said Matt insisted on driving her to Enterprise where they leased another van while hers was being repaired. She said they were laughing about the “pimped out” van she got, “It was hilarious.”
She asked if he wanted to go to lunch, but Matt said he had to go to a local pawn shop to “go over video footage,” Audrey explained.
In reality, it turns out that Matt went to the pawn shop to buy a gun.
“Everything was totally normal.” She said they always texted each other throughout the day. But when he didn’t return her text early that afternoon, “I got this weird feeling.” She drove home and told the kids to stay in the car. They weren’t in school because of the President’s Day holiday.
Walking through the kitchen she saw a gun case and bullets were scattered all around.
She ran through the house expecting to see Matt sitting, holding the gun. But she didn’t. Audrey ran outside and found her husband had shot himself in the back yard.
After calling 911, Audrey said she called Helton. The police came and a friend picked up the children. “Everyone was hysterical,” Audrey said.
She tried to rationalize why Matt would want to kill himself. She frantically asked Helton if Matt had “messed up a case,” she said.
Helton said, “No, nothing led up that he was going to do this. No indication.”
On Tuesday, Helton said he talked to the clerk at the pawnshop where Matt purchased the gun.”The guy said he had been joking.”
“To my knowledge he’d never even shot a gun. We had talked about not liking guns and being anti-gun,” Helton said.
But on Monday, Matt bought a 9 mm Glock and asked for the “most powerful bullets,” Audrey said. They even had to teach him how to load the gun and shoot it, she added. Matt bought regular bullets, which the store clerk suggested he use for practice, and but he also purchased hollow point bullets.
The regular bullets were later found tucked under the seat of Matt’s car.
Also on Tuesday, Helton began sorting through Matt and Audrey’s financial affairs so that she could open an estate account.
That’s when he began to see the financial “mess” Matt had left behind.
Helton said he discovered Matt had taken out a $90,000 second mortgage on their home without Audrey’s knowledge and forged her signature on the mortgage and forged Helton’s signature as power of attorney.
Then he found Matt had “gutted” Audrey’s IRA and investment account and his three children’s college fund accounts, Helton said.
Back at Matt’s second-floor office, in the same building he shared with Helton, he found notices from the IRS showing that Matt hadn’t filed income tax returns since 2014.
By Wednesday afternoon, Helton said he uncovered “bogus” tax returns Matt had submitted to the bank to get other loans.
“I can’t believe the loan officer accepted those.”
On Thursday, Helton found where Matt had forged a client’s signatures on three personal injury settlement checks and a fourth check, for the client’s young son was sitting on the desk.
Thursday evening was Matt’s visitation where about 700 people attended, Helton said. “The whole time we knew something bad. We didn’t know exactly what we were dealing with … But we had to get through this.”
Friday morning, the day of Matt’s funeral, Helton got a call to come to Farmers National Bank because they had found “suspicious activity” where Matt had written checks totaling more than $35,000 to himself from an estate for which he was the executor.
Helton said he told Audrey all that he had discovered and she wanted to cancel the funeral.
However, Audrey said she went through the funeral for the sake of her children.
The Rev. Amy Meaux, from Trinity Episcopal Church where the Walters are members, was going talk about Matt at his funeral. However, After Helton explained to Meaux what was being discovered about him, she changed the sermon to focus on Audrey and the children, Helton said. “We didn’t want her to be blindsided.”
“She spoke about me and the children because she knew,” Audrey said.
“The minute after it (the funeral) was over,” Audrey and the children left without visiting anyone. And Helton, along with attorneys in his office, Stacy Coontz and Brendan Shevlin, and their entire staff starting going through files in Matt’s upstairs office. “We went through file after file,” as well as emails, Helton said. “His office was atrocious.” Files were stacked everywhere and “he had not kept good records.”
When he studied the Bessie Strom estate file more closely, Helton said he definitely knew, “there was theft here.”
He said he called Kentucky State Police, and investigator Frank Thornberry spent all day Saturday going through more files.
The former dean of Chase Law School, who was Matt’s cousin, helped with the search, as well as two other attorneys who worked all day. Soon Thornberry agreed there was evidence of criminal activity on Matt’s part.
Audrey joined the search, and she and Coontz discovered Matt had multiple email accounts and passwords.
Audrey said, “He practiced forging my signature. It was on his desk, over and over again. I was shocked.”
Officers took Matt’s computer, Kindle, iPad and cell phone.
Helton said he gave Thornberry the key to the office and told him to “search anywhere and everywhere.”
Officers took evidence back to the forensics lab, Helton said, “And we’ve heard nothing back in over one year.”
Helton said other than the current estate lawsuit, and the personal injury settlement Matt had pocketed, which has already been resolved, “To my knowledge, there are no other thefts.”
And the 40 to 50 cases they discovered where Matt had taken large retainers but didn’t do any work, have since been finished by him and Coontz, “who worked very hard at cleaning this up,” Helton said. And they didn’t bill any of those clients.
Another fraudulent action they discovered was a case where Matt had “concocted” Judge Darren Peckler’s signature for a judgment on a case. However, Matt never even filed the lawsuit, but had taken the couple’s retainer fee, Helton said.
Audrey and Helton discovered where Matt had taken out several quick internet loans, personal bank loans, and loans from family and friends. He also had gotten several cash advances on Audrey’s Discover card, ordered duplicate cards and stole checks from her wallet and used them — again, forging her signature.
According to Audrey and Helton, Matt had gotten a $70,000 loan from a much older and wealthy family member. The family member insisted that Matt name the family member as the primary beneficiary of his $68,000 life insurance policy. Audrey said she discovered this family member was charging interest too, and Matt had been paying off the debt.
Right after Matt died, this family member went and got his life insurance proceeds before Audrey had a chance to claim what she later found out was just a fraction of what she thought she was supposed to receive, Helton said.
“That family member didn’t need the money, in my opinion, and that was taken from my children.”
In another instance, they discovered Matt had written $19,000 worth of checks to himself while he was treasurer of the Boyle County Democratic Party, Helton said. However, he had repaid all but $5,000 before he died, Helton added.
“It was a large sum that he was kind enough to pay them back. Not his family, but the Democratic Party,” Audrey said.
Matt also maxed out the Helton, Walter and Associates office credit card for tens of thousands of dollars, and maxed out its credit line at the bank, “which he took for himself,” Helton said.
After running a credit check on herself, Audrey said she found out Matt had gotten 22 credit cards in her name, forged her signature, and maxed them all out.
Audrey said her grandmother gives them an estate gift each Christmas. One particular Christmas her parents urged Matt to use the money to pay off his student loan before starting a college fund for their children. Matt was reluctant and said he could never “take money from my children.” However he did accept the money but never paid off his loan, Audrey said.
“Once he ran through all of our money, mine and the children’s, I think he ran out and started stealing from clients.”
Where did the money go?
The mystery now is, ‘Where did the money go?’
“He overdrew his account to buy the gun,” Audrey said.
She had to “make his account right” and pay for the gun out of her checking account the day of his funeral so that she could set up his estate’s account.
“We have no earthly idea what it (the money) was used for. It is the biggest mystery,” Helton said. “I wish we did. … I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life.”
Helton said he doesn’t suspect drugs are involved.
Matt dressed nice, went to the office every day and on weekends and was always prepared for court and was never late to a court appearance, Helton said. “He was never asleep at the switch.”
Audrey doesn’t have a clue either. She said, “I drive a 10-year old minivan.” And when she shops, it’s for groceries, gas and for the children, she said. “I’m very thrifty.”
And when she occasionally uses her personal credit card she said she always pays off the balance every month. It’s a practice her dad instilled in her, so she’d have good credit.
Whatever Matt was doing with the money, “It wasn’t like he was spending it on us.”
They didn’t live an extravagant lifestyle. They never took extravagant vacations nor did they drive fancy, expensive vehicles, she said.
“He was making the house payments, except for January and February… It’s shocking. Part of me … there’s days that I’m like, ‘Where did it go? This doesn’t make any sense, and I’m curious. And then other days, I’m like, ‘I don’t even care anymore. I just want to move on.”
Who was Matt Walter?
On top of discovering theft and “a variety of ways” that Matt had taken a “significant” amount of money from family, friends, and clients, Audrey and Helton said they “compared notes” and found other baffling things Matt said and did.
Audrey said she often joked that “He was the nice one of the couple.”
Helton said in this “small town, Matt was the fair-haired, knight in shining armor to so many people.” He was on the board of Central Kentucky Federal Savings Bank, Wilderness Trace Child Development Center and CASA of the Bluegrass.
“Everybody loved Matt. I certainly have my enemies and detractors and I’ve upset people over the years. Matt didn’t have that. Everybody liked Matt.”
Helton said when he worked at his office on Sundays, Matt always showed up saying he had just finished teaching Sunday School.
“I thought he was going to church. That turned out not to be true.”
Audrey said Matt didn’t teach Sunday School and rarely attended church with her and their family. He told them he had to work at the office.
For summer vacations, Audrey said they usually went to her parents’ home in South Carolina, but Matt always stayed home, saying he was working.
Helton said looking back, they realize how hard Matt worked to keep Helton and his wife Laura, and Matt and his family from socializing.
Helton said he asked Matt repeatedly to visit him and Laura at their beach home or take boat trips with them. “Matt always said, ‘No, can’t do it.’”
“He kept everybody apart.”
Helton said looking back Matt probably thought that if they (Audrey and Helton) compared notes, “That would be a chink in his armor.”
Audrey thinks Matt used “isolation” as a way to stay in control. He even began pulling away from their friends, she added.
As they worked to try and make sense of what Matt had done, and possibly what he was thinking, Audrey and Helton met with the therapist Matt had been going to for about two years. Audrey said he was seeing the therapist for anxiety issues, although she added that he always slept well and had a big appetite. When they told the therapist what was being discovered about Matt she said, “This does not jive with the person I counseled. … I can’t believe it. None of this was the person I was meeting with,” Helton said.
“He fooled his own therapist,” Audrey added.
One of the stories Matt told his therapist was when he was about 12 years old, his family was kind of falling apart and he had to balance the checkbook, pay all the bills and do the grocery shopping.
“I’ve known him for 21 years and I have never heard that story,” Audrey said.
Helton said he was telling Coontz about the story, and Coontz said, “Hold on a second. That is a true story. It didn’t happen to Matt, it happened to one of my friends.”
Audrey said, “He was taking stories that other people experienced and were telling them as his own. Now, why would you do that? Why waste the money and the time?”
Another strange thing Helton noticed, was that about 30 days after his death, Matt didn’t receive any mail at their office.
“Still to this day, no mail,” not even junk mail. “It’s the weirdest thing. … After 30 days it stopped.”
“Maybe he had a post office box in another community,” Helton said.
Audrey said it’s the same at her home, no mail addressed to Matt. She said before he died, Matt had all of his mail sent to the office or via email, where he paid their mortgage and utility bills. Also, “He always intercepted the mail at home,” and even began intercepting the office mail on Saturdays before Helton could get to the post office, he said.
The morning of his suicide, Matt was even shopping online for clothing, Audrey said. Two days after he died, his new shirts were delivered.
“A large part of me obviously wants to know what he was doing. How do I wrap my head around that I met this person when I was 20 years old, fell in love with him, married him, started a life, have three beautiful children and my whole relationship with him has been a fraud. I trusted Matt wholeheartedly. I never looked at his phone. I thought we were happily married.”
“I can’t imagine that I was deceived like this. He didn’t love me. You don’t do this to people you love.”
“I thought everything was pretty much perfect.”
“It’s hard laying your head down at night, thinking about and grieving for someone who is nonexistent.”
Audrey said Matt had “a very dear friend” whose father committed suicide. “We always said, how could you ever do that to them. We talked about it. She lost her father and we know what it does to someone.
“He knew first hand the hurt and grief of a child, loving a father, yet he did that to my children. That is why I hate him. … I could shoulder this myself if I didn’t have children. But watching my children grieving is the hardest thing to watch.”
Audrey said she has been honest with Lilla, Annie Capers, and Townsend about what their father did. “It’s better to hear it from your mother than a classmate. They were already deceived by their father.” She said, “Their world has been rocked.”
“What Matt did was the most selfish act. None of us knew. … This has destroyed my family,” Audrey said. “They’ve been robbed of their childhood. When your father kills himself, you’re forced to grow up.”
But she’s determined to raise her children and provide for them. She’s a certified special education teacher, “but I’m getting another certification to continue working with preschool special education. I have to provide for my family,” so in order to teach at Wilderness Trace Child Development Center in Danville, Audrey has returned to school to earn a specialized certification.
“I love life. I love people. I’m an extrovert. I don’t want them (Lilla, Annie Capers, and Townsend) to look back and say I was weak or sad all of the time. I want them to be proud of me and how I pulled them out of this.”
Audrey said if it wasn’t for her “great friends” and supportive community, “I wouldn’t still be living here. I love Danville.”
The community has been “very respectively and incredibly supportive of my family,” and has wrapped its arms around us.
The children are doing as well as can be expected, Audrey said. Lilla seems to be having the most difficult time right now though. She’s living with Audrey’s parents in South Carolina, something that the pandemic and virtual learning has allowed her to do.
She added that the Danville and Boyle County school systems “have just shined,” for Lilla, Annie Capers, and Townsend.
Audrey is very angry at her late husband and calls him a narcissist, con artist, misogynist, and psychopath.
But she reads a devotional book every morning, “and I pray I don’t want to be angry, because I am. … But as a model for my children, it is painful, but I do not talk to them about him angry.
“If I live this life angry and bitter, they’re going to be angry and bitter. … I love life. I love people, and I am a happy person. Now, he has taken my happiness and my joy, but I will get it back with time.”
Editor’s Note: The following link is to a story written about Matt Walter following his death in February of 2020.