April 12, 2023
A Horsham woman murdered her 11-year-old son as he slept before driving the family car into the ocean, investigators said.
Ruth DiRienzo-Whitehead has been charged with first degree murder in the strangulation death of her son, Matthew Whitehead, according to the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office. The homicide was reported around 7 a.m. Tuesday when the boy's father, Daniel Whitehead, called 911 after finding his son unresponsive in a bed that he had reportedly shared with his mother the night before.
When Horsham Police arrived, they found Matthew "obviously deceased" in the bed. Detectives observed that he had ligature marks on the front and rear of his neck, swelling of his face and petechiae — tiny red spots — around his eyes, all signs of strangulation.
Daniel Whitehead told police that when he woke up Tuesday morning, he found that the door to the bedroom where his son and wife had been sleeping was locked. He also saw that his wife’s black Toyota Highlander was not in the garage.
While police were still in the Whitehead home, Dirienzo-Whitehead's SUV was found by Cape May Police. The Toyota Highlander was empty and partially submerged in the ocean at Cove Beach, just off Beach Avenue in Cape May.
Dirienzo-Whitehead was found alive a short time later by Wildwood Crest Police and taken into custody.
A joint investigation by Montgomery County Detectives and Horsham Police found that Dirienzo-Whitehead allegedly killed her son after he went to sleep Monday evening, at approximately 9:30 p.m. She then drove the family’s SUV onto the beach in Cape May and into the ocean. When the vehicle became inoperable, DiRienzo-Whitehead walked to Wildwood Crest, police say.
In an interview with detectives, DiRienzo-Whitehead explained that her son had been upset over the family's financial difficulties, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
DiRienzo-Whitehead told detectives she "did not want Matthew to grow up with these struggles."
An autopsy on Matthew's body was conducted on Wednesday by the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office, and the cause of death was found to be ligature strangulation. The manner of death was ruled a homicide.
When law enforcement searched DiRienzo-Whitehead's SUV, they discovered a men’s dress belt on the floor of the driver’s side.
Along with the first-degree murder charge, DiRienzo-Whitehead has also been charged with third-degree murder and possessing an instrument of crime. She is being held in Cape May County and awaiting arrest. She will be extradited back to Montgomery County for arraignment on the charges.
“I want to thank Cape May Police, Wildwood Crest Police and Cape May Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland’s Office for their assistance with apprehending this mother who killed her son and with other aspects of this investigation,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said in a statement. “Their quick action and help in this investigation will play an integral part of holding the defendant accountable for the terrible killing of this boy.”
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