St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Sunday, October 16, 1994 
Section: NEWS


By Joe Holleman
Of the Post-Dispatch Staff

James McBride was a rental car company executive who loved Harley-Davidson motorcycles. His wife, Nancy McBride, was a proud homemaker and devoted Cardinals fan. Many who considered them a model couple didn’t know of their long fight with fear.

During the three years that family members said the couple’s 25-year-old son suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, they turned their cozy house in Glendale, with its sunny porch and walls full of family photos, into a fortress.

They learned to live with window locks, deadbolts and an elaborate warning system to hold their son Matthew at bay.

As the McBrides tried to cope with his worsening aggression, they were frustrated by the difficulty in finding treatment for Matthew, the youngest of their four children. Matthew McBride has never been committed involuntarily to an institution for more than four days, despite a history of terrorizing and threatening his parents, the family says.

In a comment heard often by mental health experts, the McBrides said they felt trapped by their son’s illness.

“I remember one time asking the doctors, “What’s he going to have to do? Kill somebody? Because that’s what he’s going to do,” said Mark McBride, one of Matthew’s brothers.

Matthew McBride is one of about 25,000 St. Louis area residents and about 2.5 million persons nationwide who have schizophrenia. Symptoms include delusions, blunted emotions, hallucinations and depression. Its causes are unknown.

It is rare that someone afflicted with the disease becomes violent, unless he or she stops taking anti-psychotic medications.

Matthew McBride had a history of stopping his medication.

At 7:15 a.m. Sept. 19, he stepped out of a cab in front of his parents’ home. His parents were expecting him to pick up some clothing. Months earlier, Matthew McBride had moved out and begun living with a succession of friends.

He walked around to the back door and went inside. Police are unsure how he got inside. They do know that the next 10 minutes were a nightmare.

Matthew McBride grabbed several knives in the kitchen and repeatedly stabbed his mother and father in their bedroom, police say. As the attack raged, Nancy McBride called 911 for help.

When a Glendale police officer arrived minutes later he heard the final moments of the struggle. As he walked in the master bedroom he saw Matthew covered with blood.

“I’m done, I’m done, ” Matthew said.

Obsession With Telepathy

Matthew McBride’s sister, Lisa Schmidt of Warson Woods, and brothers, Mark and James McBride III, met recently at their parents’ house with a reporter to discuss their brother’s illness and its shattering impact on their family.

Matthew McBride has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the slayings. He’s now in the Fulton State Hospital, undergoing a psychiatric evaluation.

Schmidt, the oldest child, said Matthew had been a quiet, easy-going child.

“He was an angelic, curly-headed, blond, little boy. If you told him it was time to go to bed, he didn’t argue. He never talked back.

“We always talked to each other; we traveled together, “Schmidt said.

“We didn’t have problems with the police or with drugs. We always were thankful that we were so lucky.”

That started to change after Matthew graduated from Webster Groves High School in 1987.

“He always thought about things a lot, maybe too much.” Said Mark McBride, of Kirkwood.

“But after high school, it seemed that with the onset of adult responsibilities, he began to have difficulties.”

The first sign of a problem was his preoccupation with mental telepathy – he thought people were controlling his thoughts.

“Anyone who didn’t agree with him completely was trying to control his thoughts, he’d say,” Mark McBride said.

The family tried to talk to Matthew.

“But it became apparent that we were trying to reason with someone who didn’t reason the way that you or I do, ” Schmidt said.

About three years ago, Matthew smashed out car windows on the street where he and his parents lived, then broke the windows at the McBride home. He began to threaten friends and relatives. On one occasion, Mark asked his brother to leave the house, and they got into a shoving match.

The angry scenes at the McBride home became commonplace. In the last year, and especially in the last six months, the other children focused on protecting their parents.

“Our whole lives revolved around this one tortured child and what he was going to do,” Schmidt said.

“It became my life and my husband’s life. It was my brother’s life and his wife’s life. We didn’t know what normal life was like anymore.”

The family set up a protective network. Each family member had a beeper and a mobile phone. When Matthew dropped by some family member would rush over to be with their mother.

Against his mother’s whishes, Mark McBride installed a telephone answering machine before he and his father went on a motorcycle trip. The intent was to enable Nancy McBride to dodge her son’s calls.

“You have to know that may mother absolutely hated these recorders. She wouldn’t talk to them,” said Mark. “But she was so glad that she had this one.”

The family had never used deadbolts and window locks but now installed them. “We put them in so my mother could see what kind of mood Matthew was in before deciding if she would let him in the house,” Mark said.

Living with Terror

Nancy McBride became reclusive. “Because of the shame people put on mental illness, it’s not something that you can run down to your neighbor and talk about very easily,” Mark McBride said.

The family had taken Matthew to counselors for years. They got him a psychiatrist. Family members said that four times in three years, Matthew McBride had been committed to a psychiatric hospital, usually after family members convinced him to seek help.

But Matthew’s commitments never lasted long enough to suit the McBrides. And they are angry about the way the system worked.

The last time Matthew McBride committed himself for treatment was two weeks before his parents were killed. McBride stayed in the hospital one week.

Police had had him committed once before. But Schmidt said that it wasn’t until her brother’s final commitment that her parents learned that they, too, could have tried to have Matthew involuntarily hospitalized.

State law allows a circuit judge to commit a person on the basis of a psychiatric evaluation that a person is a danger to himself or others. A patient can be committed for 21 days, then 90 days, and then one year.

Almost everyone close to the McBrides thought Matthew McBride qualified. Psychiatrists had told him to call 911 any time they saw him at the house.

“Every neighbor, the police, every friend of my parents knew how afraid my folks were of Matthew,” James McBride said. They also knew Matthew’s aggression was getting worse.

But doctors told them that mental hospitals were crowded and that Matthew hadn’t been physically violent enough for long-term involuntary commitment, Schmidt said.

The night before her parents were killed, Schmidt took her mother out for dinner. When the two women returned to the Glendale home, they followed the family’s standard procedure: checking closets and rooms to see if Matthew was there.

“She told me that night that she felt that Matthew would do something soon that would let them put him some place where he couldn’t hurt anyone,” Schmidt said.

Mark McBride said his brother had talked for several months about moving out of St. Louis.

“At first we worried that he’d never make it on his own,” he said. “But near the end, we were praying he’d leave town.”


Following are some area health agencies to call with questions about mental illness or to find help:

-Mental Health Association of Greater St. Louis: Call 314-773-1399 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.