Mother accused of killing son with belt, driving into ocean

Posted at 2:15 PM, April 13, 2023 and last updated 2:15 PM, April 13, 2023


HORSHAM, Pa. (Court TV) — A Pennsylvania mother was charged with first-degree murder after allegedly strangling her son to death while he slept.

The Montgomery County District Attorney announced the charges filed against Ruth Dirienzo-Whitehead in a news release, accusing her of murdering her 11-year-old son, Matthew, before driving her car into the ocean.

Booking photo of Ruth Dirienzo-Whitehead

Ruth Dirienzo-Whitehead is accused of killing her 11-year-old son, Matthew. (Montgomery County District Attorney)

Matthew’s father called 911 at approximately 7 a.m. on April 11, after waking up to find the door to the master bedroom locked and his wife’s car missing. He told police that his wife and son had gone to sleep the night before in the master bedroom, which was not unusual.

Police said Matthew was found “obviously deceased” in the master bedroom, with ligature marks on the front and back of his neck, as well as other signs of strangulation.

Detectives said their investigation determined that Dirienzo-Whitehead killed her son after he went to sleep at approximately 9:30 p.m. on April 10, and then drove the family’s SUV to Cape May, New Jersey, where she drove the vehicle into the ocean.

When the vehicle stopped operating, police said that Dirienzo-Whitehead got out of the SUV and walked to Wildwood Crest, where she was arrested. Officers who searched the car reported finding a black men’s dress belt on the floor of the driver’s side.

An arresting officer described Dirienzo-Whitehead as wearing black tattered pajamas with messy hair and a confused expression, WCAU reported. She allegedly told the officer, “I know what I did.”

In an arrest affidavit, detectives said that Dirienzo-Whitehead admitted to strangling her son to death, saying that “Matthew had been upset and crying on and off all day over the family’s financial difficulties. Dirienzo-Whitehead explained that she did not want Matthew to grow up with these struggles, so she strangled him with her husband’s belt as he slept.”

Matthew was in the sixth grade at Germantown Academy, which released a statement to WPVI describing Matthew as “an extraordinary child with a smile as bright as the sun. … We loved him, and we will forever mourn his loss, a devastating tragedy for our community, his family, his friends, and our world. … Matthew is the embodiment of love, promise and goodness and we will never, ever forget him.”