From Boyfriend to Murderer

Lyndsay van Blanken 

Eighteen-year-old Lyndsay van Blanken, a promising cartoonist for Walt Disney Animation in Sydney, Australia, was strangled to death by her former boyfriend.

by Marie Kusters-McCarthy

It was the second marriage for Lyndsay van Blanken’s mother, Cynthia Pleasant, in the summer of 2001. It was a beautiful outdoor ceremony in Sydney, Australia. Lyndsay’s parents had an amicable divorce a couple of years earlier and there was no animosity between them. Family and friends were enjoying the good food and music provided by a talented quartet. However, 16-year-old Lyndsay only had eyes for the handsome cellist, William Matheson. During a break he approached her and it was clear the attraction was mutual. They were soon involved in a relationship which was fun but, at times, intense due to William’s possessive nature.

Lyndsay was a talented artist and in August 2003 had been selected, from hundreds of applicants, to join Walt Disney Animation as a trainee cartoonist in their Haymarket office in Sydney.  This was her dream job and her superiors and colleagues were very impressed with her talent and it was obvious she had a bright future ahead of her.    

Like a lot of people, Lyndsay liked to play video games on the Internet which led to the beginning of a special friendship with a 21-year-old hairdresser, Brandon Leonard, who lived in Seattle, Washington.  Brandon said it began as an intellectual relationship but they both soon realized they were falling in love. Lyndsay then ended her involvement with William which he didn’t want to accept. He began to show up unexpectedly at her work place and her home. This behavior made Lyndsay very uneasy and she asked him to please leave her alone.

In July 2003 she received by mail an engagement ring from Brandon and was happy to accept his proposal. In September Brandon flew to Sydney and the couple moved into an apartment at the rear of the van Blanken’s family home. 

November 24, 2003 was an especially happy day for Lyndsay as her mother had given her an early Christmas present of two return tickets to Seattle for herself and Brandon. This was for Brandon to introduce his fiancée to his parents and they planned to get married during the visit.  

Lyndsay’s Final Text Message

Lyndsay left work at 5:30 p.m. and was expected home within an hour. She texed Brandon saying how much she was looking forward to their trip. That was the last communication he would receive from her. When she didn’t arrive home at her normal time, Brandon became worried, as did her mother and other family members.  This was completely out of character for Lyndsay as she was always reliable and would inform someone if she were delayed, or just to report her whereabouts. After a  couple of hours, they contacted the police and reported her missing.

The police found nothing to make them consider foul play and were treating it as a teenage runaway. Even her own mother had thoughts that the last few months of stress with William, the engagement, the upcoming travel and wedding plans might

have become too much and Lyndsay may have just needed some space. Lyndsay’s mother made several emotional appeals asking anyone who might have seen her daughter to come forward.

The police questioned Lyndsay’s ex-boyfriend, William, who admitted he had met with her that day, during her lunch break, at Walt Disney Animation, and again when she alighted from her train around 6 p.m. on her way home. He said he walked with her for a bit and then left her near her home and had not seen her since.     

As the days went by and with no contact from Lyndsay, her family and police began to fear that she had met with foul play. On December 3, the police re-enacted Lyndsay’s last movements in the hope that it might jog someone’s memory. However, that was unsuccessful and the police were left with a baffling case. There had been no activity on her bank account and her mobile phone had not been used since her disappearance.

Her mother made a last emotional appeal. “Lyndsay, the family is missing you terribly, please contact us. We’re desperate to hear from you and we all love you. We’re not angry with you, we just want to know where you are.” There was no response.

Two weeks after her disappearance, in the early morning, police spotted William Matheson “lurking suspiciously” in a quiet street in the Queens Park area of Sydney.  In his backpack they found a small axe, a large pair of scissors, a Stanley knife, surgical gloves, torches, a candle and holder, cling wrap, deodoriser and a bottle of holy water. He, allegedly, told the police he was planning a picnic in the park. 

Obviously, having these items in his possession did not constitute a crime and the police, while suspicious, let him on his way.                                                        

On January 10, 2004, residents of an apartment block, used mainly by backpackers, complained about a foul odor which seemed to be coming from a storeroom underneath the apartments. The building maintenance inspector went to investigate the odor and was horrified to find a badly decomposed body stuffed into a large sports bag. The body was soon identified as that of Lyndsay van Blanken. She had died of strangulation by two cable ties joined together.

Police investigations soon traced the origin of the sports bag which was only sold by one store in that area.The store confirmed that it had sold one of that particular sport bag on November 22, two days before the murder. Under questioning, William Matheson admitted he had bought such a bag but claimed it had gone missing prior to the murder. 

Upon hearing that Lyndsay’s body had been found, William, allegedly, told his father, “I think I did that.” He later said he only meant he felt responsible because he hadn’t walked her the whole way home. His mother informed police that her son was a loner and she was aware that he was not a normal young man.The Matheson family has a history of schizophrenia and William’s brother had committed suicide in 1991.

With the evidence mounting, William was arrested and charged with the murder of Lyndsay van Blanken.

The Trial

The trial began in November 2004. One witness for the prosecution stated that on the day of Lyndsay’s disappearance she saw her involved in a heated argument with a young man she later identified, from 20 police photographs, as William Matheson. Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cuneen read to the court a poem written by William which he had given to a friend, along with Lyndsay’s diary, on the day the body was discovered for safe keeping.

The poem:  “Just the other day I watched you pass away/ You said I love you but please let me stay/ Help is not here for you or for me/Close your eyes when you go/ I’ll meet you there in eternity.” A shocked courtroom was told that Lyndsay had been William’s first and only girlfriend and he had become obsessed. He was unable to accept that she had fallen in love with, and was planning to marry, her American fiancé, Brandon Leonard.    

On November 24, 2003 William met Lyndsay on her way home, and under some pretext, lured her to the storeroom, where they often hung out when dating to be alone and listen to Goth music. However, the prosecution made it clear to the court that the murder was not one of passion, William had bought the sports bag two days earlier and that made it premeditated. William Matheson showed no emotion during the trial.

On December 8, 2005 Matheson was found guilty of the murder of Lyndsay van Blanken. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 18 years. He will not be eligible for parole until the year 2022.

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