July 23, 2013 -
Two-line obituary doesn't do justice to shadowy R.D. Matthews
By JOHN L. SMITH
REVIEW-JOURNAL LAS VEGAS
Although some eventually made the post office walls, the police blotters and occasionally even the newspapers, others managed to thrive in those shadows, elusive as ghosts in the neon.
Consider R.D. Matthews, who died recently at age 92, one of the most formidable apparitions from our gambling past. He was a ranking and respected member of what journalists once called the sporting crowd, which was a playful euphemism for the gamblers, hustlers, party girls and killers who lived by night on the edge of polite society.
Russell Douglas Matthews passed away in near anonymity — just a two-line obituary in a
newspaper. It might have been the way he wanted it, but that quiet exit doesn’t
do justice to the mystery that accompanied his long and reputedly violent life
as a trusted friend of the late downtown casino legend Benny Binion. The fact
you’ve never read much about Matthews in the local press makes a statement in
He was born in
on Aspermont, Texas July 26, 1920. Matthews
enlisted in the Marines after Pearl Harbor and was
awarded a Navy Cross and Purple Heart. He is said to have inflicted more than
his share of wounds in underworld wars after returning home. A member of the
notorious Hollis de Lois Green gang of ,
he was a Texas bookmaker,
nightclub manager and was known on the street as a stealthy enforcer. Dallas
Matthews was so well- acquainted with the inside players associated with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that he rated mention in the Warren Commission Report and was interviewed at length in 1978 by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. (His attorney was Binion friend and future U.S. District Judge Harry Claiborne.)
Matthews intrigued investigators because of his intimate familiarity with the gambling underworld in
Dallas and Las Vegas ,
where he had lived for a time after the war. Cuba
He also had a long friendship with Jack Ruby. But, then, Matthews knew most of the players in the Oswald-Ruby matrix.
Back in October 1963, Ruby placed a call to the Matthews home. A day later, according to one account, Ruby was in touch with Oswald. The connection has intrigued officials and fascinated assassination theorists for decades.
Not long after returning from the war, Matthews reacquainted himself with the
where being an expert with a firearm guaranteed employment and respect. Dallas
Officially, Matthews worked for Binion starting in the late 1970s, but multiple sources confirm they knew each other well decades earlier in
, where Cowboy Benny was
known as a rackets king and Matthews’ reputation for getting things done was
well- established. Matthews, who wore an eye patch but never seemed to miss
much around the Horseshoe, was considered a dear friend and protector of the
Binion family. Dallas
His street reputation was so well-known to the
sporting crowd that a single slap from the then
80-year-old Matthews sent maverick casino man Bob Stupak into a panic. The
incident occurred in August 2000 at Piero’s restaurant at a time Stupak was at
odds with the new ownership of the Horseshoe led by Becky Binion Behnen. Las
No stranger to controversy during his extremely colorful career as the owner of Vegas World and big-idea man behind the Stratosphere tower, Stupak was so unnerved by the encounter with Matthews that he only stammered at my question and quickly declined comment.
R.D. Matthews was a ghost of
past, but even as an octogenarian he was capable of stepping from the shadows
and haunting the present. Las Vegas
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at email@example.com or call (702) 383-0295.