Identity-Change Literature Found in Missing Texas Student’s Car

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday July 10, 2008 - 09:33:00 AM

Literature and notes on how to assume a new identity were found in the car, abandoned on a Berkeley street, of missing Rice University student Matthew Wilson, Berkeley police said last week, and a Pleasanton group is hoping to recruit local volunteers to search for him in Berkeley this weekend. 

Police found the material in Wilson’s 2004 silver Dodge Neon on the 1200 block of Allston Way in West Berkeley on June 10. The dust-covered car was locked, and there was no evidence of foul play or any other criminal activity. 

Wilson, a junior in computer science, was last seen Dec. 14 by Elliot Harwell in the room the two share at Rice University in Houston, Tex. 

Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Officer Andrew Frankel said the items in the car included a book on how to live cheaply in San Francisco, a can of beans, rice, instant noodle soup and a couple of days’ worth of clothing. 

Frankel said fingerprints indicated the property belonged to Wilson. 

Although the car is no longer being treated as evidence, Berkeley police are still investigating Wilson’s disappearance as a missing person case to assist Rice University officials, Frankel said. 

“But it’s a Rice University missing person case,” he said. 

Frankel said, although Wilson’s car was found in Berkeley, police were not sure if he had been in the area at all. 

“We don’t know for a fact he was in the Bay Area to begin with,” he said. “There could be a million different scenarios. He could have sold his car to someone, and maybe that’s how it turned up here.” 

Frankel added that police were following local leads on Wilson’s possible whereabouts. 

“I would say finding the material constitutes progress,” he said. 

Wilson, who is from Haworth, Okla., reportedly made a $400 cash withdrawal from his bank account on Dec. 14, the day he was last seen, and purchased charcoal, matches, a car cover and window shades. 

Wilson’s family, Rice University and Crime Stoppers of Berkeley are offering $25,000 in reward money for information on Wilson’s disappearance or his whereabouts.  

Pleasanton-based Trinity Search and Recovery will assist Wilson’s friends and family to search for him this weekend. Searchers will meet on Saturday at 9 a.m. in Berkeley and will continue the next day at 2 p.m. 

Dr. Bridget Melson, co-founder of Trinity Search and Recovery, said Wilson’s family was asking community members for help. 

The organization is flying Matthew’s mother, Cathy Wilson, to Berkeley on Friday to make an on-camera plea for Wilson to call if he is safe. 

It is also offering a confidential phone number, (925) 826-2319, for Wilson to call in case he is in trouble. 

“We have evidence to believe Matt is in Berkeley, especially the car and the two different manuals on how to survive cheaply in the Bay Area and change your identity,” Melson told the Planet. “Matt also expressed a desire to his parents once to go to UC Berkeley, but he ended up at Rice.” 

The search will be focused in the downtown Berkeley area and around the university, Melson said. 

“We will do foot searches, post flyers, look in homeless shelters and talk to people,” she said. 

Mike Melson, Bridget’s husband, started the search and recovery organization almost six years ago as a response to what he called a “call from God.” 

“We do it because we are Christians and we believe God wanted us to help,” Bridget Melson said. “We believe nobody should be lost forever. We have kids of our own, and we want to reunite families with their children. Matthew’s mom is a mess and we want to bring him back home to her.” 

Berkeley and Rice University police will be at the search. Volunteers can sign up at www.trinitysearch.org.  

For more information, contact Melson at (925) 918-1090 or bridget@melson.com.