A Twisted Trail of Blood

It led to a Miami shootout

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Passersby assumed they had stumbled on the filming of an episode of Miami Vice: a gang of men, dodging around cars and trees as they fired guns at one another on a sunny, suburban Miami street. But the scene was all too real, a bloody shootout between seven FBI agents and the two robbery suspects they had cornered. In the end, two lawmen lay dead--the 28th and 29th agents killed in the line of duty in the FBI's 78-year history. The suspects, William Matix, 34, and Michael Platt, 32, were also slain. As investigators last week traced the paths that Matix and Platt followed to their deaths, a strange story unfolded, a shadowy tale of two men who left a trail of cold blood.

Both men were born and bred in the heartland: Matix hailed from Lewisberg, Ohio; Platt from Bloomington, Ind. They met during military service in Korea about ten years ago. Matix later married Patty Buchanich, and the couple became born-again Christians. In December 1983, just two months after Patty gave birth to a daughter, she and another woman were found stabbed to death at the cancer research lab in Columbus where they worked. The murders were never solved. Matix later told a religious publication that he was "beating the walls in desperation" after his wife's death.

At the urging of Army Buddy Platt, Matix moved down to Miami, where the two transplanted Midwesterners founded their own tree-trimming and lawn-care company, the Yankee Clipper. Then, about a year after Patty Matix's death, Platt's wife Regina was killed by a shotgun blast. Her death was ruled a suicide.

Last October a rash of bank holdups and armored-car robberies began in south Dade County. In one incident, a guard manning a Brink's truck was shot in the back by a gunman. As he lay bleeding on the ground, a second man walked up and shot him twice with an automatic rifle. Incredibly, he survived. The crooks often used stolen cars for their getaway vehicles. In two instances the automobiles had belonged to young men who were gunned down while target shooting in an abandoned quarry. The FBI soon joined the Florida police in a search for the robbers.

On a balmy spring morning two weeks ago, FBI Agents Benjamin Grogan, 53, and Gerald Dove, 30, spotted one of the stolen cars on a quiet Miami street. They called for reinforcements. As three FBI cars closed in on the black Monte Carlo, two men jumped out of the car and started firing. After the gun battle, FBI Director William Webster said of the suspects: "They were two particularly violent individuals who did not shoot out of excitement or fear."

Matix and Platt appeared to have no ties to the drug trade, organized crime or extremist paramilitary groups. What, then, motivated them? What did they do with all their stolen money? Were they somehow involved in the deaths of their wives? As Agents Grogan and Dove were laid to rest last week, the FBI struggled to tie together the loose ends in the twisted trail of the lawmen's killers.