Mom charged with murder of 11-year-old son in Horsham, Pennsylvania then fleeing to New Jersey

Documents: She allegedly told detectives she did not want her son to grow up with financial struggles, so she strangled him.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2023
Mom says she strangled son over financial problems, documents show
A mom stands accused of murdering her 11-year-old son in Horsham, Pa. then fleeing to the New Jersey shore.

HORSHAM, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- A mom stands accused of murdering her 11-year-old son in Horsham, Pa. then fleeing to the New Jersey shore.

The Montgomery County District Attorney's Office says 50-year-old Ruth DiRienzo-Whitehead is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Matthew Whitehead.

Ruth DiRienzo Whitehead

According to the affidavit, DiRienzo-Whitehead told detectives her son had been "crying off and on all day over the family's financial difficulties."

She allegedly told detectives she did not want her son to grow up "with these struggles" so she strangled him with her husband's belt as he slept.

"Strangulation takes time. So this is a brutal murder of a little boy," District Attorney Kevin Steele said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Matthew Whitehead

Police were called to the family's home in the 500 block of Privet Road just after 7 a.m. Tuesday after the boy's father found him dead.

According to the D.A.'s office, an autopsy confirmed Matthew had been strangled.

Investigators say DiRienzo-Whitehead killed her son after he went to sleep around 9:30 p.m. Monday, then drove the family's SUV to Cape May, New Jersey.

She drove the vehicle into the ocean off Beach Avenue, investigators say, and once the vehicle could no longer be driven she walked to Wildwood Crest.

That's where DiRienzo-Whitehead was taken into custody.

The criminal complaint from Wildwood Crest shows officers were on the lookout for DiRienzo-Whitehead on Tuesday morning after her SUV was discovered.

Officers were watching the family's beach home on Seaview Avenue when they saw a woman matching her description.

As they approached and called her name, DiRienzo-Whitehead allegedly said to the officers "I know what I did."

She was held by Wildwood Crest police, then questioned by Montgomery County detectives and Horsham police.

A search of the SUV turned up a men's black dress belt on the driver's side floor of the vehicle, the D.A.'s office said.

DiRienzo-Whitehead is currently being held in Cape May County and is awaiting extradition to Montgomery County.


Matthew Whitehead was a 6th-grader at Germantown Academy, the school said Wednesday, and had attended the school since kindergarten.

In a statement, the school said Matthew "was an extraordinary child with a smile as bright as the sun."

The statement goes on to read:

"We loved him, and we will forever mourn his loss, a devastating tragedy for our community, his family, his friends, and our world.

"We will do everything in our power to carry his memory forward, to honor him as he so truly deserves, and to live our lives well as a tribute to him.

"Matthew is the embodiment of love, promise and goodness, and we will never, ever forget him.

"In addition to this unfathomable loss, the circumstances are complicating our community's grief. We are all struggling, and we ask you to respect our children and families' privacy as we help them navigate through this tragedy."

A child was found dead in a Pennsylvania home on Tuesday, and investigators say the mom's SUV was discovered partially submerged at the Jersey shore.