July 22, 1999

Williams' sexuality questioned

Benjamin Matthew Williams

Ex-buddy recalls change in faith

Maline Hazle
Record Searchlight

A Southern California man who says he was a Navy buddy of Benjamin Matthew Williams, one of two brothers accused of killing two Happy Valley men because they were gay, said Wednesday that he and other friends questioned Williams about his own sexuality.

Williams' one-time ''best friend,'' Todd Bethell, also claims that he witnessed Williams' metamorphosis from ''normal evangelical Christian to paranoid conspiratorial charismatic.''

Williams, 31, and his brother, James Tyler Williams, 29, are charged with the shooting deaths of Gary Matson, 50, and his partner, Winfield Scott Mowder, 40, whose bodies were found in their bed July 1. The Shasta County brothers also are suspects in a trio of Sacramento synagogue fires in June.

Bethell, who lives in Huntington Beach, is a technician for a fitness equipment company. In the past week he has contacted several television stations, networks and other news organizations attempting to sell a videotape and still photographs of Williams taken during their friendship in Bremerton, Wash.

The Record Searchlight declined to buy the material.

But in a telephone interview Wednesday, Bethell talked about the man he said he met in 1989 when the two were assigned to the same ship.

''Because it was such a horrible living environment, we wanted to get our own apartment,'' Bethell said.

Bethell said he and others thought that Williams ''acted kinda prissy and sat too close'' to other men when he talked to them, leading them to wonder if he was gay.

''So I asked him and he was just shocked,'' Bethell said. ''For about a month he kept asking why.

''He wasn't gay, but he was dogged by giving the impression that he was.''

And because Williams was not savvy about the impressions he made on others, the issue arose several times, Bethell said.

''So every time it happened he would crank up the volume on his masculine characteristics and his religion,'' Bethell explained.

Motorcycles, guns and other traditionally male pursuits became Williams' hobbies and he met a Bremerton woman who later became the mother of his daughter.

Bethell said that despite Williams' pleas, the woman, Kimberly Rodgers, refused to marry him.

Rodgers, who since has married another man, still lives near Bremerton. She could not be reached for comment, and her husband, Kyle Barber, would say only that ''if it's about that California stuff, we are not commenting.''

During his Bremerton days, Williams' interest in firearms sharpened and he purchased his first Glock 9 mm handgun, Bethell said. An obviously proud young Williams demonstrated the use of that gun in a segment of the five-minute videotape that Bethell is hawking to the media. ''Huh?'' the nonplussed shooter says, turning to the camera in confusion when his first trigger squeeze results only in a dull click. Subsequent shots blew away chunks of stump in the ''burned-out gorge'' where the tape was shot.

The Record Searchlight viewed the tape after it was obtained by another source.

Another segment of the tape shows Williams giddily fanning out what he says are nine $100 bills apparently paid on an insurance claim after his car was reported stolen. He and someone not visible on the tape joke about filing other claims and making even more money.

''I'm going to sleep with my Glock until I get this to the bank,'' Williams laughs on the tape.

But the penchant for sleeping with the Glock under the pillow continued when Williams moved to Moscow, Idaho, where he became involved in the controversial Living Faith Fellowship church, then abandoned it in despair, Idaho friends told The Sacramento Bee.

Williams' closest friend was a fellow church member who later left the church and is now a gay activist, the friends told The Bee.

Williams left the church in outrage because he learned that they were keeping personal files on members. He went from there to writing books on purifying diets and finally to distributing anti-Jewish pamphlets, the Bee reported.

By the time Williams moved back to California two years ago he had developed an interest in Christian Identity, his friends told the Spokane Spokesman. Some proponents of that movement advocate death to homosexuals.

Bethell, who said he cut off his relationship with Williams because his beliefs were becoming increasingly extreme, speculated that Williams probably befriended Matson and Mowder without realizing that they were gay. The men had met through a mutual interest in plants.

''He was probably cruising along, oblivious to the signals,'' Bethell said, adding that his former friend was likely to have been quite upset about learning that his friends were gay.

Reporter Maline Hazle can be reached at 225-8266 or at mhazle@redding.com.

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