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Netflix’s new miniseries, When They See Us, tells the story of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, the men known as the Central Park Five. They were falsely convicted of the brutal 1989 rape of Trisha Meili, and spent between six and 13 years in prison. The identity of the real perpetrator, Matias Reyes, wouldn’t be known until 2002. Here’s the story of his crime spree, and how, years later, the truth came to light.
Who is Matias Reyes?
Reyes was born in Puerto Rico in 1971 and moved to New York City as a child, following his mother. School reports noted his IQ as being in the seventies and described him as being “emotionally disturbed.” He later told psychiatrists that he had been sexually assaulted as a small child.
By the time he attacked Meili in April 1989, Reyes was 18 years old and working as a deli clerk in upper Manhattan. He was considered a loner, known primarily to customers at his shop. He spent his nights sleeping in a van near the store.
What crimes did he commit?
Reyes committed his first known attempted rape in late 1988, when he attacked a twenty-seven year old woman in the pews of a 90th street church. He threatened her with a knife and choked her, but she was able to persuade him not to rape her.
His next known attack occurred on April 17th, 1989. He attacked, beat, and began to rape a 26-year-old woman in northern Central Park before passersby interrupted and Reyes ran away. The woman described the man who assaulted her as having new stitches on his chin. After checking with local medical centers, a detective learned the name or Matias Reyes, who’d recently received facial stitches at Metropolitan Hospital. But the victim left the city shortly after the attack and the detective on her case was transferred away from the sex crimes unit, and the case went cold. Investigators never connected Meili’s rape to the similar attack that had occurred just two days earlier.
He assaulted five more women in the following months, forcing his way into their apartments. During one attack, Reyes murdered Lourdes Gonzalez, a pregnant mother-of-three, while her children listened from the next room.
How was he Caught?
On August 5th, 1989, Reyes followed his final victim into her 91st Street apartment and raped her. She managed to escape and run for help, summoning a neighbor and her doorman, who apprehended Reyes until police arrested him.
Authorities quickly identified him as the serial criminal named the East Side Slasher for the apartment invasion rapes, and Reyes confessed to the crimes in detail under interrogation. His DNA was later found to match that of three victims, including Gonzalez. Reyes accepted a plea bargain, agreeing to serve 33 years to life in prison. At his 1991 sentencing, he punched his lawyer and had to be carried out by guards. The judge recommended Reyes be imprisoned for life.
When did he confess to attacking Meili?
Reyes first met Korey Wise, one of the Central Park Five, when the two were imprisoned together on Rikers Island. There, they got into a fight over the television. But the two encountered each other again in 2001, in the Auburn prison yard, and had a friendly conversation. Reyes felt guilty for the fact that Wise was still imprisoned for a crime he had committed, and came forward to confess to raping and nearly murdering Meili in 1989.
“I know it’s hard for people to understand, after 12 years why a person would actually come forward to take responsibility for a crime,” Reyes said to investigators in 2002. “At first, I was afraid, but at the end of the day I felt it was definitely the right thing to do.”
DNA evidence confirmed that Reyes had raped Meili. The Central Park Five’s convictions were overturned, and the men eventually settled a civil rights lawsuit with New York City for $40 million. Reyes is still in prison.