EXCLUSIVE: LJ’s Timeline
The Hours Before LJ Met Hannah
“He kept trying to put his hands on my legs, above and below the knee,” the young woman says. “He’d been way too aggressive all night, putting his arm around me, picking me up, putting his hands on my legs. I looked at him and told him to keep his hands off of me.” They were in Tempo Restaurant on Fifth Street in downtown Charlottesville. It was shortly after midnight, in the early morning hours of Saturday, September 13.
The woman is a 25-year old resident of Charlottesville. The man is 32-year old Jesse “LJ” Matthew, who was arrested September 25 in Galveston, Texas on a charge of Abduction With Intent to Defile in the case involving the still-unexplained disappearance of second-year University of Virginia student Hannah Graham.
Hannah was last seen by an eye witness walking with LJ Matthew in the early morning hours of Saturday, September 13. She appeared heavily intoxicated, the witness told me, slouched against him, not quite able to walk on her own. They were seen together outside Tempo, the same restaurant where just about an hour before, another woman had told him to get his hands off of her. I ask that young woman what one thing she remembered most about that night. She thinks for a moment and says with a steady stare, “That he creeped me the fuck out.”
In the days since 18-year-old Hannah Graham went missing, investigators have managed to piece together a timeline of events that track her movements away from the University area, where she had socialized with friends, to Charlottesville’s popular Downtown Mall, a multi-block pedestrian thoroughfare, which is the heart of this small city of about 40,000. With the aid of eyewitness accounts, cell phone records, and surveillance video footage, we have been able to learn a great deal about where Hannah was that night in the hour or two before she was last seen.
What about LJ’s timeline? Where was he that night before a witness saw him with his arm around Hannah, heading off into the night? Using the information provided to me by a number of eyewitnesses, none of whom had yet spoken to any reporters— but all of whom had already talked with police in a timely manner — I have been able to piece together a partial timeline of events for LJ Matthew in the hours leading up to the disappearance of Hannah Graham.
What I have learned is this: throughout the night, LJ Matthew demonstrated a troubling lack of respect for the physical boundaries of women and men— or perhaps even a deeper lack of understanding that those boundaries exist.
Unprovoked, he suddenly grabbed a man in the Blue Light Grill and wrenched him into a wrestling hold so forcefully that he pulled the man’s hamstring, leaving this man limping for days. In the first few seconds of meeting two women for the first time, he yanked them up off the ground and threw them over his shoulders and laughed, making them uncomfortable and embarrassed. He continued to follow both these women, at the Blue Light and later at the Tempo restaurant, putting his arm around them, his face uncomfortably close to theirs, touching their backs, their hair, their faces, their legs— until one of them cursed at him to stop. After one of the women slipped off the boots she was wearing, LJ unexpectedly pulled off her socks, saying he wanted to see her toes. A friend of LJ’s for over nine years described him as a “prowler,” clarifying his use of the word by adding, “which is not to say he was looking for a victim, but looking for a girl who’s already compromised a little bit, maybe improve his chances.”
LJ Matthew’s behavior that evening— as reported by eyewitnesses and the people socializing with him— while quite troubling in light of the disappearance of Hannah Graham, the subsequent charges against him and his arrest, does not make him guilty of any crime with which he’s been charged. In fact, as one friend casually said to me during the course of my investigation, “He sounds like most men I run into when I’m out on a Friday night.”
3pm: The Hospital
Around 3pm Friday September 12, LJ Matthew wrapped up his working day at the University of Virginia Hospital, where he has been employed as a Patient Care Technician in the main operating room. One of his colleagues explained the job to me like this: “You are everyone’s assistant.” LJ was part of a team that was responsible for transporting patients throughout the facility, setting up and breaking down the main operating room for procedures. In several published media accounts, he has been described by those who know him personally as polite, quiet, helpful, respectful, and kind-hearted. One individual told me LJ always seemed like “a gentle giant.”
4-6pm: The Football Game
LJ was at the Covenant High School home football game on late Friday afternoon. A volunteer coach for the Covenant Eagles, LJ was cheering on the sidelines at that game, and watched his team crush Hargrave Military Academy 50-26, an exciting victory that included a thrilling third quarter in which the Eagles scored 24 points.
10pm: The Lazy Parrot Grill
LJ’s timeline picks up next at the Lazy Parrot in the Pantops Shopping Center, about a mile and a half from the Downtown Mall. Two witnesses confirmed that LJ came in at about 10pm that Friday night. They also confirmed that he is captured on an interior surveillance video camera, ordering one drink, and socializing with others in the bar. Eyewitnesses say he did not stay long. One said he was a regular, and that “he’s usually alone.”
11:45pm: The Blue Light Grill
Dave Johnson, a 33-year-old Charlottesville resident, has known and socialized with LJ Matthew for over nine years. He remembers going out that Friday night, September 12, and running into LJ at the Blue Light on the Downtown Mall.
“I went out with a big group of people that night,” Johnson says. “A couple of friends from out of town, friends from here, and some people I work with. There were about eight or 10 of us hanging out that night. We went to Fridays After Five, got some pizza, stopped by Sky Bar, and eventually ended up at the Blue Light around 11:30.
“LJ came into Blue Light by himself, I guess it was around 11:45. I recognized him coming in through the door.” LJ Matthew would be hard to miss at 6’2” tall, 270 pounds, with long dreadlocks. “I introduced him to my friends who were visiting, one of whom was a wrestler,” Johnson continues. “I knew LJ had wrestled in high school, so he would like that. Well, right away LJ shot in on the guy with a wrestling move, took him to the ground there in Blue Light. He pulled his head down to his leg into a standing cradle. My friend heard a pop and felt his hamstring go. So he was hobbling around all night, and for the rest of the weekend. It was an odd thing to do. It was an aggressive thing to do. It wasn’t really provoked. LJ just kind of did it.”
Johnson raises his phone at 11:55pm and grabs a photo of the scene. In the image (at right) people are crowded around the Blue Light bar, and LJ Matthew is clearly visible from behind. According to eyewitnesses, he is wearing a checkered shirt over a burgundy tank top with baggy white cargo shorts and socks with Crocs.
Johnson also introduces LJ to two female friends, one of whom is an attractive, 25-year old African-American woman who has recently moved to Charlottesville.
“He immediately picked us both up and held us over his shoulders,” recalls Molly, who agreed to speak with me on the condition that I use a pseudonym. “I didn’t like that at all and told him to put me down. It was very strange. He put us down, and we sort of tried to move away from where he was. But he kept coming around, putting his arm around us and stuff like that.”
“He was being aggressive,” Johnson admits. “But it’s nothing I don’t expect from LJ.”
At 12:05am, Johnson captures another image on his phone (at left) which shows LJ standing with Molly. At that very moment, Hannah Graham is at a party with friends across town near the University.
Molly says she quickly grew tired of the uncomfortable advances from LJ. “I just didn’t like how he was grabbing my friend and I.” Hoping to leave him behind, Molly and her group of friends left Blue Light for Tempo. “But he followed us,” she says, despite the fact that no one in their group had invited him to come along. “But after we got to Tempo, he walked in the door right behind us.”
12:18am: Tempo Restaurant
Computer records at Tempo show that at 12:18am, LJ Matthew uses his Visa card to purchase three bourbon shots. He drank one and passed two to others at the bar, one of whom was Dave Johnson.
“There’s a range of his temperament,” Johnson replies when I ask about LJ’s behavior that night. “He was a little more aggressive that night than usual. But he’s been aggressive before. Sometimes he doesn’t know when to stop. He’s a pretty tough guy. Wrestling-wise, you’re not going to beat him. But it’s not something that you would ever extrapolate out and say that he’d have the propensity to rape or murder somebody.”
Molly recalls that she and a girlfriend sat at a table near the bar. “My friend had on cowboy boots, and they hurt her feet so she took her boots off. [LJ Matthew] walked over to her, took her socks off, and said “Let me look at your toes.” Molly says they didn’t know how to react to him, as he continued to be inappropriate.
“Then he came over to me and tried to touch my legs,” Molly says. “I told him no. He said, ‘I just want to see your feet, like her.’ I told him no. Don’t touch me, do not touch me. One time he reached above my knee, and the next time below my knee. I finally told him, don’t fucking touch me.”
Still concerned by LJ’s unwelcome behavior, and in a second attempt that night to leave him behind, Molly says she gathered up her friends, including Johnson, and they all left LJ there at Tempo to walk down the Mall to the Escafé restaurant on nearby Water Street. She remembers seeing LJ outside as they left, standing around a group of people near the front door. I ask if at some point he followed them. Did he show up at Escafé?
No, she says.
12:45am: Fifth Street, in front of Tempo
“I remember him dancing around out front,” Abby says. “He was being obnoxious, bumping into people. He seemed really out of place.” Abby, a 23-year old employee of Tempo who, like Molly, agreed to speak with me only if I used a pseudonym, was at the front door that night checking IDs beginning around 10pm. She remembers quite well interacting with LJ Matthew that night at Tempo.
“He came in alone,” she says. “He wasn’t really hanging out with any one group of people. He was dancing some. He was really sweaty. He kept coming out front to bum cigarettes from people who were smoking.”
“I was talking to this woman and her husband,” she continues. “I was talking with her about her hair, it was really short and pretty. I remember them because they had British accents. At one point, I remember [LJ Matthew] was dancing around outside, and he bumped into this British lady pretty hard, just as a way of getting her attention. He was kind of grabby with her, and asked her for a cigarette. Her husband was standing right there. He was like, ‘listen, you can’t treat people like that. You can’t just bump into someone. You need to ask politely if you want something.’ Someone finally gave him a cigarette, and I think he might have sat on the curb and had a few puffs before he got up and walked away. He was alone.”
That was a little before 1am. Hannah Graham was at that time walking up Market Street and turning onto Second Street in front of Fellini’s restaurant, where an eyewitness saw her and she was captured by surveillance video. She is walking quickly. She is only minutes away from meeting up with LJ Matthew.
1am: The Downtown Mall
LJ Matthew leaves Tempo by himself at about 1am. He walks up Fifth Street and turns left, heading west down the Mall. At about the same time, Hannah Graham has turned off of Second Street a few blocks away, and is walking east up the Mall in his direction.
Two surveillance cameras on the Mall, one at Sal’s Italian Restaurant and the other inside Tuel Jewelers, record what happens over the next few minutes.
In the Sal’s video, LJ is seen walking into view from the left just as two women are approaching from the opposite direction. He playfully high-fives one of them, and continues walking west. A few seconds later, Hannah appears in the same footage, walking east on the other side of the Mall. She is by herself.
Slightly off camera to the right, LJ crosses the Mall and merges in with a group of five people. He is walking east now, not too far behind Hannah. In the Tuel’s video a few seconds later, he can be seen walking directly next to Hannah, just to her right, and is keeping pace with her long stride.
An eyewitness reported seeing an African-American man walk up to Hannah about that time and throw his arm around her. I ask LJ’s long-time friend Dave Johnson if he believes LJ knew Hannah before that night. Did he ever mention her? Did he speak of her? Was she a known person among your circle of friends?
“No, not at all, not at all. I don’t know her,” Dave answers. “He never mentioned her. I don’t think he knew her. In fact, I’m fairly certain of it, because he walked up and threw his arm around her. That’s what he did to women when he was hitting on them. If he threw his arm around a woman like that, that was not usually a sign that he knew her. That was a sign that he didn’t. If Hannah knew him, she wouldn’t let him put his arm around her.”
According to investigators, LJ Matthew and Hannah Graham walked up the Mall together, turned right down Fifth Street and headed to Tempo. Within minutes, LJ was back at the Tempo bar, ordering two drinks.
1:10am: Back at Tempo
Abby, who had been checking IDs at the door since about 10pm, does not remember seeing LJ come back to Tempo just after 1am, which would have been only a few minutes after he’d left. Nor does she recall Hannah coming up to the door or asking to come inside. “I don’t remember her,” she says. “Not then. I saw her later.”
Tempo Owner and Chef Brice Cunningham disagrees with those who contend that Hannah Graham was inside his restaurant that night. “I have great respect for the Charlottesville Police,” he says. “I want to do everything I can do to help find Hannah. Everyone at Tempo feels the same way. We are all so upset about this. We want to help find her. But some people have been saying that they saw Hannah here at Tempo. No one I have spoken with, not my guests or my staff, remembers her being here that night.”
Chris Gallagher, who works with Brice to promote the popular dance events that are held at Tempo on Friday nights, agrees. “I never saw her here,” he tells me. “No one I know who was here that night remembers seeing her inside. I know Abby saw her outside after last call. Maybe she was outside waiting for LJ. I don’t know.”
Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo has said publicly that a single witness saw LJ Matthew and Hannah Graham together inside Tempo drinking together.
“It’s possible some people were confused,” Gallagher says. “Because most of the night there was a woman here with friends, sitting at the end of the bar, wearing a sequined crop top. But it wasn’t Hannah. It was a woman a few years older than Hannah, and she was shorter and chubbier. My guess is some people remember seeing that other woman here, and because they were dressed similarly, maybe they think that was Hannah. I’ve asked around. I haven’t talked to anyone who was here that night who remembers seeing Hannah inside drinking.”
What is not contested is the fact that LJ Matthew used his Visa a second time that evening at Tempo. According to the records that were shared with me by Cunningham, LJ ordered two drinks at 1:09am and paid for them exactly one minute later. The bartender rang them up at $7 a piece. Witnesses with whom I spoke do not recall whether they were beers or mixed drinks or one of each. And no one I spoke with recalls watching LJ drink one or both of those drinks. Nor does anyone recall him taking them outside to share with someone.
1:45am: Last Call
Abby does remember quite well seeing LJ Matthew and Hannah Graham walking away outside about a half hour later. “A lot of people were outside then,” she says. “It was a typical, crowded Friday night. I guess it was about 1:40 or closer to 1:45. I remember because it was definitely after last call.”
“He came out the side door,” she says of LJ Matthew. “I saw him come walking by and I thought, there’s that obnoxious guy from before. I noticed he had his arm around a girl. She was wearing a crop top.” Abby says it was days later, after she’d seen some video images on the news, that she recognized the girl. She learned that that same girl she’d seen on the Mall was a second-year University of Virginia student named Hannah Graham.
“When I saw her that night,” Abby says, “I remember thinking, she’s really drunk. She couldn’t walk well. She was slouched into him, leaning against him, like she was having difficulty standing up. He was talking to her, and his right arm was around her, not over her shoulder, not at the waist, but around her back and holding her right arm. He was holding her close, like he was almost holding her up. They walked away together up the street towards the Mall.”
That was about 1:45am on Saturday, September 13. That was the last time anyone remembers seeing Hannah Graham.
Coy Barefoot is a best-selling and award-winning author and investigative journalist. He is the host and producer of Inside Charlottesville, a radio and TV program. He also teaches history at the University of Virginia. You can learn more at coybarefoot.com.