Former Penn basketball player stabbed to death, allegedly by his wife

Matthew White was starting center on Penn's 1979 basketball team, which made the NCAA semifinals.
Matthew White was starting center on Penn's 1979 basketball team, which made the NCAA semifinals.
Posted: February 14, 2013

For decades, Matthew White was remembered as the starting center on the University of Pennsylvania's 1979 basketball team, a fabled squad that captured the region's imagination by making the NCAA semifinals.

But early Monday, White's life came to an unexpected end after his wife, Maria Reyes Garcia-Pellon, allegedly stabbed him in the neck while he was asleep. She did so, she reportedly told police, because she caught him viewing pornography.

The crime stunned White's former teammates and coaches, several of whom he had stayed in touch with since his days on the Quakers.

"One thousand percent shock," said Bruce Bergwall, White's former teammate and a friend. "I honestly still don't believe it right now. I'm still in shock."

According to court records, between midnight and 1 a.m. Monday Garcia-Pellon, 52, went into the kitchen of the couple's rancher in Nether Providence, Delaware County, to retrieve a glass of water and two knives. When she returned to the bedroom, she slipped the knives under her side of the bed and waited for White, 55, to fall asleep. When he did, she stabbed him in the neck.

White eventually collapsed on the bed from his wounds, calling out, "I'm dying, I'm dying," the records say. Garcia-Pellon changed her clothes and left the house.

Monday afternoon, records say, Garcia-Pellon went to a friend's house and told the friend she had killed White. The friend called police, who met Garcia-Pellon at her home when she returned later that afternoon.

Police found White dead in bed, records say.

As Garcia-Pellon was being taken into custody, records say, she told detectives that "I caught him looking at pornography, young girls, I love kids. I had to do it."

Nether Providence Police Chief Thomas Flannery said Garcia-Pellon "admitted to everything" in her interview Monday with police.

"She discussed the whole thing," he said. "She wasn't upset."

Emily Harris, spokeswoman for the Delaware County District Attorney's Office, said in an e-mail that White's computer had been confiscated.

From Garcia-Pellon's statements, Harris wrote, "it can be concluded that she found her husband looking at pictures of young, naked females. However, there is no indication that it was child pornography; the computer will be analyzed to make that determination."

Garcia-Pellon was charged Monday night with first-degree murder, criminal homicide, and possession of an instrument of crime. She was being held without bail in Delaware County jail.

White played for Penn's varsity basketball team from 1976 to 1979. He still held the school record for field-goal percentage for a player with more than 200 shot attempts.

In 1979, when Penn reached the NCAA men's Final Four, White had 11 rebounds in a loss against Michigan State, the team that went on to win the national championship and featured future NBA star Magic Johnson.

White was drafted in the fifth round of the 1979 NBA draft by the Portland Trailblazers, but instead played professional basketball in Spain. He graduated from Penn in 1979 and earned an M.B.A. from Wharton in 1983, according to the school.

His coach at Penn, Bob Weinhauer, said in an interview that White was perhaps the most determined athlete on the team.

"I think all the other big kids who were in our program, they looked up to Matt White," he said. "They saw the effort and the work that he put into being a player and improving, and I think those players, they all picked up on that."

Weinhauer also recalled White as a musician, saying he would play pianos in hotels when the team was on road trips.

Bergwall, a forward on the Penn team with White, recalled his musical ability as well. When he and White were together in Ocean City, N.J., about 10 years ago, Bergwall said, he looked down the boardwalk and saw White surrounded by a half-dozen people listening to him playing guitar.

"That was much more memorable to me," Bergwall said, "than anything he did on the court."

Most of his friends from the team who were reached Tuesday said they saw no indication of trouble in White's marriage. One former teammate, Randy Eckman, said that in recent years, he would regularly have dinner with White and Garcia-Pellon before attending Penn basketball games and that the two seemed happy together.

"My experience with them as a couple was always positive," he said.

None of a half-dozen or so neighbors in the leafy community seemed to know much about White and his wife. Records show they moved into the home in 2010. They had a previous address in Swarthmore.

White and Garcia-Pellon have a college-age daughter and a son in his mid-20s, police said.

Garcia-Pellon "seemed really sweet, but I felt a real sadness about her," said Jane Albany, 87, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades.

Bergwall said he couldn't foresee this kind of grisly act from Garcia-Pellon.

"The word rage is the absolute last word I would ever use to describe this woman," he said. "She was very calm, peaceful. It's just incomprehensible. It just doesn't make sense."


Contact Chris Palmer at 609-217-8305 or cpalmer@philly news.com, or follow

on Twitter @cs_palmer.

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