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NBC Bay Area video capture of Matt Carrington and his mother Debbie Smith.

When Shadows of Death Loomed Over Chico, California

Investigation Discovery episode probes the death of Matthew Carrington

By Lloyd Billingsley, July 18, 2019 9:51 am

The Butte County city of Chico, with a population of some 93,000, does not loom large on the national or state scene. On the other hand, it was important enough to put a branch of the California State University there. Back around 2005, Chico State made news now recalled in the Thursday, July 18, Investigation Discovery episode, “Shadows of Death.”

A 911 call claims that a student has had a seizure and lies unconscious in the basement of a fraternity house. As the episode shows, there was just a bit more to it. 

When police show up, they find student Matthew Carrington in a basement scene reminiscent of a torture chamber. It was “like a refrigerator down there,” one officer says, and more had been going on than “calisthenics,” as the fraternity brothers explain.

As Rod Steiger said in the 1967 movie In the Heat of the Night, they have the body, which is dead. With Carrington deceased and the fraternity brothers’ story suspicious, police opt to process the dark basement as a crime scene. As one officer explains, “otherwise you don’t get a second chance.”

The medical examiner finds no drugs or alcohol in Carrington’s system, but there is evidence of intoxication and hypothermia. “How is this an accident?” Matthew’s anguished mother Debbie Smith wonders. So does the district attorney, who brings charges.

“Shadows of Death,” will be of interest to police and prosecutors but most of all to parents of students headed to college. The episode pulls back the curtain on the fraternity world and the bizarre practices that pass for “hazing.”

For their part, college and high-school students would be well advised to have a look at “Shadows of Death.” If they choose to avoid the whole fraternity scene, it would be hard to blame them.

Meanwhile, in the 2017 episode, “A Murder You Can’t Ignore,” Investigation Discovery profiled Colleen Harris of Placerville, California. She murdered two husbands, thirty years apart, both times in the bedroom and both times with a shotgun. As the saying goes, truth is always stranger than fiction.

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