Organization Creates “Soft” Interview Room at HCSO
By Will Johnson
HOUSTON COUNTY – With a name like “Project Beloved: the Molly Jane Mission” one would not suspect a heinous crime was behind its creation. Unfortunately, such is the case.
Tracy Matheson, the mother of Molly Jane Matheson and Project Beloved founder, was at the Houston County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday, Jan. 14 to discuss the project and to set-up a “soft” interview room at the HCSO.
Matheson said her daughter, 22-year-old Molly Jane, was a student in Fort Worth when she was raped and murdered in a garage apartment on April 10, 2017.
“I started this organization in April of 2018. In April of 2017, April 10 to be exact, I received a call that my 22-year-old daughter had not shown up for work. I got in the car and drove less than 10 minutes to her apartment. I didn’t get an answer at the door, eventually went inside, went around the corner to the bathroom and her body was on the floor in the shower,” she said.
The Project Beloved founder indicated she had all sorts of thoughts about what happened to her daughter.
“Detectives came and explained they were looking into the cause of her death and that they would be in touch. He called the next day – earlier than we expected – and explained her death had been ruled a homicide. She had been strangled and she had also been raped,” Matheson said.
It wasn’t long afterwards, she continued, that the family learned the man arrested for her murder “… was someone known to multiple law enforcement agencies in the state of Texas for raping and strangling women.”
Reginald Kimbro, now 26, was arrested and charged with capital murder in Molly Jane Matheson’s death. He is currently being held in a Tarrant County Jail while he awaits trial.
“When I put all those pieces together, I realized I had to do something. I can’t just sit here and be quiet and hope to put my life back together. So, I started a non-profit (organization). I started reading and researching, watching videos and attending training where I learned about trauma informed response and how that impacts an investigation. As a result Project Beloved was born,” Matheson said.
The organization’s mission statement is “… to educate, advocate, and collaborate to change the conversation about sexual assault and empower survivors to find their voices.”
Matheson said she came up with some initiatives, one of which is called Beloved Bundles and is provided to rape crisis centers.
A Beloved Bundle includes clothing, undergarments, hygiene products and other necessary items so a sexual assault survivor can leave with dignity and know that someone cares.
Another initiative was the soft interview room.
“I came up with the idea of soft interview rooms when I started learning about trauma informed response. I’m not going to try and train law enforcement on how to be trauma informed. There are experts who can do that, but I also realized there wasn’t an agency in the country which had funds sitting around to transform the traditional interview space,” she said.
Once the non-profit began to receive donations, Matheson said she had to be patient. She indicated she let people know what she was attempting to do but also knew she couldn’t just barge into a law enforcement agency to set up a soft room. That all changed last April.
“The first one went in in April of 2019 in the Angelina County Sheriff’s Office. Sgt. Libby Hancock with the sheriff’s department contacted me and said yes. That started the momentum. Since then, we have gone to the University of Louisiana – Lafayette and we’ve done six in Austin’s Police Department. We have done one in Bedford and this is our 11th soft interview room. I am so very, very tickled that (HCSO Administrative Deputy) Mary (Jordan) contacted me many months ago and said, ‘Could we?’ and we said yes!” Matheson said.
During the initial process of setting up the non-profit, Matheson said she learned the importance of creating a space that is comfortable – rather than the typical stark interview room – which allows the participant to feel physically and emotionally safe and can have a significant impact on the interview process.
The rooms are made to feel more relaxing by furnishing them with comfortable chairs that swivel, soothing carpets, pleasing lights and a diffuser to help create a calming effect.
“We knew we wanted to incorporate artwork and I figured I would just go to Target and that would be it,” Matheson added. “But there was a second victim of the same person who is awaiting trial for my daughter’s murder. She was murdered five days after my daughter. Her name is Megan Gertrum. She was 36-years-old and was an amateur photographer with a passion for travelling. Her mom and I e-mailed each other and she shared with me some of the photographs Megan had taken.”
As a result, Megan’s artwork is now also intertwined within the soft interview rooms.
“I’m grateful for the work you guys do and for your willingness and interest in doing things better by having this room,” Matheson said to the law enforcement personnel in attendance.
The name came about, Matheson said, because when she found her daughter’s body, she saw Molly Jane had the word “beloved” tattooed on her wrist. Several other incidents occurred shortly after Molly Jane’s death where the word “beloved” came up and from that, Project Beloved was chosen as the name.
At the conclusion of Matheson’s presentation, Sheriff Darrell Bobbitt spoke directly to Matheson.
“Thank you for bringing this to the sheriff’s office here. We greatly appreciate it. I would like to say when the tragedy of one turns into help for many others, that is definitely a beloved thing and thank you for what you are doing,” he said.
Legislation was also proposed and later signed into law pertaining to the murder of Molly Jane Matheson. Known as “Molly Jane’s Law,” the statute which went into effect last year, requires Texas law enforcement to enter information into an FBI database for every sex offense they investigate.
At the time the bill was signed into law, Gov. Gregg Abbott commented, “This will enable law enforcement access to information on potential serial rapists and sexual offenders in the future. No more should we ever again have a Molly Jane Matheson.”
To donate to Project Beloved: the Molly Jane Mission, please visit their website at www.projectbeloved.org.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.