Late one night in North Carolina, Matthew Phelps wakes from a dream. But when he looks down, he sees that he is covered in blood. On the phone, moreover, he tells the 911 operator that he has had too much cough syrup – and that a terrifying nightmare has greeted his waking eyes.
Phelps was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, before moving to North Carolina. There he met his future wife, Lauren Hugelmaier, when the pair attended the same middle school. But although Phelps developed a crush on Hugelmaier, the couple didn’t really get to know each other until many years later.
Then, in 2014, Phelps was browsing photographs on Instagram when he recognized a familiar face. Realizing that it was Hugelmaier, he got in touch. The pair then bonded over their mutual affection for Star Wars and, not long after, began dating.
And on November 11, 2016, Phelps and Hugelmaier tied the knot at what was reportedly a fun-filled ceremony with family and friends present. The couple even staged a lightsaber duel as part of the reception. Thereafter, Hugelmaier was looking forward to having children with Phelps and enjoying life as a stay-at-home mom, according to her friends.
In September 2017, though, Hugelmaier was working for the multinational Quintiles. Additionally, she was pursuing another business in her spare time: selling products for Scentsy, a company specializing in candle warmers and fragrant wax.
Hugelmaier apparently enjoyed her Scentsy work, even going so far as to post photographs of getaways with her co-workers on social media. And according to her obituary, as well as promoting her business, she enjoyed doting on her nephews and her dog, Cooper. Impressively, she also found the time to work with the Children’s and Youth Ministries at the local Hope Lutheran Church.
In fact, both Hugelmaier and Phelps were known as active members of the church, located around 15 miles from the couple’s home in Raleigh, North Carolina. While Hugelmaier offered her services as a Sunday school teacher, Phelps had hopes of becoming a pastor.
Indeed, back in 2011, Phelps had graduated from Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville, Kentucky, where he had studied missions and evangelism. And that same year, he got engaged and was apparently later married – although what caused the end of this relationship is unknown. By 2017, meanwhile, he was employed by a lawn service company.
Then, on the night of August 31, 2017, a strange mystery began to unfold. According to Phelps, he woke up in the couple’s bed after taking a large dose of Coricidin Cough & Cold, a syrup designed to relieve the symptoms of common viruses. However, Phelps hadn’t been feeling ill.
Instead, he said that he had been having trouble sleeping and took the medicine in order to improve his mood. But when he woke from his slumber, he discovered a terrible scene. Hugelmaier had been stabbed during the night, and her body lay covered in blood on the floor.
So, at a little after 1:10 a.m., Phelps dialed 911. “I think I killed my…” he began, the words coming to a halt before the end of the sentence. And when the dispatcher asked for clarification, Phelps continued. “I had a dream, and then I turned on the lights and she’s dead on the floor,” he said. “I have blood all over me, and there’s a bloody knife on the bed. And I think I did it.”
Perhaps hoping Hugelmaier could still be saved, the dispatcher asked Phelps why he thought that his wife was deceased. “She’s not breathing,” he replied. “Oh my God.” Then Phelps started to weep. But when asked if he thought that his spouse was too injured to recover, he told the dispatcher that he was too afraid to get near to her.
In total, the conversation with the dispatcher went on for some seven minutes. And during that time, Phelps appeared to alternate between crying and seeming strangely calm. At one point, he noted that “the blood’s not wet on me, it’s dried,” implying that the stabbing might have happened a while ago.
And while apparently struggling to come to terms with the scene before him, Phelps also told the dispatcher simply, “She didn’t deserve this.” When police arrived at the couple’s home, then, they arranged for Hugelmaier to be sent immediately to hospital. Sadly, however, she was soon pronounced dead.
Then at around 6:00 a.m. on September 1, Phelps was charged with his wife’s murder. In fact, he is currently being held without bail in the Wake County Jail, close to the Phelpses’ home in Raleigh. Meanwhile, on September 4, Hugelmaier’s loved ones gathered to say goodbye to her. At the funeral, there was no mention of Phelps or the couple’s life together.
And as grieving friends shared messages on Hugelmaier’s Facebook page, Phelps appeared in court for the first time on September 5. Dressed in a prison jumpsuit, he was informed that he could face life in prison or even execution if he is found guilty of first-degree murder.
For those who knew both Hugelmaier and Phelps, moreover, it has been a shocking turn of events. While one of Hugelmaier’s coworkers told ABC11 in September 2017 that Phelps had “seemed like a nice guy,” she seemed convinced that he belonged in jail. However, some of Phelps’ friends have since come forward to defend him.
Indeed, ex-colleague Melanie Duke admitted that she had trusted Phelps enough to let him babysit her children in the past. What’s more, she asserted, she would do the same again. “I know Matt well enough to believe that, with all my heart, Matt did not do this intentionally,” she said in an interview with ABC11.
And what of the medicine that Phelps may imply is to blame for the incident? Well, pharmaceutical company Bayer, which makes Coricidin, was quick to downplay any concerns about their product. “Safety is our top priority, and we continually monitor adverse events regarding all of our products,” the company told BuzzFeed. “There is no evidence to suggest that Coricidin is associated with violent behavior.”
As Phelps awaits his trial, his attorney Joseph Cheshire has called for people not to leap to conclusions in what could prove to be a complicated case. Meanwhile, a memorial fund has raised more than $14,000 towards helping Hugelmaier’s family through what is likely to be an unbelievably difficult time.