HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill., March 4 – Confined to his cell 23 hours a day, Matthew Hale sings opera loud enough for neighboring inmates to join in. He is studying Latin and reading everything from the Federal Rules of Procedure to Agatha Christie.
He slid into depression last fall, taking Prozac, but says he was buoyed when, by his account, the adjacent cell was filled by a man with the same name as Hitler’s boyhood friend.
These and other tidbits about Mr. Hale, the Aryan leader convicted last year of plotting to kill a federal judge whose mother and husband were slain this week, are in the cache of letters federal agents seized here Thursday from the home of Kathleen Robertazzo, his frequent correspondent.
Ms. Robertazzo, a friend of five years who shares Mr. Hale’s racial views, said the authorities had taken 100 of his letters, written in pencil on yellow legal paper, and made copies of her computer hard drive, promising to search her e-mail for secret messages to supporters.
“He doesn’t really talk about his case – I told him you have to stop, woulda, coulda, shoulda, it’s over,” Ms. Robertazzo, 53, said in an interview. “We like to talk about history. He loves the Roman Empire. I send him jokes to keep his spirits up, famous one-line pickups and stuff and just things to make him laugh.
“We both like classical music,” she added. “He found a Chicago station that has classical music. He tells me, ‘Listen to it at 7:30, and I’ll be listening.’ “
Mr. Hale, 33, has emphatically denied any involvement in the killings, but the pressure on him has risen exponentially this week, as he faces an April 6 sentencing amid mounting sympathy for the judge he was convicted of conspiring to kill.
The F.B.I. offered a reward on Friday of up to $50,000 for information in the case. While the Chicago police say they are investigating 271 tips that poured into a hot line by 5 p.m. Friday – including 141 that followed the release of composite sketches of two white men seen near the judge’s home – Mr. Hale and his sympathizers clearly remain a focus of the investigation.
After interviewing her for about 90 minutes on Tuesday, Ms. Robertazzo said, federal agents returned to her home in this northwest suburb of Chicago the next night at 8 with state and local police officers – and a subpoena. She said they stayed until 5:30 a.m. Thursday, mainly working on the computer, but also quizzing her about her whereabouts Monday, when Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow of Federal District Court returned to her Chicago home to find the bodies of her husband and mother.
Ms. Robertazzo said agents also asked about her familiarity with the Lefkows’ neighborhood and the color of her car. It is red, like the Ford Escort said to have been spotted at the crime scene, but a Mitsubishi.
“One kept putting his hand on his gun; I felt like such a suspect,” Ms. Robertazzo said of the agents. “They asked if I recognized any of those two composites.”
When she went to the bathroom and sat for a minute to collect her thoughts, Ms. Robertazzo said, an agent asked, ” ‘How long are you going to be up there?’ It’s like they were worried I was going to get a weapon and come out shooting.”
Ms. Robertazzo, a freelance court reporter, said she first contacted Mr. Hale, the self-described Pontifex Maximus of the World Church of the Creator, by e-mail in 1999, amid public debate over the Illinois bar’s decision to reject him even though he had passed the bar exam. He invited her to meet him at O’Hare International Airport during a four-hour layover the next year, and she took him to speak at the public library here in 2001.
Now, Ms. Robertazzo sends him postcards with pictures of animals every other day, and they exchange one or two lengthy letters a week.
Though she has been described by those who monitor hate groups as Mr. Hale’s “middle-aged mistress,” Ms. Robertazzo said their relationship was platonic.
Ms. Robertazzo’s comments, and the material she gave the authorities, provide the fullest picture yet of the prison life of Mr. Hale, who first encountered Judge Lefkow when she presided over a trademark-infringement lawsuit in which an Oregon group tried to block him from using the World Church name. Judge Lefkow ruled in Mr. Hale’s favor and dismissed the case. But her ruling was overturned on appeal, and she later held him in contempt.
The judge was vilified on pro-white Web sites, and Mr. Hale was soon arrested for plotting her murder with an F.B.I. informant who had infiltrated his group.
“This defies logic that he had any animosity towards Lefkow – she ruled in his favor; it’s the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals,” Ms. Robertazzo said, adding that Mr. Hale’s main complaint these days was about his former lawyer’s decisions. “Judge Lefkow is old news. If his people were going to target anybody, it would be his attorney. Matt’s venom right now is with the F.B.I.”
Ms. Robertazzo said that her own racial views were rooted in her rape, at 13, by a black man. “I don’t want to live with blacks,” she said. “We have safe communities, they move in, and they bring the crime with them.”
But, she added, “I don’t hate all black people, I don’t hate all Jews,” and she said that “white supremacy is a misnomer.”
“Matt is a separationist, I’m a separationist,” she explained. “White supremacy sounds more ominous. Supremacy means you want to rule over somebody.”
Since his arrest in January 2003, Mr. Hale has been held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago under special administrative measures that severely restrict his communication with the outside world. His only permitted visitors are his parents, who get an hour each, every other week. Many of his supporters have been cut off from contact completely after sending letters with white-power symbols, or posting his replies on the Internet, so Ms. Robertazzo keeps her correspondence more personal than political.
She sends him famous quotations from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He writes “that the founding fathers would be disappointed in the country we’re living in,” she said.
The only gifts he is allowed, Ms. Robertazzo said, are paperback books. So she has sent him philosophy by Nietzsche, “The Time Machine” by H. G. Wells, a history of Pearl Harbor, the Agatha Christie mysteries, anything in Latin and, most recently, the 1.7-pound Rules of Procedure.
Ms. Robertazzo said that Mr. Hale “was starving” when his breakfasts of two hard-boiled eggs and two boxes of cereal, and lunch of a tuna salad stuffed green pepper, was cut in half because of budget problems, and that he had been fighting the flu.
She said that despite his atheism, Mr. Hale at one point “prayed to God he wanted to die,” and “felt this warm wave of peace go through his body.” Soon after, she said he told her, he found the words “I love Matt Hale” etched in wood paneling at the prison, and someone named Kubizek (like Hitler’s boyhood friend August Kubizek), moved into the next cell – though the Metropolitan Correctional Center has no record of such a prisoner.
“Matt thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is all these signs I’m supposed to keep going,’ ” Ms. Robertazzo recalled of his letters. “He came back from the dead with those three little revelations. It’s amazing.”
Ms. Robertazzo said she had “nothing to hide.” All the authorities will find on her hard drive, she added, is a “rant and rave about he’s being railroaded.”
Gretchen Ruethling contributed reporting for this article.