The VERY colourful life of Christopher Nolan's older brother

From an assassinated diamond dealer to a Costa Rican prison escape, the VERY colourful life of Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan’s older brother (and you’ll never guess what his fake name was)

A Floridian diamond dealer with links to the criminal underworld hires a hitman to track down his stolen £5million, sparking a manhunt in Costa Rica complete with fake identities, police chases and ultimately, murder. 

No, it’s not the plot of the latest Christopher Nolan film, but just one alleged chapter from the very colourful life of his older brother, Matthew. 

Unlike his siblings – appraised filmmaker Christopher, 52, and screenwriter-producer extraordinaire Jonathan, 47 – Matthew, now 53, chose a life outside of Hollywood working as a property developer in Chicago. 

He married his wealthy American wife Erika in a lavish society ceremony at one of the Windy City’s most exclusive venues in 1999, and went on to have two sons. 

But the seemingly innocuous family man was allegedly living a secret double life that could easily provide his brothers with a new film or TV series – adding to hits like The Dark Knight, Inception, Westworld, and most recently, Oppenheimer (which, funnily enough, was an alias used by Matthew, according to court documents). 

Left to right: Matthew Nolan, Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan

Image of Matthew Nolan aka Matthew McCall aka Matthew Oppenheimer, taken from Interpol

For Matthew faces the persistent allegation that he was the ‘hired killer’ behind the death of a US financier – whose badly beaten body was found near the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in 2005.

He was even arrested and imprisoned in Chicago after the Central American country initiated extradition proceedings – before he prepared a bizarre escape attempt involving tied-together bed sheets.

The extraordinary story centres on the accusation by authorities in Costa Rica, filed in an extradition request to a US court, that Nolan was a ‘hired killer’ contracted to kidnap and torture American accountant Robert Cohen, 63, while he was on a trip to the country.

Nolan has always denied any involvement in Mr Cohen’s kidnap or death.  

The US District Court was told Cohen worked as an accountant for Florida millionaire gem dealer Robert Breska, who was sentenced to four years in jail in the 1980s after being exposed as a drug trafficker.

When £5 million of Breska’s money went missing he, according to American court papers, blamed Cohen despite counter allegations that Cohen’s Costa Rican business partner Mario Quintana stole the money.

Cohen, it seems, was in no doubt about the trouble he was in. In 2004, Quintana was discovered shot dead, in an apparent suicide.

Cohen, realising that he had lost all chance of recovering the cash, said, according to the court documents, that Breska ‘is capable of putting my life in danger… if anything were to happen to me, Mr Breska would be the person responsible.’

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It tells the riveting story of J Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the brilliant theoretical physicist who ran the top-secret Los Alamos compound in New Mexico 

Breska, the court heard, brought Nolan in to recover the lost money and introduced him to Cohen.

Nolan, it was said, was calling himself Matthew McCall Oppenheimer in an attempt to hoodwink Cohen into believing he was a scion of the Oppenheimer diamond family.

The Costa Rican investigators told the American court that this assumed identity was to hide Nolan’s real occupation as a hired killer.

The court papers said: ‘Breska told Cohen this man was a multi-millionaire and a member of a family that was dedicated to the jewellery business.’ 

They added that Cohen and Nolan met in March 2005 in Costa Rica, where Nolan also met hotel bellboy Luis Alonso Douglas Mejia, who subsequently was convicted in Costa Rica of Cohen’s kidnap and murder.

According to the Costa Ricans, witnesses claimed they saw Cohen and Nolan together in the capital San Jose. Later Mejia and Nolan allegedly forced Cohen into a Toyota hire car in a local shopping centre car park on March 6.

When the FBI were called in to help locate Nolan, agents discovered he had flown out of Costa Rica the same day to Houston, Texas, then went on to Paris, New York and finally Miami, all the time allegedly using a fake Paris address and his father’s UK mobile number for his contact details.

Three days later, however, Nolan was allegedly back in Costa Rica and rejoined Mejia, who was holding Cohen captive. 

The court heard the Costa Rican authorities claimed the pair ‘continued to torture the victim’, damaging his internal organs. 

The torture ’caused a massive haemorrhage and resulted in death’. Cohen’s body was discovered on March 10.

Unlike his siblings – appraised filmmaker Christopher, 52, and screenwriter-producer extraordinaire Jonathan, 47 – Matthew, now 53, chose a life outside of Hollywood working as a property developer in Chicago (Pictured: Christopher and Jonathan) 

Nolan, it was said, was calling himself Matthew McCall Oppenheimer in an attempt to hoodwink Cohen into believing he was a scion of the Oppenheimer diamond family (Pictured: Matthew Nolan in mugshot taken from Interpol website) 

At Nolan’s extradition hearing, Judge Michael T Mason noted that Nolan flew out of the country the following day and added: ‘There is competent evidence that Nolan continued his efforts to locate Breska’s assets following Cohen’s death.’

Nolan remained at liberty for another four years until 2009, when he was trapped by FBI agent Pablo Araya – who discovered Nolan was due to attend his own bankruptcy hearing in Chicago.

Araya, who arrested Nolan, said: ‘Matthew Nolan was the most arrogant person I have talked to.

‘I grabbed him after he had eluded me for one or two years, and when I arrested him his words to me were, ‘You would never have got me if it wasn’t for the bankruptcy.’ But it was his greed that got him – because of his bankruptcy.’

Nolan was arrested and sent to Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center while the extradition hearing was prepared. It took place later that year.

Giving his decision, Judge Mason refused to extradite Nolan on kidnapping and murder charges, ruling that Costa Rica had not submitted sufficient evidence that Nolan was a ‘person who kills’.

Left to right: Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr, Florence Pugh and Matt Damon attend the photocall for Oppenheimer in Trafalgar Square

When asked how Nolan had escaped extradition, Agent Araya said: ‘I do not know how he paid for his defence. He was going through bankruptcy. Someone paid for a high-powered attorney.

‘The Costa Rica extradition request was not up to the legal standards required and it took a good lawyer to see that and the good lawyer fought it and prevailed.’

Even then, Nolan’s anxious wait was not over. The court did approve his extradition on false passport charges – but the Costa Rican authorities abandoned their request and in 2010 Nolan was released.

But by then this story had already taken another extraordinary twist.

Earlier that year, in April, Nolan had pleaded guilty to preparing an escape from the Chicago jail, from where there had never been a successful breakout. Guards discovered a 31ft-long ‘rope’ made up of bed sheets, and a harness, razor and clip designed to unlock handcuffs.

Araya said: ‘It was make-believe stuff. Prison guards had his cell turned over and he had ropes made up. The guard said it was the best rope they had ever seen made.’

Matthew Nolan’s brush with the law and bankruptcy does not appear to have impaired his lifestyle. He and his wife – a Pilates instructor – and their sons Parker and Peter live in substantial four-bedroom townhouse in Chicago.

Cillian Murphy leads an all-star cast in Christopher Nolan’s biopic Oppenheimer

His lawyer, Andrea Gambino, previously said: ‘Matthew Nolan is innocent of the charges levelled against him by the government of Costa Rica.’

She added that the American courts had concluded the Costa Rican extradition request contained an ‘excessive amount of sheer speculation, inconsistent statements and typographical and/or translation errors.’

Referring to murder victim Robert Cohen’s daughter, Ms Gambino said: ‘Mr Nolan respects Ms Cohen’s grief and is sorry for her loss.’

But Alisha continues to believe that justice has been denied. Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, Alisha, from Orlando, Florida, said: ‘I think that judge was wrong to rule that there was not enough evidence to go ahead with extradition because I think the evidence was strong.

‘My mom and I want justice. We believe Matthew Nolan should stand trial in Costa Rica for the murder of my father. I believe that, if Nolan was not from a famous family, it would be a different situation.’

There may yet be more plotlines to play out in this byzantine tale.

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In 2012, Matthew Nolan filed a court action against the US Government alleging that the Bureau of Prisons had inflicted ‘physical, psychological and psychiatric injury’ during his incarceration at the Chicago prison.

And he may not yet be entirely free from the threat of standing trial because, five years after Nolan was released, the Costa Rican authorities are still not giving up their attempts to extradite him.

A spokeswoman for Costa Rica’s Public Ministry, which deals with legal matters, told The Mail on Sunday in 2014 that they dropped the extradition action only because the use of a false passport was ‘secondary’ to the ‘main ones [which] were murder and kidnapping.’

The spokeswoman said: ‘This evidence that the US judge considered was insufficient to link Mr Nolan with the crimes committed against Mr Cohen, is the same evidence used to condemn Mr Mejia here in Costa Rica.

‘The Costa Rican Public Ministry and the respective Costa Rican authorities have done everything possible to submit Mr Nolan to legal procedure, which is still open against him because of such matters committed against and harming Mr Cohen.’

Nor has Alisha given up hope. She said: ‘I’m thrilled by the news that the case is still open. I would just like to see justice finally done. Nolan needs to stand trial.’


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