DA: Double murder of Taunton brothers was robbery gone wrong

Taunton double murder scene

FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — The two Taunton brothers murdered eight years ago were victims of a robbery gone wrong, after two men who knew the brothers shot and killed them from the doorway of a studio apartment, Bristol County Asst. District Attorney Dennis Collins said Monday.

Collins laid out some of the details of the Feb. 24, 2008, double murder of Kevin and Shawn Vargas during the arraignment of 26-year-old Keith Cox, who was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of murder and two counts of armed robbery.

The indictments came down on Sept. 29, according to court records, and also charged 28-year-old Matthew Lander with two counts of murder and one count of armed robbery. Lander’s arraignment date has not yet been set.

The two brothers were inside 23-year-old Kevin Vargas’ Somerset Avenue apartment in Taunton with his two sons, ages 2 and 4, when they were shot and killed. The children were not hurt.

In court, ADA Collins said Cox’s own statements along with cell phone records tied him to the crime.

“Mr. Cox gave a statement back in 2011 indicating that he was at the location of the murder shortly before it took place, he claims some 20 minutes before,” Collins said.

According to Collins, Cox claimed he purchased some marijuana from victim Shawn Vargas, 21, and was bringing it to co-defendant Matthew Lander in Dighton at the time of the murder. But Collins said Cox’s cell phone pinged within half a mile of the murder scene during the twelve-minute window prosecutors allege the murder took place on that Sunday afternoon, just before 2 p.m.

Collins said Cox and Shawn Vargas had committed an armed robbery together one month prior, stealing $2,000 from would-be marijuana buyers.

The afternoon of the murder, Collins said Cox and Lander were placed at the scene by eyewitnesses who saw a white SUV leaving the scene, similar to the one Lander drove at the time. A third person was also involved, Collins said. A spokesperson for the DA said the investigation is still active, and declined to release the arrest reports.

Prosecutors have not said whether Cox or Lander pulled the trigger to kill the Vargas’, or if both men fired weapons. Six months after the murder, Collins said, Cox told someone “he had gotten his friends killed.” He was ordered held without bail at his arraignment Monday.

“I didn’t really believe it,” said Kyla Carroll of the news that two men had been arrested in the eight-year-old murder case. She is the mother of Kevin’s two sons, who were in the studio apartment when it happened.

“They witnessed two people be murdered,” she said, adding that her older son still remembers parts of that afternoon. “I know that their father told them to get behind the couch…so he made sure they were safe.”

Amanda Gross, who was engaged to Shawn Vargas at the time of his murder, said she was pregnant with Vargas’ daughter when he was killed. They already had a 1-year-old son together, Shawn Jr.

“They’re the only thing that keeps me going,” Gross said of her children. “[Shawn] was a great, great father to his son….my daughter never even got to meet him, but she still will look at his pictures and still cry to this day, just because she knows she isn’t going to meet him.”

The arrest of Cox and Lander brings some closure to the family.

“I was excited,” Gross said. “But it’s…emotional still. Because they’re still not here.”