The Sordid Past of the Third Nolan Brother

By: Dylan Ris  | 
third Nolan brother
Executive producer/writer/director Jonathan Nolan (left) and his brother, director Christopher Nolan, attend the premiere of HBO's "Westworld," Sept. 28, 2016, in Hollywood, California. Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Fans of contemporary prestige filmmaking are familiar with brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, who have co-written films including "The Prestige," "The Dark Knight" (with David S. Goyer) and "Interstellar" — all of which were directed by Christopher. The two brothers have also worked independently: Christopher has directed multiple films that he wrote solo, including "Inception," "Dunkirk" and "Tenet." Jonathan Nolan has created TV series such as "Person of Interest," "Westworld" and "Fallout" (the latter two with Lisa Joy).

However, most people are probably not aware that there is a third brother in the Nolan family, and his fame (to the degree that he has it) does not come from the entertainment industry. Matthew Nolan, the eldest of the Nolan brothers, has quite a checkered past. Here is his unusual story.


Who Is Matthew Nolan?

Matthew Nolan, born in 1968, is a British American man best known as the eldest brother of writer/director Christopher Nolan, born in 1970, and Jonathan Nolan, born in 1976. The brothers have an English father and an American mother. They were raised in London and had extended childhood stays with their mother's family in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois.

Matthew Nolan settled in Chicago and worked as a property developer. He married an American woman in 1999. His trajectory seems to have changed in the early 2000s when he became involved with a gem dealer from Florida named Robert Breska, who himself had a background as a drug trafficker.


An Unholy Trinity: Matthew Nolan, Robert Breska and Robert Cohen

According to court records, in or around 2004, Robert Breska accused his accountant Robert Cohen of stealing approximately $7 million from his bank accounts. Cohen countered that it was his Costa Rican business partner, Mario Quintana, who'd stolen Breska's money. Not long after, Quintana turned up dead. The official account was that Quintana had committed suicide, but Cohen feared something more sinister.

Meanwhile, Breska remained fixated on the idea that Cohen had his money and that retrieving it was still a possibility. At this point, Matthew Nolan entered the picture. Breska introduced him to Cohen under the fake name of Matthew McCall Oppenheimer, as an heir to the Oppenheimer diamond fortune.


A Timeline of Suspect Travel

On March 6, 2005, Robert Cohen seems to have taken a meeting with "Matthew Oppenheimer" (actually Matthew Nolan) in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Also present was Luis Alonso Douglas Mejia, a hotel bellboy allegedly conspiring with Nolan. Video evidence proffered in court purports to show Nolan and Mejia with Cohen in the parking lot of a San Jose shopping center, the last time Cohen was seen alive. Hours later, Nolan was on a plane to Houston, Texas.


Again per court records, within three days, he was back in Costa Rica, where he once again met up with Mejia, who was holding Robert Cohen captive. On March 10, Costa Rican authorities discovered Cohen's dead body. He appeared to have perished from organ failure stemming from severe beatings and torture. The next day, Nolan left the country once again.

third Nolan brother
Christopher (left) and Jonathan Nolan at the Los Angeles premiere of Touchstone Pictures' "The Prestige" in 2006.
E. Charbonneau/WireImage for Disney Pictures/Getty Images


The Aftermath of Robert Cohen's Killing

Luis Alonso Douglas Mejia was convicted of Cohen's murder by a Costa Rican court and sentenced to jail. Meanwhile, Nolan, as would later be disclosed by an American judge, continued his efforts to locate Robert Breska's money.

Nolan spent the next four years as a free man, but in 2009 he and his wife filed for bankruptcy. He was trapped by FBI agent Pablo Araya, who’d been investigating the Cohen murder and discovered Nolan was due to attend his own bankruptcy hearing in Chicago. He was arrested and taken into custody.


Following the arrest in 2009, Nolan was formally charged with Cohen's murder in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica requested that Nolan be extradited to stand trial in their court system. While an American judge reviewed Nolan's case, he was confined to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago.

At that point, his story took another twist.


Matthew Nolan's Attempted Prison Break

The judge overseeing Nolan's case did not find sufficient evidence to extradite him to Costa Rica. The Costa Rican authorities abandoned their request in 2010 and Nolan could have walked free at that point, but he'd already been arrested a second time. The charge? Trying to break out of the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

In the fall of 2009, Nolan was found with what NBC Chicago reported as "a razor, a harness, a metal clip (to unlock handcuffs), and 31 feet [9.4 meters] of rope made from bedsheets." He pleaded guilty to possessing contraband in jail and obstruction of justice. In July of 2010 Nolan was sentenced to 14 months in prison for his somewhat Batman-like escape attempt.


Matthew Nolan Today

Matthew Nolan was never extradited to Costa Rica. In 2014, he sued the United States, accusing the Bureau of Prisons of "physical, psychological and psychiatric injury" during his time in the Metropolitan Correctional Center. The case dragged on for several years, and its final outcome appears hidden from public record.

To no one's surprise, Matthew Nolan remains unaffiliated with his brothers' filmmaking careers.