Mattie Zabel (Courtesy Iowa Department of Public Safety)

Mattie Zabel (Courtesy Iowa Department of Public Safety)

Mattie Lou Zabel

Missing Person

Mattie Lou Zabel
Age at Report: 45
DOB: March 7, 1933
Weight: 118 lbs.
Height: 5′ 02″
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Brown
Incident Type: Disability – physical / mental
Missing From: Cedar Falls, IA
Black Hawk County
Investigating Agency: Cedar Falls Police Department
Case Number: 78-459
NCIC Number: M-090776663
NamUs MP # 17179
Missing Since: March 21, 1978

Case summary compiled by Jody Ewing

Mattie Lou Zabel, a 45-year-old teacher’s aide who worked at River Hills School in Cedar Falls, Iowa, was reported missing to the Cedar Falls Police Department on March 21, 1978.

Black Hawk County in Iowa
Black Hawk County in Iowa
Cedar Falls in Black Hawk CountyCedar Falls in Black County

Zabel was last seen by her family on March 21, 1978, in her hometown of Cedar Falls. She left behind not only her husband, Jack, and three children, but also a frozen chicken thawing in the kitchen sink that was to be the family’s dinner. No clothing was taken, and she would not have had the assets to just walk away. There was no indication that she just got frustrated and left.

At the time of her disappearance, Zabel was described as a 5-foot-2 white female with brown hair, brown eyes, and weighing 118 pounds.

The day after she went missing, one of Zabel’s sons found her car at Black Hawk Park in Cedar Falls. He said his mother often liked to go out to the park and walk.

The vehicle was found locked with Zabel’s purse inside.

An extensive search by Black Hawk County sheriff’s deputies, search dogs, divers and a National Guard helicopter turned up no trace of Mrs. Zabel.

Police hypothesized that Zabel either fell into the swift and swollen Cedar River while taking a walk or committed suicide. She had undergone treatment for depression, but her psychiatrist told investigators Zabel had shown marked improvement in the months leading up to her disappearance.

Her credit cards were monitored for years afterwards, but they were never used. Seven years after Mattie Zabel vanished, a Black Hawk County judge declared her legally dead.

Information Needed

If you have any information concerning the whereabouts of Mattie Zabel, please contact Lt. Dennis O’Neill at the Cedar Falls Police Department at 319-273-8617.



Copyright © 2024  Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

7 Responses to Mattie Zabel

  1. Gayl Elliott says:

    I worked with Mattie Lou also as a teacher’s aide back in 1976-1977. She was always really kind to me and all of the students. I’ve never forgotten her and have always hoped that we would know what happened. Her family should know she is still loved by me and many.

  2. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    Just for general information, there is psychological disorder that is triggered by severe emotional trauma, that leads to amnesia and the person to flee the area.

    This disorder is called Dissociative Fugue, and can last for months and years. A man in Australia disappeared for almost 23 years. He was actually found by an investigator checking the Australian version of Medicare. This was a week before he was to be declared dead.

    It could be that she wandered off and might have lived thinking she was someone else. It is only a guess. Since, she had been dealing with depression. This disorder is considered rare, but their maybe a number of undiagnosed cases.

  3. Will Fox says:

    A family without their wife/mother, and no trace of her since. Sure makes me wonder if she slipped & fell down an embankment into the river, or…….? This family needs closure. IBased on details given here, I doubt any foul play. An unfortunate accident perhaps? Too bad her body was never recovered.

  4. Kris Bowers says:

    The Zabel’s were our next door neighbors. I will never forget this.

  5. No I don’t. Would think I would, maybe it will come to me tomorrow:)

  6. Elaine Keating do you remember this?

Comment Policy

We encourage thoughtful discussion here but ask that comments remain civilized and constructive … i.e. without personal attacks or name-calling. Be respectful of others and remember that victims' family members visit these pages, too. If you'd like to provide us with information regarding a suspect or have other sensitive details to relay, please email us directly. Thank you in advance.

Share Your Thoughts