Tom Mather

Tom Mather (Courtesy The Gazette)

Thomas Stewart Mather


Thomas Stewart “Tom” Mather
32 YOA
West BranchSpringdale, IA
Cedar County
IA DCI Case Number: 91-07431
September 30, 1991

Case Summary compiled by Jody Ewing

On Monday, September 30, 1991, Tom Mather, 32, was shot in the head and slashed several times in his home on County Road X-40 one mile north of the West Liberty exit off Interstate 80.

His wife, 24-year-old Dawn (Woodard) Mather — to whom he’d been married just one year and one month — said he was shot by a naked intruder and that she (also naked) escaped to a nearby farmhouse owned by Mark and Mary Mather.

Dawn MatherCourtesy The Gazette
Dawn Mather was never ruled out as a suspect in her husband’s murder.

In February 1992 — just four months after her husband’s brutal slaying — Dawn Mather took the Principal Financial Group to court on grounds that they had refused to pay her claim on her husband’s $50,000 life insurance policy.

According to a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated September 30, 1992, Dawn said the insurer told her murderers were disqualified from receiving insurance proceeds. (Principal officials stated the claim was still being reviewed at the time Dawn Mather took them to court.)

Tom Mather’s parents — Stewart and Mildred Mather of West Branch, Iowa — sided with Dawn, insisting their daughter-in-law of 13 months had nothing to do with Tom’s death. In an ironic twist, the Mathers accused Principal Financial of planting the “public seed of suspicion” that Dawn Mather somehow played a role in their son’s murder.

This is what the Mathers said Dawn told them about the night their son was killed (as published in the above referenced Gazette article):

It was 8:40, and Dawn and Tom were watching television. A naked man appeared in the living room, pointing a gun and holding two pieces of rope in his hand. Tom demanded to know what the intruder wanted. He answered, “I’ve come to rob you,” the Mathers said.

Always keeping the handgun pointed at Tom, the intruder ordered Dawn to take the rope and tie up her husband. When she couldn’t do it very well, the man finished the job.

He then forced Tom to crawl into the bedroom, and then back out. In the bedroom, he ordered Dawn to remove her clothes, then tied her up in clothes. She freed herself. When Tom saw her free, he yelled for her to run. Naked, she headed out the door and up the road to the next farmhouse. She was taken in and hidden, and the Cedar County sheriff was called.

~ Cedar Rapids Gazette, Sept. 30, 1992

Back at the Mathers’ Springdale home, Tom lay dead — shot once in the head, his neck and wrists slashed — with money strewn all around the room.

Based on her initial statement, Dawn Mather admitted to fleeing the home after Tom instructed her to run and was not present when the alleged intruder shot her husband.

Calls pour in after composite released
Tom Mather suspect sketchCourtesy Cedar Rapids Gazette
Cedar County law officials released this composite sketch of Tom Mather’s suspected killed based on a description provided by Tom’s wife, Dawn.

Dawn described her husband’s alleged murderer as a white male, about 30 years old, around 6 feet tall, with a slender- to medium-build, and straight, bleached-blond hair darker toward the ends [opposed to darker at the roots].

Late Tuesday, Oct. 8, 1991, Cedar County officials released a composite drawing of the murder suspect based on Mrs. Mather’s description.

The Cedar County Sheriff’s Office began receiving calls Wednesday, and by Thursday — once the sketch had been distributed through media statewide —  calls began pouring in, The Gazette reported Oct. 11, 1991.

Whitlatch, along with an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) agent, sifted through the tips and worked their way from Springdale to outlying areas running out the leads.

In the same Gazette article, Dawn Mather is again quoted as saying the intruder shot her husband in the head, though she allegedly ran from the home before his murder and allegedly wasn’t present to witness where and how he’d been shot or even when the alleged intruder fired the fatal shot.

Collects insurance policy funds

According to The Gazette, in June 1992 the Principal Financial Group paid out $42,500 on Tom Mather’s insurance policy, and the company insisted they’d never denied Dawn’s claim. (All insurance companies have rules they must follow in murder cases where a spouse is considered a suspect or person of interest.)

Cedar County

Cedar County in Iowa

Immediately following Tom Mather’s murder, many questioned his wife’s involvement, and Cedar County Sheriff Keith Whitlatch, speaking only in general terms, responded with a well-known fact seasoned investigators regularly acknowledge; many murders are committed by a person close to the victim.

“Anytime you have a spouse killed, the public thinks it’s the surviving spouse who did it. And quite frankly, sometimes it is. … And at this point, we can’t say (Tom’s wife) is or isn’t [responsible],” Whitlatch told The Gazette.

Dawn Woodard was working as an arcade cashier at Sycamore Mall in Iowa City when she met Tom, a night-shift custodian at Carver-Hawkeye Arena at the University of Iowa. Tom lived at home on his family’s 160-acre farm near Springdale, and Dawn moved in with them in January 1990.

Dawn and Tom married August 4 that same year, and Tom’s parents moved out of the home to a new residence a few miles west of West Branch. Over the next 13 months, the elder Mathers saw their son and daughter-in-law on a regular basis.

After Tom’s murder, Dawn Mather told her in-laws investigators were “harassing” her, tracking her bank account, and accessing her phone records. Dawn also told the Mathers that investigators knew information they couldn’t otherwise know. Their phone lines must be tapped, Dawn and the Mathers believed.

Dawn, formerly of Urbandale, moved to Coralville after Tom’s murder. She got an unlisted phone number, but her former in-laws told the press they never doubted her story because it was “believable.” Dawn and the Mathers believed a drifter came off Interstate 80 at the West Liberty exit, traveled one mile north on County Road X-40 to Tom’s house, and saw the home as a convenient target to rob.

Mather’s parents told The Gazette they believed the naked robber story; he was naked so no one could describe what he was wearing, they said. They reasoned he’d left the money behind after being frightened off.

Whitlatch determined to solve case

Whitlatch employed help from the news media in attempts to solve Mather’s murder, including a crime re-enactment televised by KCRG-TV9. “Who Killed Tom Mather” aired Wednesday, November 18, 1992.

According to a Gazette article published November 19, 1992:

The re-enactment on KCRG-TV (Channel 9) revealed several previously undisclosed facts about the case, including the focus on a late-model, blue Pontiac Grand Am. The car, believed to be about a 1986 or 1987 with mag wheels, was seen on a gravel road near the Mathers’ home about 6:45 p.m. the night of the murder. A couple were seen exiting a similar car in the Mathers’ driveway that night between 8 and 8:30.

Tracks found in a cornfield there also could match the dimensions of those of a Grand Am, according to police.

A man dressed in tan coveralls was seen coming from the direction of the cornfield, carrying a pole or pipe about 8:45.

The re-enactment also revealed that a light-colored car was seen quickly leaving the Mathers’ driveway about 6:55, about 10 minutes after a man had come to the door asking for directions to either Wilton or Wellman.

A light-colored car also was seen parked in the driveway about 8:45.

Whitlatch said he was pleased with the response and the show. “We wanted to make it factual and not overly dramatic,” he said.

Tom Mather crime reenactmentCourtesy photo Cedar Rapids Gazette
“Who Killed Tom Mather,” a re-enactment televised by KCRG-TV9 on Wednesday, November 18, 1992, led to several tips in the case, including one implicating Mather’s wife, Dawn. Dawn lawyered up and moved out of state.

During the re-enactment, one witness described seeing a man standing near the blue Pontiac Grand Am talking to a woman wearing a light green dotted blouse and skirt. The tip prompted investigators to serve a search warrant on Dawn’s Coralville apartment, where they found  green polka-dotted clothing items like those described by the witness.

Whitlatch held out hope, telling The Gazette that officials never had ruled out Dawn Mather as a suspect in her husband’s murder.

Dawn Mather lawyered up. Her defense attorney, William Kutmus of Des Moines, advised her against speaking further with police, and Dawn promptly moved out of state.

1992-11-17-CRG-tom-mather-recreating-murderCourtesy  Cedar Rapids Gazette, Nov. 17, 1992
Authorities used electronic media to reenact events surrounding Tom Mather’s murder in hopes of finding his killer. “Who Murdered Tom Mather?” aired on KCRG-TV (Channel 9) on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 1992.

When Keith Whitlatch officially retired as Cedar County Sheriff on December 31, 1999, he described Tom Mather’s murder as the “most frustrating” case he’d ever dealt with.

“We’ve had quite a little evidence, but just not the right evidence,” Whitlatch said in a Gazette article published January 1, 2000.

When the Iowa DCI established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Tom Mather’s murder was one of approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s website as those they hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA technology.

Although federal grant funding for the DCI Cold Case Unit was exhausted in December 2011, the DCI continues to assign agents to investigate cold cases as new leads develop or as technological advances allow for additional forensic testing of original evidence.

The DCI remains committed to resolving Iowa’s cold cases and will continue to work diligently with local law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice for the victims and their families.

About Tom Mather
Tom Mather gravestoneCourtesy photo Don H.,
Tom Mather is buried in the Springdale Cemetery in Cedar County, Iowa.

Thomas Stewart Mather was born May 27, 1959, to Stewart and Mildred Mather.

On August 4, 1990, he married Dawn Woodard in Urbandale, Iowa.

Memorial services were held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, October 3, 1991 at the Springdale United Methodist Church, with interment in the Springdale Cemetery in Cedar County.

In addition to his wife and parents, Tom was survived by a sister, Julie.

Information Needed

If you have any information regarding Tom Mather’s unsolved murder, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, email, or contact the Cedar County Sheriff’s Office at (563) 886-6618.



Copyright © 2018 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

33 Responses to Tom Mather

  1. I lived in Iowa City at the time, and most people believed that his wife did it.

  2. His friends believe she did too

  3. Write, that just sounds like the most unlikely story she gave. No wonder everyone believes she did it. Just reading this, I’m convinced. And she had his parents believing her ???

  4. yeah she proll did it ne one else would want to know if they caught the killer not want money

  5. Tom was my 2nd cousin and his murder has always haunted me. Knowing where the home is I never believed it was a person off the freeway. I pray that one day they will find who did this horrific murder

    • Stay Strong, Keep Fighting For Justice! says:

      I just found the house on Google Maps based on the picture in the story above and you’re right; there are 3 other homes closer to I-80 on X-40 and 2 others at the same intersection as the Maher home. Four of the other five appear to be more affluent with the remaining home about the same. That coupled with the fact that money was left at the scene certainly suggests that robbery clearly was not a motive.

      Not to mention, her ridiculous story is simply not believable. It’s a shame that she apparently will get away with murder. Justice will prevail on judgement day though.

  6. Jeanine Beard-Stennett says:

    I remember this..and knew one of the people that they thought was involved.

  7. I will keep praying for someone to come forward. Prayers to the family and friends.

  8. Diana Wilson says:

    It was his wife!!!! Easily solved!!!! Lol

  9. Nancy Danks says:

    Really fishy!! Two naked people and a clothed husband?!

  10. Tom was my 2nd cousin and murder has always haunted me.. I wait for the day when they solve his case.

    • Gail Daugherty says:

      Carol I am sorry for you and your families loss. I can’t even imagine what or how you feel. I pray you find some closure soon. I find it hard to believe that that they wife hasn’t been charged, cause it doesn’t add why she was naked and the robber was naked. so strange. God bless you and yours.

  11. This case seems very strange. Does anyone know if gunshot residue tests were done on the spouse?

    • She also claimed the “intruder” raped her. The rape kit did reveal one man’s DNA – her husband’s. People living in the area at the time almost universally believed that she did it.

  12. Brina Ernst says:

    Not hard to assume that the wife was having an affair and the husband walked in on it then it got heated. Either the wife or her sexual partner pulled the trigger. Did the husband even know of the life insurance policy?? What’s been the wife’s history since this murder?? Has she had other husband’s or boyfriends that end up dead??

  13. I think the wife had something to do with it.Sounds fishy.

  14. Mandie El says:

    Well I went to Iowa courts, she must have changed her name back but she had been in trouble alot if it is her. So from what I have seen they need to look in to her. It’s just sounds like there is a chunk of time missing there.

  15. Sounds real fishy. She was worried about about the insurance money than her husband. Sounds like she was involved.

  16. Haillie says:

    Why was she not ever concerned about finding her husbands killer? Just the money. And why was there no money or anything taken if they were going to be robbed, at night, which is rare and a lethal combination they would have both been dead and pretty much everything valuable taken. I bet she was cheating on him and he walked in on her with someone else and the guys went at it whether she killed him or her significant other she ran to the neighbors because she was scared. It explains why nothing was taken and 2 naked people.

    • andrea olmanson says:

      The wife may or may not have done it.

      However, in response to your comment that no money was taken, I’ll just point something from my own family’s personal experience. When my own son — walking back to his RV from a Jack-In-The-Box in Seattle– was robbed at gunpoint of his backpack, cell phone, and cash, the robber then panicked, said “f*ck it” and shot my kid through the head (miraculously my kid lived and now 2.5 years later is back in college), and then apparently dropped the money he stole from my son before fleeing the scene of the crime. The detective on the case told me that in my son’s case, the police recovered $30-odd dollars (I think $34 but can’t recall for sure) on the ground where the spent casing and blood spatter was found.

  17. LuAnn says:

    I think his wife did it..Sounds like pure greed to me plus she was pretty antsy on getting that insurance money….Maybe she had him killed? They found clothing that belonged to her…plus someone saw a man & woman talking outside the car? Possibly the guy that killed Tom and the woman was probably Dawn…..& she moved out a state? Why? To leave because she knows she is guilty of the crime……..

  18. What an awesome gentleman and friend he was!! Another cold case I so wish would be solved!!!

  19. Mike Byrne says:

    One thing about it,murder has no statute of limitatations,meaning that if they ever get enough evidence to charge the wife with murder they can.

  20. Mike Byrne says:

    I’d be more inclined to believe that her husband walked in on his wife and her lover and caught them in the act,The wife is/was afraid for her life and made up this cockamamie story.I’ll give her the benefit of doubt and say she was present when the husband was killed and was frightened half to death.I think that her lover said something to the effect of “if you tell on me,I’ll kill you,too”.After seeing her husband murdered,she no doubt believed the lover/murderer!!! Just a different viewpoint.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Mike, your theory is pretty much along the lines of other hypotheses developed in the case. And then, of course, Dawn has never been ruled out as a suspect in Tom’s death. (Yes, I checked with local LE.) Tom’s murder is one of those very tragic deaths where he did nothing wrong but was [allegedly] in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thanks for sharing this.

  21. Gerry says:

    Of course she did it. Who had the motive and time to do it, she did. A naked man confronts them, then orders her to get undressed? Very rarely a person ever escapes like that. She said her husband told her to run, in effect making him the hero so she didn’t die. He tied him tight but didn’t tie her tight, so she escaped. If it quacks like a …….

  22. Carrie Coburn says:

    Tom was a good friend to me. I have always held that Dawn was the one who did this, or at least helped to orchestrate it. Her story has just never quite washed…Perhaps one day she will get her comeuppance…

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