Every morning, Betty Mather walks through her condominium to a room filled with stuffed toys and kisses the framed picture of a beaming 18-year-old woman.
Every evening before going to bed, Mather kisses the picture again and lights a candle next to it.
The woman in the picture is Mather’s daughter, Lisa, a beauty school student and Van Nuys High School graduate who vanished about 1 a.m. Jan. 12, 1985, when she and some friends were club-hopping on the Sunset Strip. Her friends told police Lisa disappeared moments after they saw her talking outside a club to a tall man with sprayed, teased hair.
Almost two years later, on Dec. 3, 1986, a hiker in the hills above Coldwater Canyon came upon an abandoned campsite with a human skull, spine and long leg bones mixed among some rotted branches. Investigators eventually identified the bones as those of Lisa Mather, and they concluded that she had been slain at the campsite soon after her disappearance.
Los Angeles police and county prosecutors claim Mather was the victim of Edmund Arne Matthews, a drifter known as “The Count” who used to haunt the nightclub scene on Hollywood and Sunset boulevards.
Sometimes wearing a black cape as he wandered from bar to bar, Matthews, 30, would tell women he was a celebrity--a drummer for rock singer Ted Nugent, or the live-in roommate of singer Nancy Sinatra, officials said.
Authorities said he took women to a campsite above Coldwater Canyon, where he raped them, restraining them with handcuffs or ropes. In one police statement, detectives said, Matthews spoke of devil worship, archangels and having a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” personality.
Matthews is tentatively set to stand trial Oct. 5 in San Fernando Superior Court on charges that he murdered Mather while raping her, a special circumstance that would make him eligible for the death penalty.
Los Angeles Deputy Dist. Atty. Rosalie L. Morton said at a preliminary hearing in March that Matthews was living out a deviant fantasy with Mather and other women.
“His ultimate fantasy is tying someone up and keeping them for three months,” Morton said.
She said there was a puncture wound in Mather’s back, “which may or may not have gone with his fantasy, but we do have the rope with the loops on it at different locations, showing that either hands or feet were tied, and she was spread-eagled on the ground.”
Matthews’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Martin H. Wegman, said at the hearing that there is no evidence that Matthews killed or raped Mather.
“There’s nothing for the court to hang its coat on, other than my client was apparently living in the hills” and had taken several women up there, Wegman said.
Wegman has filed a challenge with the state Court of Appeal in an attempt to overturn the special circumstances charge. The appeal is expected to delay the trial’s start.
Arrested With Shovel, Lantern
Police arrested Matthews a few weeks after Mather disappeared. He was carrying a shovel and lantern and making his way down Coldwater Canyon.
Police say they believe that Matthews was returning from hiding Mather’s body. But, because the disappearance of Mather was still a mystery, police had no reason to see a connection. Instead, Matthews was charged with raping two women in the canyon the year before.
He was later convicted of one of the rapes and sent to the California Mens Colony at San Luis Obispo to serve a 10-year sentence.
After Mather’s remains were discovered, Detective Kevin Harley went to the prison and showed Matthews a picture of Mather. Harley said Matthews told him he recognized Mather, and that they had taken a taxi to his place in Coldwater Canyon.
He told Harley that the next thing he remembered was “coming down the hillside thinking he had killed somebody,” the detective said. Matthews said he had tied Mather to a tree with a rope around her neck, Harley said.
Matthews and Mather met on Sunset Boulevard near the Whiskey A Go Go, and had gone to a restaurant to have a few drinks, Harley said, and that Matthews told him that he had been drinking a lot that evening and did not recall some of what he did. “He described his condition as a ‘spinning blackout’ or spinning drunk,” Harley said.
In a January statement, Harley said, Matthews gave this account:
Matthews asked Mather if she wanted to go swimming, adding that he was a drummer for Nugent. Mather agreed, and they took a cab to Harvard High School in Studio City, where he and Mather had sex, with her consent.
Matthews then told Mather that he had a “beautiful igloo tent” in the hills, and that they should go there.
When they arrived at his campsite above Coldwater Canyon, the tent had been rained on. He suggested to Mather that he tie her up to a tree and make love. She laughed and told him he was crazy like most musicians and rock stars.
Matthews then tied her to a tree with one rope around her neck and went to get a lantern. He soon heard her squeal and ran back to see that Mather had slipped down the muddy hillside. He was crying as he tried unsuccessfully to untie her. Mather stopped breathing, and Matthews blacked out, then woke up and ran down the hillside to a friend’s house and “went to sleep crying.”
He later went back up to the hillside and covered Mather with dirt and sticks, cleaned up the campsite and left.
A few weeks later, he returned with a shovel to the campsite, where he again tried to untie Mather and bury her. He was arrested when police saw him coming down the hill with the shovel and lantern.
2 Women Testify
The two women who said they were raped by Matthews in 1984 testified at the preliminary hearing in March.
One said she had accompanied Matthews to his campsite after he met her on Sunset Boulevard one night in October that year. He had said he was going to take her to a party.
When they got to his tent, she said, Matthews put handcuffs on her. He also put chains around her ankles and raped her repeatedly before releasing her, she said. Matthews was acquitted of rape in that case.
The second woman, whom Matthews was convicted of raping, said she had also met Matthews on the Sunset Strip and had accompanied him to Coldwater Canyon. She said he told her they had to take a shortcut to get to the house he shared with Nancy Sinatra.
They arrived at the campsite and Matthews began choking her, she testified. She said Matthews tied her up and raped her repeatedly, and that he threatened to kill her with a machete sticking in the ground nearby.
The woman said Matthews later released her, and she ran away.
Betty Mather said she had heard about the other assaults but does not understand how Matthews could have attacked her daughter. “She was very strong and very athletic,” she said. “Lisa could have decked the average guy. And she would not have wandered off with a strange guy.”
Betty Mather said she is also anxious about the ordeal of the upcoming trial. “I would like to . . . get this all behind me, but I don’t know how long it will take. I just try and survive every day.”
Although she cries often, Betty Mather said she still feels numb. “I’m still waiting to get so angry I could punch him for what he did to my baby. But I can’t. I still would like to have 20 minutes alone with him, just so I could ask why he did what he did.”
During the preliminary hearing, she said, Matthews’ mother approached her outside the courtroom and hugged her.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said. “She said, ‘Can you please find it in your heart to forgive him?’ I put my arms around her and said, ‘My heart goes out to you, but I can’t forgive him. You can see your son every day. I will never see my daughter again.’ ”