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
Cedar 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.
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.