Husband recalls horrific murder

THE husband of the victim of one of the Troubles’ most cold blooded killings has broken his silence almost 30 years after the murder of his young wife.

Joanne Mathers was just 29-years-old when on April 7, 1981, an IRA gunman shot her dead on the doorstep of a Gobnascale home whilst she chatted to the householder.

Mrs Mathers was the mother of a toddler and was collecting census forms when she was ruthlessly killed.

The shooting was carried out in the midst of a republican campaign to stop people co-operating with the census body as it was claimed by them that the forms were being used as intelligence gathering material by state agencies.

All-in-all on April 7, 1981, nine acts of intimidation took place on census form collectors in Londonderry. And, in republican areas across Northern Ireland thousands of census forms were destroyed by those who supported the campaign of non-co-operation.

Now 30 years later, forms for the 2011 census have begun to drop through letterboxes across the country, but against a very different political backdrop.

Joanne Mathers’ husband Lowry told the Sentinel the killer had never been brought to justice, nor had those who gave the orders saying: “The person who ordered the killing is just as guilty as the person who carried it out.”

Lowry and Joanne Mathers had been married for seven years, having met as teenagers.

Contemporary TV news reports outline the blunt horror of what took place at Anderson Crescent on the afternoon of April 7, three decades ago.

As Mrs Mathers collected the census forms a masked man dashed forward, snatched the clipboard she was holding with one hand, placed a gun to her neck with his other hand and fired.

The victim cried out and ran past the householder into his home. The house owner slammed a glass pannelled door in the hallway shut in an attempt to stop the killer following.

But, the gunman kept coming, smashed through the glass door and as Joanne Mathers lay dying on the ground, took the rest of the census forms. He then made his escape whilst brandishing the murder weapon in the air as a deterrent against anyone attempting to apprehend him.

The widespread revulsion felt in the community in the wake of the murder initially made police hopeful that information would be offered that would help capture the killer. The fact also that the murderer sustained cuts by breaking through the glass door raised further hope that forensic evidence would bring him to justice. But, no one has ever been brought to book for the heartless killing.

Such was the outcry after Joanne Mathers’ murder that the IRA and INLA both denied carrying out the attack.

However, police quickly pointed the finger at the Provisional IRA because forensic evidence revealed the murder weapon had already been used twice in so-called punishment shootings. The IRA later admitted responsibility for Joanne Mathers’ death.

Mrs Mathers was an honours graduate but had relinquished her work as a town and country planner to raise her young son and help with work on her husbands farm. She had taken the job as a census collector in order to earn extra money for her family.

Ulster Unionist Mayor of Londonderry at the time was Marlene Jefferson who was scathing of the attack and said that those who participated in the campaign against the collection of the census forms were equally as guilty as the “animal” who pulled the trigger.

At the time Lowry Mathers told the press: “I told our son that his mummy wasn’t coming back because she was in heaven. He thought that was a great place for her, even at that age. He sort of grew up more or less overnight.”

It was later revealed that Joanne Mathers had gained a first class honours from Queen’s University of Belfast. An academic from the institution later wrote: “She could have had a high-powered career, but she preferred to become a a farmer’s wife and a mother.”

From 1983 onwards the Department of the Environment annually awarded the Joanne Mathers Memorial Awards for Environmental Education.

Mrs Mathers, whose maiden name was Johnston lies at peace at Donagheady Presbyterian Church. Joanne’s husband still lives in the area and has not spoken publicly about her murder in the last thirty years. Today, he recalls his thoughts on the day his and his son’s lives were irrevocably altered.

See Page 3 for his story.