An Ignacio man has been arrested on suspicion of killing his wife on New Year’s Eve, one week after he was released from jail on $1,500 bail for a domestic violence charge against the same woman.
Damon Lamont Mathews, 44, is suspected of first-degree murder. Authorities say he killed his wife, Rachel Phillips Mathews, 47, at her home in the 100 block of Romero Avenue in Ignacio.
Family members have said Rachel was known by her maiden last name, Ream.
Mathews fled the scene, taking Ream’s car, and drove to the Denver-metro area, authorities say. Mathews was arrested New Year’s Day after he was involved in a traffic incident and was being held Monday in the Jefferson County Detention Facility.
According to an arrest affidavit, the Ignacio Police Department learned of the killing Jan. 1 and went to Ream’s home and found her deceased. The Ignacio Police Department then requested the assistance of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Once at the scene, investigators found Ream in a separate building on the property with trauma to the head.
When contacted by law enforcement in Jefferson County about the traffic incident, Mathews admitted to killing his wife, saying he wanted to talk to investigators, according to the affidavit.
Mathews told investigators that despite a protection order against him, he was living in the back house at Ream’s home. The two were celebrating New Year’s Eve together when they started to fight, Mathews told police.
“Damon said he knew if the police came, he would go to jail again because of the protection order and because he was on bond for the previous domestic violence with Rachel,” the investigating officer wrote.
Mathews said he then started to strangle Ream. He then went into the main house, took Ream’s car keys and money, got a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and shot Ream one time in the head, Mathews told police.
Mathews said he then drove to Grand Junction and to the Denver area. He told police he took methamphetamine on arriving in Denver. After a car tire blew out, he called 911 and told officers he believed there was a warrant for his arrest for murder.
Mathews was familiar to police, court records show: He had been arrested twice before for domestic violence charges against Ream.
According to court records, Mathews was arrested Nov. 24 for third-degree assault and domestic violence against Ream.
Officers arrived at Mercy Regional Medical Center around 3:30 p.m. that day after Ream went to the hospital after being “battered by her husband,” earlier in the day.
Ream had multiple injuries, including a gash above her left eye that was bleeding, as well as bruises and swelling on her body. Ream told officers Mathews had also assaulted her a second time a few days before.
“Rachel stated she was in fear of Damon, and was afraid of what he may do if she reported the incident to law enforcement,” the investigating officer wrote.
Mathews was waiting in a car outside Mercy. When questioned, he changed his story several times, court documents show. He was arrested and taken to the La Plata County Jail.
At a court hearing the next day, Nov. 25, the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office asked District Judge Jeffrey Wilson to set Mathews’ bail at $10,000.
Wilson, however, set Mathews’ bond at $1,500. The charges, at the time, were misdemeanors.
According to court procedures, the standard bail amount for a Class 1 misdemeanor is $1,500.
According to court records, before the Nov. 24 assault, Mathews had been convicted four times since 2003 on domestic violence-related crimes.
It is unclear how Mathews’ criminal past was not taken into account during his bail hearing. Wilson said Monday judges are not allowed to comment on active cases.
On Dec. 10, based on further investigation, the District Attorney’s Office moved to upgrade to felony level charges, charging the defendant as a habitual domestic violence offender, a Class 5 felony.
Judge Wilson granted that motion Dec. 21, but there was no request or move to increase Mathews’ bail.
District Attorney Christian Champagne did not answer a question about why his office did not move to increase Mathews’ bond. In a emailed statement, Champagne said, “On Nov. 25, our bond request was $10,000, so we did seek a substantially higher bond setting at the onset of the case.”
On Dec. 25, Mathews posted his $1,500 bail and was released from jail. He killed Ream six days later.
His former wife, April Shawl, said in an interview with The Durango Herald that Mathews was in prison in Nevada for domestic violence-related crimes from around 2003 to 2015.
“He was so dangerous, he did the same things to me,” Shawl said. “I always knew he’d never be stopped until he murdered a woman. It’s haunted me.”
Issiah Harrison, Ream’s son who now lives in Oklahoma, said the family started to get nervous New Year’s Eve after their mom went missing.
Harrison said Ream and Mathews knew each other for years, having moved to the lower 48 states from Alaska around 2000.
“I knew him when I was a little kid,” Harrison, 25, said of Mathews. “He used to baby sit.”
While still married, Harrison said Ream and Mathews had become estranged in recent years.
“No one even thought she’d get hurt,” he said. “It’s still a shock to everyone. She didn’t deserve this.”
Bernadette Dickinson, a close family friend, said Ream moved to the Allison area in southeastern La Plata County around 2000. She then moved to Ignacio and worked as a massage therapist, and raised her four children.
“She was one of the kindest, sweetest people on the planet,” Dickinson said. “She always gave everyone the last thing she had.”
Ream’s children are ages 12, 20 and 25. Her eldest son, in his 30s, is blind and disabled.
“This family has been through a lot,” Dickinson said. “But Rachel was an angel.”
Dickinson said she last talked to Ream on the phone about two weeks ago.
“It didn’t sound fine,” she said. “She just wanted (her family) out of there.”
A GoFundMe fundraiser has been started to help with Ream’s funeral costs, which can be viewed at https://bit.ly/38fb86x.
Mathews is now being held without bail. He is going to be transferred to the La Plata County Jail in the coming days, the CBI said.
Mathews has a court hearing for the Nov. 24 domestic violence charges on Jan. 21. It’s unclear when a court date for the first-degree murder charge will be set.