Madison Mystery: The unsolved murder of Chad Maurer

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MADISON, Wis. — Chad Maurer had everything going for him, and his future looked bright.

He was the only child of John and Darla “Dolly” Maurer, born on May 11, 1971. Chad’s parents moved from Freeport, Illinois, to Madison in 1970. Two weeks later, his mother found out she was pregnant.

Chad’s parents were self-employed. John Maurer ran a carpet and upholstery cleaning service, while Dolly Maurer owned a flourishing housecleaning service.

Chad graduated from La Follette High School in 1989. He loved BMX racing and snowboarding and was a member of the American Bicycle Association. Chad had competed in numerous bike races and had collected hundreds of racing trophies.

He was a handsome young man with model good looks, responsible, and a caring individual. Chad resided with his parents in an apartment in the 1500 block of Simpson Avenue (now Lake Point Drive) and held a part-time job at the Village Pedaler Bike Shop on Monona Ave, owned by George Godfrey. 

To get to work and back, Chad drove his father’s yellow 1968 Ford Mustang. 

On Saturday, May 19, 1990, Chad returned home from work around noon, fixed a sandwich, and borrowed $20 from his father. He then left to go back to work.

The drive should have taken Chad less than 10 minutes.

About one and a half hours later, the Maurers needed something at the local hardware store, two doors down from the bike shop where Chad worked.

When they arrived, they noticed the Mustang was not in the parking lot, so they visited the bike shop to inquire about Chad’s whereabouts. Godfrey had no idea where the teen was, and the shop was swamped with customers. 

Chad’s mother felt that something was wrong, but she thought her son would eventually show up. However, when Chad had not returned home by the following morning, his mother began calling his friends. They had not heard from him and said they last saw him on Friday, May 18, for a couple of hours at a party. 

John then filed a missing person report with local police. 

On Monday, May 21, a maintenance worker found the Maurer’s car inside an unlocked garage of a housing complex in the 3300 block of South Michigan Ave. in South Side Chicago, about a three-hour drive from Madison. Chad was dead in the driver’s seat.

When Chicago police officers arrived, they found the ignition engaged, the car battery dead, and the gasoline meter read empty. 

Multiple fingerprints smeared with blood were on a window, but it is unclear if investigators had them examined. However, the Chicago Tribune reported in December 1991 that officials still had not examined them.

A Cook County medical examiner ruled Chad Maurer’s death a suicide and the cause of death carbon monoxide poisoning. No drugs or alcohol were found in his system.

Shortly after, the Maurers received a call from the Chicago police informing them their son had killed himself.

Chad’s friends called Dolly Maurer, asking if he had killed himself, but she assured them her son would not have taken his own life.

Why would he do it 150 miles away when he could have done it in Madison? Chad had several friends, a good home life, and was not depressed. Furthermore, he planned on relocating to Boulder, Colorado, at the end of May and had been saving money for the move.

As the Maurers prepared to bury their son, they noticed his knuckles were skinned down to the bone, as if he had been in a confrontation. He also had other bruises on his face. The Maurers then contacted local authorities.

John Maurer asked the police to see the shirt Chad was wearing when he died. The shirt contained bloodstains, which further convinced the Maurers their son did not take his own life.

Dane County Coroner Ray Wosepka examined Chad’s body and discovered additional bruises to Chad’s groin. The sheriff’s department said that Chicago did not note some of the injuries Wosepka found.

Together, with Detective David Bongiovani, the Maurers studied the police report and crime scene photos.

Chad Maurer: Det. David Bongiovani
Screenshot from “Unsolved Mysteries”, 1991

Immediately, something caught the Maurers’ eyes in one photo. A jacket laying on the car seat next to their son’s body did not belong to him. He did not own one like the jacket in the photo. Additionally, when Chad left their home on May 19, he did not take a coat with him, even though it was a bit cool outside. 

Chicago Police Department Sgt. John W. Ridges of the Violent Crimes Unit said Chicago police no longer had the jacket because before officers towed the car, someone had taken it. They could not secure the vehicle because the window had been knocked out.*

Chad Maurer: Sgt. John W. Ridges, Chicago Police Dept.
“Unsolved Mysteries”

Godfrey told a local newspaper that something or someone had scared Chad before he disappeared. Someone vandalized his store afterward, but police later ruled out a connection to Chad’s disappearance, although the reasons are unclear.

Godfrey later said in 1991, “I think he was on the run from something. It was unlike him to leave without saying anything. The next thing we heard, he turns up in Chicago dead.”

On Oct. 22, Maurer’s story aired on a local Crimestoppers program, and police received a tip. According to “Unsolved Mysteries,” a caller said Mauer was involved in a drug deal with people who lived in his apartment complex. These same people had relocated from South Side Chicago.

A friend told Chad’s mother that he was paid twice for transporting a drug dealer to Chicago in 1989. Chad had also smoked marijuana and taken LSD a few times. 

Chad’s death ruling changed to undetermined in 1991, and a full-blown investigation began.

That year, the Capital Times reported new evidence turned up that included “the fact that Chad’s body bore 24 scars.”

Chicago PD had previously claimed there was no evidence of foul play, and no signs of trauma existed on his body. 

When interviewed by the Chicago Tribune, Roy Dames, the chief administrator for the Cook County medical examiner, defended his office’s handling of Chad’s autopsy.  

“The pathologist handled the case perfectly,” Dames told the Chicago Tribune. “There’s no question Maurer was involved in a fight. However, it had nothing to do with the cause of death. Should someone investigate where he got the marks? Probably.”

Oh, genius, how did you ever become a chief administrator? 

Well, Einstein, it had everything to do with the cause of death. 

The autopsy report showed a level of carbon monoxide at 74%, much higher than usually found in a suicide — 50 to 60 percent. The finding suggested that someone had placed Chad in the vehicle while unconscious instead of Chad entering independently.

Ridges defended Chicago PD’s investigation of Chad’s death.

“We can’t make a determination based on the information we have whether it was a homicide, a suicide or an accident,” Ridges said in 1991. Really? Because you guys quickly said he took his own life. “To say it’s a homicide, you have to say someone forced him into that garage with gas masks or at gunpoint, and we can’t say that.”

Hmm. Okay. The autopsy report finding suggested Chad was unconscious, so his killers most likely put him in the vehicle at that time and THEN rigged the car so that Chad would die of carbon monoxide, therefore, making it appear like he took his own life.

There were two airings of Chad’s case on America’s Most Wanted. Chad’s parents portrayed themselves on a segment for “Unsolved Mysteries” that also aired twice — in December 1991 and May 1992.

There were several few theories about Chad’s death.

The main theory, which the police supported, involved Chad working as a drug courier looking for quick, easy cash, and someone killed him upon arriving in Chicago.

Another states that some youths with drug backgrounds from Chicago’s South Side resided near the Maurers in 1992, and the Crimestoppers tip suggested such a similar link.

Another theory said he was abducted by someone desiring to go to Chicago in a hurry, and killed him on arrival.

Then there are others: he blew off work to look for gay sex in the Windy City; Chad traveled to Chicago to purchase drugs for himself and met with foul play; the wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time scenario; and that he was depressed and suicidal.

Chicago investigators admitted they made mistakes in the early phase of the Maurer investigation.

Chad’s parents put pressure on the police and pushed to keep Chad’s case alive in the public eye. The Marshfield News-Herald reported,” they lobbied lawmakers, knocked on doors and wrote letters, diligently logged calls, filed responses, and stored away each new nugget of information.” 

In Fall 1995, a woman telephoned the Maurers and said she knew who killed their son but refused to come forward. A man serving time in Dane County Jail later said he overheard someone bragging about Chad’s killing, but the prisoner refused to testify because he feared for his life.  

In 1998, investigators requested blood samples from the Maurers for DNA testing to rule out the blood on Chad’s shirt belonged to him.  

The following year Chad’s mother told Doug Moe of the Capital Times that three suspects kept “popping up.” These young men had moved to Madison from Chicago just weeks before Chad’s death.

However, there was never enough evidence for authorities to charge them. The Maurers were hopeful that DNA testing would also prove that one or all three suspects were responsible for their son’s death. One had recently been arrested and sentenced to 27 years in prison for an unrelated crime.

The Maurers submitted their blood, but then nothing happened after that. Since day one of the investigation, police told them “as the case got older, it would be moved toward the back burner.”  

Police never arrested a suspect in Chad Maurer’s murder, and his case remains unsolved 31 years later. 

After Chad’s death, his friend designed a racing logo in his honor: a cross-boned smiley face with a thin X for eyes and a C attached to the top of the head.

The track where Chad raced held a memorial race in his honor for several years. The plaques had a photo of him and the logo. 

Like his late son, John Maurer loved bike racing and proudly wore the logo on the chest plate of his shoulder pads. A 2004 Wisconsin State Journal article reported he had ranked No. 1 in Wisconsin in the 51-and-older cruiser class and 12th position out of 26 in the 28-and-over 20-inch bikes. 

John and Dolly Maurer divorced in 2007.

She has previously said that every May is the hardest for her with Mother’s Day, Chad’s birthday, and the anniversary of his murder.

She joined Parents of Murdered Children and credited her involvement with the support group for helping her cope with the immense grief that followed as a result of her only child’s murder. 

On the anniversary of Chad’s death, she makes her son’s favorite foods. 

Dolly Maurer’s license plates read “Chad M.” She keeps his photo — the one seen at the top — in her car’s rear window and on her key chain. 

Det. David Bongiovani is still working as an investigator but left the Dane County Sheriff’s Office and has been with the Madison Police Department since 2008.

*Ridges said on “Unsolved Mysteries” that the police could not secure the vehicle because of the window. At first, I thought he said it had been “knocked out.” But I listened to it twice, and I’m still not sure. Maybe you will understand him if you watch the segment below. It’s the first case covered in the program. If you understood what he said, please put it in the comment section.

True Crime Diva’s Thoughts

Chad’s case is messed up on so many levels.

How — please tell me HOW — Chicago PD never suspected foul play when Chad had bruises on his body and a bloody shirt? At the very least, they should have called it a suspicious death.

Didn’t Ridges think it odd that someone stole the jacket, but not the 1968 Ford Mustang with the keys still in the ignition?

Why did Chicago say no evidence of trauma existed on his body when it did?

They LIED. It’s undeniable the police intentionally lied. I want to know WHY.

If they had called Chad’s death suspicious, at the very least, they could have processed the Mustang for evidence.


I’m curious about the time frame of Chad’s death. I did not see anything about that, but I wonder how long Chad was alive before being killed. We know there was a physical altercation because of the bruises and blood on his shirt. What happened between the time he disappeared and when his body was found two days later? How long had he been dead?

I don’t know if I believe the theory that Chad gave someone a ride to Chicago for money, and that person killed him upon arrival. Why would he or she kill Chad after arriving in Chicago? That makes no sense. How did that person get back to Madison? Chad had every intention of returning to work that day. He was a responsible kid, so I do not feel that he would have blown off work to give someone a ride. From what I understand, he had not been at the job for very long.

Chad either made it to the shop’s parking lot, and people kidnapped him there, or he stopped to get gas with the $20 his father gave him, and they took him from the gas station. I feel the people involved could have achieved this without people noticing if they had a weapon. 

There is also the possibility that this happened in the parking lot of the apartment complex as he was getting into his car to return to the bike shop.

I don’t buy Godfrey’s assumption that Chad was running from something. If that were the case, why did he even show up for work at all? He could have told his parents he was going to work and then left that morning.

The theory that this was drug-related could be wrong, too. The Crimestoppers caller might have attempted to throw the police off track. Yes, Chad dabbled in drugs. But was he killed over it? We really can’t say either way, so I’m open to the possibility that his murder happened for another reason. However, I believe that he knew his killers (I believe more than one person was involved).

There is the possibility that his killers were worried he would talk — maybe he knew too much of something that they did not want the police or others to learn. He could have witnessed something at the apartment complex.

I believe the three suspects mentioned above were likely involved. Why did these 3 people keep popping up in the investigation? One or all of them probably lived in that Chicago housing project where his body was found. I wonder if they placed the body and the Mustang in the garage temporarily with plans to dispose of both later at a different location. Maybe they wanted the Mustang. Could this have been a carjacking?

There is the possibility that Chad’s killers wanted his body found. I’m just trying to figure out why they placed the car/Chad inside an unlocked garage owned by the housing complex. Of all places, why there?

If these men were the same people mentioned in the Crimestoppers tip, then they lived in the same apartment complex as Chad’s parents after the murder. That’s a bit odd, almost like they were taunting John and Dolly. I would think that Bongiovani could have easily found the names of everyone who lived in Chad’s apartment complex before and after his murder.

If I were the parents, I would have looked very closely at Chad’s circle of friends. Those who looked innocent might not have been.

1 comment

Tom May 8, 2024 - 10:19 PM

I think it would be extremely rare for someone to get murdered by a killer who sets up a car in a garage suicide. My best guess is an accident. He started the car and simply fell asleep, whether he had a fight before or not. One analysis I saw online pointed out that some of his injuries, like a scraped up hand and a bruised groin, could have come from bike racing, and doing bike stunts. Either way, Chicago PD definitely made some mistakes.

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True Crime Diva

True Crime Diva

I've blogged true crime since 2010, happily taking up only a tiny corner of the internet. I'm not here for attention; I'm here to tell you their stories.

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