The reward being offered for information leading to an arrest in the Christopher Mader slaying in Waldorf grew to $36,000 this week, the Charles County Sheriff's Office and Mader's family announced Tuesday.
Mader, 23, was fatally shot early last Thanksgiving morning as he drove home from his bartending job at Bennigan's in Waldorf.
In December, Chris Mader's mother, Samantha Payne, made the initial appeal. She is flanked by his dad, Phaon Payne, right, and Steve Urso.
(Craig Herndon For The Washington Post)
It is the biggest reward offered in any Charles County criminal investigation in recent memory, said Detective Keith Moody of the sheriff's office, the lead investigator in the case.
The Iron Workers Local 5, a labor union that serves the District, Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland, pledged $25,000 of the reward. The Mader family had no ties to the group.
With the help of the community and Bennigan's restaurants, which had been collecting funds around the region, Mader's family raised $10,000. Charles County Crime Solvers added $1,000, according to the sheriff's office.
"We hope that with $36,000 now as the reward someone who knows something about what happened to Chris will come forward," said Mader's mother, Samantha Payne. "This has been a very difficult time for all of us, and we hope this will generate some leads."
Mader was shot in the upper body when he was driving his gray two-door Dodge Stratus west on Smallwood Drive after finishing his shift at Bennigan's restaurant at 2:30 a.m. Thanksgiving day, according to investigators. He was alone in the car.
His car then ran into a sign and an electric utility box near William B. Wade Elementary School, within a mile of his home in the subdivision ringing Hampshire Lake in the St. Charles community.
When sheriff's officers arrived at the scene after 3 a.m., the rear window and front passenger window were smashed, and Mader's body was in the driver's seat. It appeared that nothing was stolen from the car. Authorities said Mader probably died of the gunshot wound rather than the crash.
Marc Milstead, a member of the Iron Workers who lives in Waldorf, said he was appalled by news reports in December that the reward offered by county officials for information about an arson attack in the Hunters Brooke subdivision of new and partially constructed homes in western Charles County had surpassed $80,000 while Mader's family was struggling to raise money for a reward.
"I just felt that it was pathetic that $80,000 was being offered for information about who burned these unoccupied homes, homes that no one was even living in at the time," Milstead said. The arson destroyed 10 houses and damaged 16 others. "They were just empty houses covered by insurance. This was a man who was shot dead."
Milstead, 36, said he first saw Mader's mother, Payne, in tears on a television news report in December. "I just felt their sorrow, and I said that I have to do something," Milstead said. "I have a lot of faith in God, and my faith said that I have to help my fellow man."
Milstead said he went before the Iron Workers' seven-member executive committee last month to appeal for the maximum donation allowed under the union's bylaws. The next week, the committee voted unanimously to donate the money.
"Local 5 represents working-class people," Milstead said. "They've taken care of me for the past 18 years, and they also take care of the community."
Waldo M. Ward, president of the Iron Workers Local 5, said the group, made up of about 900 members, started making such donations about nine years ago, with the most recent one about three years ago when a cab driver was killed in the District.
At a news conference Tuesday, Moody said investigators continue to have little to go on. He said that although they are not ruling out any possibilities, it appears that the killing may have been a "random act" because investigators have not turned up any information indicating anyone had a motive to kill Mader.
Moody said that closing last year's only unsolved homicide in Charles County has been a priority since it happened. He said that keeping the case in the public eye has been key to making sure the case doesn't grow cold.
"Every day, I come in and I give it all my attention. I still have the same focus as I had that first day," Moody said.
Payne said she hopes that an upcoming segment about Mader's death on the Fox TV show "America's Most Wanted" would generate some leads. Often breaking into tears during the news conference at sheriff's headquarters in La Plata, Payne said the show's producers came to Charles County two weeks ago. A broadcast date for the Mader report has not been set.
"Getting national attention is the best we could have hoped for," she said. Mader's father, Phaon Payne, said he appreciated the support from the community. "Losing a child is life's greatest tragedy," he said. "My family's grief is unbearable, and it will never go away."
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call the Charles County Crime Solvers at 301-932-6909 or 800-673-2777. Callers may remain anonymous.