Women say he was the most attentive man they had ever met.
Unfortunately for these women, they learned too late that Mathews' charm was all part of a calculated act designed to con them out of tens of thousands of dollars.
Over the years, he told his victims that he was an architect; that he was a paramedic who had delivered approximately 53 babies; that he had played football for the Pittsburgh Steelers; that he was an heir to the Goodyear tire fortune; and that he and his crew had helped dig out victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Mathews, 61, is no run-of-the-mill con man. He has been married at least 11 times, and prosecutors say he's probably scammed hundreds of people.
He had just finished serving his third jail term for theft-by-fraud, when he set up shop in a home in the Southern California community of Monarch Summit.
His neighbor Patti Tiernan was as impressed as anyone when Mathews first moved in. Like other neighbors, she hired him to remodel her house.
"He was the neighborhood golden boy," she says. "Everybody thought he was just Mr. Wonderful; they just thought he could do anything."
Through this network of neighbors, Deanna Petrucco, a divorced mother of two, met Mathews for a blind date. He swept Petrucco off her feet. "He was really sort of this knight in shining armor," she says.
He told Petrucco that he was, or had been, a battalion chief with the California State Department of Forestry, a race car driver who had competed in the Indy 500, a pilot, a Navy Seal and a paramedic. She was impressed.
Petrucco was also moved that he paid attention to her children. After a month of dating, he told her he wanted to marry her.
She was everything he was looking for, he told her. Petrucco was surprised and told him they hadn't known each other long enough.
But they stayed together, and their relationship seemed to flourish. She says she was in love with him: "He was everything that I wanted him to be."
Petrucco seems like an unlikely target for a con man: She teaches business and accounting courses.
Nevertheless when Mathews told her that he was having trouble getting money from customers of his construction business, Petrucco let him use her credit card to buy a BMW and a motorcycle.
"He said that his previous wife had really taken him to the cleaners, and that's why he didn't like credit cards," Petrucco remembers.
She also loaned him more than $20,000, for a dental implant and to pay off his truck.
Petrucco began to get a little suspicious. But then she would look at the people who seemed to like him so much and her worries lessened.
By this time, though, Mathews' admiring neighbors had received some new information. Someone who recognized Mathews was dropping leaflets about his criminal past around the neighborhood.
Their golden boy ws a con man. "We were floored," neighbor Tiernan says. Mr. Wonderful didn't seem so wonderful anymore.
Around this time, Gerry Franklin, a deputy district attorney in Santa Barbara, called Petrucco. He had prosecuted Mathews for grand theft more than 20 years ago and he told her to get a lawyer and go to the police.
Santa Barbara is 150 miles away from Monarch Hills. But Franklin had heard the heartbreaking stories of Mathews' victims, and he wanted to save others from the same pain.
Among those who had been hurt by Mathews: Carey Rogers and her two sons, Jason and Mike. In the summer of 1976, Rogers was a single mother, working 10 hours a day and making the minimum wage.
Her sons, 7 and 15 at the time, were pretty much on their own for much of the day. Mathews came along and swept them off their feet.
Mathews didn't have a job, but he told her that he was the beneficiary of a trust fund. He said he didn't have to work; his hobby was driving race cars.
For Mathews, it was his typical speedy courtship. In a few months they were married. She worked, while he stayed home and took care of Jason and Mike. For these two children, Mathews was the father they'd always longed for. He even took them racing, which they loved.
The magic of that summer lasted through August and a three-week camping trip. But when the family came home, the spell was abruptly broken. Mathews did not have a trust fund; he had actually been using Rogers' credit card behind her back. He owed more than $20,000.
Rogers demanded that Mathews pay back the money. When he refused, she had him arrested. That's when Santa Barbara Deputy District Attorney Franklin met him.
Franklin found out that Mathews had kept every name and address he had written down for the past 10 or 15 years in two address books.
"Why he didn't trash them I don't know," Franklin says. "But I don't know why Nixon didn't burn the tapes."
Franklin made some phone calls and found out that many of the people listed not only knew Mathews but had married him.
Mathews had told Rogers that he had never been married. But Rogers was his eighth wife. And Franklin discovered that Mathews was often married to more than one woman at a time.
The whole situation infuriated Franklin, who kept working on the case. In 1977 he persuaded five more women in addition to Rogers to press charges.
The specific charges against him were theft by false pretense, which is a form of fraud. Mathews pled guilty to grand theft and started to serve a two-year sentence.
Franklin says all the women had heard similar stories: that he had an inheritance, but the money was tied up in a family squabble; or that he raced professionally and needed cash to prepare for the season.
Rogers declared bankruptcy, which fixed her financial problems. But the emotional wounds were much deeper. Jason says he loved Mathews as he would care for a father. When Mathews left, he felt abanoned. Franklin calls it "emotional rape."
Can Mathews' behavior be explained by his troubled childhood? Find out in Part II: The Cons Keep Coming.
Produced by David Kohn