(CBS) Feb. 17, 2007 Christie Wilson was 27 years
old when she disappeared without a trace after a
night of gambling at a California casino.
Investigators combed through the countryside
trying to find the young woman.
Erin Moriarty reports, the investigation shifted
dramatically when casino surveillance video
surfaced, showing Christie leaving the casino
with a mystery man.
For most of her 27 years, Christie Wilson led a charmed
life: she was popular, college-educated, and according
to best friend Tiffany DeVries, full of fun.
"She loved to joke around and have a good time and she
loved her cat. We just connected. She was just so much
fun, fun to be around," Tiffany remembers.
"She’s a little bit of a romantic and wanted to be
married and have babies and have a white picket fence,"
says Christie's sister Deb.
But according to Deb, there was one other thing about
Christie: she loved to gamble and was apparently pretty
good at. And it was the lure of easy money that brought
her on the night of October 4th, 2005 to the Thunder
Valley Casino, just 30 minutes from Sacramento.
Christie played the Blackjack tables until just past 1
a.m., when casino videotapes showed her leaving with an
unidentified man. On the tapes, both disappeared from
the camera’s view in the parking lot.
Christie was never seen again. The man reappeared a few
minutes, later driving out of the lot and seemed to be
Police started a massive search effort in Placer County,
looking for the young woman. Christie’s stepfather, Pat
Boyd, is a well-known detective with The San Jose Police
Department and cops from all over California also rushed
in to help in the extensive search.
Police questioned Christie's boyfriend Danny Burlando,
but police were also anxious to speak to the mystery man
seen leaving the casino with Christie. As it turned out,
he used a Thunder Valley id card that night. His name
was Mario Garcia.
But Mario Garcia seems an unlikely suspect—he's a
computer executive for a local hospital, married with
two teenage boys. The family lives in a million dollar
house on five gorgeous acres in the California Gold
"We were just gamblers at the casino having a good time
with other people. I’m really sorry that Christie Wilson
is missing. I hope that she’s found," Mario tells
Mario talked to the cops and allowed them to take and
search his car. Investigators, who wanted to hold him,
were able to arrest Mario on a weapons charge when they
found two guns in his home and a weapon in his car.
But Mario maintains his innocence. "I have nothing to do
with Christie Wilson’s disappearance," he tells
He says he spent hours with Christie playing Blackjack
and then walked her to his car. "At some point in time,
she just says that she left her cell phone in the casino
and we embrace. We give each other a high five and we
say goodbye to one another, good luck, and that was the
end of the conversation," Mario says.
Asked if he was hoping for a date out of this, Mario
says, "No, not at all. I was not trying to get a date
from her. I left. And at my age, 54 years old, with a
heart condition, taking blood pressure medication, the
last thing in my mind is to have sex with anybody. For
me, it has to be a planned activity."
"I am and I have been happily married," he adds.
Mario’s wife Jean says the moment she met him, they
clicked, in part because they’re both immigrants. "He is
a family man. If he’s not working, we will take the kids
for sports activities," she says.
And his 19-year-old son Chris says Mario’s a great dad.
"He was always there for us. He’d always come home; make
sure we all sit at the table. We always had group
meetings or family meetings at least once a week just
you know to stay close, tight together. We’re just a
But Christie's mother Deb Boyd thinks the Garcias know
far more than they are saying. "Well, Mr. and Mrs.
Garcia, take a look at this. This is my life we have too
much pain. Please help us. Please tell us," she told
reporters, holding up a photo of her missing daughter.
|But Deb can't
avoid another possibility: that her daughter's
disappearance may be linked to problems in
Christie's own life, including a troubled and
abusive relationship with her boyfriend.
The first person to alert Deb and Pat Boyd that
their daughter Christie was missing was
Christie’s boyfriend Danny Burlando.
"As soon as Pat hung up, I
said, 'You know what honey? Something’s seriously wrong.
Something’s seriously, seriously wrong,'" Deb remembers.
Deb knew that Christie and Danny had a contentious
relationship. Just months before, he and Christie were
both arrested for a domestic disturbance.
In police photos taken after Danny and Christie’s
arrests, it was easy to see the results of that fight:
Danny had scratches and Christie looked very unhappy.
Asked if he abused Christie, Danny tells Moriarty,
"Christie and I were in an abusive relationship. I don’t
think it’s fair to pin it on one person."
Danny claims that Christie was often the aggressor. Her
arms were bruised, he says, by trying to restrain her.
Still, Danny says the fighting did not change the way
they felt about each other. "We were great friends,
really close," he says.
On the night Christie disappeared, Danny says he did not
learn until later that Christie was headed for the
Danny says he last talked to Christie on the night of
Oct. 4. Asked what she said during the 55-second
conversation, Danny says, "Told her to come home and
she's like, 'All right, I know I've got like 600 bucks
in front of me. I should just leave right now.' And she
was like, ‘Okay, I’m finishing up. I’ll be home soon.’"
Danny says she never came home, and on the following
morning, he began to worry. "I called some hospitals and
jails, you know, to see if maybe something had
happened," he remembers.
Over the next two days, he called Christie's cell phone
more than 80 times, leaving messages.
But on Thursday, after not hearing from her for two
days, a desperate Danny went to the casino and found
Christie's car in the lot. That’s when he called her
parents, and the cops who at first suspected Danny.
Danny maintains he did not kill Christie.
And then, the casino video was found, showing Christie
leaving the casino with Mario Garcia.
Now police had a new prime suspect, but were no closer
to finding Christie. And as investigators delved into
Christie’s private life, another possibility arose: that
Christie might have left on her own.
Christie had lost a recent job and was feeling
overwhelmed. Deb Boyd found a depression information kit
her daughter had ordered. "Tapes and CD's that she had.
Coaching videos. Attacking anxiety and depression. I
mean, this is the kind of gal she was. She wasn’t going
to just sit back and say, 'Woe is me,'" says Deb.
Deb also found something else when she searched
Christie’s room—handwritten notes about gambling
strategies. For the first time, Deb realized that her
daughter might have a serious gambling problem.
The night she went missing, Christie was at the Thunder
Valley Casino for more than six hours, most of that time
with Mario Garcia.
"Christie Wilson came and sat on my left, between me and
another individual. We were at that table for a period
of time until that table got hot. She asked me, 'Hey you
wanna go to another table?' I said 'Sure,'" Mario tells
Emergency room doctor Robert Royer was playing at the
same table as Christie and Mario.
"I had a stack of chips and she asked to borrow one. It
caught me off guard," Royer remembers.
He lent Christie a chip worth $100. Asked if he got his
money back, Royer says, "I did. I asked for it back and
I remember her not being particularly happy that I
asked. It was clear that she was surprised I would even
ask for it back."
Casino employees remember Christie getting verbally
abusive at that point; Mario says he played the role of
"I said to her, 'Calm down. They’re gonna kick you outta
here. But she didn’t."
"They didn’t stay much longer. They went and left
together," Royer says.
But Mario insists he has no idea what happened to
Christie after they left, though they were seen on
surveillance tape leaving the casino into the darkness
of the parking lot.
"Well, they don’t see that she got in my car, do they?
They don’t see where she went. Correct? Who is to say
that Danny Burlando, her boyfriend, was not in that
parking lot?" Mario asks.
Whatever happened that night, Christie’s mom Deb is sure
her daughter did not disappear voluntarily.
Deb says Christie was looking forward to a possible new
job. "I talked to her the night she went missing. She
was so excited about this new job," Deb remembers.
Christie promised her mother that she was ending her
relationship with Danny and soon after she vanished.
During their investigation, detectives found Danny
cooperative. Mario, on the other hand, retained a lawyer
and was no longer talking to cops.
But a former girlfriend of Mario’s, Wendy Ward, had
plenty to say. Ward and Garcia were both living in
Oakland, Calif., back in the late 1970s when Wendy was
25 years old; Mario Garcia was 27.
Wendy, now 52, says Mario is the reason she learned to
use a gun and why she still takes self-defense classes.
Wendy says Mario could be charming but at other times,
he would show another, darker side. "It’s almost like a
curtain is drawn and there’s this normal person and then
there’s a whole dark side," she says.
And on Jan. 12, 1979, Wendy came face to face with
Mario’s dark side when he grabbed her and drove off with
her. "He was holding my neck or he was holding my head.
And he says, 'If you do anything, if you do anything, I
will take your head and I will smash it. I will just
smash it,'" Ward tells Moriarty.
He drove to a quiet spot and forced her into the back of
his van. "I think he said to me, 'Take off your clothes'
or something like that. And I said, 'No.' I was just
clawing, scratching, whatever I could do, and then he
choked me. Then he started to choke me. I couldn’t
breathe, I couldn’t breathe. I really realized he could
so kill me. He could just have not a problem with that,"
Then, later in his apartment, Ward says Mario "pulled a
gun out of his cabinet, and he took a cartridge and
slammed it into the bottom then he brought the gun over
and he held it to my head and he pulled the trigger."
"And then he took the gun then he held it to my mouth
and pulled it again. Pulled the trigger again," Ward
remembers. "He says, 'Well it wasn’t loaded this time
but basically I can come and get you anytime I want.'"
Wendy says Mario raped her again and then ordered her to
take a bath. Then, she says, Mario casually made a
sandwich, ate it, and drove her home.
Wendy immediately went to the police who arrested Mario
but the outcome of the case was hardly what she
expected. "They said, 'We would like to keep this out of
court if possible.' They said, 'Let’s plea bargain.' I
figured 'It’s better than nothing, let’s do this and
move on,'" Ward says.
Mario agreed to plead guilty to one count of assault
with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to two years
probation. But today, Mario disputes the charges.
"She made allegations that were not true," he says.
Why did he plead guilty to assault with a deadly weapon
if he insists he was innocent?
"I had no choice at the time. I was 28, 27 years of age.
I was going to San Jose State University. I was trying
to support myself. I had limited income and money," he
And Mario says while he owned guns, there was no gun
involved in the incident and that he did not hit Wendy
But asked if she thinks Mario is dangerous, Ward says,
Ward never forgot Mario but she moved on. But in Oct.
2005, she had to revisit her past. "A police car pulled
up to my house and he knocked on the door and gave me a
note saying, 'Call this detective,'" she remembers.
She reached an investigator working on the Christie
Wilson case who had discovered Mario’s criminal record.
Ward told them about the rape but she said there was
more—another incident they needed to look into.
Tom Davis' sister Lynette dated Mario soon after Wendy
Ward in 1979, but it too was a volatile relationship. In
fact, Mario admitted—in writing—that he hit Lynette.
Still, they stayed together and celebrated Christmas
with Lynette's mother, having a holiday dinner at a
Following dinner, the three of them got into Lynette’s
Retired officer John Cave was the chief accident
investigator for the Oakland Police Department. That
Christmas night, he got the urgent call telling him that
a car had plunged into the water near the Oakland
Cave says the weather was clear and that the streets
were dry that night.
"Witnesses said the car pulled over to the right
shoulder. They drove by and the car accelerated," Cave
tells 48 Hours.
The witness saw the car racing toward the water at 50
miles an hour. "There was a ledge into the pier and the
car shot off that ledge out into the water approximately
200 feet. It was probably 30 to 40 feet deep and that’s
where it sunk," Cave explains.
Lynette and her mother died, but miraculously, Mario
made it out of the submerged car alive. How did he
"I struggled. I struggled to take my seat belt. I
panicked and eventually I took my seat belt and I opened
one of the windows and as I opened one of the windows,
all this rush of water came into the car. I got out and
everyone else I presume got out and that’s all I
remember," he tells Moriarty.
Mario told police Lynette was driving but Cave was
suspicious, saying police could never determine for sure
who was at the wheel of the car.
Mario gave the cops a statement. Cave wanted to question
him further but could not. "I believe he went and saw
his lawyer the next day, a very fine criminal attorney
in the city of Oakland," he remembers.
Asked why he would hire a criminal attorney if the
incident was just a simple accident, Mario tells
Moriarty, "It’s the thing to do. It’s the legal right of
every citizen of the United States and my attorney
advised me not to talk to them."
No charges were ever filed against Mario. But the
Christie Wilson case was turning out differently.
Investigators found Christie’s hair in the trunk of his
car and on the outside door handle. Three weeks after
her disappearance, Mario was charged with Christie’s
But there was no body, leaving Deb and Pat Boyd haunted.
They believe one man knows where their daughter’s body
is hidden: Mario Garcia.
"Where did he put her? Where did he put her? I sit up at
night, 2, 3, 4 a.m. Just thinking, where on earth?" Pat
With no body, it's not going to be easy to convict Mario
Garcia of murder. No one knows how Christie died.
There’s no murder weapon or eyewitnesses. And to make
matters worse, the prosecutor won’t be able to tell the
jury about Garcia’s violence in the past because that
would be too prejudicial to the defendant.
As the trial begins in Sacramento, the stakes are high.
Mario’s family is hoping to get him back, while
Christie’s family is hoping Mario Garcia will be
convicted and lead them to Christie’s body.
The prosecutor believes that on the night of her
disappearance, Christie walked with Mario to his car. On
theory is that he offered to take her home or to drive
her over to her vehicle, which was parked far away.
At some point, prosecutor Garen Horst believes Christie
was incapacitated in Mario Garcia's car.
"I think she obviously felt like she could trust him,"
says Christie's boyfriend, Danny Burlando.
Danny says he had warned Christie money not to gamble
away the money he had loaned her.
"I think that she didn't wanna come and tell me that she
lost all the money again. He obviously was acting like
he had a bunch of money," he says. "She would think a
guy like that, 'Hey, let me borrow a couple hundred
bucks. I promise you I'll write you a check, I'll mail
you a check,' you know."
Three minutes and 40 seconds after Christie and Mario
could be seen disappearing in the parking lot, Mario was
seen driving out, apparently along.
Mario insists Christie was never inside his car.
But prosecutor Horst says evidence proves Christie was
in Garcia’s car. Crime scene investigators found
Christie’s hair and miniscule amounts of her DNA in
several places in Garcia’s car.
But Mario questions the findings. "Why is it that the
DNA on the door, claimed to be of Christie Wilson, was
the only thing that was found? Why is it that the DNA
from my sons, my wife and other people that were in the
car were not found?" he asks.
Mario, by his own admission had cleaned the car, but
says, "I cleaned everybody else’s DNA except Christie
Wilson? That’s the only thing they found. So how did it
Don Murchison is the prosecution’s lead investigator.
"They couldn’t defend what was there, so they had to say
it was planted," he tells Moriarty.
The defense also pointed a finger at Danny Burlando, who
did not have a verifiable alibi for the night Christie
went missing. But Murchison is confident Danny is not
"When I was done with my investigation, looking into his
cell phone records, his computer records, his e-mail
records, that he was not in any way, shape or form
involved in the murder of Christie Wilson," he says.
And what’s more, Murchison says Christie left her mark
on the real killer. "She left physical evidence on Mr.
Garcia’s body that allowed us to link the two together.
We had several witnesses in the evening that saw him
with no injuries. We had several witnesses in the
morning time that saw him with copious amounts of
injuries on his face," he says.
Dr. Robert Royer, who was sitting next to Mario Garcia
at the casino, told investigators he could clearly see
Garcia’s face. "I didn’t see any injuries, no," he tells
Moriarty. "And I'm reasonably good at making those kind
of observations ‘cause that’s what I do for a living."
Yet, the very next morning, several of Mario’s
co-workers say they saw scratches on his face—so many
that it looked like he’d been in a fight.
Photos taken several days later showed some of the
injuries. How did he get hurt?
"I had been working in my house for several weekends and
I contracted poison oak. Those are injuries that I
received through poison oak and falling from a tree,"
And when Mario was arrested, cops took photographs of
scratches on his body.
Mario says he got those scratches when he fell out of a
tree but investigators believe the scratches look eerily
like the scratches Christie left on her boyfriend Danny
"I definitely believe that there was a struggle that
occurred in the car, a close quarters fight that
occurred in the backseat area," Murchison says.
To show her support, Wendy Ward traveled to Sacramento
to meet Christie’s family for the first time. Ward
headed to court with the Boyds for closing arguments,
where Mario’s lawyers argue that no one even knows if
Christie is dead.
And now, as the case goes to the jury that is exactly
what worries the prosecutor.
"Can they convict based on circumstantial evidence
alone? How do they feel about prosecuting someone for
murder if there is no body found?" the prosecutor
Especially since Mario Garcia’s denials on the stand are
fresh in the jurors minds. "I am very sorry Christie
Wilson is missing but I don’t know where she’s at. I
don’t have the answers for where she went. I just find
myself in the wrong place at the wrong time," he says.
For two agonizing months, Deb and Pat Boyd sat through
the trial of the man they believe killed their
27-year-old daughter Christie.
The jury was out for three days until rendering a
first-degree murder verdict.
After a year and a half of uncertainty and loss,
Christie’s family felt vindicated. "Absolutely justice
has been served. It’s about time. Now, if he’s any kind
of a man he’ll tell us where he disposed of my
daughter," she says.
The verdict came as a surprise to Mario and his family.
"My wife, my sons were not expecting it. My lawyers were
not expecting it. I was stunned. I just could not say
anything. I could not say anything. I just I was
stunned," he says.
Asked why he thinks jurors found him guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt, Mario says, "I don’t think they spent
But jurors say they didn’t need anymore time. "There was
overwhelming evidence, one male juror told Moriarty.
"All of her actions, the marks on him. You could really
see the scratches. For me, that was 'Christie is right
there,'" a female juror commented.
With a guilty verdict, the Boyds were now hoping Mario
Garcia would reveal where he left Christie’s body in
exchange for a lesser sentence.
On sentencing day, it was the first time Christie's
family could confront Mario.
Her sister Stacie addressed him first. "The hardest
thing for me is knowing the pain and terror Christie
must have suffered. The helplessness she must have felt
knowing she was going to die," she said in court.
Christie’s biological father Dennis Wilson said, "I will
miss not being able to walk Christie down the aisle on
her wedding day, not being able to play with her
children, my grandchildren."
Her stepfather Pat didn’t mince words. "I have no doubt
that you would kill again. And for that I thank my
daughter, for her bravery, her fight and I love her very
Then it was Mario's turn. "I suppose at this hearing I'm
supposed to ask for mercy, for forgiveness, and to show
remorse. However, I will not do such a thing. I did not
kill Christie Wilson," he said. "I am innocent and I
will continue saying it forever until the day I die."
And Garcia is likely to die in jail. He was sentenced to
25 years to life, but because of his prior conviction in
the Wendy Ward case, the sentence was doubled.
For Pat Boyd, there was no happiness in this. "This is a
very shallow victory. It is always going to be hollow
because no matter what happens, she’s gone," he says.
Last month, Christie's family and friends finally said
goodbye, with a special memorial service.
"I have to remember those words that she said to me when
my sister died," remembers Christie's best friend,
Not so many years ago, Christie spoke at Tiffany’s
sister’s memorial and in an eerie twist of fate,
Christie could have been giving her own eulogy.
"Although her presence her on body isn’t here on earth.
Her spirit will be with us forever. It’s just such a
hard time for everyone," Christie told mourners. "I just
want you to think how one day you guys will join her
again in heaven. Thank you."
Volunteers continue to search for Christie Wilson’s