The Highest Stakes
Wilson disappeared without a trace after a night
of gambling at a northern California casino.
Christie was last seen on surveillance tapes
during the early morning hours of Oct. 5, 2005,
heading into the casino's parking lot with a
Where is Christie? And who was this mystery man
on the casino tapes? 48 Hours correspondent Erin
From the moment Christie, then 27 years old, was
reported missing, her mother, Deb Boyd, and stepfather
Pat found themselves in the eye of an emotional
"I want my daughter back, and I want her back now," Deb
Deputies from the Placer County Sheriff's Office, north
of Sacramento, began searching a 200-square mile
terrain, including backwoods and country area, around
the Thunder Valley Casino where Christie was last seen.
Police got plenty of help. Pat Boyd is a cop himself in
nearby San Jose, and officers from all over California
rushed in to help.
The strain on Pat was enormous. Forced to sit on the
sidelines while other officers investigated the case,
Pat often searched on his own.
"Itís the hardest thing I've had to tell my wife ó we
couldnít find her," he says.
Pat raised Christie from the time she was 3.
"And thatís gotta be really, really tough," says Tiffany
DeVries, Christie's best friend. "I think heís feeling
guilty that this is what he does for a living and he
canít even find his own daughter."
Christie's 29-year-old sister Stacey, a near look-alike,
remains hopeful as she searched alongside her stepfather
but secretly feared she wouldn't find Christie ó just
"You want to hear details ó but you donít. I get this
image in my head of, 'God, what she must have been going
through,'" she tearfully said.
But just a week after Christie went missing, Deb
wouldn't even consider the possibility that her daughter
"She's a strong girl and very resilient, and if someone
dropped her off somewhere, I hope everyone and their
brother is doing everything they can to locate her," Deb
Christie was raised in San Jose, one of four children in
a blended family. Both Deb and Pat's children come from
"I would say that weíre an extremely sappy family but
[it] definitely is full of love," says oldest sibling
Debbie, who watched Christie blossom.
"She was smart. She went to college. She went out and
found a great job, made good money, bought herself a
BMW, was living the big life right away," says Pat.
(Page 2 of 9)
March 2, 2006
Christie Wilson (CBS)
But Christie seemed to have lost some of that
spark in the months before she disappeared.
"She was going through her ups and downs. You graduate
from college and try to figure out what to do, you
thought maybe by this age, youíre going to be married,
have kids," says Tiffany.
It was not an easy time for Christie; Tiffany got
married and left the state, Christieís college boyfriend
moved east ó and when the high-tech bubble burst, she
got caught in the aftermath, losing one job after
another. Her mother says Christie was unemployed and
"I said, 'Look around. Look at everything that you have.
Look at everything youíve accomplished. Youíre
beautiful. Youíve got a great personality. Christie,
what is so bad?'" Deb recalls.
But it was bad. Christie had even ordered an information
kit on dealing with depression and anxiety.
After her daughter's disappearance, Deb searched
Christie's room looking for clues and found some
handwritten notes about blackjack and gaming. It was
then Deb realized that her daughter might have a
Christie had turned to casino gambling both to find
emotional thrills and money she needed.
"She loved to gamble, and I think she was pretty good at
it," says sister Debbie. "She was good at 21, blackjack.
About a month ago she had $100 and walked out not more
than just a month ago with $5,000."
"It started out as a fun thing, but then after she won
big she kind of got addicted to it," says Christie's
other sister, Stacey.
Christie thought her luck had changed when she met a new
boyfriend, Danny Burlando, at a casino one night last
"He was handsome and he was a charmer," Deb remembers.
But, as far as Deb was concerned, meeting Danny just
extended her daughterís losing streak. "He would treat
her like dirt, and then it was that, 'Oh you know, Iím
so sorry. Youíre so wonderful. Youíre this, youíre
that.' Whatever. And I think at that point, she so
wanted to be married."
But the relationship turned abusive.
Asked if he abused Christie, Danny says, "Christie and I
were in an abusive relationship. I donít think itís fair
to pin it on one person."
In fact, both Danny and Christie were arrested for
physically fighting with each other in March 2005,
though charges were never filed.
"We had seen bruises on her, and my husband got so upset
that he called Danny and he said, 'I'm gonna tell you,
you ever lay a hand on Christie again, I will call the
police. I will turn you in,'" recalls Deb.
Danny admits he and Christie had their troubles but he
prefers to remember the good times.
Asked if he would describe Christie as someone he loves,
Danny says, "I do, yes. I loved her and I know she loved
me and we cared about each other very much."
The last time he saw Christie, Danny says, was Tuesday
night, Oct. 4, 2005.
"I went to dinner at my family's house. And she decided
to go to the casino," he recalls. By 9 p.m., Danny says
he was back in his Sacramento apartment he shared with
Christie ó but she wasn't home.
Danny says the last time he talked to her was a
55-second conversation at 10:28 p.m. "[I] told her to
come home and sheís like, 'All right, I know Iíve got
like 600 bucks in front of me. I should just leave right
now.' And she was like, 'OK, Iím finishing up. Iíll be
home soon,'" he recalls.
At 11 p.m., Danny says he went to sleep. When he awoke
the next morning, Christie was still not home.
"I called some hospitals and jails, you know, to see if
maybe something had happened," Danny says.
On Wednesday, Danny continued calling Christie's cell
phone, but she never answered. Finally, on Thursday,
Danny went to the casino and found Christieís car in the
Asked what went through his mind, Danny says, "Either
that something terrible happened to her, or she was in
the Bahamas on vacation or something. Most likely
something terrible happened."
It was at that point, some 48 hours since he had last
heard from Christie, that Danny decided to call her
parents and then the police.
"Thereís no doubt in my mind that Danny was involved,"
said Christie's stepfather Pat, who couldnít forget the
bruises he saw on Christie's arms. "I searched around
his house. I looked in the area. I thought the car up
there at the casino was planted."
Danny was one of the first people investigators looked
at. "He was certainly a person of concern," says lead
detective Bob McDonald of the Placer County Sheriffís
Danny was under suspicion from all sides, when suddenly
the case took an astonishing turn.
At a news conference, police announced that they
identified Christie on surveillance tapes (video),
leaving the casino with a man who was not Danny.
Investigations commander Lt. George Malim says the man
seen in the video with Christie was Mario Garcia, a
53-year-old computer specialist at a local hospital and
the married father of two.
Garcia had met Christie for the first time that night.
"They seemed to be very friendly. They obviously met at
the casino. They exchanged talk. He loaned her some
money. They drank wine together," Lt. Malim explained.
All of it was recorded on videotape by casino security
cameras. And because Garcia used a casino-issued ID
card, cops had his name, address and telephone number.
The video changed everything; Danny was no longer the
prime suspect; the focus now shifted squarely on Garcia.
Police went to Garcia's home to question him, and Lt.
Malim told reporters that he was cooperating.
But there was not enough evidence to arrest Garcia,
because as helpful as the videotapes are, they do not
show everything. On the tape of the parking lot, you
can't actually see whether Christie got into Garcia's
"He indicated to me that he had walked out with Christie
and she had stopped before they got to his car. The last
he saw of her, she was walking back towards the casino
to go look for her cell phone," Det. McDonald says.
In fact, Christieís cell phone was later found inside
the casino. Garcia told police he never saw her again
once she left him in the parking lot ó but cops didn't
buy his story.
"We also know she never went back in the casino after
she exited because the tape never shows her coming back
in that casino," Lt. Malim explains.
As the cops zeroed in on Garcia, he stopped cooperating.
"When we got a lot more specific in our questioning, he
told us he wanted an attorney," Lt. Malim says.
Investigators obtained a warrant and searched Garciaís
$900,000 home, 15 miles from the casino. They also
searched his cars and the surrounding property.
Cops scrambled to find out all they could from Garciaís
The first reports were positive, but soon other
neighbors came forward. Some claimed they have had
serious problems with Garcia. They alleged Garcia
threatened to shoot one, menaced another, and hit
another in the face.
Meanwhile, the search for Christie continued, as teams
of police and volunteers scoured the area.
Pat Boyd's close friend Lou Riccardi, a retired cop,
helped spearhead the volunteer search effort.
"We're going to concentrate basically on roadside
searches that are easily accessible from a car.
Blankets, any tarps or anything that you come across
that looks suspicious, advise your team leader, any
evidence that's found, preserve the area, weíll contact
Placer County and theyíll respond," Riccardi instructed
The volunteers faced a massive task, planning to search
thousands of acres, including on horseback. Initially,
Riccardi and the volunteers concentrated on isolated
spots near the casino.
For Deb, the very thought of Garcia was fueling her
anger. "They can call him a person of interest all they
want," she says "I call him a dirtbag. He did it, he did
it; we all know he did."
Meanwhile investigators continued to scour Garcia's car
for evidence, looking to see if Christie had contact
with the vehicle.
"What wasn't in here is a carpet. We feel thatís pretty
significant if we were to find this truck mat we might
have a better clue where to look for Christie," said Det.
On the surface, the family man and computer expert seems
an unlikely kidnapper. But cops digging into his past
were shocked to discover that Garcia had a criminal
record and a history of problems with women.
"It involved charges of rape, kidnapping, assault with a
deadly weapon, burglary, and possession of stolen
property," Lt. Malim explained.
Those charges involved a woman named Wendy Ward, whom
Garcia was accused of raping and kidnapping 26 years
Wendy met Garcia when she was 25 years old. Sheís 51
now, but says that Garcia is the reason she learned how
to fire a handgun and took self-defense classes.
Wendy began dating Garcia in Oakland, Calif., in 1978,
shortly after she separated from her husband.
"At the time, I didnít know many people in California. I
really appreciated someone saying, 'If you need a friend
you can call on me, and letís go have lunch or something
like that,'" she recalls.
But soon, Wendy says, she began to see another side of
Garcia ó a possessive, angry and sometimes violent side.
"Itís almost like a curtain is drawn and thereís this
normal person and then thereís a whole dark side," Wendy
When Garcia's "dark side" erupted, Wendy said he would
hit her. Finally, as he became more and more violent,
Wendy left ó but she was always looking over her
shoulder. On Jan. 12, 1979, Wendy says, Garcia finally
caught up with her.
"He was holding my neck or he was holding my head and he
says, 'You do anything, if you do anything, I will take
your head and I will smash it. I will just smash it,'"
Wendy says. She says Garcia forced her into the back of
"I think he said to me, 'Take off your clothes' or
something like that and I said, 'No,'" she recalls. "I
was just clawing, scratching, whatever I could do, then
he choked me. Then he started to choke me. I couldnít
breathe, I couldnít breathe. And I really realized he
could so kill me. He could just have not a problem with
Wendy says she thought she was going to die. Asked how
he was acting at the time, she says, "Methodical, very
Garcia raped her in the van, she says, then took her to
"And he pulled a gun out of his cabinet, and he took a
cartridge and slammed it up into the bottom then he
brought the gun over and he held it to my head and he
pulled the trigger," Wendy claims.
The gun was not loaded.
"And then he took the gun then he held it to my mouth
and pulled it again. Pulled the trigger again," she
What was he saying to her at the time?
"He says, 'Well it wasn't loaded this time, but
basically I can come and get you anytime I want,'" Wendy
Wendy says Garcia raped her again and then ordered her
to take a bath. Then, she says, Garcia casually made a
sandwich, ate it, and drove her home.
Wendy immediately went to the police and they arrested
Garcia, charging him with rape, kidnapping and assault
with a deadly weapon.
But the outcome was hardly what Wendy expected.
"They said 'We would like to keep this out of court if
possible, that it's expensive and our court systems are
really overloaded,'" Wendy recalls. "'They said, 'Letís
plea bargain.' I figured itís better than nothing. Letís
do this and move on," she says.
The deal? Garcia agreed to plead guilty to one count of
assault with a deadly weapon. Garcia's version of the
story? His attorneys refused to comment to 48 Hours.
This revelation shocked Pat and Deb Boyd. "To say that
their courts are too busy. They got too many murders to
prosecute. To let something like that go, thatís just
wrong," says Pat.
Wendy says she felt sick to her stomach when she learned
that Christie was last seen alive by Garcia. "And I am
so sorry that he has been able to go on for all these
years. I am so sorry for that family," she says.
Getting charged with rape did not stop Mario Garcia from
dating another young woman just a few months later. Her
name was Lynette Smith.
In mid-1979, Lynette was living near San Francisco,
where she met Garcia. She told her mother, Violet Davis,
that she and Mario were living together but that there
"Mom said, 'Lynn called and wants me to come and stay
with her for a while,'" remembers Lynette's brother, Tom
Tom says his mother did not tell him why Lynette wanted
her to come to San Francisco; all he does know is that
when his mother moved in with Lynette, Lynette kicked
"She was trying to get rid of him. She put him on the
curb," says Davis.
Letters, read by Tom only recently, revealed past abuse
ó like one from Garcia upon learning that Lynette was
pregnant. "Would I be able to handle myself in front of
the baby? Would I hit you again?" Tom read from a
Tom believes his sister ultimately chose to end the
pregnancy but she remained with Garcia.
On Christmas Day 1979, Tom says Lynette, their mother
Violet and Garcia had gone to the "Top of the Mark"
restaurant at the Mark Hopkins Hotel for Christmas
dinner. Following dinner, the three of them got into
Lynetteís car and headed home.
In 1979, John Cave was the chief accident investigator
for the Oakland Police Department. He recalls getting an
urgent call on Christmas night. He was needed near the
Oakland airport where a car had gone into the water.
What happened to the car that evening?
"Witnesses said the car pulled over to the right
shoulder. They drove by and the car accelerated," says
Cave. The witness told police the car was 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 at that time and
thatís where it sunk," Cave explains.
Cave also explained that it was clear that night and
that the streets were dry.
Tom Davis recalls getting the bad news. "I got a phone
call Christmas Day night from my brother in Hawaii
saying that mom and Lynn were in an accident and they
were killed and I said, 'You're crazier than hell. No
this isnít true, no, no.'"
His mother's body was recovered that night, Lynette's
two weeks later. The sole survivor was Garcia, who
somehow managed to swim away from the car with only
Garcia said Lynnette was behind the wheel but Cave
believed the driver was in fact Garcia and that it was
no accident. "The evidence was not consistent with a
regular traffic collision," he says.
Cave says he "never could prove who was driving the
Police hired an accident reconstruction specialist. His
"The person most likely to survive would have been the
driver," says Cave.
Cave wanted to question Garcia further, but Garcia was
no longer talking to cops. "I believe he went and saw
his lawyer the next day Ö a very fine criminal attorney
in the city of Oakland," Cave recalls.
Asked how unusual it is for someone involved in a
traffic accident to go and hire a well-known criminal
attorney, Cave says, "It's the first time I've had it
No charges were ever filed against Garcia. It was listed
as an "open unsolved crime."
A bewildered Tom Davis didn't know what to think until
he got a phone call. "Mario called me then to explain
his side of what happened in the story," he recalls. "He
said in the accident, he tried to help Lynette, that he
was swimming out of it and he felt something grab his
leg. It was Lynette and he grabbed her hair or grabbed
her arm but that she was such a poor swimmer he tried to
get her to the surface and he just couldnít and he was
running out of breath and he saved himself."
Asked what's wrong with that story, Tom says "Thatís a
lie. She was an excellent athlete; she was an excellent
Tom flew to the Bay Area to collect the personal effects
of his mother and sister. On a whim, he called an old
friend from his hometown. Incredibly, that old friend
knew Garcia all too well.
It was Wendy Ward, the woman who says she had been raped
by Garcia. As they talked, she asked Tom how his sister
"Things came out and I said, 'Yeah, she was killed in a
car accident, involved with this guy named Mario
Garcia.' 'Mario Garcia?'" Tom says, recalling his
conversation with Wendy.
"She says, 'I used to date him. I was involved with him.
I have rape charges against him,'" Tom remembers. "And
if anything could make me drop the phone that was it.
How bizarre is this?"
At the time of that phone call, Garcia had agreed to
plead guilty to assault with a deadly weapon in the rape
case involving Wendy.
Before Garcia was sentenced, Wendy made sure the judge
knew about Garciaís car accident. She contacted the
court in hopes that what happened to her would never
happen to anyone else. It made no difference. Instead of
prison, Garcia was given probation for attacking Wendy.
"The judge had this information, knew that not only was
he accused of raping and assaulting a woman but that he
could have been responsible for the death of two other
women," Moriarty told Deb and Pat Boyd.
"Thatís even more unbelievable now. Itís just scary.
This guy should not have been out there on the street,"
The more they learn about Mario Garcia, the more Pat and
Deb are forced to believe the worst has happened to
their daughter, who has been gone now more than four
The mystery of what happened to Christie Wilson
inevitably leads back to the Thunder Valley Casino and
the haunting video of Christie and Mario Garcia leaving
the casino in the early morning hours of Oct. 5, 2005.
Based on the video, Christie and Garcia could be seen
walking straight out of the casino and towards the
location where Garcia had parked; according to Lou
Riccardi, Christie's car was parked some 80 to 100 yards
to the right.
Garcia insists he did not kill Christie. He claims she
left him in the parking lot and he never saw her again.
But at some point the video loses sight of them and you
don't actually see them get into Garcia's car.
Riccardi acknowledges Christie could have parted ways
with Garcia in the lot and cut over to her car.
"Absolutely, she could have walked right between these
cars and walked over to her car," he says.
Garciaís lawyers have suggested anyone could have
intercepted Christie in that parking lot, including
Danny Burlando, who does not have a verifiable alibi.
"So from about 11 on, you were home alone?" Moriarty
"Yeah. I mean I was watching TV. Yeah. Waiting for
Christie," Burlando replied.
The police however have dismissed Christieís boyfriend
as a suspect. Theyíre concentrating on Garcia and what
went on that night in the casino.
"We have nothing that indicates that they knew each
other prior to this. We believe by looking at the
videotape and talking to employees that they just
happened to meet happenstance, sit down at the same
table that night," says Lt. Malim.
Deb Boyd says her daughter was the type of girl who was
too trusting. "That was an issue I addressed with
Christie, her friends had talked to her about it, her
sisters had. Christie didn't have the boundaries that
most of us have in our communication."
"She definitely was too trusting at times," remembers
Christie's friend Tiffany. "She just had a really
positive outlook on a lot of people, basically and just
never really thought that anything bad was going to
happen or could happen."
"She may have willingly got into his car, I believe
that, at this point, not realizing she fell into the
hands of a vicious, vicious person," says Deb.
Although they have made public statements, Garciaís
lawyers denied 48 Hours' request for an interview.
Garcia does not appear to have been charged with any
crimes in more than 20 years.
Placer County detectives believe they are dealing with a
dangerous man. There are Wendy Ward's claims of rape and
kidnapping, and the deaths of Lynette Smith and her
mother. They also learned that Garcia has an ex-wife,
married to him in the early 1980s, who fled to a
battered women's shelter.
Garcia apparently knows how to work the legal system.
Despite all the allegations of abuse, the stiffest
penalty he has faced up to now has been probation. If he
did in fact kidnap and murder Christie Wilson, police
will need to build an airtight case against him,
starting with physical evidence.
Garcia claims Christie was never near his car but police
say trace evidence indicates otherwise.
Lead detective Bob McDonald says one hair matching
Christie's DNA was found lodged behind the lock on the
passenger side door.
"The other strong forensic evidence was actually found
inside the trunk of the car," Det. McDonald says.
There was yet another single hair with its root matching
Christie's DNA. Garcia's lawyers have a different
"Is it possible he got her hair on him when they were
hugging and kissing? Is it possible that he had one of
Christie's long hairs on his shirt or jacket?" Moriarty
"We don't believe that's possible. It's highly unlikely,
even in a common sense term, that that's possible," says
But the most damaging evidence may have been found on
Garcia himself during initial questioning.
"He had a black eye," says McDonald. "I refer to it as a
mouse. It's just a small, swollen, darkened spot
underneath the eye. He also had scratches on his face.Ö
He attributed the scratches to having fallen out of a
tree that he was trimming."
Police felt they had a case ó armed with the two hairs,
the casino video, Garciaís appearance and what cops say
are inconsistent statements, investigators arrested
Garcia for the murder of Christie Wilson.
The issue for prosecutors now is: can they prove he's
guilty of murder?
"The thought of him getting off on this case, once
again, scares the living daylights out of me for every
woman. Every woman," says Christie's mother.
But authorities are confident they have enough evidence
to send Mario Garcia to prison ó even though they have
no murder weapon, no eyewitnesses, and no physical
evidence that proves Christie Wilson is even dead.
On Jan. 10, 2006, the day Christie would have turned 28,
her family assembled on a California beach to remember
her. Twenty-seven balloons were released. Deb Boyd held
on to the 28th for a bit longer until finally letting
"Lifeís never gonna be the same. She was really
special," says Deb. "The family will not be the same
A judge set Garcia's bail at $3 million. He remains in
jail. On April 24, he will be tried for the murder of