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48 Hours The Biggest Gamble 02.17.07

Run Dates


02.17.07 48 Hours The Biggest Gamble

12.22.07 48 Hours The Biggest Gamble



03.04.06 48 Hours The Highest Stakes - Christine Wilson

02.17.07 48 Hours The Biggest Gamble - Christine Wilson



The Biggest Gamble

(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.

As correspondent 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 alone.

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 Country.

"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 Moriarty.

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 Moriarty.

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 good family."

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 casino.

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 Moriarty.

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 peacekeeper.

"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," Ward remembers.

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 says.

And Mario says while he owned guns, there was no gun involved in the incident and that he did not hit Wendy Ward.

But asked if she thinks Mario is dangerous, Ward says, "Absolutely."

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 local hotel.

Following dinner, the three of them got into Lynette’s car.

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 airport.

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 escape?

"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 murder.

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 says.

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 get there?"

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 the killer.

"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," Mario claims.

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 months earlier.

"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 wonders.

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 enough time."

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 much."

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, Tiffany DeVries.

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 body.









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