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Christie Wilson was last seen in the parking lot of Thunder Valley Casino in the early morning hours of Oct. 5, 2005 – her remains were found 15 years later.
The case of the California woman whose disappearance compelled investigators to take a gamble is the subject of a new episode of “Buried in the Backyard.” The Oxygen true-crime docuseries examines cases from across the country where victims are found in unlikely places. It features interviews with the investigators associated with the cases, as well as loved ones.
“A lot of people don’t know the whole story,” investigator Don Murchison told Fox News Digital. “We wanted to finally bring closure to the public.”
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The life and death of Christie Wilson is being examined in a new episode of “Buried in the Backyard,” a true-crime docuseries. (Oxygen)
According to reports, the 27-year-old was in between jobs and low on money. She decided to enjoy a solo night out and earn some quick bucks along the way. Wilson had a brief phone conversation with her boyfriend Danny Burlando on the evening of Oct. 4 and assured him she would be home soon.
Christie Wilson, 27, was last seen in the parking lot of the Thunder Valley Casino in 2005. (Oxygen)
“From all accounts, she was having a good time,” Murchison explained. “She had been gambling, she had been drinking. She was at a blackjack table with several people for a pretty lengthy period. We interviewed all those people, and she spoke a little about her life, but she was just really enjoying the moment.”
“She liked to gamble and was really good at it,” he shared. “She was planning on heading home that evening from our understanding of the phone calls that she had with her boyfriend. And that was the last time she was heard from – around 10:30 p.m., the night she spoke to her boyfriend over the phone.”
Surveillance video showed Wilson walking toward the exit of the casino with Mario Garcia, whom she met that night.
“It was just a chance meeting,” said Murchison. “She went into the casino to do some gambling, and it appears that he had done the same thing that evening. They started at different tables. Mario played the slot machine for a while – that’s how we got his player card information. They ultimately ended up at the same table that night.”
Thunder Valley Casino is located just north of Sacramento, California. (Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images)
In the video, Garcia is seen attempting to put his arm around Wilson. She quickly shoves the 53-year-old’s arm away. They then walk into darkness. Garcia’s car is later seen leaving the parking lot. He appeared to be alone.
Wilson’s disappearance was out of character, loved ones insisted. She had a close bond with her mother, Debbie Boyd, and stepfather, a San Jose police detective. She was staying with her boyfriend and had been texting friends. Wilson was also gearing up for a job interview the same week she vanished, something that she brought up frequently to her pals.
It appeared as if she “fell off the end of the Earth,” said Murchison.
But when police went to Garcia’s home to question him, they instantly knew something much more sinister was at play.
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Christie Wilson had a close bond with her mother Debbie Boyd. (Oxygen)
“He had an injury on one of his eyes like he had been hit or scratched,” Murchison recalled. “He had pretty significant scratch marks on his face in a linear direction downwards. After a search warrant was written to view and photograph his body, we saw more extensive scratches, parallel down from top to bottom on his chest. They appeared to be very similar to fingernail scratch marks based on the spacing and the direction.”
Christie Wilson had an important job interview the same week she vanished. (Oxygen)
Garcia was adamant that he was innocent, insisting the two walked together in the parking lot, said goodnight and went their separate ways. But Garcia couldn’t escape from his past.
In 1979, Wendy Ward, then 25, was dating a 27-year-old Garcia. She said that year, Garcia had stalked, beaten and raped her. She went to the police, and they arrested Garcia, charging him with rape, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon. But Ward never saw justice for his crimes.
Murchison tracked down Ward during the investigation and interviewed her.
Surveillance video showed Mario Garcia, left, and Christie Wilson walking toward the exit of the parking lot of Thunder Valley Casino in the early morning hours of Oct. 5, 2005. (Oxygen)
“They were neighbors at first,” Murchison explained. “They started dating and then things started to unfold with physical abuse and verbal abuse. She was ultimately assaulted by him sexually. That opened our eyes to what he was capable of.”
At the time, Garcia agreed to plead guilty to one count of assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to two years’ probation.
After Ward, Garcia began dating Lynette Smith that same year. Smith’s brother told the Sacramento News & Review that Garcia began physically abusing her. According to reports, Smith and Garcia, along with Smith’s mother Violet Davis, went out for a Christmas dinner. That night, Smith’s car was found in the Oakland Estuary.
The women drowned. Garcia survived.
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Mario Garcia had scratch marks on his neck and chest when police questioned him about Christie Wilson’s disappearance. (Oxygen)
“I think the system failed Wendy – it failed a lot of people,” said Murchison. “It failed Lynette Smith and Violet Davis… Unfortunately, these investigations were handled differently back then.”
Placer County sheriff’s detectives arrested Garcia after they found hair and blood spots with Wilson’s DNA in his car.
But Wilson was still missing.
Placer County sheriff’s detectives arrested Mario Garcia after they found hair and blood spots with Christie Wilson’s DNA in his car. (Oxygen)
“At the time, to arrest a suspect without a physical body was extremely unusual,” said Murchison. “It’s still unusual, but it’s occurring more and more frequently. There are a lot of no-body homicide cases out there. They are difficult to prosecute. I think that a lot of investigators and district attorney’s offices are afraid to take that challenge on, even if they know they have the right guy. If you can’t prove it, and you lose the case, then that’s the last time you can try. So a lot of agencies are not willing to take that risk. But technology today is extremely valuable in these cases, especially the DNA testing side of it. And in this case, her DNA was found in his car. It was clear that her presence was inside that vehicle.”
Garcia was convicted in 2007 of first-degree murder and sentenced to 59 years to life in prison.
Mario Garcia was convicted in 2007 of first-degree murder and sentenced to 59 years to life in prison. (AP)
For years, investigators attempted to look for Wilson’s body. In 2019, they asked Garcia’s two sons for any details about their father’s behavior. They were teenagers at the time of Wilson’s disappearance. One of them described seeing his father working on a tractor around their property. The memory stayed with Garcia’s son as he had an important soccer game that day. The patriarch made it clear he wasn’t going.
Investigators went back to Garcia’s former home in Auburn. According to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, they scanned the four-and-a-half-acre lot using Ground Penetrating Radar technology. During their search, they discovered skeletal remains. No clothing or jewelry were found.
Dental records confirmed it was Wilson. She was found August 2020.
Murchison said Garcia never expressed any remorse, nor shared why he did it.
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Christie Wilson’s skeletal remains were found in 2020. (Oxygen)
“He never completely confessed to it happening,” he said. “… Through some letters that were written by him, he started to divulge a little bit that he may have been somewhat involved, but he never explained why, how it happened, or where it happened. And he never certainly told us that he actually did it. And he never told us where her body was located.”
“[As for his wife and sons], the three of them did not know what happened that night,” he shared. “They had no idea. I’m sure they had speculations or some suspicions about it later on… but they did not know that she was buried on their property… He didn’t share any information with them at all.”
Garcia died on Christmas Eve 2020. He was 68.
Investigator Don Murchison told Fox News Digital his team was dedicated to bringing Christie Wilson home. (Oxygen)
“We never gave up on trying to find Christie,” said Murchison. “We looked for her for 15 years. Her family certainly never gave up. They trusted us with the most precious thing they had in their lives, which was their daughter. We were going to bring her home.”
"Buried in the Backyard" airs Saturday at 8 p.m. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Stephanie Nolasco covers entertainment at Foxnews.com.