Nearly 15 years after Christie Wilson was last seen in the parking lot of the Thunder Valley Casino in Lincoln — and 13 years after a man was convicted in her murder — Placer County officials announced Monday that they had finally found her body – on the property once owned by the man who killed her.
“We are grateful to be able to bring closure to the Wilson family,” Placer County Sheriff Devon Bell said at a news conference in Auburn with the Wilson family and District Attorney Morgan Gire.
Officials said they were able to locate Wilson’s remains using new technology from ground-penetrating radar, as well as some guidance from someone they would not identify.
But they were adamant that they never received any help from Mario Flavio Garcia — the last person she was seen with and the man convicted in her murder.
Garcia is a “convicted murderer who refused to cooperate, who would not supply any information to contribute to closure for the family,” Bell said. “He is exactly where he needs to be — in prison.”
Gire echoed those comments, saying “I want to make it very clear that finding Christie was the result of efforts of the Sheriff’s Office and the D.A.’s office, no one else, not the person responsible for her death.”
“No one ever gave up looking,” Gire said. “It was everyone’s mission to find her. … Today, the family can begin to grieve properly.”
Wilosn’s mother, Debbie Boyd, said the announcement marked “a day of peace” for the family.
“It’s a peace we haven’t had, and we are so happy to finally be able to close this chapter of torment and be able to move forward with great thanksgiving,” Boyd said. “Today is a day that absolutely reflects some of the greatest level of perseverance in police work that a victim’s family could ever ask for.”
Investigators had looked for years for clues about where Wilson’s body might be, using cadaver dogs, helicopters, divers and other efforts to search numerous places in Placer and Nevada counties, including the Garcia property.
But aided by some guidance about where the body might be — guidance the sheriff declined to discuss further — they returned to the property last week with ground-penetrating radar to search again and found her remains.
Then came the job of telling the family.
Boyd said someone had asked her by chance about eight weeks ago how she would want to learn about such a discovery, and she said the last way she wanted to find out was by phone.
Last week, Placer County officials showed up at her door at midnight in Scottsdale, Arizona, to tell her in person.
“It was the most respectful, compassionate gesture I could ask for,” Boyd said.
She, in turn, got on a flight that day — Friday — and flew to San Jose, to tell Christie’s sister, Stacie, the news in person.
“The past 15 years have been incredibly difficult, as you can imagine,” Stacie Wilson said. “And not knowing has just added to the torment. I have hoped and prayed for this day for so, so long.”
Officials and the family also noted that finding her body on property Garcia once owned vindicated the jury’s decision to convict him without a body.
“The truth has come out,” Boyd said. “She was found on her killer’s property.”
Wilson, 27, had been seen with Garcia at the casino the night of Oct. 4, 2005, and surveillance cameras showed the pair walking toward the parking lot at 1:15 a.m. Oct. 5.
Wilson was never again seen alive, and Placer County Sheriff’s detectives arrested Garcia after they found hair with Wilson’s DNA in and on his car. Tiny blood spots matching Wilson’s DNA also were found on a back seat.
The search last week of the property — which spans about 4½ acres — focused on one particular section, and led to the discovery.
“Detectives and investigators searching one of those areas located and recovered skeletal remains which were brought to the Placer County morgue for examination,” the Sheriff’s Office said. “Dental records have confirmed the remains found on the property, formerly owned by Garcia, are those of Christie Wilson.”
Garcia was convicted in a trial in 2006 that was moved to Sacramento County, and he was sentenced to 59 years to life the following year.
The two-month trial included 90 witnesses — with testimony from Garcia that jurors later said worked against him because they believed he was lying when he claimed he said goodbye to Wilson in the parking lot and left.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who attended Monday’s announcement, helped present DNA evidence in the case that assisted with Garcia’s conviction.
He was found guilty of first-degree murder and possession of a deadly weapon, a collapsible baton that was found in his car.
Garcia also had a 1981 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon and use of a firearm, and had a 1979 arrest on rape and battery charges in Alameda County.
He worked at the time as a computer specialist with Sutter Health, was married with two children and was a youth soccer coach.
The day after Wilson disappeared, Garcia showed up at work with scratches on his face and a bruise under one eye, according to trial testimony from his co-workers. He claimed the injuries stemmed from him falling out of a tree he was trimming.
The California Supreme Court rejected Garcia’s petition for a review of his trial in 2009.
Garcia, now 67, is serving his sentence at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility near San Diego.
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