Details of Disappearance
Mary was last seen leaving the Edison Mall and heading towards the parking lot in Fort Myers, Florida on the evening January 16, 1981. She and her brother and mother had gone to the mall together at 6:30 p.m. Mary bought a package of pretzels and said she was tired and going back to their car, a burgundy 1979 Chevrolet Camaro. She left carrying the pretzels and some packages.
An hour later, Mary's mother went out to the parking lot and discovered her daughter was wrong. The pretzels and packages were on top of the Camaro's trunk. The car was parked in a well-lit area close to the entrance of the mall's Woolworth's store.
She was initially believed to be a runaway, as there was no evidence of a crime in her case. However, Mary's family never believed she ran away: she had been saving up money to buy a van and left about $300 behind in her bank account, she was in the middle of redecorating her room, she didn't take her purse or any extra clothing with her, and she was looking forward to getting her orthodontic braces taken off in a few weeks. Mary lived with her family in the 1500 block of College Parkway at the time of her disappearance. She had dropped out of high school in the tenth grade and was studying for her GED.
Mary Elizabeth Hare, an 18-year-old who physically resembled Mary Opitz, disappeared from the same parking lot on February 11, almost a month after Mary. As in Mary Opitz's case, her car was found abandoned in the parking lot and no clues were left behind. Authorities at the time were uncertain as to whether the cases were related.
A photo of Hare is posted with this case summary; she physically resembled Mary Opitz. They had other things in common as well: both of them grew up in New York and spoke with a slight regional New York accent, both disappeared while on routine errands, and both were considered well-behaved teenagers with no significant problems in their lives. Mary Opitz worked at Mariner's Inn, where Hare and her friends sometimes went, but there's no evidence that the two females knew each other.
In June 1981, Hare's fully clothed and badly decomposed body was found in a field near Alabama Road and Highway 82 in a remote, undeveloped area of Lehigh Acres, Florida. She was the victim of a homicide; she had been stabbed in the back. There has been no trace of Mary Opitz, however, and she has never been heard from again. Authorities began to suspect foul play was involved in Mary's case after Hare's body was discovered.
Authorities theorize that Christopher Wilder, a man linked to at least a dozen disappearances, rapes, murders and/or attacks of numerous women in the early to mid-1980's, is a suspect in Mary's disappearance and Hare's homicide. Photos of Wilder are posted with this case summary. He was known to frequent the Florida region during this time; he sometimes attempted to lure young female victims by offering non-existent 'modeling sessions' or other tactics.
Wilder was put on probation in 1980 after pleading guilty to attempted sexual battery towards a teenage girl. While on a visit home to Australia that same year, he was charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting two teenage girls. His parents bailed him out of jail and he flew back to the United States, promising to return for his trial which was set for April 1984. He is a also a suspect in the Florida disappearances of Rosario Gonzales
, Elizabeth Kenyon
, and and Tammy Leppert
. He was killed during a shootout with authorities in 1984. Mary's case remains unsolved.