Mary Louise Watkins

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Above: Watkins, circa 1979

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Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: May 17, 1979 from Modesto, California
  • Classification: Endangered Missing
  • Date of Birth: April 20, 1925
  • Age: 57 years old
  • Height and Weight: 5'2, 130 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Brown hair, hazel eyes. Watkins has surgical scars on her lower torso. She wears eyeglasses with dark-colored plastic frames.
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    Details of Disappearance

    Watkins was last seen in Modesto, California on May 17, 1979. She was last seen by a friend whom she lived with, packing her belongings into a vehicle. Prior to her disappearance, Watkins told several of her friends she was going out of town and gave many conflicting stories as to why she had to leave. She told her roommate she was going to live with her daughter in San Jose, California, but never arrived there.

    Watkins sold her Modesto home before her disappearance and was carrying $28,000 in cash from the sale. She told her banker she planned to invest the money with a friend in a property venture. Her daughter stated she didn't know of the sale of Watkins's home, or that her mother was going to move in with her. Two days after Watkins was last seen, her vehicle was found abandoned in the 600 block of Coffee Road, at what is now the Sutter Gould Medical Foundation. None of her belongings were inside it. Several days later, Watkins's daughter got a letter from her. Watkins wrote she was running away to get married. She has never been heard from again.

    James Carlin Toliver is a suspect in Watkins's disappearance and in the disappearances of several other women, including Hester Lee Chandler, who disappeared in 1974, Jacqueline Cooper, who disappeared in 1976, and James's wife of 27 years, Patty (also called "Patsy") Gay Toliver, whose maiden name is Hogue. A photo of James is posted below this case summary.

    Photos of Patty are unavailable. She's 5'4 or 5'5 tall and approximately 120 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. Her date of birth is June 14, 1935, making her 43 years old when she disappeared on August 12, 1978. Her relatives last saw her in June of that year, when she attended a family reunion in South Dakota. While she was there she said James had threatened to kill her or her mother if she attended the gathering. She disappeared not long after the family reunion; James said she'd taken a significant sum of money from their joint savings account.

    Photos of Chandler are also unavailable. Her date of birth is July 21, 1914, making her sixty years old when she disappeared from Modesto on September 12, 1974, just after she withdrew nearly $9,000 from her bank account. She's described as a Caucasian female, 5'7 tall and 130 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.

    James, a forklift operator and cannery worker from Ceres, California, joined the singles group Parents Without Partners and dated several women following Patty's disappearance, using the alias "Jim Joy." He was known as a heavy gambler. On October 8, 1980, his body was found at the door of his pickup truck on a remote dirt road in Hope Valley, near Lake Tahoe in California. He had died of a heart attack at age 46. He was carrying a .38 caliber pistol and a bloodstained pillowcase containing $98,000, all of it in hundred-dollar bills. Nearly a mile away was the body of Florence Evelyn Richina, a 49-year-old former special education teacher; she'd been shot with a .38 caliber pistol. James's footprints led from the crime scene to his truck. Richina had sold some land and withdrawn $98,000 from her bank account, and that same amount of cash was in the pillowcase with James's body. Some of Richina's personal belongings and jewelry were found hidden in James's home. There were reports that they were going to get married, but authorities could find no marriage license or other evidence to support the stories.

    Authorities haven't been able to conclusively tie Watkins to James Toliver, but the circumstances of her disappearance fit the profile and she was also active in the local dating circles. Foul play is suspected in Watkins's case and in the other women's. She worked as a nurse at Modesto City Hospital in 1979.

    Toliver
    Above: James Carlin Toliver

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    Investigating Agency
    If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
    Modesto Police Department
    209-572-9532

    OR
    209-572-9500

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    Source Information
    Modesto Police Department
    California Attorney General's Office
    The Doe Network
    Missing in California
    NamUs
    Websleuths
    The Modesto Bee
    The Beaver County Times
    The Lakeland Ledger
    The Merced Sun-Star
    California Attorney General's Office

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    Updated 7 times since October 12, 2004.

    Last updated August 3, 2014; details of disappearance updated.

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