Mary Louise Watkins

Watkins, circa 1979; James Carlin Toliver

  • Missing Since 05/17/1979
  • Missing From Modesto, California
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Female
  • Race White
  • Date of Birth 04/20/1925 (99)
  • 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.

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, Patricia Toliver, who was last seen in 1978. A photo of James is posted with this case summary.

Photos of Chandler are 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. 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.

Updated 7 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated August 3, 2014; details of disappearance updated.