Mary Margaret Cook
Mary, circa 1970; Leathern "Earl" Cook in the 1970s
- Missing Since 11/14/1970
- Missing From Highland City, Florida
- Classification Endangered Missing
- Sex Female
- Race Biracial, Native American, White
- Date of Birth 04/26/1945 (78)
- Age 25 years old
- Height and Weight 4'11, 145 - 150 pounds
- Clothing/Jewelry Description Possibly a green dress.
- Medical Conditions Mary may have been pregnant at the time of her disappearance.
- Associated Vehicle(s) White 1959 Cadillac coupe (accounted for)
- Distinguishing Characteristics Biracial (Caucasian/Native American) female. Brown hair, blue/hazel eyes. Mary wears cats-eye eyeglasses and cannot see without them. She had excellent teeth in 1970 and had never needed dental care. She has a birthmark on the outside of her right leg, above her ankle.
Details of Disappearance
Mary was last seen on November 14, 1970. Her husband says she left her home in Highland City, Florida to go on a shopping trip at the J. M. Fields store in Lakeland, Florida and buy Christmas presents for her two sons, then aged five and three. She never returned.
Her white 1959 Cadillac coupe was found abandoned in the store's parking lot the following day. Mary's wallet and purse were inside the car, but $200 which her husband supposedly gave her for the presents was missing. She left behind her wedding rings, which she normally wore all the time. No one saw her or her car at the store that day.
Investigators view Mary's husband, Leathern "Earl" Cook, as the prime suspect in her disappearance. A photo of him is posted with this case summary. They had been married for eight years at the time of Mary's disappearance in 1970.
Earl was interviewed extensively and in 2003, the police dug up the garage floor of the house they lived in in 1970, suspecting Mary's body might be buried there. Earl also provided them with a blood sample. They found no evidence and Earl was never charged.
He always maintained his innocence in her case and told their children that Mary left of her own accord. Earl remarried two years after Mary's disappearance, got divorced in 2000, married a third time and died in Greenacres, Florida in 2007, at the age of 66.
Mary's oldest son stated he saw his parents arguing on the day of his mother's disappearance and that Earl told him not to look outside. He believes Mary's body was concealed in a red blanket from the house and was buried within some hours' distance of Highland City.
Mary's mother took care of her sons for some time after her disappearance, but when she found out the police suspected Earl was involved, she confronted him and directly asked if he'd killed Mary. He never answered; instead, he simply took the boys and left.
Some have suggested that Mary's disappearance is related to the disappearance of Peggy Byars-Baisden, who vanished from Highland City in April 1965. Both Mary and Byars-Baisden are the mothers of two children each, both were in their twenties, and they resided on the same street. However, investigators do not think the two women knew each other and have not been able to link their disappearances.
Mary was a stay-at-home mother at the time of her disappearance. Earl often went to West Palm Beach, Florida, hours away from Highland City, for painting jobs during the week and returned to Highland City to spend weekends at home. Foul play is suspected in Mary's case, but little evidence is available in her disappearance.
- Polk County Sheriff's Office 863-533-0344
Updated 8 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated March 9, 2016; details of disappearance updated.