The May 2 episode of 48 Hours explores the disappearance of Mary Day, who went missing in 1981 in Seaside, California. Her parents didn’t report her disappearance and Seaside police didn’t even know about the case until 2002. As an adult, Mary’s sister Sherrie filed a missing persons report in 1994, launching the investigation.
The case explores the life and disappearance of the young girl and the subsequent investigation in 2002. Police were sure they had a homicide on their hands and they were closing in on their main suspect, Mary’s stepfather William Houle. Everything changed when the police in Phoenix, Arizona, found who they believed was the real Mary Day, alive and well.
However, detectives and Mary’s own sisters had growing doubts about the identity of this woman, called “Phoenix Mary.” Was she really their long-lost sister, or an imposter trying to claim an inheritance decades later? Here’s what you need to know:
Mary Day Went Missing in 1981 & There Was No Trace of Her for Decades
One night in 1981, 13-year-old Mary Day went missing from her family home in Seaside, California. The night before, she had gotten into an argument with her stepfather, William Houle, who was stationed at the Army base at Fort Ord. Mary’s stepfather and her mother, Charlotte, told the family that Mary had run away and not to ask questions.
Mary’s sister Sherrie Calgaro, who was three years younger than Mary, finally told authorities about her sister’s disappearance when she grew up. A missing persons report was opened in 1994 and detectives in Seaside got the case in 2002. Detectives struggled to find any information on Mary: there was no record of school enrollment, IDs, paychecks, even arrest records.
Seaside Police detectives were convinced that Mary was murdered by her stepfather. Cadaver dogs signaled a spot in the backyard of the house where Mary disappeared, and a girl’s shoe was found buried in the same place. William Houle told police during an interview that they had a fight the night she disappeared. He said he didn’t kill her, but a “demon” inside of him could have done it. Charlotte, Mary’s mother, was also behaving strangely. She was uncooperative with the investigation and had no desire for her daughter to be found, saying, “If she’s dead, she’s dead.”
‘Phoenix Mary’ Was Found in Arizona 22 Years After Mary’s Disappearance, But Doubts About Her Identity Grew
Before the police were able to file charges against William and Charlotte, and just a few months after they interviewed the two, the case took a bizarre turn. The police in Phoenix, Arizona, pulled over a woman during a traffic stop. Her ID revealed her to be Mary Day, and it was issued just after William and Charlotte were questioned by police.
Detectives were stumped since they were convinced they had a homicide on their hands. A DNA test revealed that the woman now known as “Phoenix Mary” was, in fact, Charlotte’s daughter. Despite the DNA results, thought, detectives were still doubtful about her true identity. She couldn’t remember key facts about Mary’s childhood, she had a strong Southern accent and there were a lot of gaps in the timeline.
Mary’s sisters Sherrie and Kathy also had doubts about Phoenix Mary. Kathy said that Mary couldn’t remember anything about their father’s inheritance, which they’d frequently discussed as kids. Sherrie also noticed that Mary had magazines in the name of Monica Devereaux.
Some of the detectives in Seaside still question the outcome of the now-closed case. Retired homicide detective Mark Clark was convinced there was a murder and Phoenix Mary was an imposter. After an image surfaced of Mary as a young child with a family dated after her disappearance, Clark second-guessed his investigation, but he still contends there may be some truth to the imposter theory. Other detectives wonder why the cadaver dogs alerted in the backyard if Mary wasn’t buried there after all. The 48 Hours episode “What Ever Happened to Mary Day?” is set to shed some light on the story.