The Biggest Gamble

A young woman vanishes after a night of gambling

Produced By Paul LaRosa and Melissa Sanford
This story originally aired March 4, 2006. It was updated Dec. 19, 2007.

Christie Wilson was 27 years old when she disappeared without a trace after a night of gambling at a California casino. Investigators combed through the countryside trying to find the young woman.

As correspondent Erin Moriarty reports, the investigation shifted dramatically when casino surveillance video surfaced, showing Christie leaving the casino with a mystery man.

For most of her 27 years, Christie Wilson led a charmed life: she was popular, college-educated, and according to best friend Tiffany DeVries, full of fun.

"She loved to joke around and have a good time and she loved her cat. We just connected. She was just so much fun, fun to be around," Tiffany remembers.

"She's a little bit of a romantic and wanted to be married and have babies and have a white picket fence," says Christie's sister Deb.

But according to Deb, there was one other thing about Christie: she loved to gamble and was apparently pretty good at. And it was the lure of easy money that brought her on the night of October 4th, 2005 to the Thunder Valley Casino, just 30 minutes from Sacramento.

Christie played the Blackjack tables until just past 1 a.m., when casino videotapes showed her leaving with an unidentified man. On the tapes, both disappeared from the camera's view in the parking lot.

Christie was never seen again. The man reappeared a few minutes, later driving out of the lot and seemed to be alone.

Police started a massive search effort in Placer County, looking for the young woman. Christie's stepfather, Pat Boyd, is a well-known detective with The San Jose Police Department and cops from all over California also rushed in to help in the extensive search.

Police questioned Christie's boyfriend Danny Burlando, but police were also anxious to speak to the mystery man seen leaving the casino with Christie. As it turned out, he used a Thunder Valley id card that night. His name was Mario Garcia.

But Mario Garcia seems an unlikely suspect-he's a computer executive for a local hospital, married with two teenage boys. The family lives in a million dollar house on five gorgeous acres in the California Gold Country.

"We were just gamblers at the casino having a good time with other people. I'm really sorry that Christie Wilson is missing. I hope that she's found," Mario tells Moriarty.

Mario talked to the cops and allowed them to take and search his car. Investigators, who wanted to hold him, were able to arrest Mario on a weapons charge when they found two guns in his home and a weapon in his car.

But Mario maintains his innocence. "I have nothing to do with Christie Wilson's disappearance," he tells Moriarty.

He says he spent hours with Christie playing Blackjack and then walked her to his car. "At some point in time, she just says that she left her cell phone in the casino and we embrace. We give each other a high five and we say goodbye to one another, good luck, and that was the end of the conversation," Mario says.

Asked if he was hoping for a date out of this, Mario says, "No, not at all. I was not trying to get a date from her. I left. And at my age, 54 years old, with a heart condition, taking blood pressure medication, the last thing in my mind is to have sex with anybody. For me, it has to be a planned activity."

"I am and I have been happily married," he adds.

Mario's wife Jean says the moment she met him, they clicked, in part because they're both immigrants. "He is a family man. If he's not working, we will take the kids for sports activities," she says.

And his 19-year-old son Chris says Mario's a great dad. "He was always there for us. He'd always come home; make sure we all sit at the table. We always had group meetings or family meetings at least once a week just you know to stay close, tight together. We're just a good family."

But Christie's mother Deb Boyd thinks the Garcias know far more than they are saying. "Well, Mr. and Mrs. Garcia, take a look at this. This is my life we have too much pain. Please help us. Please tell us," she told reporters, holding up a photo of her missing daughter.