In August 2020, investigators combed through the backyard of an Auburn, California home after ground-penetrating radar picked up an inconsistency. A forensic excavation led to a grim discovery — the skeletal remains of 27-year-old Christie Wilson, who’d vanished 15 years earlier.
The discovery marked the end of a 15-year search for Christie, who grew up in San Jose, California. She was a standout athlete and student, according to her mom, Debra Wilson Boyd, and stepdad, Patrick Boyd.
“I was amazed by the focus that she had,” said Debra. “She had a heart that’s so big.”
After college, Christie got a job she loved at a tech company near Sacramento. In her free time, she also liked playing blackjack at a local casino, where she eventually met her boyfriend, Danny Burlando.
The relationship began smoothly. But after they moved in together in Sacramento it turned “very tumultuous,” said Debra.
When Christie lost her job due to a high-tech crash, she moved back in with her parents in San Jose. She eventually got a job offer in San Francisco and embraced the chance for a fresh start.
On October 4, 2005, Christie drove to Sacramento to collect the last of her belongings. But two days later, Burlando called the Boyds.
“Danny said that Christie came to the apartment on October 4,” said Debra. “That night he had dinner with his family. Christie went to Thunder Valley Casino. That was the last anybody saw of her.”
Burlando said that before he reported her missing, he called “jails, hospitals and friends,” according to Tavares.
“He actually drove the 30 miles to Thunder Valley and found her car,” Tavares added. “It was parked and appeared to be untouched.”
Burlando even had Christie paged at the casino, but there was no response.
Suspicion falls on Christie Wilson’s ex-boyfriend
The fact that Burlando waited nearly 48 hours to reach out posed some difficulties in the investigation, according to investigators. “That was plenty of time for a crime scene to be cleaned up,” said Morgan Gire, Place County District Attorney.
Detectives interviewed Christie’s friends and family members and reviewed her phone and financial activity. Her bank account had not been touched since October 4.
Investigators also considered the fact that Christie and Burlando had had a domestic dispute in April. “When someone goes missing, the suspicion will automatically go to someone that they’re in a relationship with,” said Gire.
But Burlando cooperated and allowed investigators to search his phone records, bank activity, his computer, apartment, and car.
Although Burlando was a suspect, there was no evidence proving foul play on his part.
Investigators turned their focus to Thunder Valley, where Christie’s player’s card was used to track her movements at the casino. The card revealed that she sat at a blackjack table around 11 p.m.
“Christie had some drinks on board and was talking back with the dealer a little bit,” said Tavares. “The guy who sat next to her says, ‘Hey, calm down. We should probably leave.’”
When Christie went to put her phone in her purse she must have missed, because her phone was found under the blackjack table. Without her phone data, security footage was all investigators had to go on to track her location after that point. The footage showed her exiting the casino with the man who’d been at her side playing blackjack.
Mario Flavio Garcia becomes a person of interest
Using player’s card data, detectives identified the man at the blackjack table as Mario Flavio Garcia, who lived in Auburn.
“Mario was a family man,” said Gire. “He was raising two boys, was married, and had a relatively successful career in the IT world.”
Garcia was interviewed by a detective. He said that he remembered gambling next to a young woman but didn’t know her name. He added that they left the casino together and walked towards his car, at which point Christie told him that she lost her phone and started walking back into the casino, according to Don Murchison, a detective with Placer County Sheriff’s Department. That was the last time Garcia claimed to have seen her.
Garcia went on to state that he drove out of the casino and turned left, which was his most direct route home. Security cameras provided no view of the area where Garcia was parked, preventing authorities from confirming Garcia’s version of events. Investigators called it “a black hole.”
Detectives dug deeper into Garcia’s background. They learned that he was a well-liked member of his community and a soccer mentor.
Focus returned to Burlando. “We questioned him for hours,” said Murchison.
Boyd, a retired sergeant with the San Jose Police Department, told producers he searched in and around Burlando’s apartment for clues in his stepdaughter’s case. As he went through the nearby woods, Boyd “smelled de*ath,” he said. He eventually found the source: a d*ead raccoon.
Mario Flavio Garcia emerges as a suspect
Detectives observed an inconsistency with Garcia’s account. He told them he’d gone left out of the casino, but surveillance footage showed him going right.
Then, they discovered that Garcia had a conviction for assault with a de*adly weapon. Detectives got a warrant to search his home, where they turned up a handgun. Because of his prior conviction, it was illegal for him to have it.
On October 1, Garcia was arrested for the weapons charge. During processing, Garcia was found to have scratches and bruises on his chest, which he claimed to have gotten when he’d fallen out of a tree, detectives said. They didn’t buy it. Garcia asked for a lawyer and the questioning ended.
Investigators later learned that Garcia had been arrested for an assault with a d*eadly weapon. The victim in the crime, Wendy Ward, was interviewed by detectives.
Ward told that she met Garcia in 1977. At first, “He was very nice,” she said, but when he moved in with her, he turned violent.
“I ended up with black eyes,” said Ward, who didn’t go to the police because Garcia threatened to k*ill her if she did.
In 1979, Garcia raped Ward at gunpoint, she told producers. Ward reported the rape to the police and the case was plea-bargained down to assault with a de*adly weapon.
“I didn’t know any better,” said Ward. He was given a year of probation.
What happened to Christie Wilson?
Garcia’s car was processed by the Placer County Sheriff’s Office and investigators found hair in the trunk that was Christie’s. Based on the evidence in the car, investigators were convinced that Christie was deceased.
At this point, Burlando was cleared, while Garcia was arrested and charged with m*urder, even though there was no body. “That was something our county has never done before,” said Tavares.
The coordinated wide-scale search for Christie’s body was concentrated around Garcia’s five-acre property. However, no leads were turned up during their search.
Garcia’s trial began on September 11, 2006. Prosecutors presented a compelling case in which Garcia met Christie at the table, left the casino with her, subdued her, k*illed her, and hid her body.
Garcia was found guilty of Christie’s mur*der and, on January 11, 2007, he was sentenced to 59 years to life.
After his conviction and sentencing, his wife and children severed ties with him, according to Tavares. Meanwhile, the search for Wilson’s body continued for 13 years.
An interview with one of Garcia’s sons gave detectives the clue they needed, according to Buried in the Backyard. He recalled seeing his father using a tractor in their backyard at the same time Christie had vanished. It was strange because Garcia was supposed to be at a soccer game.
The new homeowners allowed investigators to search the property. In August 2020, a body was unearthed and confirmed to be Christie Wilson through dental records.
Garcia died in 2021. Christie’s family said his de*ath provided them “tremendous peace.”