On the evening of January 16, 1981, Mary Opitz was last seen leaving the Edison Mall in Fort Myers, Florida. She disappeared without a trace.
Accompanied by her brother and mother, Mary had purchased a package of pretzels before expressing her tiredness and heading back to their car, a burgundy 1979 Chevrolet Camaro.
However, when her mother later went to the parking lot, she discovered that Mary had not made it back to the car. The pretzels and packages were found on top of the Camaro’s trunk.
This incident marked the beginning of a mysterious disappearance that has left authorities puzzled for decades.
Mary’s family never believed that she ran away. Several factors contradicted the theory of a voluntary departure.
Mary had been saving money to buy a van and left behind about $300 in her bank account.
She was also in the process of redecorating her room and had no reason to leave without her purse or any extra clothing.
Moreover, she was anxiously looking forward to having her orthodontic braces removed in a few weeks. These details painted a picture of a young girl with plans for the future and no apparent motive to disappear.
At the time of her disappearance, Mary lived with her family in the 1500 block of College Parkway. She had dropped out of high school in the tenth grade and was studying for her GED. These circumstances raised questions about the possible reasons behind her disappearance, but the answers remained elusive.
Mary Opitz’s case took a puzzling turn when another young woman, Mary Elizabeth Hare, disappeared from the same parking lot on February 11, almost a month after Mary’s disappearance.
Hare’s car was found abandoned in the parking lot, mirroring the circumstances surrounding Mary Opitz’s case.
The physical resemblance between the two Marys and their shared characteristics raised speculation about a potential connection between the two incidents.
Both Mary Opitz and Mary Elizabeth Hare had grown up in New York and spoke with a slight regional New York accent. They disappeared while on routine errands, and both were considered well-behaved teenagers with no significant problems in their lives.
Mary Opitz worked at Mariner’s Inn, a place where Hare and her friends would occasionally visit, but there is no evidence to suggest that the two females knew each other.
These eerie similarities intensified the mystery surrounding their disappearances.
The Tragic End
In June 1981, the discovery of Mary Elizabeth Hare’s body shed light on the possible fate of both women.
Hare’s fully clothed and badly decomposed body was found in a field near Alabama Road and Highway 82 in a remote, undeveloped area of Lehigh Acres, Florida.
The autopsy revealed that she had been the victim of a homicide, having been stabbed in the back. This tragic revelation led authorities to suspect foul play in Mary Opitz’s case.
A Possible Suspect
Authorities believe Christopher Wilder, a suspect in at least a dozen disappearances, rapes, murders, and/or attacks on numerous women in the early to mid-1980s, is responsible for Mary’s disappearance and Hare’s homicide.
During this time, he was known to frequent this region of Florida, and he was known to try to entice young female victims by offering fictitious ‘ modeling sessions’ or other tactics.
Wilder received probation after pleading guilty to attempted sexual battery on a teenage girl in 1980. He was charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting two teenage girls while on a visit home to Australia that same year. His parents paid his bail, and he flew back to the United States, promising to return for his April 1984 trial.
Wilder was killed in a shootout with police in 1984. Mary’s case is still unsolved.
If you have information on this case, please get in touch with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office at 239-477-1200.
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