A series of "miracle" discoveries may have cracked a four-decade cold case murder by connecting it to a husband-and-wife killing duo, police said.
Police have spent nearly 41 years looking for the killer of Mary Ann Perez, a wife and mother whose remains were found in the woods of Grand Bay, Alabama in November 1976.
They now believe they have confirmed her to be a victim of David and Donna Courtney, a drifter couple who pleaded guilty in 1980 to killing five women across several states. The couple said they killed Perez in New Orleans, but police were never able to find her body. Her family held out hope for decades that still alive, WKRG-TV in Mobile reported.
Perez was last seen going to a bar on March 26, 1976. She asked her teenage daughter Donna to babysit the two younger children.
“She told Donna that she would be calling to check on us,” Shannon Miller, Perez’s youngest child, told "Unsolved Mysteries" in 1991. “And Donna said she got a phone call from momma first, stating that she was okay and that she would be home shortly. And then Donna said she got a phone call from a woman by the name of Dorothy.”
“Dorothy” told Donna that her mother was having car trouble, which Donna found suspicious considering the vehicle was fairly new.
Perez never returned home. Her purse was found days later in Lake Pontchartrain.
Hunters found a body eight months later in Grand Bay, with the skull indicating injuries from traffic collisions, Mobile County Sheriff’s Office Detective J.T. Thornton told WKRG-TV. The body was shipped to Oklahoma for analysis, but the corpse was never identified, and the case eventually went cold.
In 1980, police busted David and Donna Courtney for a multi-state crime spree. David confessed to killing several women, including Perez.
Lambert told "Unsolved Mysteries" that David admitted to abducting a woman in New Orleans. Courtny said he picked her up at a bar before taking her home, where the couple made nonconsensual sexual advances on her while she was unconscious. When she awoke, she demanded to be taken home. Courtney admitted to strangling Perez in the car while his wife drove. But the Courtneys could not point to where they had dumped the body.
Since the corpse from Grand Bay had never been identified, it took decades before authorities linked the Courtneys to the cold case.
Thornton said he started digging into the killing again while going over several cold cases. A break came when he interviewed family members.
“They advised me that [Perez] had been in a traffic accident ... that she had a partial dental plate, and they presented me with the demographics of her and I thought that’s almost a perfect match,” Thornton told News 5.
Thronton tracked down the investigators who had examined Perez's body, which was still in Oklahoma. It turned out officials there had been hoping to crack the case of the unidentified body they examined so long ago.
Perez's son, Byron Perez, said police notified him that his mother's remains may have finally been identified pending a final DNA test, according to The Advocate in New Orleans.
“It was actually a miracle … That goes to show that no matter the time length, these cases can be solved,” said Thornton to News 5.
David Courtney is serving a life sentence in Kansas. Donna Courtney had served ten years for the crimes, but passed away more than 20 years ago.
[Photo: Wichita Police]