Mary Carter was just 17 years old when she married the man who later became her ex-husband. Their marriage bore two children – a boy named Shawn and a girl, Elizabeth – who lived with Mary when she and her husband became estranged four years later.
While her divorce was being processed, Mary moved from North Avondale, a neighbourhood of Cincinnati, Ohio, to a basement apartment at 3537 Vista Avenue in Hyde Park, an affluent area on the city’s east side.
On August 16, 1980, Mary was taking her children to spend the day with their grandmother in North Avondale. Between 11:30am and 11:45am, a witness recalled seeing the trio getting into a pickup truck near Vista Avenue and Madison Road. The 1976 or ’77 midnight blue Ford was pulled over at the southeast side of Erie Road and Madison Avenue, across from Woodrow High School.
While Mary wasn’t the type of person to accept a ride from a stranger, especially with Elizabeth and Shawn in tow, it’s presumed she did so due to the day’s heat and her children growing tired.
At 1:45pm, Faye Estep, a resident of Cincinnati’s East End, found two children wandering along the side walk in front of her house at 957 Martin Place. The younger girl was crying, while the older boy was attempting to comfort her. She took the children to the nearby fire station, where she left them in the care of firefighters. When questioned, the pair were unable to provide much information, other than their mother had fallen asleep in the grass nearby.
The firefighters alerted local police, who informed them that the body of a young woman had been discovered nearby. Mary was found lying face down in a ditch running along the rear of a wooded lot in the 1000 block of Eastern Avenue, an area known for prostitution. While initially believed to have been left half-naked, deputies soon realized she was fully-clothed. Her blue jogging shorts had been hiked up, likely while her body was being pushed into the ditch, and her shoes were missing, indicating they’d been taken by her killer.
An autopsy found that Mary had been strangled to death. There were no signs of sexual assault, and her body gave no indication of excessive bruising. As far as investigators could tell, there was no known motive for her murder.
Elizabeth had blood on her when she was found, prompting investigators to take her and Shawn to the hospital. There, doctors determined she’d likely fallen on the ground and cut her hands on the sidewalk while the two were walking around. Shawn had no injuries.
Just under a week after Mary’s murder, investigators released a sketch of individual believed to be her killer, based on information from the aforementioned witness. He was described as a neatly groomed White male of average height and build, with an olive complexion. He was between the ages of 25 and 35, had blond or possibly greying hair, and a dark moustache. He had dark eyes, high cheekbones and hairy, muscular arms.
It’s believed he was wearing a white, short-sleeved, button-down t-shirt; white pants; and brown shoes.
Investigators were also able to gather more details about the suspect’s truck, as the witness had shared that it appeared to have a black steering wheel and a light blue interior, along with an aluminum rear bumper, a single rear window, and chrome box rails on each side of the truck bed.
Over 100 trucks matching that description were looked at, but Mary’s killer was never found. Local authorities warned the public about the possibility that he’d changed the vehicle’s appearance and asked that they keep an eye out for anyone who’d recently stopped driving their truck or bought a new one.
Investigators learned that Mary had spoken briefly with a bus driver on the day she was murdered. The interaction occurred at the intersection of Madison and Erie roads. According to the driver, she’d asked if the bus was heading to her desired location. It wasn’t, but he informed her that the one she needed to catch stopped nearby, at Vista Avenue and Madison Road. He didn’t see what direction Mary walked in, but assumed she’d followed his directions and continued to the other stop.
As a result of the interview, investigators surmised Mary had likely accepted the ride from the unknown truck driver shortly after her interaction with the bus driver.
Elizabeth and Shawn were also interviewed, but as they had at the fire station, were unable to provide much information. Shawn did note that they’d never before seen the man who’d driven the pickup truck, and that he’d dropped them off near Eastern Avenue. When he and Elizabeth realized they couldn’t wake their mother, they went looking for help.
Mary’s ex-husband was investigated, but records showed he was 300 miles away in the Great Smoky Mountains at the time of the murder.
Aside from a few short news articles, Mary’s murder didn’t receive much attention from the media. Speaking with local outlets, the detective in charge of the case at the time said they were confident she and her children had gotten into a blue pickup truck and that they were hopeful someone saw something, given how well-trafficked the area was.
Numerous tips have been called in over the years, but none have helped solve the case. One such lead included an individual who’d purchased a washer and dryer from the young mother following her move. Unfortunately, investigators were never able to uncover their identity.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Those with information regarding the murder of Mary Carter are asked to contact the Cincinnati Police Department at 513-352-3536.
Image Credit: Cincinatti Enquirer