“I wonder what happened to Mary Shotwell Little”. It was more a pondering statement, voiced in an ominous tone, than a question. From time to time, my mom still mentions Mary.
Mary was a twenty-five year old newlywed, a bride for a mere forty-two days, when she disappeared from Lennox Square Mall in Atlanta in the early fall of 1965. She has never been found, her disappearance still intrigues those who remember. The evening of October 14, 1965 Mary left her job at the C&S Bank in Atlanta, shopped for groceries at the Colonial Grocery Store and later had dinner with a co-worker at the S&S Cafeteria; the Colonial and the S&S were both on Lennox Square property. During dinner, Mary spoke of the meal she would prepare the following evening when her husband, a bank examiner, returned from an out-of-town business trip. They chatted about work at the bank…perhaps they talked about hot summer days transitioning into fall. The two women spent about an hour and a half together before they said good evening. As Mary strode toward her car she turned and spoke the last words anyone would ever hear from her: “I’ll see you tomorrow”.
Mary Shotwell Little was a punctual young woman, so when she didn’t arrive at the bank by her scheduled time, didn’t call in sick, and calls to her home went unanswered, her supervisor and co-workers became concerned. A call was made to mall security and a description of the car was given. Lennox security guards returned a call to the bank and claimed they could not locate the new 1965 metallic pearl-gray, Mercury Comet. Mary’s co-workers were frightened and felt the need to do something, anything to find her. One of them located and called her husband Roy Little and apprised him of the uncharacteristic situation. Another called the Atlanta Police Department. After lunch, Mary’s boss, tired of waiting, drove around the Lennox Mall parking lot, conducting hes own search for Mary’s car. He located it in the spot she had parked in the previous evening, and noticed immediately the dusting of red powder, as if the car had been driven on a country road and kicked up the dust of Red Georgia clay, on the outside of the car. Alarm gave way to dread when he opened Mary’s car door. Inside he found four Colonial grocery bags filled with food items, placed neatly on the back floorboard. A slip, a pair of panties and a girdle were folded neatly on the center console between the seats. One stocking and a bra were found on the front floorboards, the stocking appeared to have been cut with a knife. Blood was found on Mary’s clothing, the front seats of the Comet, the driver’s door near the handle, and the inside window of the passenger’s side. A few grass clippings were stuck in dried blood where the passenger’s head would have rested.
When Atlanta PD arrived, they looked at the scene with the scrutinizing eyes of law enforcement and saw things differently than Mary’s boss. While there was blood in several places within the vehicle, the officers realized it was actually a very small amount of blood. The way the blood had been smeared gave the appearance of a greater volume, the untrained eye of a concerned friend would not have immediately realized this fact. Mary’s keys, her leather John Romain purse, her shoes, her white London Fog raincoat and the green sheath dress she had worn to work the day before were missing. Yet the underwear and groceries, inconsequential items, were left behind, in a somewhat organized manner. Yes, the scene appeared staged to some of the officers.
Mary tugged at the heart of Atlanta, locals dubbed her Atlanta’s Bride and rushed to offer help in solving her case. Rumors swirled around town about bad business at C&S, at the time the go-to bank for financing in Atlanta. Several weeks after Mary’s disappearance, credit card statements showed Mary’s signature on gas receipts. Both gas stations were in North Carolina, one in Charlotte, Mary’s hometown. Her parents, Nathan and Margaret Shotwell, still lived in Charlotte. The receipts were dated October 15, the day after she was last seen, and are the last known evidence connected to Mary Shotwell Little.
Police soon learned Marys’ behavior had changed in the weeks leading up to her disappearance. She had confided in an old friend and expressed a fear of being home alone, and oddly, of being alone in her car. Friends agreed Mary had not been a fearful person in the past and she gave no indications for the reason of her new fear. Investigators learned of odd calls made to Mary on her work number, conversations were never discussed by Mary, but co-workers overheard and became concerned. She received flowers from an anonymous sender.
In May 1967 another young woman, twenty-two year old Diane Marie Shields was found murdered in the trunk of her car. Shortly after Mary’s disappearance, Diane had taken over Mary’s position at C&S Bank, she lived with Mary’s former roommates and she had also received flowers from an anonymous sender. Diane was not sexually assaulted nor was she robbed, her engagement ring was still on her left hand. There were many similarities, but officials refused to officially connect the two women’s murders.
I believe Mary stumbled upon something reprehensible at C&S and staged her own disappearance. She must have believed law enforcement would be unable to protect her. Mary’s husband, Roy, was a bank examiner. Most likely she would have discussed what she had discovered with him. Reports I read stated Roy didn’t appear to be shocked when he learned of Mary’s disappearance and he refused several requests for a polygraph. I believe he knew about her plan to leave Atlanta, knew it would be in her best interest, and his, for her to leave town and never return. Mary’s family in North Carolina probably helped her disappear. That would explain why she was purchasing gas in her hometown, she was there to say goodbye. Two years after her disappearance, after the death of Diane Shields, Mary’s mother contacted the lead Atlanta investigator and asked him to close the case. I can’t imagine ever wanting the case closed if it were my child missing. Disappearing and changing an identity would have been a much easier endeavor in 1965 than it would be today. There were no computers, no cell phones with cameras to snap a photo of anyone resembling the missing person, no video cameras in shopping malls and parking lots, no 24 hour news channels to blast the photo of the missing across the nation, or the world. One could simply change her hair color and style, move away and blend into the landscape of a new city. I like to think that’s what happened to Mary. She would be seventy-two years old now. I hope she’s enjoying her senior years in the mountains or on the beach, in a city she loves.
I’ll see you tomorrow ~