It’s undoubtedly Atlanta’s, and one of the country’s, greatest unsolved mysteries. Recently, there has been new and significant movement in the case. We will keep you abreast of all developments in a multiple-part series on the Mary Shotwell Little case. Today, part one, the facts of the case. Next week, part two will include interviews with those who have committed decades to this case and will be critical components of its resolution.
The events of Thursday, October 14, 1965, have baffled the public, multiple law enforcement agencies, the FBI, and cold case investigators with, up until now, no end in sight. Nearly six decades ago, Mary Shotwell Little disappeared from Buckhead’s upscale shopping center, Lenox Square. Before the Missing and Murdered Children cases beginning in 1979, the Little disappearance utilized the most resources of Atlanta law enforcement in history.
There are facts of the case.
Mary had studied secretarial science at the North Carolina College for Women, now known as The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She moved to Atlanta for a job with C&S Bank, one of the major Atlanta financial institutions. Mary and some friends, Sandra Green and Julie Brownlee, moved into a triplex near Emory University, at 1300 University Drive.
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In 1964, she “met” her husband-to-be, Roy Little, via an introduction from Mary’s ex-boyfriend, William McIntosh Fambrough. Roy and Mary had been classmates in Jacksonville, FL, until the ninth grade, when Mary and her family moved to Charlotte for her Dad’s job. The pair lost touch until a friend re-introduced them in Atlanta. Roy was a Citadel graduate and had recently completed his enlistment in the Army. The couple dated for around ten months and were married on Labor Day weekend, September 4, 1965, then moved into an apartment near Decatur.
In October, Roy had traveled to Lagrange, GA., to take an exam to become an auditor with the state Banking Department. Mary had entertained guests in their home while Roy was away. On Thursday night before Roy’s scheduled return, she arranged to meet a friend from the bank, Isla (spelled Ila in some reports) Stack, at Lenox Square for dinner and some shopping.
At the time, Lenox Square was an open-air mall. Mary completed her grocery shopping first. Attendants at the Colonial store recall putting her purchases into her car around 6:15 PM. She tipped the attendant ten cents. Little and Stack had dinner at S&S Cafeteria, shopped for about an hour, going their separate ways and then reconnecting until finally parting ways. The Little’s had company coming for the weekend. Two couples who had attended their Charlotte wedding were headed to Atlanta for a visit. Mary wanted to get home, put the meat she had just purchased in the refrigerator, and clean their apartment. Mary’s last words to Stack were, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Stack did more shopping, then returned home, and Mary walked to her car, parked in the mall’s yellow section, with her groceries from the Colonial store, then disappeared.
When Mary did not show up for work the following morning, co-workers called her apartment first, receiving no answer. They next phoned her landlord who checked Little’s apartment and discovered that Little had not retrieved her mail or morning paper. The landlord then entered Little’s apartment with a pass key and discovered that the groceries Mary purchased the previous evening weren’t there. C&S personnel director Eugene Rackley called Roy in Lagrange, who also had not heard from Mary. Rackley then notified the police. Soon they determined from co-worker Stack that she had been at Lenox the night before. Rackley called security there. Officers searched but found no vehicle fitting the description of Little’s, a gray 1965 Mercury Comet. Rackley drove to the shopping center to search for Little’s car. He was unsuccessful. Little’s husband Roy was contacted by police and asked to return to Atlanta.
Shortly after noon, security found Little’s car in the Lenox parking lot. They confirmed that the car had not been there earlier. The area around the vehicle was secured, and police began to examine it. The car’s engine was cold. The front and rear seats had smears of blood, as did the right front window.
Little’s underwear was folded neatly between the seats, along with a pair of stockings that had been neatly cut. All had small blood stains. The bags of groceries and a cake from the previous evening were in the back seat, along with other items she had purchased. Not in the car were her John Romaine handbag and white London Fog raincoat, which have never been located. A laboratory would later match the blood type found in the car to Mary’s.
The car was covered in a fine coat of red clay dust. Later it was discovered that Roy Little had maintained a mileage log. With that information, it was calculated that the car had been driven 41 miles after initially leaving Lenox the night of Little’s disappearance. Ground searches began in the area. National Guard troops would soon join in the search.
Investigators interviewed hundreds of individuals. Numerous leads were pursued. Every aspect of Mary’s life was scrutinized, as was Roy’s. Substantial resources were dedicated to the case, and media outlets covered Little’s disappearance widely. All of this led to no significant leads as to her whereabouts.
A month later, there was a development in the case. Two credit card receipts turned up from Little’s Humble Oil charge card. The card was used early on the morning of October 15 in Charlotte, Little’s hometown. The vehicle was described as a white over blue 1956 or 57 Buick. She was said to be with one man.
A few hours later, there was another charge in Raleigh, where she was reported to be with two men. Attendant Darrel Thomas at the Esso station in Charlotte described a woman who kept her face hidden by a road map but seemed to have a head injury and had blood on her clothing.
Mrs. Roy Little signed both charge slips, and Mary’s family confirmed it as her handwriting. The FBI’s handwriting analysis was inconclusive, partly because the samples were small and carbon copies of the originals. They suggested that it was also possible that Mrs. Little had not yet grown accustomed to signing her married name. The license plate number that the attendants recorded had been stolen in Charlotte. Investigators found no record of any later use of the card.
In November, Mary’s husband Roy broadcast an appeal for her safe return over radio and television stations. In early December, the FBI officially joined the investigation. Veteran investigator Special Agent Jim Ponder, who had spent time with APD unofficially involved in the case, was now officially in charge.
Investigators found some odd circumstances in Mary’s life before her disappearance. She had been receiving strange calls at her office, and a co-worker recalled her responding to one, saying, “I’m a married woman now.” Another co-worker overheard Mary say, “You can come over to my house anytime you like, but I can’t come over there.”
Little had received a delivery of roses from an anonymous source shortly before October 14. The florist was unable to provide any details about the sender.
There were rumors of unsavory activity inside the bank. There were even assertions that it was being investigated by inside “plants”. Some suggested that Mary may have been involved. No evidence ever came to light that substantiated Mary’s connection to any of those claims.
The media described the climate in North Atlanta after the disappearance as “mass hysteria.” Sales of locks, tear gas pens and other weapons skyrocketed.
A high school friend of Mary’s told investigators that in the weeks before her disappearance, Mary had been afraid to be home alone or in her car alone.
Mary’s husband, Roy, declined several requests from police and the FBI to take a polygraph exam. After her disappearance, Mary’s roommates persuaded their landlord to let them out of their lease and relocated to an apartment near Buckhead. The husband of one of her former roommates received a chilling phone call, with the caller saying, “Your wife is next.”