On the evening of March 25, 1976, 33-year-old Mary Ann Perez went out with a girlfriend for dinner and drinks at the Chalmette, Louisiana, country club, eight miles east of New Orleans. Her friend had left the bar at around 10:00 p.m., and Mary Ann telephoned her daughter Donna at 10:30 p.m., saying she would be home shortly.
Around 1:30 a.m. on March 26, Donna was awakened by a phone call from a woman who said her name was Dorothy. She told Donna her mother was having car trouble but would be home soon. A half-awake Donna thought that was odd; her mom’s car was relatively new and would seem unlikely to have mechanical difficulties. Also, Donna did not know anyone named Dorothy and could not recall her mom ever mentioning anyone by that name.
Nevertheless, Dorothy sounded reassuring, telling Donna there was nothing to worry about and that her mom would be home soon.
“Dorothy” was never identified, and in November 2018, it was confirmed Mary Ann Perez would never come home.
Later that morning, Donna found her mother’s car parked in the Chalmette Country Club parking lot. Three days later, Mary Ann’s purse was found, weighted down with a brick, in Lake Pontchartrain, ten miles away.
No clues to Mary Ann’s fate surfaced for nine years. In 1985, Wichita, Kansas, inmates David and Donna Courtney confessed to a multi-state killing spree. One victim of the husband-and-wife killers sounded as if she might have been Mary Ann. David Courtney told authorities he saw an intoxicated woman as he pulled into a Louisiana bar’s parking lot. After convincing her she was too drunk to drive, he offered to drive her home. He said he picked up his wife, and they took the woman to their trailer, where the woman fell asleep. While she was passed out, Courtney says he and his wife both raped her. When she awoke, they continued making sexual advances toward her, at which point she became irate.
Courtney says he told the woman they would take her home. He says Donna drove while he and the woman were in the back seat. When the woman realized they were not taking her home, she again became hysterical. Courtney says he raped her and then strangled her with a coat hanger. Believing her dead, they dumped the woman’s body in a ditch near the Louisiana-Mississippi state line and did not attempt to hide her body.
On another occasion, Courtney said the woman was having car trouble, which fits in with what “Dorothy” had told Mary Ann’s daughter. He identified the woman as Mary Ann and also identified her car. Donna Courtney admitted throwing the woman’s purse over the side of a bridge, consistent with the area where Mary Ann’s bag was found.
However, New Orleans Police and Mississippi police showed no records of a body found in the area where Courtney said they dumped the woman. Some parts of Courtney’s story suggested the woman was not Mary Ann. Mary Ann was not a big drinker, and her friend said she was not drunk when she saw her at the bar at 10:00 p.m. Also, a mechanic who examined Mary Ann’s car determined it was in perfect running condition.
The district attorney determined there was not enough evidence to charge the Courtneys in connection with Mary Ann’s disappearance. No new leads surfaced for another five years.
In 1990, fourteen years after her disappearance, Mary Ann’s daughter-in-law received a phone call from an anonymous woman. She asked to speak to Mary Ann’s son, but he was not home, so his wife took the call. With fear in her voice, the woman claimed Mary Ann was still alive and implied she did not know who she was and was being held against her will. The caller said she was making the call in hiding, and, before hanging up, said she would not be able to phone again. Her identity is still a mystery, and it was not determined if she and “Dorothy” were the same person.
The bodies of all of the Courtneys’ known victims were found where they said they would be. However, the possibility that Mary Ann could still be alive seemed remote as no confirmed sightings of her surfaced. The case stalled again, staying cold for another 27 years.
Donna Courtney served ten years in prison as an accomplice in her husband’s killing spree. She was paroled in 1990, shortly before the anonymous phone call claiming Mary Ann was still alive, but police could not find any evidence she had made the call. Donna Courtney has since died.
Convicted of three murders, the now 77-year-old David Courtney is serving a life sentence in a Kansas prison. He will be eligible for parole in 2022.
In December 2017, New Orleans Police announced they believe they had found the remains of Mary Ann Perez. A Mobile County, Alabama cold-case investigator, contacted them, saying skeletal remains found by hunters in a cornfield matched Mary Ann’s features. The physical characteristics, the jewelry, and the clothes found on the corpse were consistent with Mary Ann’s stature and what she was wearing when last seen.
The remains were found in November 1976, eight months after Mary Ann’s disappearance, in an area fitting with Courtney’s account except for the remains being just across the Mississippi-Alabama border instead of the Mississippi-Louisiana border. Apparently, the Courtneys’ were having so much fun torturing Mary Ann they blacked out Mississippi.
In May of 2018, investigators announced Mary Ann had been in a car accident shortly before her disappearance and had a partial dental plate on her upper front teeth. This feature matched the dental plate found with the Mobile County, Alabama, Jane Doe. In November of 2018, DNA tests confirmed the remains were those of Mary Ann Perez.
Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi investigators are working together to determine where May Ann was murdered. David Courtney will probably soon be charged with her murder, but it remains to be seen what state and country or parish will file the charges.
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Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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