By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
The house was a wreck, according to Schillinger. The foundation needed repair. Trash and debris filled the interior. A foul odor emanated from the dark, dank rooms. The ceiling was deteriorating.
Carlos did most of the talking that day. He said Eva Mae lived with him. He stressed that he needed bail money and that he planned to find Eva Mae a new place to live. A second man was at the house, but didn't speak, Schillinger says.
Schillinger offered $30,000, and Carlos countered with $32,000, which Schillinger agreed to pay. Eva Mae, he says, signed the contract that day.
"Eva Mae, in her own handwriting, wrote 'Thank you' below her signature," Schillinger says. "She appeared to be happy and relieved."
On January 28, Carlos took Eva Mae to get a copy of her mother's death certificate, which was needed by the title company. A day later, she and Carlos arrived at Fidelity National Title to close the deal.
Carlos was agitated and demanded that they receive a check immediately. The title company reluctantly agreed.
In a matter of moments, Eva Mae signed away her home of 30 years.
Fidelity National Title officials were reluctant to talk to New Times about the sale of Eva Mae's house. A spokesman for the company says nothing appeared suspicious at the closing.
Eva Mae, according to the spokesman, was "lucid" and did not appear "to be under duress."
Schillinger says he spoke to Carlos once more, on January 29, on Carlos' cell phone. The man said he had found Eva Mae a new place to live.
Everything seemed okay.
Eva Mae Wilson may have spent much of her life retreating from society, but she couldn't keep people from liking her.
And worrying about her.
Even strangers who heard about her life alone, caring for a sick mother, found a place for her in their hearts.
Almost as soon as neighbors and acquaintances realized Eva Mae was gone and her home sold, the search for her whereabouts began. Leading the hunt was Donna Nichols, but she wasn't alone.
One of Eva Mae's former co-workers, June Martin, was worried because it had been months since she last heard from her friend.
Eva Mae often wrote her, sharing the poems she liked to write, but she always seemed embarrassed when Martin complimented her. She clipped pages from newspapers and mailed them to Martin. One of Eva Mae's favorite things to do was to play matchmaker with the personal ads. She would link ads together with arrows and scribble comments.
Martin had left Phoenix after retiring from Honeywell in the late 1980s, but her friendship with Eva Mae didn't fully blossom until Martin decided to return to school and complete her college degree.
"She always wanted to go to college, and she would help me with her limited funds," Martin says. "The last time I heard from her was August, and I had sent her some of the money I owed her."
The check, for $50, still hadn't been cashed by late February.
Martin, who lives in Oregon, says long stretches would sometimes pass without a letter. But this time, money was involved, and it wasn't like Eva Mae to ignore money.
Martin called Nichols out of concern, which turned to dread once she heard Eva Mae's house had been sold and that her friend had left with two mysterious men without saying goodbye.
"I would have thought Eva would have seen this as a new opportunity, and would have been so excited. But to just walk to the car clutching her cat?" Martin says. "There is definitely something wrong here."
She worried the old woman might be dead, and she, too, began making calls. She talked to Schillinger, who was growing more concerned as well.
He hadn't given much thought to Eva Mae since buying her house. The deal had worked out well. Within days of putting the home on the market, a California property investor had snapped it up for $59,900.
But then Schillinger heard from Nichols and Martin that Eva Mae had no family, that she had never married and had no children. He couldn't help but wonder about the man named Carlos who had assured him he was the old woman's son-in-law and who so urgently had needed money.
He immediately called Carlos' cell phone. The number had been disconnected. Then he called the title company and suggested officials there call the police.
"Every little thing that happened, it just became more apparent something wasn't right," Nichols says.
With each passing day, the fear intensified that Eva Mae might be stranded somewhere alone or worse -- that she was being held against her will.
Even the property investor, Belinda Exon, and her contractor, Don Daye, joined the search for Eva Mae. Though they had never met Eva Mae, both Exon and Daye became consumed by the search for her whereabouts, spurred by the thought that an older woman, alone in the world, might have been taken advantage of.
Initially, they had been thrilled to find the property for such a great price. Although it was in poor condition, they knew an older historic home, once restored, could sell for more than twice the amount paid.