By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
But once Daye started the renovation, it became clear something wasn't right. Inside the dilapidated house, he found three dead cats that had apparently perished from neglect and a lack of food and water.
Nichols, Daye and Exon became more determined, and found themselves in the unlikely role of detectives.
Exon scoured the Internet every night between business trips from California to Arizona. She could find no mention of Eva Mae or her family on numerous genealogical Web sites.
"I felt every day that goes by, she's less likely to be alive," Exon says. "I think, it could be me. I don't have any children."
The more they searched, the more it became apparent no one had heard from Eva Mae. Even the people she needed to see regularly -- her doctor, Fredrick Frame, and the pharmacy technicians at Fry's who filled her prescriptions -- said they hadn't seen the woman in months.
Frame told New Times that he couldn't discuss his patient, but he says he did talk to the police because Eva Mae required daily medication to stay alive.
Even so, Phoenix police were unable to provide much help to the worried neighbors. Eva Mae was not really a "missing person" -- she'd obviously signed the paperwork to sell her property, and there was little, if anything, to suggest she'd met with theft or violence. There was no reason even to write a report.
On their own, Eva Mae's neighbors had no luck tracking down the mysterious Chris or Carlos.
They talked to postal inspectors about Eva Mae's mail. Nichols told them that Eva Mae received monthly social security checks, and the small amount was all the money she had to live on.
They wheedled this bit of information from postal officials: The mail that was building up contained nothing from the federal social security agency.
Eva Mae had placed a hold on her mail January 29, the same day she sold her house. The mail was scheduled to resume March 1, but no forwarding address had been received.
Nichols grew frustrated that weeks were passing without word. She began to think the police had forgotten, or didn't care, about Eva Mae.
But the old woman's possible plight struck a chord with Phoenix police Detective Gary Schonfelder. He made a few calls, tracking the only viable lead: Where had Eva Mae's social security checks gone?
The checks eventually led Schonfelder to a bank account.
And, last week, to Eva Mae.
Eva Mae Wilson is -- to the delight of her friends and former neighbors -- alive, and, as near as Detective Schonfelder can tell, apparently healthy.
She is living in what police will only say is an apartment on Thomas Road. They say they don't want to violate her privacy or her confidentiality by giving Nichols or anyone else her new address.
Last week, on May 7, Nichols got the call from Schonfelder before she left for work.
"I'm just so shocked, I can't believe it," she says. "I just hope the mailman comes before I get ready to go to work so I can tell him not to get rid of her mail."
Nichols immediately contacted June Martin to tell her the good news.
"I'm just so excited that she's still alive," Martin says. "That was my greatest fear."
But the story hasn't quite reached a happy end. Eva Mae is no longer missing, but the money she should have received from the sale of her house and other funds may well be.
And her current living conditions, according to police, aren't much better than the dilapidated house she left behind.
"The apartment that she lives in is not nice. It's not good," says Phoenix police spokesman Sergeant Randy Force. "She still is very confused how she came to be where she's currently at."
Eva Mae is unable to tell police much about the sale of her house.
"It's not clear in her mind what all happened around the time her house was sold and where the money is," Force says.
Now, the case that wasn't even an official missing persons file has evolved into a full-fledged police investigation. Detectives from the department's Document Crimes division want to review the sale of Eva Mae's house and trace, if they can, where the money went.
"Her mental state is going to be a key component of whether she was taken advantage of or whether she agreed to certain things," Force says.
Investigators won't say much -- how she came to be in the apartment where she's living, or even how long she's been there -- until they have a better idea exactly what happened to Eva Mae.
Still, Force says, "It's not a pretty picture."
"There is some cause for concern there that she has been taken advantage of, and her living conditions, her living standards at this point, are not high.
"That's really going to be disturbing news to her friends."<P