Tawni Mazzone's family finally has closure, nine years after she disappeared

The tragic and mysterious case of 99-305 was ice cold for nine years. Until last week.

What unfolded over a matter of mere hours last Wednesday and Thursday amazed police detectives and others to whom investigative twists and turns are the norm.

But it really happened.

On August 20, someone at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office referred area resident Mike Mazzone to the Unidentified Persons Bureau at the county's Medical Examiner's Office.

He was looking for his long-lost little sister, Tawni.

By all accounts, Mazzone is not particularly Web savvy, which is why neither he nor family members knew that the medical examiner has a Web site right up the alley he was looking.

The agency's Unidentified Persons Bureau is the one-person operation of investigator Suzi Dodt ("Cold Case," July 18, 2008). It includes a site with detailed information about the 200 or so unidentified dead people whose remains have been found in the county since 1973.

Tawni Lee Mazzone disappeared in January 1999, shortly after running away from her mother's home in Phoenix. Family friends and others had reported sightings of the 17-year-old in the weeks after her disappearance, but Tawni never turned up.

A receptionist at the Medical Examiner's Office instructed Mazzone over the phone how to view the agency's Web site, which he did.

The first case he saw was 99-305, which included a morgue photo of a young woman who died on January 27, 1999, a day after she fell or was pushed out of a Cadillac speeding east on Interstate 10 near Casa Grande.

Mazzone saw the haunting postmortem photo of the girl and immediately knew it was his beloved sister. He also saw a close-up photograph of a small, blue tattoo depicting a heart near the girl's chest, another clincher as to her identity.

Stunned, he contacted family members for advice on the next step. An uncle surfed the Net and came upon a site called websleuths.com, which includes forums on true crimes and on the missing and/or unidentified.

Back in October 2006, someone named Reb had introduced 99-305 to the site with the message, "Okay, here's a new puzzle for you sleuthers to chew on."

The case has struck a chord ever since, with dozens of people on websleuths spending endless hours, in thousands of posts, speculating on 99-305's identity.

On the night of August 20, Tawni Mazzone's aunt from Massachusetts e-mailed a websleuths moderator from Georgia named Christine Jones. The aunt reported that "Maricopa Jane Doe," as websleuths were calling 99-305, was Tawni Mazzone.

The aunt, whose first name is Tammy, then spoke on the phone with another websleuther whose screen name is Believe09 (a homemaker from Massachusetts), who had become obsessed with putting a name to 99-305.

Tammy revealed that her niece was a native of Lynn, Massachusetts — a troubled teen who bounced between her divorced parents, finally landing in Phoenix with her mother in the fall of 1998.

About 9 that night, someone who claimed to be Tawni's cousin wrote on the site, "We never knew she was killed. We thought she just ran away and still, to this day, avoided contacting anyone. It is a complete shock and it's very tough for everyone in my family."

Early the next morning, Christine Jones — the websleuths moderator in Peachtree City, Georgia — posted a message on the site that said, "We are 99.5 percent sure that we know who she is . . . OMG, I am reeling."

Believe09, her colleague from Massachusetts, sent a detailed message to Suzi Dodt in Phoenix, including the information that Tawni's former dentist in Massachusetts just had turned over the girl's dental records and X-rays to Aunt Tammy.

Dodt responded, asking Believe09 to fax her a copy of the dental charts and to put the originals of the X-rays in the overnight mail.

While waiting for the fax, Dodt contacted Mike Lancaster, a detective with the Gila River Police Department in Sacaton, Arizona.

Lancaster is a skilled detective whose work was instrumental in the 2005 apprehension on the reservation of murder suspect Samantha Somegustava ("The Case of the Fatal Femme," March 9, 2006).

Earlier, Lancaster had taken on the task of trying to identify 99-305 after visiting Dodt's Web site. He'd noted that the girl had tumbled to her death on a portion of Interstate 10 located on tribal ground, and decided to reinvestigate the case.

"I saw this pretty young girl's photo and told myself that, in this day and age of the Internet and everything, there just had to be a way to get her ID'd," Lancaster said last Sunday.

Working on his own time, Lancaster in recent weeks coincidentally had dug up critical new pieces of information:

Most important, he learned that the name of the driver of the Cadillac was William Walker, not Alonzo Fernandez. The latter was the name that the man had given police after being detained in 1999. (How Walker kept his true identity from authorities throughout his entire criminal proceedings is fodder for another story.)

Walker spent about four months in the Pinal County Jail in 1999 before a judge sentenced him to time served and a long probation term after he plea-bargained to one felony count of leaving the scene of an accident. He soon disappeared, and a county judge issued a warrant for his arrest, which he evaded until the Alameda (California) Sheriff's Office arrested him a few weeks ago on unrelated charges.

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8 comments
Kimberly O'Brien
Kimberly O'Brien

It will be 11 years soon and still Tawni has no justice. That scumbag has gotten away with murder. My heart still aches for Tawni and noone seems to care and make this man do time for what he has done.

JJC
JJC

Sorry about your loss. I see the shrine everyday and wondered who it was, suprised to find it online, hope she rests in peace and you guys get the family innner peace that you all deserve.

Yalena Thurman
Yalena Thurman

I'm really soory that. My family is looking for uncle right now he has been missing for two years now and it really hurting me and his kids. I go to school at Sherman in CA. I was just looking at different things and I saw your stroy so I started reading it and that's why I'm leaving you with this comment... I know how you guys feel cause I lost my grandma last month and she ment everything to me... Sincerly, Yalena ������MAY GOD BLESS YOUR HEARATS������

Debra
Debra

I am Tawni's mother. I have been reading all the news and comments over the last couple of days and can't beleive all the speculation and ignorant comments that have been made by people who only actually know Tawni for a ew months of her life and realy don't know anything about her.

Tawni and I were very close and she she spoke to me about very few people. Her brother and her friends in Colorado were mentioned to me all the time.

On the day that Tawni died, she was in my home with a girl who we beleive was Lindsey DeJong. They were with me at noon in my home and packed Tawni's suitcase and then hurried out. I had a conversation with Lindsey and she should remember it well as I told her Tawni was only 17 and did not work and was a student. She told me that Tawni and her had just met and that Tawni was going to stay with her for a few days and that she would be fine. Tawni and I had an argument the night before and she was walking to a friend's house when we think she may have been approached by Alonzo aka William Walker. He and Lindsey lured her from my home and then when she was in their car on January 1999, the next day, she was scared for her life and begged Lindsey and William to let her go. I do not beleive that Lindsey and William were going to let her out. They knew where she lived and her name becasue they had just left my home with her at noon and the accident was just an hour or so after that time. Lindsey and Alonzo lied about everything. The Pinal County DA let them off after the Grand Jusry asked for manslaughter charges. Jeff Sandler has been ignoring my emails and cals and doing what the Phoenix Police did when I tried to get them to take a report from me about Tawni's leaving home. We would have found her a long time ago if the Phoenix PD had done their job. Now the Pinal DA is ignoring our plea for help as well. So how does Tawni ever get Justice? Lindsey and Alonzo let our daughter die without a name in a hospital without her family and they knew where we lived and that she was just a young 17 year old girl who got in over her head with bad people. That is why they lied...they should BOTH be in jail.

KIMBERLY O'BRIEN
KIMBERLY O'BRIEN

I NORMALLY DO NOT COMMENT ON THINGS LIKE THIS , BUT AFTER WHAT I READ I FEEL THE NEED TO SAY SOMETHING. I AM TAWNI'S AUNT AND HAVE BEEN FOR 39 YEARS. TO SAY THAT HER PARENTS DID NOT DO ENOUGH IS NOT RIGHT. IT IS NOT TIME TO PLAY THE BLAME GAME . I HAVE WATCHED TAWNI GROW FROM A BABY TO A WOMAN. SHE WAS LOVED BY MANY. IF THERE IS ANYONE TO BLAME I GUESS WE SHOULD ALL TAKE A LOOK AT OURSELVES EVEN YOU MARIA. I LOVED TAWNI I GUESS I SHOULD OF LOOKED HARDER TOO. THE PROBLEM IS WE HEARD THAT SHE HAD BEEN SEEN AND HAD BEEN ARRESTED AS LONG AS 2 YEARS AGO. WHY WOULD I BE LOOKING FOR HER IN A MEDEX FILE. AND BY THE WAY AT THE AGE OF 17 AS A WOMAN YOU ARE CONSIDERED AN ADULT AND HAVE THE RIGHT TO YOUR PRIVACY. WE ASSUMED THAT WAS WHAT SHE WAS DOING.THE FAMILY HAS BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH EMOTIONS OVER THE LAST 10 DAYS WITH THE PAIN THAT WE ALL FEEL. MY SISTER HAS SUFFERED ENOUGH OVER THE LAST 9 AND A HALF YEARS. DO NOT BE SO HEARTLESS. YOU OBVIOUSLY DO NOT KNOW MY SIDE OF THE FAMILY AND ALL THEY DID DO TO HELP TAWNI GET ON THE RIGHT TRACK. SHE WAS NEVER FAR FROM OUR THOUGHTS JUST TO FAR AWAY TO SEE. IT IS TIME TO GIVE TAWNI THE PEACE SHE HAS LONG WAITED FOR. AND MY SISTER NEEDS TO LAY HER BABY TO REST. YOU CAN THINK WHAT YOU WANT BUT YOU ARE NOT MUCH OLDER THAN TAWNI. I ACTUALLY BABYSAT FOR YOU WHEN YOU WERE LITTLT. NONES FAMILY IS PERFECT BUT TO SAY SHE WASNOT LOVED IS JUST WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I LOVED TAWNI THEN AND I LOVE HER NOW. IT IS HARD ENIUGH TO SAY GOOD-BYE AS IT IS PLEASE DON'T MAKE IT EVEN MORE PAINFUL.

TAWNIS' LOVING AUNT KIM

Aunt
Aunt

MariaYou are not much older than Tawni. I have watched Tawni grow her whole life and you have no idea what was going on with Tawni, You should be asking yourself the same question. Why didn't you look for Tawni. We never believed she was not alive. If she had died who would ever think she would not have something with her name on it. It is not time for the blame game, My sister loved her daughter, You don't know what you are talking about. This is hard enough to take in as it is. and to be saying such hurtful things is not right. I am her Aunt I guess I should blame myself too. I should of looked harder., But to say I didn't love her is unhuman. We are all suffering from Tawni's death, She had many family who loved and cared for her.She just did't know how to let us love her.

I normally would not comment on a page like this but I have watched my sister for nine and a half years go through hell not knowing where her baby was. She is suffering enough so pleases keep you thoughts to yourself . You were no angel.

Tawni's Aunt Kim

anonymous
anonymous

There was a runaway report filed in Scottsdale.

Maria Guitard Tawni's Cousin
Maria Guitard Tawni's Cousin

I am Tawni's cousin, her father's niece. I am so thankful to so many people who gave so much to a girl they new nothing about but cared enough to never give up trying to give her back her name. The only resentment I have is listening to all the sympathy her parents are getting. There is so much that so many people don't know but should question. But if you ask the questions to yourself it's pretty obvious. The biggest question, why was there never a missing person report? Through all the web groups why where her mother and father not involved in any of it? After nine years has anyone asked what have they done to find her? How when I live in walking distance from my uncle and see him weekly did he not ever mention to us that Tawni was even missing, only that he didn't have contact with her since they moved to Arizona? It amazes me that her mother had custody of Tawni, she was still a minor,which means her mother was responsible for her yet, she isn't being held responsible what so ever for not filing a missing person report, or doing anything to find her so she was left for nine years dead and alone, unnamed, and now lays in an unknown grave and no one is held accountable for anything!! Stop with they sympathy her parents deserve nothing except to feel guilty for everything they didn't do!! There is so much more you don't know. Talk to the family they will talk.

 
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