Mary Margaret Cook

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Above Images: Mary, circa 1970

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Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: November 14, 1970 from Highland City, Florida
  • Classification: Endangered Missing
  • Date of Birth: April 26, 1945
  • Age: 25 years old
  • Height and Weight: 4'11, 145 - 150 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Biracial (Caucasian/Native American) female. Brown hair, blue/hazel eyes. Mary wears cats-eye eyeglasses and cannot see without them. She had excellent teeth in 1970 and had never needed dental care. She has a birthmark on the outside of her right leg, above her ankle.
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description: Possibly a green dress.
  • Medical Conditions: Mary may have been pregnant at the time of her disappearance.
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    Details of Disappearance

    Mary was last seen on November 14, 1970. Her husband says she left her home in Highland City, Florida to go on a shopping trip at the J. M. Fields store in Lakeland, Florida and buy Christmas presents for her two sons, then aged five and three. She never returned. Her white 1959 Cadillac coupe was found abandoned in the store's parking lot the following day. Mary's wallet and purse were inside the car, but $200 which her husband supposedly gave her for the presents was missing. She left behind her wedding rings, which she normally wore all the time. No one saw her or her car at the store that day.

    Investigators view Mary's husband, Leathern "Earl" Cook, as the prime suspect in her disappearance. A photo of him is posted below this case summary. They had been married for eight years at the time of Mary's disappearance in 1970. Earl was interviewed extensively and in 2003, the police dug up the garage floor of the house they lived in in 1970, suspecting Mary's body might be buried there. Earl also provided them with a blood sample.l They found no evidence and Earl was never charged. He always maintained his innocence in her case and told their children that Mary left of her own accord. Earl remarried two ywears after Mary's disappearance, got divorced in 2000, married a third time and died in Greenacres, Florida in 2007, at the age of 66.

    Mary's oldest son stated he saw his parents arguing on the day of his mother's disappearance and that Earl told him not to look outside. He believes Mary's body was concealed in a red blanket from the house and was buried within some hours' distance of Highland City. Mary's mother took care of her sons for some time after her disappearance, but when she found out the police suspected Earl was involved, she confronted him and directly asked if he'd killed Mary. He never answered; instead, he simply took the boys and left.

    Some have suggested that Mary's disappearance is related to the disappearance of Peggy Byars-Baisden, who vanished from Highland City in April 1965. Both Mary and Byars-Baisden are the mothers of two children each, both were in their twenties, and they resided on the same street. However, investigators do not think the two women knew each other and have not been able to link their disappearances.

    Mary was a stay-at-home mother at the time of her disappearance. Earl often went to West Palm Beach, Florida, hours away from Highland City, for painting jobs during the week and returned to Highland City to spend weekends at home. Foul play is suspected in Mary's case but little evidence is available in her disappearance.

    Earl
    Above: Leathern "Earl" Cook in the 1970s

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    Investigating Agency
    If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
    Polk County Sheriff's Office
    863-533-0344

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    Source Information
    The Doe Network
    ABC Action News
    The Palm Beach Post
    Porchlight International for the Missing and Unidentified
    NamUs

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    Updated 8 times since October 12, 2004.

    Last updated March 9, 2016; details of disappearance updated.

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