• Ashley

Episode 1: Mary Anderson

Updated: Jun 16

On this episode of Washed Away, I'm going to tell you about the unusual death of Mary Anderson, a mysterious woman who claimed to have no relatives, no one to care about what happened to her and yet she's made a lasting impression on dozens of strangers, including myself. I'm Ashley Smith and I've been researching this case for so long that I now feel closer to Mary than anyone... both literally and figuratively. Because I've never been able to give up on a good mystery without learning every single detail available and because she was buried just a few blocks from my house in Crown Hill Cemetery. But before I get ahead of myself, let's go back to the beginning. To October of 1996... a time before iPhones, social media, the TSA, and a bunch of other things that would probably have made this case a lot easier to solve. And this is where I should warn you: we'll be talking about suicide in this episode. Listener discretion is advised.

Sources for this episode include: NAMUS, Websleuths, The Doe Network, and The Seattle PI.


An important note: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, 24/7 service that can provide suicidal persons or those around them with support, information, and local resources. Put this number in your phone just in case you or a loved one ever need it: 800-273-8255 (TALK)


Here are the new digital illustrations of a younger looking "Mary". They were created by talented forensic artist, Natalie Murry. Please save them and share them, especially if you live in New York or Canada.


The number on these flyers calls the King County Medical Examiner's Office here in Seattle. Any and all tips will be welcomed.


Big thank you to Dr. Kathy Taylor for talking to me and helping me create the first episode of this podcast.


And I'll be sure to post these images on social media as well, so they're easy to repost or retweet. You can find Washed Away on Twitter and Instagram.


If you liked this episode, I definitely recommend listening to the next one. Episode 2: Mark Ashland is basically "part two" of this story.




Transcript-

Ashley:

On this episode of Washed Away I'm going to tell you about the unusual death of Mary Anderson, a mysterious woman who claimed to have no relatives, no one to care about what happened to her, and yet she's made a lasting impression on dozens of strangers. And that includes me. I'm Ashley Smith and I've been researching this case for so long. I now feel closer to Mary than anyone, both literally and figuratively, because I've never been able to give up on a good mystery without learning every single detail. And because she was buried just a few blocks from my house in Crown Hill Cemetery. But before I get ahead of myself, let's go back to the beginning. To October of 1996... A time before iPhones, social media, the TSA, and a bunch of other things that would have probably made this case a lot easier to solve. And this is where I should warn you, we'll be talking about suicide in this episode. So listener discretion is advised.

Dr. Taylor:

This case has just really plagued us and me in particular, it's a huge mystery.

Ashley:

That's the voice of Dr. Kathy Taylor. She's a forensic anthropologist for Washington state and she's been working on this Mary Anderson case since day one. Here's a little background on what Dr. Taylor does and why she does it.

Dr. Taylor:

A forensic anthropologist is an expert in human skeletal anatomy and applying that to medical legal death investigation, but that also includes identification of unidentifieds. So I manage the county's unidentified cases and ways to ID them.

Ashley:

So why did you choose to go into this kind of work?

Dr. Taylor:

Actually, I was a pre-med student as an undergrad and then I took my first anthropology class, which happened to be a human evolution class and I absolutely loved it and I loved the fact that bones can tell you so much about a person and the way they lived and their life history. And I decided that this was what I wanted to do. I've always been a very deductive thinker, can't really think inductively, which is why I didn't do well in organic chemistry or engineering calculus, but I love anything deductive. And so this was sort of the perfect match for me and my, my passion for reading bones with my deductive thinking skills.

Ashley:

I'm sure you've been using those skills quite a bit on this Mary Anderson case. Can you walk me through the very beginning of this story? Like the day you got the call and went to the scene...Take me back there.

Dr. Taylor:

So I was an investigator and I had just started, actually I started in August of 1996 so this was one of my first field cases and we got called down to a very nice hotel in downtown Seattle for a woman who had checked in on October 9th. She had paid cash. She had signed the register as Mary Anderson. She had given a New York address and phone number and put the do not disturb sign on her door and had no contact with hotel staff. And when she failed to check out on the 11th, they entered the room and found her deceased. Called the police. The police in turn called our office and we responded. She was lying on the bed, very, very peaceful looking. She had a Bible on her chest that was open to the 23rd psalm, which is the death Psalm. The "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death."

Dr. Taylor:

She had a prescription bottle on the bed table, but the label had been removed. She had a suicide note on the desk was on hotel stationary and it read "to whom it may concern, I have decided to end my life and no one is responsible for my death." She signed it. Mary Anderson "P.S. I have no relatives. You can use my body as you choose." The interesting thing on that is that the signature was Mary Anderson, which is how she signed in at the hotel, but they didn't look the same. The flow was off and it was our interpretation that she was not comfortable with it, with signing that. So we are presuming Mary Anderson was an alias.

Ashley:

If you're wondering why someone would choose the name Mary Anderson as an alias, well you should know that in the United States, Mary was consistently one of the most popular names for girls from 1880 all the way until 1961 and the name Anderson was the 11th most common surname reported in the 1990 United States census. Being that my name is Ashley Smith, I can not relate to this more, but there were a few notable Mary Anderson's that she could have been inspired by, like the woman who invented the windshield wiper. That was Mary Elizabeth Anderson. Then there was an actress named Mary Bebe Anderson, but what I think might be the most likely explanation is a character named Mary Anderson on the soap opera days of our lives. That character was on TV pretty much daily in the seventies and eighties and it's entirely possible that our Mary would have watched that show.

Dr. Taylor:

There was no identification anywhere in the room. She had removed the label on the prescription bottle. She didn't have a purse, she didn't have a wallet, and in fact she even removed her partial dental plate. Presumably because dentists are required, at least in the state of Washington, to put identified marks, either a social security number or a name in dental plates, so that was removed and not found. So we did not know who, who she actually was. We from the beginning, assumed Mary Anderson was an alias. And when we researched the phone number and address that she left, they were both from New York. They were legitimate zips for New York and other legitimate area code for New York. But the phone number didn't exist and the address did not exist. So she clearly had some familiarity with New York, whether she had lived there or she researched it in order to come up with a viable zip code and area code for New York.

Ashley:

So here's what Mary put down for her address. One, three, two East third street, New York, New York one, one, one zero three and her phone number, that was two, one, two, five, six, nine, five, five, four, nine. But since those leads didn't go anywhere in 1996, Dr. Taylor had to get creative.

Dr. Taylor:

One of the, the very first things we did just on the off chance that her name actually was Mary Anderson, we called all the Mary Anderson's in the phonebook, which was a very uncomfortable conversation because they answer and you say, "are you Mary Anderson?" And they'll say, "yes I am". And you say, "okay, thank you very much. Goodbye." Because obviously you're not dead. So we ruled out local Mary Anderson's. We put it out in the media, we put it out and a lot of people were calling and saying, Oh, I knew a Mary Anderson and you know, I went to high school with her in 1929. Yeah, well that's not our Mary, but thank you for calling. Then I actually even went on Hard Copy, which was an old tv show, I'm just trying to reach more of a widespread audience and we got some phone calls there too. But the problem here is that we don't think Mary Anderson is her name. I mean we had to entertain the possibility that it was her name and that's why we pursued it. But we're pretty confident because of the way she signed the... Her two signatures just don't look the same and there's no flow, you know, there's no flow to the signature like she's comfortable signing and or experienced in signing that name. So we think her name probably is not Mary Anderson. And given that she's gone to such great lengths to hide, presumably that's an alias.

Ashley:

I found that such a bizarre detail because you would think that you wouldn't sign your suicide note with a fake name or you just wouldn't sign it at all.

Dr. Taylor:

Right. Unless you want to mislead the authorities and you don't want to be found.

Ashley:

And that fact is what made me feel a little unsure about trying to find the truth about Mary. Kind of made me feel guilty for looking into her story so much because she made it so clear that she wanted to be anonymous.. And I guess forgotten.

Dr. Taylor:

You know, there's some validity in that, but what about her family? What about all the people who are missing her? What if she was not mentally stable at the time that she made this decision to end her life and somebody really is missing her and maybe if given a few more weeks she would have made a different choice? I don't know what circumstances made her get to where she is or was. In the sense that I don't know what drove her to want to commit suicide and to, to do it so anonymously, but she deserves to have her name back. I think we do our job to benefit the living and to answer questions for the people that are left behind.

Ashley:

I wasn't able to find much data on how many people complete suicide anonymously, meaning like Mary, they went out of their way to remain unidentified even after death and it makes sense. That would be a really hard thing to track. But I do have some other startling stats from the World Health Organization and NamUs: around 600,000 people go missing every year, though most are eventually found. Sadly, close to 50,000 people die due to suicide every year and around 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered each year. All of those numbers are for the United States alone. And it's not unbelievable to think that some of those numbers probably overlap in one way or another.

Ashley:

And then there's the interesting detail of not who Mary Anderson really was, but what she used to end her life.

Dr. Taylor:

So she had ingested cyanide, which is not a readily available substance. My understanding, from doing some research on cyanide, is that it is technically a controlled substance. And it's used certainly in mining and I would guess in jewelry as well. I mean, obviously cyanide is lethal. She had to have access. So that added to the mystery.

Ashley:

There's also a really weird collection of items found in Mary's luggage.

Dr. Taylor:

So there was a variety of velour. She had a full size iron, which I wouldn't travel with. She had containers of crystal light. She had Estee Lauder cosmetics, she had some Metamucil. And I don't think you iron velour so we couldn't figure out why she had the velour clothing and the iron. We all, I remember sitting on the floor with her suitcases open and we were all going through the suitcases and looking at the products and brainstorming, "Hey, let's see if we can track the warranty on the iron. Hey, let's see if we can track the serial numbers or the lot numbers on the cosmetics." I mean we were all, we were trying everything to try to get her IDed, anything outside the box, inside the box, whatever. And nothing stood out. And you know, this is a woman who has an IUD (and we tried to trace the number on the IUD and didn't get anywhere with it) and breast reduction surgery. So she clearly cared about her appearance and you know, had relationships. I'm presuming. This is not somebody that is, you know, on the edge of society. I mean I think she was a prominent member of society. I just don't know why we can get her IDed.

Ashley:

One reason for that actually might be that it's really hard to tell how old or young Mary was. Her age range is anywhere between 30 and 60 depending on which source you're looking at.

Dr. Taylor:

The one drawing that's up on most of the websites has her looking, the way she looked made up, which is much older. She had a tremendous amount of makeup on when we took off all that makeup. It was startling to me how much younger she looked. Really startling. I've never had a case where somebody looks so different without makeup, and I'm contemplating, I work with a forensic artist and I'm thinking of asking her if she would an updated sketch. Actually, I'm going to do that because with the digital format and the technology advances we can probably produce a more realistic photo of her. Of course. I don't know if people knew her made up or they knew her without makeup. I think it's time for some updated recreations. Maybe one of her made up and then one of her without the makeup just to see if that jogs anyone's memory.

Ashley:

And of course I asked Dr. Taylor about the usual ways that people are identified - like fingerprints and DNA.

Dr. Taylor:

We, her prints are in the system, fingerprints are in the system, and they've never hit. Her dental charting is in the system and that's never hit. And her DNA is in the system in CODAS and that hasn't hit. So could she be from out of the country? Could she be from somewhere? Well clearly she could be from out of state.

Ashley:

So when you run her fingerprints and her DNA, is that just in the United States or is that a global test?

Dr. Taylor:

Fingerprints are run. Well, just in the United States. I mean the FBI, they run all the way up to the level of the FBI, which is AFIS. Her DNA goes into CODIS, which is US. The interesting thing is US CODIS doesn't have a good connection, if any connection at all with Canadian CODIS. And we've encountered that on other cases, which is difficult when you're a border state like Washington. So if she's from out of the country, that would be much more difficult to ID her through DNA. What we're really hoping obviously is that family is going to miss her and report her missing and give family reference samples into the system so we can get a hit. But that has not happened.

Ashley:

So could Mary have possibly been from Canada? A small detail in this case is that she supposedly had a couple maple leaves laying on top of an open issue of The Seattle Weekly. Maple leaves are most widely recognized as the national symbol for Canada, but maple trees are quite common in Washington state. In fact, the city of Chehalis is known as the maple leaf city and there's even a Seattle neighborhood called maple leaf. Was Mary leaving a possible clue about where she was from or did she just think they were pretty? It was fall in the Pacific Northwest... Leaves were probably carpeted all over the sidewalks and streets, but it's still something to consider. I also wondered if her DNA had been tested or compared to any available genealogy profiles.

Dr. Taylor:

We have not done that yet and we could, we could do that. That's very new and we are doing that on, on several other cases. And this one would be definitely one to do it on. So that might be in the future.

Ashley:

So if you haven't been keeping track of the somewhat recent advancements in DNA technology, you're not alone. Cold cases are getting solved left and right these days due to some distant cousins submitting their DNA to a public database like GEDmatch, for example, and unexpectedly discovering that they're related to a murderer. Of course the site doesn't tell you that, but genealogists put together a family tree based on the submitted DNA and then police can access that and see if it matches any unidentified DNA that they may have on file for an open case. In fact, genetic genealogy was actually the big break that helped police finally catch the Golden State Killer in 2018. Anyway, I just thought that was interesting. But let's get back to Mary and Dr. Taylor.

Dr. Taylor:

She was one of my first cases and we all feel defeated. Like she beat us, that we can't figure out who she is. And typically when we have unidentifieds, we either get fingerprint matches because they're in the system or families reported them missing. And in this case that's not happening. And because of the surgical scars and the IUD and the cosmetics, I mean, she appears to be a well off person that had financial resources. You know, that's, it's very perplexing that somebody like that is not reported missing and is not in the system.

Ashley:

Have there ever been any leads or missing persons that seem like they could have been a good match? Have you ever gotten anywhere close?

Dr. Taylor:

We've had several one that I remember pretty well was a woman out of Louisiana that was missing. And her physicals fit and I really got my hopes up, but it turned out she had fingerprints in the system. She should have hit on the fingerprints, but we asked AFIS to do a manual comparison and she did not match. So our hopes were dashed.

Ashley:

Is there anything else that can be done now? Any other steps that can be taken in 2020 to help identify her?

Dr. Taylor:

The more we get the word out... But what we really need is the family of this woman, somebody, a friend, a family member, somebody to say, "I wonder what happened to ___?" And start exploring. I mean, there are public websites NamUs is accessible to the public. The Doe Network is accessible to the public. If they start doing research, trying to figure out where that missing loved one is or what happened to them, that's probably the best thing that's going to happen is that somebody is going to make a call and say, "Hey, I'm looking for my aunt or my sister and she was last known to be traveling to Seattle," or somebody in New York, or wherever she's from is gonna say, "well, we don't know what happened to her. Let's file a missing persons report and let's get her DNA into the system." and we're just waiting, hoping that eventually something like that is going to happen. They're out there and as time goes by, you know, it's possible that you know, if she had siblings or if she had a husband, or parents... That they're passing away. So time becomes pretty critical in these cases to try to find family and try to get her IDed before relatives pass on.

Ashley:

I'm sure you've worked on thousands of cases over the last couple of decades. Have you even been looking at notes this whole time that we've been talking or is Mary pretty much seared into your brain?

Dr. Taylor:

It's pretty much in my brain. I have not- I know Mary Anderson very well. I don't believe that anybody dies without somebody caring for them or missing them. I believe everybody, no matter what their standing in society is. If they're a CEO of a company or they live under a bridge, it doesn't matter. They're loved and they're missed. And it's really important to us to get them IDed, so it's very, very frustrating.

Ashley:

And that brings me back to what I mentioned in the beginning about strangers. Mary claimed to have no one in life, but clearly she has at least someone in death ... Or really several someones that care about who she really was. From Dr. Taylor, to all the internet detectives on Websleuths, and finally - to me. All of us still living and still willing to try and solve the mystery of Mary.

Ashley:

Since our conversation, Dr. Taylor did have that new digital illustration created. She enlisted the help of forensic artist Natalie Murry and it definitely shows a different side of Mary. She still looks familiar, to the face that I've looked at so many times at this point, but also younger and maybe more modern too. And this is where you come in to help Dr. Taylor and myself and well Mary. We want you to share this new image as far as you can, especially in places like New York or Canada where Mary might've had some history. Help us reach the neighbor, coworker, maybe even hairstylist, that had to have known this person while she was alive. I'll post all the information you need on Instagram and Twitter at washedawaypod. That way, it'll be really easy to retweet and repost or you can go to washedawaypodcast.com which is also where you'll be able to see all of my show notes and sources for this episode.

Ashley:

I'm feeling really optimistic about the possibility of Mary finally getting identified after all these years and it's not just because of the new illustration that hopefully looks more like the real her, but because there's a very similar case to this one from 1984 that was recently solved after almost 40 years cold. One of Seattle's John Doe's finally got his name back just this past February, and I'm going to tell you that incredible story on the next episode.

Ashley:

Washed Away is a Cosmic Bigfoot production. Learn more at cosmicbigfoot.com and before I let you go, here's an important note. The national suicide prevention lifeline is a free 24 seven service that can provide suicidal persons or those around them with support, information, and local resources. Please put this number in your phone just in case you or a loved one ever needs it: (800) 273-8255 that's 802 seven three talk.

Ashley:

Thanks for listening.

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