Mary Margaret Begay was 20 years old when she left her home in Leupp to go work at Grand Canyon National Park.
The year was 1957. Begay worked at the Bright Angel Lodge.
One day in August, she and three friends walked from their employee housing dorm to the Grand Canyon Inn to do some drinking. According to one of the friends, Begay got into a vehicle with two unknown Hopi men.
“She was never heard from again,” said Joe Sumner, volunteer investigator for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office cold case unit.
The cold case unit is currently trying to solve more than 40 missing persons and cold cases in the county like Begay’s. Sumner, who retired from the National Park Service in 2007 as a criminal investigator, came onto the cold case unit in 2008.
“It’s a classic case of ‘fall between the cracks,’” Sumner said.
The company Begay worked for at the Canyon fired her when she did not show back up for work and boxed up all of her personal belongings. Her family came for a visit and discovered she was gone. They reported Begay missing to Navajo authorities.
But it wasn’t until the discovery in October 1958 of a skeleton near Grand Canyon that Begay’s missing person case became known to then-Sheriff Cecil Richardson. It was believed at the time that the bones may belong to Begay because clothing found near the bones were “consistent” with the clothing — white sweater and pedal-pusher pants — Begay was last seen wearing, said Lt. Tim Cornelius of the sheriff’s office.
The bones, it turned out, belonged to a much younger female who was not of Native American descent. That case, too, is cold, and is known as Little Miss X.
By 1959, Richardson was looking elsewhere for Begay. He had authorities in Los Angeles interview one of the women Begay had been friends with at the Grand Canyon job. The woman told authorities that she believed Begay had fled her life and was living in Los Angeles, too, and did not want her family to know her whereabouts. Another acquaintance heard that Begay had married, had a child and was living in Oregon.
Neither of those angles have panned out, Sumner said. And as to the idea that she left her family and moved to Los Angeles or Oregon to start a new life, Sumner said he was doubtful.
Begay had been in constant touch with her family, and she was not estranged from them.
“There is no evidence she’s still alive,” Sumner said.
Meanwhile, more than 50 years later, many of Begay’s family members have gone to their graves not knowing what happened to her. If Begay were still alive, she would be 74 years old. The Grand Canyon Inn no longer exists; it was torn down in the 1960s.
Sumner said that DNA samples have been taken from Begay’s surviving sister. The idea was to test the sample against the hair follicles from Little Miss X to definitively rule her out as being Begay. The hair follicles did not provide a DNA profile when tested, so no comparison could be made.
The bones, after being exhumed in 1962, were reburied, but there is no record of where, other than at Citizens Cemetery. The search continues to find the remains of Little Miss X.
Regardless, Sumner said there is possible DNA evidence that still remains on a necklace found with the bones that is currently undergoing processing for a profile.
The samples taken from Begay’s family will be entered into a national DNA database for possible future comparisons.
Cornelius said Begay’s family still calls at regular intervals for an update on the case. They live relatively traditional lives in the Tolani Lake area of the Navajo Nation.
“Hopefully, we can solved this and find out where she is,” Cornelius said. “It sure would be nice to give the family closure on that.”
If anybody has information about this case, contact the sheriff’s office cold case division at 774-4523, or visit the Facebook page.
Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.