In the fall of 1980, the young Gamboa couple was just beginning their life as a family in Modesto, California when their happily ever after was tragically cut short.
Richard and Bonnie Gamboa, along with their newborn son Richard Jr., spent only one day together at their home before Richard had to return to work. While Richard was anxious about leaving the baby, who was only a few days old, Bonnie assured him that everything would be fine.
The couple spoke on the phone that morning, and Bonnie told Richard that a photographer, whom they had hired do a photo shoot of the baby, had arrived. When he called them later that day to check in, however, no one answered, and he rushed home to find a crime scene that changed the course of his life forever.
Although Bonnie’s car was still parked outside and her purse had been left behind, both Bonnie and baby Richard were missing.
After searching the backyard and finding that the back door had been left open, Richard called 911.
“I just became overwhelmed with anxiety. We were so scared,” Bonnie’s sister, Barbara Allen, told “Buried in the Backyard,” airing Thursdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
As authorities began to survey the scene, Richard pointed out that numerous things — diapers, the baby carrier, and his buck knife that he had left on the table — were missing. Making their way to the back of the house, investigators found a garden hose had been left running in the grass and, soon after, something even more disturbing: blood.
“You could see blood, and it was a large amount of blood,” Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office Detective Edward Viohl told producers. “It wasn’t a bloody nose, it wasn’t a cut finger — somebody bled on that lawn.”
The discovery was similarly alarming to Modesto Police Department Detective Richard Breshears, who was also on the scene that day.
“When you find that much blood, that just kind of sends a shiver up and down your spine, knowing that this is not going to turn out OK,” he told “Buried in the Backyard.”
Authorities brought Richard down to the station for questioning, and they contacted family members who could shed light on the couple’s relationship. While family admitted that Richard’s protectiveness of Bonnie could be viewed as obsessiveness, they were a happy couple.
Similarly, Richard told police he and his wife had a great relationship, and that he would never harm her. When Richard’s boss backed up his alibi, he was ruled out as a suspect.
“Richard was overprotective, but I don’t think in any of my family’s mind was there ever a possibility that Richard would have harmed her,” Allen told producers. “It just was inconceivable to us.”
Detectives then turned their attention to the photographer who was scheduled to photograph the baby that day. Richard told authorities that Bonnie had received a phone call two days prior from someone who claimed to be a photographer.
The photographer said they wanted to take pictures of the family and the baby for advertising purposes, and that the images would be free of charge.
While it was a promising lead, Richard didn’t know the photographer’s name because only Bonnie had talked to them. Authorities began searching the phonebook for local photographers, but more than a day later, they were no closer to tracking down the supposed photographer.
A physical search of the areas surrounding the Gamboa home also turned up empty.
As police began to theorize that someone may have planned a home invasion in order to kidnap the baby, possibly with the aim of selling the child on the black market, Bonnie’s loved ones, especially Richard, were distraught.
“He didn’t know what to do with himself,” Bonnie’s niece, Pamela Lovett, said of Richard. “It was awful to see him so broken.”
Test results later confirmed that the blood found on the lawn matched Bonnie’s blood type. As more time passed with no progress in the case, authorities went to the press, who published various stories on the Gamboa disappearance. While this initially resulted in an influx of tips, none of the leads went anywhere.
That is, until, a mother called authorities to report that she had received a call from a woman who expressed interest in wanting to take photos of her newborn baby — the same type of call that Bonnie received before she went missing.
She went on to describe a strange interaction with the so-called photographer. The woman arrived at her door without a camera, and she claimed that she had left it in the car.
What happened next was even more puzzling: A neighbor stopped by the house unexpectedly, and the photographer became startled. She told the baby’s mother that she was going to her car to retrieve her camera, but she never returned to the house.
“That was rather suspicious because all of this happened right before Bonnie Gamboa and her child went missing,” Viohl told producers. “When we compared this woman’s story to what Richard Gamboa told us, we felt that we were on the right track.”
The search grew more pointed as investigators worked to track down this mysterious photographer, described by the witness as a woman with dark hair and a medium build who appeared to be in her early 30s.
After a local newspaper announced a reward for information on Bonnie and her baby, another anonymous tip came in. A woman reported that her neighbor, a suspicious woman named Mary Wry, told everyone that she was expecting a child, even though she never appeared to be pregnant.
She said that Wry then showed up with a newborn baby on the same day that Bonnie and her child went missing.
Looking into Wry, police found that there was a warrant out for her arrest in connection to a previous DUI. Authorities wasted no time in paying Wry a visit at her home, and after coming up with an excuse to get inside the house, they quickly spotted a baby bottle on the counter, which Wry tried to conceal from their view.
When detectives asked if there was a baby in the home, Wry initially said no before changing her story in a way that struck the investigators as extremely odd.
“She said, ‘I gave birth to it myself.’ It was very bizarre,” Breshears told producers.
Things only got stranger from there.
After agreeing to let the detectives see the baby, they found proof that the baby in Wry’s house was the kidnapped Gamboa child: The infant had webbed feet and a fold in his ear, two family traits that Richard Jr. had inherited.
Detectives confronted Wry with their suspicions, and she denied being involved in the disappearance of Bonnie and her newborn. Wry claimed that her boyfriend, Ron Shembarger, wanted to have a baby, but because she had undergone a tubal ligation after having multiple children of her own, she bought the baby from a couple at a shopping center.
Authorities were unconvinced, and a search of the home revealed disturbing clues that something sinister was afoot. Wry had saved old newspapers containing birth announcements and had underlined the names of baby boys, including that of Richard Gamboa Jr. She had also circled the family’s name in the phone book.
As Wry continued to deny any involvement with the Gamboa disappearance, authorities uncovered more damning evidence, including blood in the trunk of Wry’s car.
“It was just a massive amount of blood. We did not feel that anybody could survive that,” Viohl told producers.
Investigators took Wry into custody and subsequently interviewed her boyfriend, Ron Shembarger, who said that in early 1980, Wry claimed she was pregnant with their child. He believed Wry had given birth to Richard Jr. and said that he had no idea she had undergone a tubal ligation and was unable to have more children.
Authorities eventually concluded that Shembarger was not involved in the case, and that Wry had carried out the kidnapping in an effort to save her relationship.
After the blood from Wry’s car proved to be a match to the blood found on the Gamboa lawn, Wry was charged with murder and kidnapping.
Although Wry refused to reveal Bonnie’s location, a call soon came in that put the mystery of the missing mother to rest.
A man named Harold Duffy was surveying a peach orchard near the Gamboa home when he noticed something sticking out of the tall grass. Upon closer inspection, he found the decomposed body of a woman who had suffered multiple stab wounds.
An autopsy confirmed the body was Bonnie, and that she had been stabbed to death, possibly with the buck knife missing from the house.
Authorities theorized that once Bonnie tried to stop Wry from abducting her child, a struggle ensued near the back of the house, and Wry stabbed her. She then used the hose to wash the blood off the walkway and fled the scene with Bonnie’s body in the trunk of her car.
“She buried that body in the backyard orchard, and she took that child home,” Viohl told producers.
After Wry’s arrest, the baby was reunited with his family, but Richard Gamboa struggled with the trauma of what had happened to his family.
“My dad was broken. He was hurting. It was like a piece of him had died with her,” Richard Jr., now an adult with a family of his own, told producers. “I couldn’t imagine how hard that would have been at the time.”
In July 1981, Wry stood trial for her crimes against the Gamboa family, and was found guilty of murder and two counts of kidnapping.
She was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Richard died eight years after his wife following a battle with addiction.
To learn more about the case, watch “Buried in the Backyard” on Oxygen.com.