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Minute Mystery

The Unsolved Disappearance of Dan Wilson | Minute Mystery Episode 1 |

Hello friends, it’s good to see you!  Glad you’re here, hope you’re well.

Today we are going to be talking about Dan Wilson: A quiet, religious, family man living in Spokane, Washington in the United States.

His car was found over 1000km away from his home in the remote Custer County of Montana in August, 1988 with 1/3 of a tank of gas and no obvious mechanical issues.
He didn’t tell anyone he was leaving, and when his family searched his home for clues, all of his belongings- including an un-cashed paycheque from work- were there.
9 years later, in an area already searched by authorities, his remains were found.
So what happened to him?

Described by those who knew him as a quiet, religious, family man, Dan was devoted to his two children, a daughter and a son.

In 1986, Dan and his wife got divorced.  This didn’t impact his relationship with his kids though.  He still made sure to see them often and worked to keep his relationship with them strong.

1987 was a hard year for Dan. He was struggling with his mental health, and those that were close to him thought he was suffering from the divorce. But he sought help and decided to take medication to help him get through this tough time. In fact, in the June of 1988 Dan got a job at the ACS Machine Tool Company. He was well liked, and all his coworkers said he was a “steady and reliable employee”.

 By summer 0f 1988, Dan was doing well, he had stopped taking medication, was flourishing at work and said he “had his life back under control.”

On Wednesday, August 24, 1988, Dan’s foreman went to check up on him and the progress of what he was working on.  Dan, out of nowhere, started getting mad and yelling at him. The foreman, confused, tried to tell Dan he was just checking in and that there was nothing wrong or no hard feelings, but Dan continued to go off on him.

The foreman was so shocked by Dan’s behaviour; he went to the plant manager because he felt like something just wasn’t right.  That wasn’t like Dan. The plant manager agreed that wasn’t like him.  Worried, they told Dan to go home and take some time off to figure out and deal with whatever had him so upset.  They told him not to worry, and to return to work when he was ready.

Dan stormed out of the ACS Maching Tool Company at 11am, on August 24, 1988.

Two days later, on August the 26th, Dan’s neighbours noticed that his lawn sprinklers had been left on.  Not thinking anything of it, they turned them off.  Which is great, I mean, I would definitely want neighbours that had my hydro bill in mind but if I’d left my sprinklers on for two days straight I’d also like them to come check on me, you know? See WHY my sprinklers had been left on for two days straight? And also to tell me they turned them off, right?

That weekend, the 27th & 28th, Dan’s kids were with their mother, so she didn’t notice anything was off when he didn’t come pick them up.

Dan’s mother, Darlene, had tried to call him but wasn’t worried when she didn’t get an answer. It was the weekend, he was a single man in his 30’s so he was probably out doing something.

5 days had passed since Dan was sent home from work.  Nobody had seen him, and nobody realized he was gone.

On the Sunday, August 28th, 1988, Tony Harbaugh, a Sheriff for Custer County in Montana was out on patrol when he noticed a car with Washington plates parked on the side of the road.

This was a remote area, with nothing around, so this struck the Sheriff as odd.  He pulled a Uey and went to investigate.

“When the car was found, the doors were unlocked.  In fact, one of the doors was ajar.  The keys were not in the vehicle when it was found.  There were a few miscellaneous items, one of which was a Bible laying on the front seat. There was no luggage in the car to indicate Daniel was planning a trip, nothing that would really give us a firm indication of what Daniel was thinking or doing in the area. We conducted both ground and aerial searches.  It’s my belief that if Daniel Wilson was in the area, in any of the area that we covered, we should have found him at that time.” – Sheriff Tony Harbaugh.

Sheriff Harbaugh traced the car to Dan Wilson.  It had been abandoned more than 1000 kilometers (~600miles) from Dan’s home in Spokane.

Dan’s mom, who lived in Colorado, was contacted.  There really seemed to be no explanation as to why Dan’s car was where it was.

Darlene and two of Dan’s cousins went to Montana to speak with Sheriff Harbaugh and see if they couldn’t find any answers.

“The Sheriff told us that the car looked like it had just been parked there and that someone had walked away from it.  They had looked under the hood and there was nothing wrong there, and there was 1/3 of a tank of gas.

“I couldn’t visualize in my mind that he would just walk away from the car, and just take off. It certainly was not an area where you would expect a person would stop and take a walk.” – Darlene Wilson.

On the Monday prior to Dan’s disappearance, August 22, Glenda, one of Dan’s cousin’s had stopped by his place for a visit.  She was shocked when she saw what state it was in.

“Looking around I’d seen that the children had been there that weekend, things had been left quite messy which was very uncharacteristic for him. He seemed agitated, and he seemed real tired.” – Glenda Horseman, Dan’s cousin.

Worried, she’d asked if he was alright.  He said he was fine, just that the early shifts were making him tired and “trouble at work, you know”. Glenda suggested that Dan take some time off and drive down to Colorado to visit their family.

Two days later, Dan stormed out of the Machine Tool plant and vanished.

His family believed that he had taken his cousin’s advice and was heading down to Colorado to visit them.

Dan drove this route so many times, he must have known it like the back of his hand.  He always took the same highway down, highway 90.  Highway 90 heads east out of Washington into Montana, and then turns south in Montana and takes you through Wyoming to Colorado. This time, though, instead of heading south on 90, Dan turned off on highway 94 continuing east through Montana.

He drove on 94 for 240km (150miles) into the remote area of Custer County, Montana, where his car would later be found.

One thing that gets me is that we don’t actually know if Dan left Spokane on the day he left work.  It could have been any day between then and the Sunday his car was found.  According to Google maps the drive is just over 10 hours if he took highway 90, which he could have done in one day.  He could have left work at 11 am on the Wednesday and made it to where his car was found that Wednesday night.  He could have left Spokane on the Saturday and make it there in the same day, or early Sunday morning.  That kind of drives me crazy.

But also, what made Dan divert from his regular route and turn off onto highway 94?

“I know that he did pick up hitch hikers.  If he felt like he could give somebody a ride, he would.  I’m concerned that maybe he is not the person that parked the car in Montana.  It could have been somebody else.” – Darlene Wilson.

Darlene and Dan’s two cousins, at a dead end in Montana, decided to go to Dan’s home in Spokane to see if they could find any clues there. To their surprise, the house was in a worse state than it was when Glenda was there just 10 days earlier visiting Dan.

Someone, or Dan, had left lights on. His clothes, his suitcase, and even an un-cashed paycheque from his work were all still at the house.

“I couldn’t see where he had taken anything at all, not even a toothbrush or razor.  It just looked like that he has just left and intended to come back.” – Darlene Wilson.

The next day Dan’s family left Spokane with more questions than answers.

Darlene and Glenda drove Dan’s car down to Colorado.  During the drive they both go sore throats and their eyes felt like they were burning.

When they got to Colorado they took the car to a shop for an inspection.  The mechanic found an exhaust leak, and thought it possible that carbon monoxide from the exhaust was getting into the cabin. Darlene and Glenda believed that was the cause for their sore throats and the burning in their eyes on the drive.

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, fatigue, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

Tim Chestnut, M.D, a critical care specialist says “Chronic exposure to carbon monoxide can cause fatigue, can cause definite changes in personality, confusion, can cause permanent loss of function of the brain, intellectual ability, memory, as well as severe personality changes resembling psychosis.” Dan had been driving that car for about a year. Could he have been suffering the effects of prolonged carbon monoxide poisoning?

Darlene spread missing persons posters all over Montana and Spokane.

In late November of 1988, almost 3 months after Dan had disappeared, a homeless shelter in Billings Montana (which is basically where highway 90 and 94 meet) contacted Darlene.  They sent her a copy of their registration for the night of November 12th.  On it was the name and signature of a Dan Wilson, signing in to spend the night.  Darlene couldn’t believe it!  She compared the signature of Dan’s and the similarity was unmistakable.

Darlene and her nephew headed to Billings to meet with the folks running the homeless shelter to see if they couldn’t get any leads. Darlene took several photos of Dan, hoping someone would recognize him.

When they got to Billings and met with the two guys running the shelter, she showed them her pictures of Dan.  Both men positively identified him as the Dan Wilson they saw sign in and stay the night of November 12th

This gave Darlene hope that Dan way out there, somewhere.  Maybe he was suffering with memory loss from the prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide.  Maybe he was heading to Colorado, and forgot where he was going, and that’s why he ended up heading out on highway 94.

Darlene redistributed missing persons flyers around Billings, throughout Montana, and Spokane.

Unfortunately, the homeless shelter in Billings was the only lead they got.

There were no signs of violence when Dan’s car was found.  Police theorized that Dan left willingly, but his family couldn’t accept that.  Dan was devoted to his kids, and they knew he would not willingly leave them.

Nine years after Dan’s disappearance, in September of 1997, remains were found off highway 94.

Through dental records, the remains were positively identified as Dan Wilson. 

They had been found only approximately 8km (5 miles) from where his car was originally found.  If he had been there at the time his car was found, I’m sure he would have been found through Sheriff Harbaugh’s ground and aerial searches of the area.

Dans’ cause of death is unknown, but police theorize he must have died from exposure to the elements.

So what happened to this quiet religious man who loved his children?  Did prolonged carbon monoxide poisoning take its tole?  Did he meet a hitchhiker that wanted to take more than just a ride? Like his life or his car?

His kids had to grow up without their father, they were young when he disappeared.

I would love to hear your thoughts down below.

Thank you for being here today and for taking the time to listen to Dan’s story.  I’m sorry there’s note more information, but that’s what makes it a Minute Mystery.


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