Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Dan Wilson

Real Name: Daniel Robert Wilson
Nicknames: Dan
Location: Spokane, Washington
Date: August 24, 1988

The route that Dan took when he vanished (in red)


Occupation: Electrician / Mechanic
Date of Birth: November 4, 1952
Height: 5'4"
Weight: 145 lbs.
Marital Status: Divorced
Characteristics: Caucasian male. Light brown hair, blue eyes. He is slightly pigeon toed.


Details: Thirty-five-year-old Dan Wilson of Spokane, Washington, was known as a quiet, religious man. In 1986, when he was thirty-three, his marriage broke up, but he remained close to his young son and daughter and visited them often. In 1987, he suffered a nervous breakdown, which he felt was due to the trauma of his divorce. By the summer of 1988, however, he was off his medication and seemed to have his life back under control.
In June 1988, Dan went to work at the ASC Machine Tool company in Spokane, and, according to coworkers, was a steady, reliable employee. Then, suddenly, on August 24, everything changed. While he was working, his foreman asked him about something he was working on. Dan asked if there was a problem, but his foreman said there was not.
Dan became angry, saying, “every time I try to get my work done, you come down here and give me a hard time about it.” His foreman said he had not been saying anything about his work. But Dan said that he knew what “[the foreman] and everyone else had been saying” about him. His foreman tried to quiet him down, but he said, “I don’t need to be quiet! I just want you to leave me alone so I can get my work done!”
Dan’s foreman was shocked by the outburst. He and the plant manager were concerned; they felt that something was clearly bothering Dan. They told him to take time off and return to work whenever he felt ready. He left the plant at 11am. It was Wednesday, August 24, 1988. Two days went by. His neighbors noticed that his sprinklers had been left running. On Friday, August 26, they turned them off, never suspecting that anything was wrong. He was not scheduled to visit his children that weekend, so his ex-wife never noticed he was missing. His mother, Darlene Wilson, who lived in Colorado, telephoned, but was not alarmed when she received no answer. Saturday, then Sunday, came and went, and no one even knew Dan was missing.
On Monday, August 29, in a remote area of Custer County, Montana, an abandoned car was investigated by Sheriff Tony Harbaugh. It was a white 1987 Chevrolet Spectrum, and it was found along Interstate 94, fifteen miles east of Miles City, Montana. A highway patrolman had previously noticed it there two days earlier, on August 27. The doors were unlocked; in fact, one of them was ajar. The keys were missing. There were a few miscellaneous items found, one of which was a Bible; it was laying on the front seat. Dan’s name was inscribed in the front of it. Sheriff Harbaugh traced the car to Dan. He contacted Darlene because the car was registered in her name. It had been abandoned more than 700 miles from Dan's Spokane residence.
Sheriff Harbaugh noticed that there was no luggage in the car to indicate Dan was planning a trip. There was nothing that gave him a firm indication of what Dan was thinking or doing in the area. Authorities conducted both ground and aerial searches. It is Sheriff Harbaugh’s belief that if Dan was in the area that they searched, they should have been able to find him.
There seemed to be no explanation for Dan’s car being found abandoned in the middle of the Montana prairie. Baffled, Darlene, along with two of his cousins, went to Montana to talk to Sheriff Harbaugh and look for some answers. They met him at the lot where Dan's car had been towed to. Sheriff Harbaugh told her that the car looked like it had just been parked there and that someone had walked away from it. Authorities had looked under the hood and found nothing wrong with it. It still had a third of a tank of gas. She could not believe that Dan would just abandon his car and take off. She says the area where it was found was not an area where you would expect a person would stop and take a walk.
Dan's friend, Don Wadsworth, visited him several days before he vanished. Don noticed that Dan seemed unusually tired and depressed. He believed that Dan was mentally unstable from stress and working overtime. Dan told him that he was worn out from working ten-hour days and taking care of his children on the weekends. Don says that Dan was "in a very drained state of mind...he couldn't think clearly and was lackadaisical." He says Dan was normally quiet and non-aggressive.
Dan’s cousin, Glenda Horseman, says that she feared for his safety from the beginning because of the state of mind he was in. She had visited him two days before he disappeared. She was surprised by the disarray in his home. She could tell that the children had been there that weekend. Things had been left "quite messy," which was very uncharacteristic of him. She says that he seemed agitated and tired. She asked him if everything was okay, and he said he was just having some issues with his work and his work hours.
Before she left, Glenda suggested that Dan take time off to visit the family in Longmont, Colorado. Forty-eight hours later, he had his outburst at work and vanished. His family believed he had taken Glenda’s advice and started for Colorado to visit them. He had made the trip from Spokane to Longmont many times before. Using the route he normally traveled, Interstate 90, he would have headed south at Billings, Montana. Instead, he turned onto a different highway, Interstate 94, heading due east. He continued for 150 miles into the sparsely populated area of Montana where his car was found. How had he strayed so far off course on such a familiar route?
Darlene suspected foul play. She says that Dan was known to pick up hitchhikers. If he felt he could give somebody a ride, he would. She fears that he might not have been the person that parked the car in Montana, and that somebody else had left it there.
Determined to unravel the mystery, Darlene and Dan's cousins went back to Spokane. Dan’s home was in even worse disarray than when Glenda had visited ten days earlier. Food was left on the table and the lights were still on. Surprisingly, his luggage, clothes, checkbook, and an uncashed paycheck were all still in the home. Darlene did not find evidence that he had taken anything with him, not even a toothbrush, razor, or money. It looked like he had just left and intended to come back.
The next day, Dan’s family left Spokane more puzzled than ever. Darlene and Glenda drove his car on the return trip. En route, they both had sore throats and felt an odd burning sensation in their eyes. As soon as they returned home, they had the car inspected. The mechanic found that the car had a faulty muffler that may have been allowing exhaust gasses to enter the car’s interior. He said that the car was unsafe to drive. It appeared that a carbon monoxide leak in the muffler might have caused Darlene and Glenda’s physical symptoms.
Dan had been driving the same car every day for over a year. It is possible that carbon monoxide poisoning could have caused him severe physical and emotional damage. According to Dr. Tim Chestnut, a critical care specialist, chronic exposure to carbon monoxide can cause several issues, including: fatigue, definite changes in personality, confusion, permanent loss of function of the brain (including intellectual ability and memory), as well as severe personality changes resembling psychosis. Darlene believes that Dan is suffering from amnesia. She believes that he may know his name but nothing else. He may not realize where his family is or how to get in touch with them.
Darlene flooded the state of Montana with missing person fliers. In late November 1988, the Billings Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter in Billings, Montana, sent her a copy of its desk register. It showed that a “Daniel Wilson” had signed in to spend the night on November 12, nearly three months after Dan had disappeared. She compared the signature with one of her son’s. The similarity was striking, so she and her nephew decided to go to Billings and talk to the man who ran the shelter.
Still clinging to the fragile hope that Dan might be wandering aimlessly, knowing his name but nothing else, Darlene brought along several photographs of him, hoping for a positive identification and some new clues. When shown a photo of Dan, the shelter manager and another employee said that they recognized him. They believed that he had spent the night there. The identification was a sense of relief for Darlene. She thought that if he had been there recently, then he most likely would still be around somewhere where she could find him. She and her nephew distributed more fliers in Billings and along the route from Billings to Spokane.
There has been no trace of Dan for years. Authorities found no sign of violence and no evidence of a second person in or around his car, so they have tended to discount the foul play theory. They have, however, suggested the possibility that he made a conscious choice to disappear. Based on reported sightings of him, they speculate that he is alive and trying to hide from his family for some reason. Glenda feels that it is not impossible that he decided to disappear and start a new life, since he was under a great deal of pressure. She says that he had not had a happy life since he came to Spokane. But she feels that this theory is unlikely because he was devoted to his children and felt that they needed him.
Darlene feels that whatever happened to Dan is something beyond his control. She believes that he could be almost anywhere, and that he may be unable to find his way back to his family.
Could Dan have been the victim of foul play? Could he have engineered his own disappearance? Or has he somehow slipped through the cracks of American society, joining the ranks of the homeless, his mind hopelessly muddled by chronic carbon monoxide poisoning? Sadly, his whereabouts remain cloaked in mystery.
One intriguing postscript to Dan's strange disappearance: workers at the Billings Rescue Mission said the man they believed to be Dan was traveling with a woman and two young children, one of them just a baby. Oddly, the woman and the children remained outside in their dilapidated car throughout the cold November night.
Suspects: Authorities do not suspect foul play in Dan's disappearance. Darlene at first believed that he was attacked by a hitchhiker. However, she now believes that carbon monoxide was responsible for his bizarre behavior and disappearance.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the October 3, 1990 episode.
  • It was filmed at the same time as Morris Davis's case. Most of the scenes that took place in Montana were filmed in and around Great Falls.
  • Some sources say Dan's car was found on August 26 or August 27.
  • Sheriff Harbaugh and a pilot were nearly killed in a small plane crash while searching for Dan. The plane was flying low to the ground when it struck a power line. The plane was able to make an emergency landing on Interstate 94.

Results: Solved. On September 29, 1997, a ranch worker found a human skull next to a creek approximately six miles south of where Dan's car was found. No other remains were found. Two days later, Sheriff Harbaugh, believing the skull belonged to Dan, requested his dental records. In November, the skull was positively identified as Dan's through a comparison of the dental records. Authorities believe that Dan became disoriented, wandered off, and died of exposure. The Custer County Sheriff's Office considers this case closed.
On March 1, 2011, Darlene passed away at the age of eighty-seven.