Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Dan Willans

Real Name: Unknown
Case: Lost Heirs
Location: Ontario, Canada
Date: 1936


Details: Dan Willans was a prospector in the Canadian Yukon; he was one of thousands of men who traveled there, hoping to find gold and become rich. He settled in the mining town of Haileybury, in Ontario. By 1925, he was well known in the town, becoming close friends with the other prospectors and often playing poker games with them. However, he was private and told little about his past. One of his friends believed that he was previously in the military, but he never confirmed this.
One night, Dan and his mining partner, Bill Cochenour, were told that there may be gold in Red Lake, 850 miles west of Haileybury. For over a month, they journeyed through the desolate outback of Ontario in order to get there. After spending several months there, they finally found the gold that they had been searching for. Soon, a gold mine sprang to life at Red Lake; soon after, the city of Red Lake was formed nearby. The mine drew $45 million worth of gold, which would be worth over $1 billion today. However, Dan was not interested in running it; he enjoyed panning for gold instead. He would often spend months alone in the wilderness doing so.
Dan also seemed to have a double life; when he wasn't out in the wilderness panning for gold, he was living as a cultured gentleman. Every autumn, he would take over an entire floor of the elegant King Edward Hotel in Toronto and entertained his friends. He kept up his double life for several years; then, in fall 1936, he mysteriously vanished while on one of his prospecting trips. After several weeks, Bill began to search for him. He went to Dan's cabin and found nothing out of the ordinary. Although a search was conducted for him, no trace of him was ever found.
Several theories emerged about Dan's disappearance. The main theory was that he had gotten lost during one of his trips and died in the wilderness. However, some of friends do not believe that he would've gotten lost. One friend, Joe Perkins, believed that he had decided to go back to his elegant lifestyle. Others, however, believe that he was killed after a poker game, and that his body was thrown down an abandoned mine shaft.
Along with the mysteries surrounding Dan's disappearance, there is also the mystery of his past. It appears that he was originally from England. He was skilled as a horseman, and at cards. He never married but may have had a sister in England.
Dan's unclaimed estate, in 1936, was valued at $71,000; since then, it has increased its worth to over $100,000. Also, his estate may include $850,000 from his shares in the mine that belonged to him and Bill.
Terry Howes, a researcher that looks for missing heirs, has discovered that "Dan Willans" may not even be his real name. Terry believes that his real name was "Dalton Thomas Willans". It is believed that he has heirs somewhere in Britain and the United States. If they are found, they could receive an estate of up to $3.5 million.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the January 18, 1989 episode.

Results: Unresolved. Within days of the broadcast, a possible relative of Dan's named Davey Willans came forward. He claims that his grandfather, Harold, then eleven, came from Britain to the Ontario in 1895. It is believed that he traveled to Ontario with a relative and that a cousin had also lived in Ontario at some point. Davey believes that that was Dan Willans.
Davey flew to Toronto to meet Dan's friend, Joe Perkins. They compared pictures of him with some of Harold and Davey's great-grandfather, John. Both agreed that there appears to be a resemblance between Dan, Harold, and John. However, without DNA, there is no definite determination that Dan and Dave were related, and it is unrevealed if Davey and his family received any of the money.