Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Real Name: Unrevealed
Case: Lost Heirs
Location: Lansing, Michigan
Date: January 28, 1989


Details: Howard Thomas Drummond was a frugal and unusual person. He was reclusive, eccentric, a man who spent his time dreaming up the most peculiar ways to conserve money. When he died, he left a fortune valued at more than $250,000. This mysterious man devoted all this time and energy to saving money. Yet, ironically, the fortune he amassed now sits unclaimed. Perhaps someone out there is his heir.
Howard moved to the Lansing, Michigan YMCA in 1985 when he was seventy-four-years-old. He rented a room on the fourth floor for just $49 a week but chose not to pay an extra $5 a day for his own private bathroom. At 7am each day, he ordered the same breakfast from Pico De Plata: fried eggs, bacon, and rye toast for only $1.99. He would also ask for the following with his meal: two packets of ketchup, one package of salt, one of pepper, a plastic fork, and a plastic knife. If the workers were not looking, he would also grab some extra forks to take with him. He also bought two extra breakfasts, packed them in his ever-present gym bag, and took them back to his room at the YMCA for lunch and dinner. His daily expenditure on food was only $6.
Howard was a pack rat. He saved money and everything else. In his room at the YMCA, he kept fifty coffee jars, all empty. He collected hundreds of magazines and countless rubber bands. He owned eighty pairs of white socks, eight pairs of shoes, and eight identical suits and hats so he could wear the exact same outfit every day. He apparently never washed his clothes and bathed infrequently. As a result, he stank with an odor that caused many people to stay away from him. YMCA employees even bought him a new suit and other clothes, but he never wore them. He suffered from a curvature of the spine, which caused him to be in a permanent stoop. His face was covered by a dirty beard and straggly hair.
Howard lived his life according to a rigid set of rules that only he fully understood. He seemed to have no friends and only a few acquaintances. According to Darnell Jones, Systems Administrator at the YMCA, Howard had a very regimented lifestyle. He would pay his rent at a certain time every month, the same amount every month. He would want his receipt stapled to a certain piece of paper a certain way every time it was done. However, there was another side to him that Darnell found that people rarely saw. According to Darnell, he was a very gentle person. He was very appreciative of all the small things that Darnell did for him, and he was very willing to say “thank you” for everything that Darnell did.
Every day, after getting his breakfast, Howard went to the downtown Lansing post office. He would first stop at Joy's Snack Bar which was across the hall. He spent seventy cents each day on two newspapers, The New York Times and The Detroit News. He would read them page by page, concentrating on the stock tables. He would then head over to the post office and to his mailbox. He subscribed to the Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, Psychology Today, Foreign Affairs, and Soviet Life. He regularly received envelopes from banks and sent out registered letters to banks.
According to postal worker Vern Wright, Howard came in each month and bought ten $10 money orders and mailed them off by certified mail, as he did with most of his mail. However, he did not spend the ninety cents required for a certified mail receipt. Within a week, he would return, complain that he had not received his receipt, and have them run a check. Vern says, "he was that cheap."
Howard never failed to stop for a visit with postal worker Frances Dodge. He often presented her with unusual shopping lists, written on the backs of old envelopes. He always gave her money to cover the items he asked for, and she was usually able to find what he needed. She would also bring him certain things like coffee and washcloths. She thought that he did not have anything. She figured if he did have money, he would not wear the same clothes all the time. She thought he looked “really poor.” She asked him why he wore the same hat all the time. He said, “Well, it’s not worn out yet.” After completing his daily routine in Lansing, he returned to his room at the YMCA. He never allowed anyone inside. He appeared to be a very private person. When people would ask him about his family or his life, he would mumble and then walk away.
On January 3, 1989, an employee at Joy's Snack Bar contacted the YMCA after Howard did not show up for his daily visit. The next day, January 4, he was found lying on the floor of his room. He had suffered a stroke and was partially paralyzed. Over the next few weeks, he remained in the hospital. His condition seemed to improve, then get worse. Finally, on January 28, he died after suffering another stroke and a heart attack. He was seventy-six. Sadly, no one came to visit him while he was in the hospital. Frances was the only person that attended his funeral.
Two days after Howard's death, Paul Rosenbaum, a county appointed attorney, visited the YMCA. Since Howard had left no will, it was Rosenbaum’s job to settle the estate and find Howard's heirs. When he entered the room, the stench drove him out. However, he was eventually able to go back in. Looking for clues, he spread the contents of the room over the conference table at his law office. It took about two-and-a-half weeks to sort out everything. According to Rosenbaum, Howard had kept every single piece of paper from probably twenty-five years. He had a diary that was "one of the most unbelievable things" Rosenbaum has ever witnessed. In it, he kept an hour-by-hour account of the headlines in news stations across the United States.
Howard had three watches that would not work. He had thousands of used shoelaces. He had an “unlimited” number of newspaper clippings; many of them had to do with the royal family and Princess Diana. He also had several pictures of her. Rosenbaum believes Howard was infatuated with her. Rosenbaum says the contents of Howard's room were “unique, to say the least.” After finding bank correspondence in the room, Rosenbaum discovered that Howard had eleven separate bank accounts from coast to coast with a quarter of a million dollars in cash in them. However, that money was not even "the tip of the iceberg." Rosenbaum believes that Howard has "a whole lot" more money out there, most likely in undiscovered bank and/or brokerage accounts across the country. He believes Howard also owned extensive stocks and bonds that are stashed "somewhere."
Strangely, the gym bag Howard always carried with him was not found in his room. Some say he kept his most important papers in that bag. Among his possessions, Rosenbaum did find a key marked "#29". The key seems to open a standard locker – the type you might find in a bus station. Could Howard's missing gym bag be in the unknown locker? Could the papers inside lead the way to even more money? Another key found in the room belongs to a safety-deposit box; however, it does not fit any boxes in Lansing. Authorities in Michigan are still searching for his missing heirs. Hundreds of people have come forward, but no one has been able to prove that they are an heir. If no confirmed heir is found, his money will go to Michigan's general fund.
There is very little information about Howard. Most of what has been found was in his personal notes. He was born in Houston, Texas, on February 27, 1911, the only child of impoverished parents, John T. Drummond and Westelle Rosalie Howard. John was a carpenter for the Southern Pacific railroad. Westelle's sister married into a "millionaire newspaper family" that founded the Dallas Morning News. By 1915, John had moved his family to Los Angeles. He later went to Denver, Colorado, where he died. Howard remained with Westelle in Pasadena, California, where she worked as a laundress. In 1929, he graduated high school and began working at a bank.
In 1942, Howard was drafted by the U.S. Army and served as a clerk-typist in California and Nevada until 1946, when he was honorably discharged. He then returned to his job at the bank. In 1952, Westelle died at the age of eighty. In 1956, he was fired from the bank for stealing scotch tape and other clerical items. He then became a postal employee in Pasadena and remained there until he retired in 1973. After that, he moved to Denver, where he stayed at a YMCA and worked in their membership office.
In 1981, Howard left Denver and began moving up and down the East Coast, staying in different YMCAs and opening up bank accounts along the way. An account in Denver had over $67,000; another one in Boston had over $23,000. By the time of his death, he was earning more than $20,000 per year in interest and government pensions. He went to his grave holding the secret of his $250,000 fortune.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the November 15, 1989 episode.
  • It was also featured on A Current Affair.

Results: Solved. Rosenbaum hired private investigator Arlo Earegood to search for Howard's heirs. Earegood traced Howard's family through numerous genealogical records, getting much of his information from a library in Fort Worth, Texas. Through his research, Earegood located several relatives: eighty-six-year-old Edward Drummond of Los Angeles, Howard's half-brother; sixty-four-year-old Elizabeth Orozco of Los Angeles, Howard's niece; sixty-eight-year-old Jay Ware of Lomita, California, Howard's nephew; and fifty-five-year-old John Drummond III of Palmdale, California, also Howard's nephew. Elizabeth and Jay's mother, Ida, was Howard's half-sister. John III's father, John II, was Howard's half-brother. Edward, Ida, and John II were all children from Howard's father John's first marriage.
Earegood also located three relatives in Texas who were related through Howard's mother. However, one of them, William Eldredge, passed away in October 1989, before a ruling could be made. The other two were determined to not be blood relatives. In December 1989, a court determined that Edward, Elizabeth, Jay, and John III would share Howard's estate (after attorneys' costs were paid). Edward and John III each received one third of it, while Elizabeth and Jay each received one sixth of it. The county has closed the case and is no longer looking for heirs.