Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

John Burns with Eleanor Farver

Real Name: Unknown at the time of the broadcast
Aliases: John Edward Burns
Wanted For: Murder
Missing Since: September 1970


Details: John Burns moved to South Lyon, Michigan, in 1947. As he became acquainted with the people in town, he revealed little about his past. His neighbors recalled that he was careful with what he said and did not want to talk about his life before moving there. A year after moving there, he fell in love and married Anna McMurray, despite the fact that she was about twenty years older than him.
In 1969, after about twenty years of marriage, Burns fell in love with someone else: a forty-five-year-old mother of six named Eleanor Farver. Eleanor lived in Washtenaw County; she had no idea that he was already married. Her family recalled that he was very nice to her at first. He helped her renovate her farmhouse and bought several animals. The two also planned to get married and run a chicken ranch. They even went to a doctor to get blood tests in planning to get a marriage license. One day in April of 1970, Burns stopped at his home with Eleanor in the car. When they saw Anna outside, he told Eleanor that she was his aunt and was hard to get along with. Because she was older, she believed him.
A few weeks later, however, Eleanor decided to visit Burns at his home. She talked to Anna and asked if she was his aunt. She laughed and revealed that she was actually his wife. Eleanor was distraught and left, saying that she never wanted to see him again. A few nights later, he went to her house and pleaded for her to take him back. However, she still refused to see him. Over the next few months, he harassed her. He wrote threatening letters to her and shoved them under her door. He also put sugar in her gas tank, tried to run her off of the road, and threatened to blow up her house.
Then, he showed up at a weapons store and bought shotgun shells. He told the owner that there were dogs that were bothering him that he had to kill. On September 22, 1970, he went to Eleanor's house and found a car there that he did not recognize. The car belonged to her cousin, but he assumed that it belonged to a new lover. He went up to her front door and shot her with his shotgun. Her daughter-in-law, granddaughter, and nephew witnessed the shooting.
After the murder, Burns disappeared. However, he was seen in South Lyon on three separate occasions. Two days after the murder, he left his car at a neighbor's garage. He visited Anna's house at least twice. During one visit, he hid in the basement and wrote letters to her. Police later discovered that he had spent ten days hiding in a barn just 100 yards from the murder scene. They suspect that he was there before the murder as well. Through a crack in the barn, he could clearly see her house. In his hiding spot, they found food cans and a confession to the murder, written on a wooden plank.
Since his disappearance, police have found no records of "John Burns". Military records, birth and marriage certificates, dental records, and death certificates have all been searched, to no avail. The Bureau of Vital Statistics has no record of a "John Burns" matching his description. They only have two photographs of him (including the one shown above). They believe that he was most likely on the run from something else prior to his arrival in South Lyon.
Police discovered that Burns had worked as a janitor for the local high school. Interestingly, they discovered that he called in sick every day that pictures were taken for the yearbook. Police hope to find Burns and determine his true identity. There were unsubstantiated rumors that Burns was killed by a relative of Eleanor's. The man apparently confessed to several people that he had committed the crime, but denied the allegation to police. They still believe that Burns is alive.
Other than his photographs, police have few clues. Anna stated that her husband told her that he was from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and had previously been married. However, on his marriage license, he listed his birth place as Cheyenne, Wyoming. He also told people that he was from Colorado. He also has listed at least four different birth dates.
Burns's wife Anna moved away and lives in a convalescent home, refusing to speak about the case. Eleanor is buried several miles from the crime scene in an unmarked grave. Burns's true identity and whereabouts remain unknown.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on Special #2 which aired on May 25, 1987.
Some sources spell Eleanor's last name as "Farber" and list the day of her murder as September 3.

John Burns after arrest

Results: Captured. On May 30, 1987, "John Burns" was arrested in Altoona, Pennsylvania, as a result of the broadcast; he had been on the run for seventeen years. He was living in a remote cabin under the name Stephen Vance. Burns was soon identified as Wilford Paul Cashman. Authorities learned that Cashman had escaped from the Pennsylvania State Penitentiary in 1947, where he was serving a fourteen-year sentence for assault and rape of a young girl.
Surprisingly, after the murder, Cashman returned to his hometown and moved in with his father. After his father's death, he moved into the cabin and maintained contact with several relatives, including his children with his first wife. However, none of them knew that he was wanted for murder.
Cashman was convicted of Eleanor's murder on December 3, 1987. However, just before he was scheduled to be sentenced, he died of a heart attack on January 7, 1988. He was 79 years old.
Cashman's capture was the first case solved as a result of Unsolved Mysteries.