TAHLEQUAH — The story of Ronald Stan reads like a novel. But investigators say the saga of a Canadian man who disappeared after a barn fire in 1977 and resurfaced 37 years later with a new name and family in Tahlequah isn’t fiction.
Stan had been living as Jeffery Walton for decades when his secret unraveled. Many questions remain.
When he was 32, Stan was seen just before the mysterious barn fire and then disappeared, said Constable Laurie Houghton, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Provincial Police Middlesex County unit. Crews searched the debris but didn’t find human remains. Neighbors said he left behind a wife and two children, the Toronto Star newspaper reports.
In 1986, Stan was declared deceased by Canadian courts. But his case remained unsolved, and was reviewed earlier this year in a regular check of open cases, Houghton said.
“There are tools available to us today that weren’t available to us in 1977, as you can imagine,” she said.
The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service located Stan, now 69, in Tahlequah on Aug. 5. Only now, his name was Jeff Walton, and he was married with a grown son and grandchildren.
The police then broke the news to his wife, Debra Proctor. Her husband wasn’t who she thought he was.
She mulled over the news for a couple of days, then called Walton’s son, Jeff Walton Jr., who lives in New Orleans.
“I talked to my father and he confirmed it,” the son said when reached by telephone Tuesday. His father also explained why he did what he did, but Walton Jr. declined to elaborate.
Stan’s listed phone number is disconnected. He didn’t call Tuesday after a message was left with his son.
Walton Jr. said he doesn’t judge his father for keeping the secret all these years.
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