Walter Dunson

Dunson, circa 1973 (25 years before he was reported missing; more recent photographs of Dunson are unavailable); Composite sketch of Dunson as he is supposed to have looked like at the time of his disappearance

  • Missing Since 06/05/1998
  • Missing From Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Male
  • Race Black
  • Date of Birth 07/02/1900 (124)
  • Age 97 years old
  • Height and Weight 5'8, 150 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description A light brown shirt, dark brown pants, black leather shoes and a dark blue navy peacoat.
  • Distinguishing Characteristics African-American male. Gray hair, brown eyes. Some agencies give Dunson's date of birth as July 2, 1899 or July 7, 1900. He wears dentures and reading glasses.

Details of Disappearance

Dunson's son, Gary Adams, reported him missing on June 5, 1998. He said they were shopping together at Findlay Market on Elder Street in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati at about 2:00 p.m. when Adams stepped into a butcher shop for a moment to purchase steaks, and when he came back out Dunson was gone.

Dunson was carrying a black leather wallet with about fifteen dollars in it when he disappeared. He may also have been carrying a lottery ticket; a clerk at Cee Kay Beauty Supply in Findlay Market remembered selling one to a man matching Dunson's description. Other people at Findlay Market also recalled seeing an elderly man that day, but he appeared to be at least twenty years younger than Dunson.

Investigators believe that Adams's version of events is fictitious and Dunson actually died years, perhaps over a decade, before his alleged disappearance.

Adams had lived with his family in rented accomodation in the 5700 block of Wyatt Avenue for eighteen years, and his landlord and neighbors don't recall seeing an elderly man living with them. Dunson's supposed bedroom was at the top of a steep flight of stairs, had very few items in it and didn't appear to have been lived in recently.

There were no prescription medications for Dunson in the house, although he had a history of medical problems. Adams's son had lived in Dunson's bedroom for two months in 1988 and visited the home regularly afterwards; he said he'd never met his grandfather or even heard of him until he was reported missing.

Dunson's driver's license expired in the 1970s and has not been renewed. The most recent photo of him that authorities were able to find was from 1973. He was hospitalized at Cincinnati's University Hospital three times in 1980 for treatment of dementia or possibly a mild stroke, but not has not been a patient there since then.

He has not seen a doctor, made an insurance claim, had any prescriptions filled, held a bank account, voted, or owned a library card since about 1980.

Dunson used to frequent the Elder Cafe, but no one has seen him there since about 1980. He sometimes stayed at the Drop Inn Center, a local homeless shelter, in 1979 and 1980, but no one had seen him there in many years and residents of the shelter do not recognize the composite picture of Dunson as he is supposed to have looked in 1998.

Dunson once belonged to the Calvary Baptist Church in the Walnut Hills neighborhood of Cincinnati. He was an usher there, but none of the other church members recall seeing him since at least 1980, except the pastor, who thought he'd seen Dunson at some time before 1986. The pastor's statement is the only independent evidence of Dunson's existence past 1980.

When confronted with this evidence, Adams stated that Dunson does not believe in doctors or banks and that is why the paper trail for him stopped in 1980. He described his father as a quiet, reclusive man who only goes outside during the nighttime, because he had the latest shift throughout his working career and was used to sleeping during the day.

Adams also stated Dunson kept to himself in part because he afraid the family would get in trouble with their landlord for having too many tenants, but Adams's landlord says there are no restrictions on how many people can live in the home.

Dunson was reported missing four days after the Social Security Administration (SSA) sent a letter to his and Adams's residence. The letter requested that Dunson meet with an SSA representative in person to verify his identity.

Dunson had been drawing a pension and Social Security benefits since 1970 and the SSA was doing a routine procedure which they do for all recipients approaching 100 years of age, to make sure he was still alive and receiving the payments and no one else was impersonating him to cash the checks.

Authorities believe Adams had been co-signing his dead father's checks and depositing them into his own account for years under the pretense that Dunson was still alive. The amount of money over the years totaled over $100,000.

Adams was convicted on twenty-five counts of theft of public funds in the spring of 1999, for stealing Dunson's Social Security benefits. He was acquitted of twenty-five counts of forgery; investigators were unable to find a sample of Dunson's handwriting to compare with his supposed signature on the checks.

The court determined that Dunson had most likely been deceased since at least 1985, and Adams had therefore been misappropriating his benefits since 1986.

Adams was sentenced to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution. He has never been criminally charged in connection with his father's disappearance and police say that, unless they find Dunson's remains, the case is likely to end with the theft convictions.

Dunson is believed to have been born in Marietta, Georgia. He is a World War I veteran who worked at the now-defunct Oberhelman-Ritter iron foundry on Colerain Avenue in Cincinnati, which he retired from in 1970. He never legally married, but had eight or nine children.

Dunson's case remains unsolved; he is presumed deceased.

Investigating Agency

  • Cincinnati Police Department 513-352-3542

Updated 2 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated June 29, 2011; details of disappearance updated.