An internet community with powerful and far-reaching resources, pulls together in 2007 to try to track down one Donald Eugene Ivens, who forgot his wallet over thirty years before, and since then, seemed to have been forgotten by society.
On January 11th, 2007, [filmyak], a poster on the Straight Dope Message Board, opened a thread asking for help in locating the owner of a wallet found inside a wall of his house. Since the wallet contained a Social Security card, an Army honorable discharge card, a California driver’s license listing a birth year of 1931, and an American Legion card, he thought it would be short work to locate either the owner or a family member. Other posters responded with links to search engines and contact info for government agencies. Another poster, a professional genealogist, offered his services.
Filmyak began a private communication with the genealogist, still not having revealed the wallet owner’s name to the board at large. Between them, they soon found that a man from an age when personal information was shared freely had still left few traces of himself.
The genealogist followed a lead in the Pacific Northwest, but an attempt to make contact through an intermediary met a dead end. While other posters waited for updates, they shared info about archaeological finds in their houses. Soon, filmyak and the genealogist returned with reports on new and failed leads in Iowa. One phone number had been disconnected; the other was listed with the wrong middle initial.
Next contact was the American Legion, and a university with a faculty member who shared the last name. But the California American Legion office had no record of the man, and the national Legion office could only confirm that he was not currently a member. By this time, more and more posters had been drawn to the thread, and speculation began as to whether the wallet’s owner had worked in construction, or if a more unusual combination of circumstances had led to its placement in the wall.
Filmyak reported that the university lead’s last name differed by one letter, and further inquiry had revealed that he was 11 years younger than the quarry. A phone number in Pennsylvania was answered by a widow whose last name matched the spelling, but her late husband had been born ten years too early. Meanwhile, the genealogist announced that the wallet owner’s first and last name combination is shared by fewer than ten adults in the USA. Sure that the next lead would be the correct one, posters continued sharing anecdotes about unusual finds in their own houses, ranging from wedding rings to shotguns (not both in the same house!)
Filmyak sent scans of the wallet’s contents to the genealogist, and when a veteran’s search turned up nothing, almost abandoned the project. But the thread had now been viewed 9,600 times and counting, so rather than leave his fellow posters hanging, he forged on.
Having examined pay stubs from the wallet and the expiration dates on the cards, the genealogist determined that it had been lost circa May 1973, not 1975 as originally stated. The most recent address, on a fishing license, belonged to an apartment building, but no one there remembered a ? filmyak didn’t say if he was white, black, or what male of 5’11’’ from before or after 1973. Tax assessor records indicated that the subject owns no property anywhere in the USA, and he made no appearances in the death indexes for eight different states. Phone directories had been exhausted as a resource, and the genealogist revealed that the first-middle-last name combination, with the subject’s date of birth, is unique in this country, and not listed anywhere in it.
However, there are 248 listings for the last name. On the chance that one might be a relative, other posters offered to call ten each. Did anything come of that? Meanwhile, the original poster found a current address in Long Beach, CA. On January 28, 17 days after the thread began, the poster sent a letter, and revealed to the group that the target of their search is — or was — one Donald Eugene Ivens.
Five minutes later, another poster announced the results of a Google search for that name: an obituary with the right name…and the wrong date of birth. Six hours later, yet another poster submitted the results of their search: a Donald L. Ivens listed as a relative of Donald E. Ivens. And then what? fluffyemu never came back.
An unnamed poster offered the services of a friend in law enforcement, who uncovered a last known address in Bellflower. A DMV search revealed no California driver’s license activity since the late 1980s. Another poster, a journalist, searched for court documents and found that Mr. Ivens has never been charged with a crime or accused of one on the federal level, been involved in a lawsuit, or declared bankruptcy. Frustration mounted: a man with a checkered past would be easier to find than Donald, who apparently has not much past at all!
Another veteran’s search turned up an address in Bell Gardens (not Bellflower). Filmyak sent a new letter to that address, since no response had come from Long Beach. Yet another search yielded two more addresses in California, and one in Arizona. Could Ivens have retired to Arizona?
Filmyak was once again ready to retire from the search, but a most unusual coincidence pulled him back in. His wife’s car was broken into, and the officer who filed the report wore a name tag with the last name IVENS! He was not aware of a relative with the name Donald, but offered to run a check on wallet info. By now, the thread’s view count had risen to 23,926: the second-most viewed of all time.
And that’s what we’ve got so far.
1st October, 2007
Ya know, I was content to let this subject just go away, but nooooooo…. you all can’t drop it!
So, I caved. It’s done. I’ve written a check for $25 and a letter to the social security administration letter forwarding service. They’re in an addressed, stamped envelope, they’ll go out in Monday’s mail. That’s Oct 1, for those of you who want hard facts.
You know that scene in every horror and action movie ever made (and also in Fatal Attraction) where the bad guy (gal) is dead and everyone in the movie relaxes but everyone in the theater is still tense because they all know that there’s a gun/knife/hatchet/rocket launcher/box of dynamite within reach of the evil corpse, and lo and behold the dead baddie gets up with a final primal scream and reaches for the ultimate final destructive act but they are then killed (for REAL this time) by the previously cute and innocent retired cop/little girl/blind autistic dog/virgin geekazoid who saves the day in the end?
This is my final back-from-the-dead lurch, and that stamped envelope is my box of grenades. I’m really hoping it works, but if it doesn’t I’m pretty much done anyway.
To reiterate, I’ve called far too many people around the country, spent too much money on “we’ll find anybody” web sites, asked several news organizations to help (no response… they want you to do all the work and they’ll just print the story), asked the Straight Dope staff to help (no response), asked the Straight Dope staff to reinstate my charter membership status (no response) (and yes that’s irrelevant but what the hell), have taken up too much of Walloon’s time, my time, and Google search time. So far, zero results.
If the Social Security administration can’t track Donald Eugene Ivens down, then I probably SHOULD start digging underneath my house for bones. Luckily for me, I don’t own a shovel.
Now, we wait on the government to respond. Tick… tock… tick… tock…
18th January, 2008
Wow, I actually have an update! No answer, but it’s a step in some direction.
As posted earlier, on Oct 1 I sent a letter to the Social Security Admin, along with a check for $25, to try to contact Donald Eugene Ivens through them.
Today, nearly four months later, I received a reply from them. They returned my check and enclosed a form letter stating that there is no fee for the service (not what it says on their website), and that they are processing my letter forwarding request.
So, as quiet as it’s been, it appears there is still a faint glimmer of hope.
More news as it happens. This is the government we’re talking about, so it may take a while. Sorry.
26th September, 2008
So nobody’s seen the follow up on this?
Somebody posted on the ancestry.com message boards about this, about 2 hours after filmyak’s last post on May 15. As it links back to the first thread, I gotta think it’s somebody here who posted.
It got a hit on August 28. The user richkath responded:
“Surprise, Surprise, Donald Eugene Ivens is my Uncle, who has been missing for years. My Dad will be interested in this story. My Uncle lived with his late wife, Evelyn in LAA. Co.
Near or around the old Rubber Tire factory off of Florence Ave… Maywood, Lynwood, & South LAA. Birth day . . Sept. 13, 1931 . . . KATh”
So is September 13 the correct birthday on the driver license?
The whole thread (all two posts) is right here: http://boards.ancestry.com/surnames.ivens/125/mb.ashx
Just to help confirm that this has to be the guy, I can find a newspaper story from the New Castle Times(PA) dated 22 January 1963 which was talking about the death, in California, of an elderly former resident of New Castle.
The deceased was a Mrs. James A.(Anna) Plum. Her two daughters were listed as
Thelma Lesher and Evelyn Ivens of 2710 E. 112th St. , Lynwood(CA.). That matches our Evelyn.
The LA Times has no obituary for Evelyn Ivens.
OK, it’s official.
I had a nice phone conversation with Kathleen, and the original quest has been completed. I am sending the wallet to her, as she is Mr. Ivens’ nephew. The Straight Dope search has been on from Jan 11, 2007 to Sep 28, 2008. It was a long way to go to “solve” the mystery.
Except that, in reality, the mystery has deepened considerably. Donald Eugene Ivens vanished in approximately 1976, no one has heard from him since. Kathleen’s father (Donald’s brother) has asked her to continue searching for him. She’s been going online and looking every 3 months or so, with no luck.
She may have tracked down his step-children, but has not made contact with them yet.
Now far as I can tell, the wallet contents date to 1973, three full years before he vanished. Which means he either had a very out of date wallet, or more likely he is not buried under my garage. A thought which makes me very happy.
I’ve sent Kathleen the links to the original thread here, as well as this follow-up thread, and I hope once she has time to read it all she is willing to add a post of her own and let us know any additional details she’d like to share. She seems like a very nice lady, and I wish her the absolute best of luck in tracking down her uncle.
Hi everyone. Got busy at work and forgot to post this… this is the email I got from Mr Ivens’ neice.
“Folks . . . I’m Uncle Donald’s niece (girl).
“I been doing genealogy for years . . . and I’m member of Ancestry.com. I’ve talked to my parents again, Dad believes the last time he saw his brother, my Uncle, was at there Aunt L. home about 1986. My parents believe Aunt L. told them Donald wife Evelyn has passed away. Evelyn is buried in Rose Hills, Whittier, CA. But . . my mother believes the last time my Dad saw his brother alive, was at my gr. grandmother funeral. I need to call my Dad sister and find out when, where, etc. she saw my Uncle alive. I been checking Ancestry,con . . SSN Death Index for infromation on my Uncle. for over 10 years with NO LUCK. . . My husband has gone on line and checked phone/address directory in CA, UT, CO, AZ, NV. NM, OR, WA. The family doesn’t believe he would leave the state of CA. According to my parents, “The best weather in the County.” I think I have found his step-daughter. More research is needed. My father doesn’t believe he every worked in construction. My Uncle has a history of drinking to much. The family is growing older and not to many older folks are left. So if anyone fines any new information please contact me or post on Ancestry.com.
“Indeed a Mystery . . . someday I will fine him . . . dead or alive.
“Oh, I should had mention, I was surfing the boards on Ancestry.com when I came across infromation on Donald E. Ivens. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. A matter of fact, I must had read it several times. I immediatlely posted a reply and phoned my parents.
“I have faith my Uncle is still alive and well. He maybe living with one of his step-children, possibly in VA home/hospital. Why/how his wallet was in the garage wall . . . many questions and we may never know. Thanks again Michael. . . I promise, I will return the wallet to my Uncle Donald.
“I’m thinking I should write a letter to CA . . SSN, see if they will forward a letter to my Uncle. Getting a letter from family, he might just answer it.”